Count this among the list of beauty myths that need to be squashed once and for all: Battling dry skin is strictly a wintertime sport. The truth is that our skin can dry and crack any time of year — and that includes the often-neglected skin around your fingernails. “Even with frequent hand washing, the nails and cuticles can dry out,” notes dermatologist and nail expert Chris Adigun, MD, FAAD.
Dry, flaky fingertips aren’t just uncomfortable: When nails, cuticles, and the surrounding skin lose moisture, the small cracks that form can put the nail at risk for secondary bacterial and yeast infections. “Bacterial infections can cause painful paronychia (in which the skin becomes red, swollen, and even pus-filled), and yeast infections can cause the nail plate to ‘lift up’ and surrounding skin to become swollen and tender,” Dr. Adigun says. “Eventually, the nail plate can thicken and yellow as it becomes infected, too.” It’s a hell of a domino effect.
The key to nursing the nails and their surrounding skin back to health? Hydrating the cuticles so they’re healthy enough to their job, which is to maintain moisture in and around the nails. That means regularly applying humectant-based and lipid-rich lotions during the day (look for those with lactic acid, glycerin, or ceramides), using emollient-rich creams and oils before bedtime (formulations with beeswax, white petrolatum, and dimethicone make the grade, according to Dr. Adigun), and otherwise leaving cuticles well enough alone. “Patients need to tell their manicurists to not push or trim their cuticles to maintain the health of their cuticles and nails,” Dr. Adigun advises.