Light Skin "Strips" at Base of Nail
August 4, 2019 3:49 PM   Subscribe

My fingers very often get sort of light bits of skin strips peeling away at the bottom of the nail. Do these have a common name, and is there a way to treat or prevent them? (Semi-gross photo.) If it matters, male in 40s. Thanks!
posted by WCityMike to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not a doctor or a dermatologist, but those look like your cuticles just getting especially stubbornly stuck to your nails. I get that too, and all it takes to treat that is just gently pushing them down towards the base of the nail once in a while to keep things tidy. Try to do that right after you get out of the shower while the skin is wet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:55 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

And use moisturizer on your hands, too. Focus especially on your cuticles.
posted by DrGail at 4:01 PM on August 4

This happens when your cuticles aren't well-groomed. The rough cuticle snags and the thin skin there tears. Moisturizing with a rich hand cream or cuticle oil will help as will pushing back the cuticle that's against the nail. When the tears happen, clip them off with clean cuticle scissors or with a clean nail clipper.
posted by quince at 4:02 PM on August 4

Those look like hangnails. They’re super common. I’d get a manicure from a clean reputable nail salon, and have them trim those cuticles too. Alternatively, at home You can carefully clip them off with clean nippers and toss some antibiotic cream on them if you’re worried about infection. Keeping your hands clean and moisturized will help prevent them. I like this particular cuticle oil on my nails just before bed.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 4:04 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Thank you so far. Could someone explain, and pretend like I'm a five-year-old or less, what a cuticle is?
posted by WCityMike at 4:48 PM on August 4

It's that little piece of skin that overlaps the base of your nails.
posted by bink at 5:07 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

The cuticle is kind of like a seal between your nail and your skin. It's just a little bit tougher skin than your regular skin; it's there to cover the crack between "nail" and "regular skin" to protect your nail bed and keep bacteria from getting in.

Because it's a little tougher than regular skin, it can dry out a little easier and get tough. That's how sometimes it sticks to the nail like what you're seeing happen on your own fingers.

This is a very, very common thing you're seeing; there's even a whole tool that you can pick up in the drug store, an "orange stick", that is specifically designed for pushing the cuticles down to the base of your nail like we're saying. I found this youtube video if you want to see details; they discuss using a "cuticle remover" at the start, you don't need that, just try lotion first and then letting things sit a while. Or you don't even need the orange stick, you can just very gently use another fingernail.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:12 PM on August 4 [6 favorites]

Your fingernail's foreskin? (heh) Or if you had a horn, you could imagine that the skin around it would have to grow up and around the base of the horn for bit and curl back under itself like a bit of a sheath.

If you go to a drugstore or whatnot and look through the nail file/polish/clipper aisle you'll find these little sticks that are made just for the purpose of pushing back and lifting the cuticle just a fraction of a millimeter so they lay on top of the nail but aren't just stuck to the nail and being dragged along as the nail grows.

Olive oil or the like also make a good nail moisturizer thing if you're not into hand-creams and such. Just get them oiled up and let it soak for a few minutes before washing off any excess.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:14 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]

My cuticles get a little messy and recently they got a little out of control. So I adopted a new approach. I used this cuticle remover cream let it sit per directions and then gently pushed back with a cuticle stick. Trimmed the extra skin and hangnails very carefully with manicure scissors.

If a salon isn't an option there are multiple youtube manicure tutorials, several for men specifically if that matters to you.
posted by bunderful at 5:42 PM on August 4

Wash your hands (clean under the nails!), oil up the cuticles, wait a while, then push them back with the orange stick. I know it's not recommended, but I clip off obviously 'dead' cuticle parts with nail clippers (again, in theory, a pair that I should frequently clean with isopropyl alcohol, but don't really, and it's always been fine).
posted by batter_my_heart at 5:45 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Please do not "clip" your cuticles!!! Beyond not recommended!

Get a manicure for a fresh start. Just tell them you don't want polish, unless you want clear -- often chosen by guys. Or you can ask them to buff the nails instead of using polish.

Then, go to the drugstore and get some Sally Hansen cuticle remover and a nail brush for future use. Do that even if you opt out of a manicure.
posted by jgirl at 6:31 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Moisturizing will help if you're not doing it already. Get some lotion (I really like Aveeno) and use it multiple times everyday, especially right after bathing/showering, always after washing dishes or anything else involving strong detergent, and right before bed. If you can, especially when your hands are extra dried out, do one or two times of applying a lot of lotion right before bed while your hands are still damp, then putting gloves or socks on for the night.

There are also special hand salves like Udder Cream and some stuff made by Burt's Bees.
posted by amtho at 6:57 PM on August 4

In the short term, I've found that issues with my cuticles are quickly cleared up by applying one drop of 100% tea tree oil under the associated fingernail right at the fingertip, letting it wick its way into all the places it can find to go from there, doing my best to avoid wiping it off until I've forgotten it's there, then doing nothing else at all for it for a couple of days.

The best time to do this is right after trimming the nail, because that means the oil isn't wasting its time on altering the microbial balance in parts of me that I'm going to discard anyway.

Over the longer term, I find that I get fewer cuticle issues in months where I've made a more deliberate attempt to include a bit more fruit and a wider variety of vegetables in my diet.
posted by flabdablet at 8:44 PM on August 4

How’s your vitamin D intake? I seem to get hangnails when I don’t get enough. Maybe something easy to try.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 9:14 PM on August 4

Another nice thing you can do for your fingers is give each fingernail a thorough going over, all around all its edges, with a well-soaped electric toothbrush. Feels amazing, and will totally lay waste to anything tiny that wants to make a living off dead skin and is therefore encouraging your body to make more of it.

You might want to keep a second head for your electric toothbrush just for this job if the idea strikes you as gross. Personally, I just rinse mine thoroughly and call it good.

One of the most important healthcare tips I ever picked up in my life is that sending antiseptic or antibiotic creams to do soap and water's job is usually a mistake.
posted by flabdablet at 2:54 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]

I used to get a cuticle softener lotion that came in a tube; the cap of the tube was shaped like the end of an orange stick so you cod use it to push the cuticles back once they're softened.

If you have $20-$30 to spare, I highly recommend getting a professional manicure to get you started. It feels so good I'm involuntarily smiling just thinking about it. And get in the habit of using hand lotion a few times a day, especially after washing your hands.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:08 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]

My skin does that when I don't regularly moisturize after exposure to hot or soapy water. They are called hangnails-- bits of skin that dry and split off the skin surrounding the nail. For me it has nothing to do with cuticle length... just the dry skin. I found lip balm a convenient moisturizer when I had a job that involved lots of handwashing. If it's an open sore, use neosporin.
posted by zennie at 5:23 AM on August 5

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