Nails are more than a decorative opportunity or an all-purpose tool: they also play an important role in protecting your fingers and toes, and they can also reflect a lot about your health. The cuticle, the soft tissue that bridges the gap at the nail bed between the hard nail and the rest of your skin, serves as a protective barrier. It keeps viruses, bacteria, and other sources of damage away from skin as well as the growth matrix, which is where the nail growth begins.
Cuticles can become damaged for a number of reasons. One of the most common sources of bleeding or painful nails is nail biting: many people who bite their nails also bite the skin, which can lead to tears that extend to the cuticle, or they bite the cuticles themselves. Other people have a nervous habit of picking at their cuticles with their nails. If you bite your nails and notice damage to your cuticles, take it as one more reason to quit.
Manicures may also be an unexpected source of damage to cuticles, if the technician trims them. Some people believe it’s healthier or that it will stimulate growth, but neither is true: the cuticle is meant to remain intact in order to protect the nail, so it should only ever be pushed back gently with a tool known as an orange stick. Cutting them can cause bleeding, hangnails, and other pain, as well as leaving it open to infection.
In some cases, damage to cuticles simply happens because of wear and tear, as well as a lack of care. The tissue is soft, technically part of the skin, so it needs some maintenance to stay healthy. As with the rest of skin, peeling, tearing, and bleeding can occur when cuticles become too dry; exposure to moisture dries them out, so while washing your hands or dishes can make your cuticles drier, people whose jobs require frequent exposure to moisture are at a higher risk. Preventing and treating excessive dryness can help with bleeding or peeling cuticles: apply moisturizing lotion regularly, especially after your hands come in contact with water, keeps them soft and supple, which keeps them strong and less likely to tear.