April 24, 2009

Q: Should I have my cuticles cut when getting a manicure?

A: Although many of us think cutting our cuticles is an essential part of nail care, experts disagree. "No matter how ugly you think cuticles look, you should never cut them or dissolve them with products," says Paul Kechijian, M.D., chief of the nail section at New York University's dermatology department. An integral part of the hand's anatomy, the cuticle (the thin, soft tissue around the nail's base) protects the matrix (where the nail grows) from bacteria. Infections can cause redness, pain or nail deformity, Kechijian says. (Some manicurists' tools may not be sterilized properly, contributing to the problem.) Instead of getting them cut, have your fingers soaked in soap and water before having moisturizer applied to them. The manicurist can then gently push the cuticles back with her finger or a towel. (Follow these steps for home manicures too.) Applying moisturizing creams (with ingredients like jojoba oil, aloe and vitamin E) daily will help prevent dryness and cracks, keeping cuticles looking neat and making cutting unnecessary. Use Sally Hansen Advanced Cuticle Repair with vitamins A and E ($5; at drugstores) or OPI Avoplex Nail and Cuticle Replenishing Oil with avocado oil ($7; 800-341-9999).