Damaged Cuticles: Causes and How to Repair Bad Cuticles

Damaged cuticles on fingernails or toenails are not only ugly but also put you at risk of infection (paronychia). Nail cuticle damage is associated with problems such as peeling, cracking, splitting (torn cuticles) and hangnails not to mention nail discoloration. Below we discuss not only the possible causes of bad cuticles but also products and natural remedies you can use to repair them at home.

What Causes Cuticle Damage?

Damaged cuticles causes are as diversified as the appearance of the bad cuticles which can look dry and ragged, crack, split, peel, flake, or even get sore (painful). Among the top causes of bad cuticles are:

  • Nail biting and picking.
  • Improper manicure or pedicure. A common culprit is cutting of cuticles which not only breaks the protective barrier thus putting you at risk of infection, but also often culminates in other nail and cuticle problems such as splitting.
  • Over-exposure to water e.g. in people in professions such as housekeeping, gardening, dishwashing, hair and beauty (salon attendants) etc.
  • Prolonged used of nail polish remover, especially those with acetone.
  • Nutritional deficiencies can also manifest in nail and cuticle problems such as cracking and peeling.
  • Trauma: Whether from engaging in rough work or a tough blow on the cuticles, traumatic injury can also manifest itself in nail cuticle damage.

How to Repair Damaged Cuticles

Just as the skin heals itself when damaged, cuticles – being part of the skin – heals themselves over time, assuming they don’t continue being exposed to irritants and other causative factors. Does that imply that you just sit back and wait for the cuticles to get cured? Of course not; that is not an option for most people. There are many home remedies and commercial treatment options available to get rid of bad cuticles. Below are some of the top damaged cuticles repair options:

Moisturize Your Cuticles

Dry cuticles, be it from harsh chemicals, dry weather, name it, is usually the starting point of cuticle problems ranging from peeling and flaking to cracking, splitting among others. Cuticle moisturizing thus forms an integral part of bad cuticles damage. Here are some of the best cuticle moisturizing options to consider:

Petroleum Jelly: Trusted for skin care over several decades, Vaseline petroleum jelly (or any other brand for that matter) is a fantastic way to moisturize, soften, and treat bad cuticles.

The idea is to apply a generous amount of Vaseline on the cuticles throughout the day but since Vaseline is pretty greasy and often not ideal for use throughout the day e.g. among working individuals, you will want to apply it before bedtime each evening. You may then cover it overnight with a pair of clean socks or gloves.

Olive Oil: Alive oil is also very popular among natural remedies for damaged cuticles thanks to its powerful moisturizing and skin softening properties. Below is how to fix cuticle damage with olive oil:

  1. Massage a couple drops of hair conditioner into your cuticles to soften them.
  2. Dip your fingertips in warm water for 20 minutes.
  3. Apply olive oil into the affected cuticles.
  4. Repeat once every day until the bad cuticles get repaired. After that, apply olive oil regularly after shower and after washing your hands to keep the cuticles hydrated.

Hot Wax Treatment: Typically offered at nail salons, hot wax treatment is also a great way to treat not only damaged cuticles but also nails, says Ella Toombs, M.D., a dermatologist in Washington, D.C. The procedure uses a special oily wax which is melted down and your hands then dipped in before being covered with a pair of plastic gloves or a mitt for 10‑15 minutes to keep the heat in as the wax works  – pun intended 🙂 – its magic.

These days you can as well buy DIY paraffin wax treatment kits and use them to wax-treat your cuticles and nails at the comfort of your home.

Use Cuticle Cream: There are many cuticle creams and oils available on the market today e.g. CND SolarOil, but you can as well prepare a homemade cuticle cream using the following DIY recipe:

  1. Mix 1/3 cup of a hand cream of your choice, 5 drops of olive oil, and 3 drops of lavender oil.
  2. Warm the mixture slightly in a microwave so that it is just warm to touch.
  3. Massage the oil and cream mixture generously into your cuticles and nails.
  4. Repeat the remedy 2 to 3 times until the damaged cuticles get healed.

Tip: Store the remaining oil in your fridge and warm it again every time you have to re-apply for up to 3 days.

Essential Oils: Essential oils such as jojoba oil, orange oil, avocado oil, and tea tree oil are also highly acclaimed for their potential to moisturize and repair damaged cuticles. Tea tree oil is especially great for cracked and sore cuticles since it helps to ward off infection. Some people use tea tree oil in combination with aloe vera gel to treat sore cuticles.

Coconut oil, vitamin E oil, beeswax, Shea butter, and neem nail balm are also claimed to do a great job at moisturizing and healing bad cuticles.

Apply a Topical Antibacterial Ointment

Torn cuticles that are painful and swollen warrants topical treatment with an antibiotic cream such as bacitracin, Neosporin etc. this helps to prevent and get rid of any infections in the affected cuticles.

After applying the ointment, you may then apply a Band-Aid around the affected fingernails or toenails overnight.

More Tips to Prevent and Repair Cuticle Damage

  • Don’t trim overgrown cuticles: Instead push them back gently with an orange stick or clean, soft cloth right after shower (when they are usually soft). If your manicurist tries to cut your cuticles, ask them to kindly stop; you don’t want to end up with damaged cuticles after a good manicure.
  • Avoid biting and sucking your fingernails as it often causes damage to the nail bed and cuticles not to mention exposing you to the risk of infection. A simple way to achieve this is to wrap a Band-Aid around the fingernails long enough to stop the habit – changing them every 1 or 2 days – or applying a nasty-tasting oil on your nails.
  • Avoid picking at hangnails. The best way to get rid of hangnails is to trim them with a sterilized pair of scissors while keeping the area around the nails moisturized.
  • Put on a pair of cotton-lined gloves when engaging in rough work or using harsh chemicals and water. If not possible to wear gloves when washing dishes, consider switching to a moisturizing dishwashing soap. These are designed to hydrate your hands while at the same time doing the cleansing job.
  • Avoid acetone containing nail polish removers and instead use acetone-free brands such as the one by Pure Body Naturals.
  • Protect your hands and feet from cold weather (particularly winter) by wearing gloves as well as thick pair of socks and closed shoes during. Also, apply a hand cream or any other moisturizer of your choice regularly during these times. Irritation from cold weather is a common cause of bad cuticles and nails.
  • Dip the cuticles in milk regularly to reduce the appearance of damage dry cuticles and nails.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Follow these steps closely and you will be ever closer to healthy cuticles. If that is not the case, it is time to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider. In addition to persistent bad cuticles, you will want to seek professional medical helps in the following circumstances.

  • The cuticles are unbearable painful.
  • The affected fingernails swell and/or develop pus.
  • You notice red spots on the damaged cuticles.

These are often symptoms of paronychia, an infection of the fingernails. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and pain relieving medications in addition to surgical drainage to get rid of the pus accumulated in the trouble area (if your doctor deems it necessary).