Cuticle care for the phobic
January 29, 2020 4:04 AM   Subscribe

My fingernails have overgrown (I think?) cuticles. I would like to make them look nicer. Difficulty level: phobia.

First off: I have a phobia about damage to fingers and toes. This makes me reluctant to just google for the answers to this question. Please don't describe injuries or things that could go wrong in your answers, thank you!

I have fingernails with short nail beds and have always had cuticles that cover up the bottom part of the nails. There seem to be two layers of cuticle, a thin layer that grows further onto the nail and a thicker outside layer? I suppose this is normal but have never looked for more information because of my phobia. I don't want to know details of how fingernails grow and what they're made up of.

I would like my cuticles not to grow over the nail so much. It looks untidy when I paint my nails: either I paint over them and get a less-smooth surface, or I don't, in which case my nails look ridiculously short.

I have heard that part of getting a manicure is pushing the cuticles back? I would prefer to treat this myself rather than going to a manicurist, though. I have also heard of some tool called an 'orange stick' and to be honest, even that phrase makes my skin crawl.

What I have tried: pushing the cuticles back with my thumbnail. That sort of works but they spring back and look even more untidy. I use hand cream in the winter but should probably use it more often. I would be open to using some other lotion or product and possibly even a tool, so long as it doesn't hurt!

This is probably much simpler than I'm worried it will be. Thanks for any answers!
posted by daisyk to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Best answer: There’s a product called cuticle oil that is designed to help you push your cuticles back, but I imagine that any deep moisturizer will help you if you don’t want to venture into the nail section of a store. Moisturize really well, then let them sit for 3-4 minutes before trying to push them back. An orange wood stick is the typical tool for this - it has a good angled end for pushing back and scraping - but as long as your thumbnail is clean it’s worth trying on a well-moisturized cuticle before buying a specialty product. This process should definitely not hurt.

(I am not a trained nail person, but I push my cuticles back every time I do my nails, so every week or so.)
posted by okayokayigive at 4:15 AM on January 29, 2020

Best answer: Since I started using a body cream with a higher concentration of alpha hydroxy acids (the Gold Bond Rough and Bumpy cream), I've noticed I have zero visible dry cuticle tissue on my nails, and that's without pushing it back or trimming it off (I don't recommend trimming because it's just harder to do right and I'm lazy). This is probably just because the AHAs in the lotion are making the skin softer and less likely to cling to the nail. A cuticle oil applied regularly would likely have a similar effect, but I just get the lotion on my fingers when applying it to my body after showering, and that's one less thing to do than an extra cuticle oil step.

Orange sticks are just called that because they used to be made out of orange wood; they're really just wooden sticks cut to a shape that makes it easier to push the cuticle off the nail plate, which can be easier if you have short nails that can't push the cuticle back well. Definitely push cuticles back when your skin is soft (either from showering or with cuticle oil). Not because you'll injure yourself, just because it's more comfortable and the dead skin is less stubborn that way. Pushing the cuticles back will probably also have a nice side effect in that you may experience fewer hangnails, and who doesn't want that?

It can take a week or so of moisturizing the skin and pushing it back to really notice a difference, so don't rush yourself and see what works for you as a habit.

(Not a nail tech, just someone tangentially in the cosmetics industry who watches a lot of nail Youtube.)
posted by wakannai at 4:29 AM on January 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There seem to be two layers of cuticle, a thin layer that grows further onto the nail and a thicker outside layer? I suppose this is normal but have never looked for more information because of my phobia.

Without going into any detail at all: yes, what you're describing there is completely normal.
posted by flabdablet at 5:42 AM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

To add to what others have said about orange sticks, they are made of orange wood rather than some other wood because orange wood doesn't splinter, so it won't hurt you, and being wood instead of metal or hard plastic, they won't scratch your fingernails.

I use Flexitol cuticle cream all day at my desk (contains urea, which is the best thing ever for dry skin) and I use my washcloth to push my cuticles back when I'm in the bath. I use an orange stick to clean under my nails because I have similar (but less severe) sensitivities about my fingers and I can't bring myself to clean under them with metal or plastic.
posted by cilantro at 6:40 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

My cuticles grow over the white half moons. I use hand lotion and gently push the cuticle back with a fingernail or popsicle stick. My sister does this probably daily, has longer nail beds, visible half moons.

Ask friends for recommendations, if you feel okay about a manicure, they'll trim the cuticles and push them back, no discomfort.
posted by theora55 at 6:56 AM on January 29, 2020

I typically paint my nails once a week, and before I do so I use a cuticle remover (Sally Hansen, Blue Cross) to soften the cuticles before pushing them back with an orange stick. The ones I linked above are really gentle, and you only need to leave them on for 30 seconds or so before pushing back the cuticle. After I wash it off, I moisturize with oil or lotion so they don't dry out and look untidy.

I recommend orange sticks like everyone else has above because unlike metal and plastic, they're gentle and won't scratch your nails. I don't recommend using a trimmer; it's hard to do right and you risk infection.
posted by supermassive at 6:58 AM on January 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Don't trim cuticles or let a manicurist do this. Cuticle oil will work (you don't even necessarily need an orange stick- just gently push back with another fingernail).
posted by pinochiette at 6:59 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I push them back with my thumb in the shower. In addition, try finding something like this hand polish. I think it's not made anymore but it was great for removing the cuticle that grew on the actual nail. An equivalent would be Fast Orange.
posted by vivzan at 7:00 AM on January 29, 2020

Best answer: When you start pushing the cuticles back, it's going to look untidy. But keep at it and eventually your cuticles will look neater. Your cuticles didn't get into the state they're in overnight and it's going to take time to get them into shape.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 7:22 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

A cuticle oil pen might be worth investigating. It's easier and cleaner to brush the oil exactly where it needs to go, and some of the ones I've seen even have a cuticle pusher on the lid of the pen.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:32 AM on January 29, 2020

Best answer: Immediately after taking a shower put moisturizer on your fingers, and then use your own thumb nail to push back the cuticles. If you do this every day, it keeps them tidy, and no need to use any
posted by mmf at 7:38 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Sally Hansen cuticle remover supermassive recommended is awesome. If my cuticles are trimmed or even pushed back I tend to get a lot of hangnails, but by using this stuff, I have no damage or pain and the nail bed is clean and takes polish well.

You apply it around the nail on the cuticle, wait 30-60 seconds, then kind of scrub at the base of the nail with the orange stick. Then wash off with mild soap. It doesn't hurt and doesn't damage anything.

Pushing back your cuticles is unnecessary if all you want to do is tidy the nail for polishing.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:57 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like mmf's solution the best. You can get your cuticles a little softer by soaking them in warm water (or after a bath/shower). Gently push them back with your thumbnail. Moisturize. You can also rub any old lotion into them at bedtime and push them back again then. I think of it like training your cuticles not to be so aggressive.

P.S. I also have really small nails. A friend of mine told me she thinks they're really cute, because they are so small. It was a delightful perspective shift.
posted by purple_bird at 10:01 AM on January 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for your sensitive advice. I have been pushing my cuticles back after intensively moisturising them, every couple of days, and they already look much better. (I guess I can do it every week or so in the future.)
posted by daisyk at 3:27 AM on February 15, 2020

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