Cuticles are the thin layer of skin around the nail. They are an extension of the skin and are nature’s design mechanism to protect the fingers and toes from becoming infected by fungus or bacteria.
The function of cuticles is to create and push new cells into the nails. This is what causes your nails to grow. When people have a severe illness, their fingernails and toenails stop growing because the immune system uses energy for other parts of the body that need it more.
Although most people never experience problems or notice any discoloration around the nails, others find that their cuticles suddenly become dry, hard, and yellow.
While there are several possible causes, there could also be underlying medical issues. Medical practitioners use cuticles as a signal to identify potential health issues in patients. Your toenails are a health indicator, so pay attention to any color changes.
In this guide, we will discuss medical conditions that could be causing your cuticles to turn dry, hard, thick, and yellow. We will also take a look at general causes and provide you with tips and information on how to treat yellowing cuticles and prevent further irritation in the future.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Causes Cuticles to Harden and Turn Yellow?
- 2 How to Fix Dry Cuticles
- 3 How to Soften Hard Cuticles
- 4 How to Prevent Hard and Thick Cuticles
What Causes Cuticles to Harden and Turn Yellow?
Yellowing of the cuticles, or any discoloration of the nail, could be a warning sign that there is something wrong with your health. If you do notice the yellow skin around the cuticles on your toes or fingernails, you should eat healthily and take precautions to prevent damaged cuticles.
There are many reasons why you might develop bright yellow cuticles. However, in most cases, there is no cause for alarm. Conditions that result in severe cuticle damage are treatable once the cause is identified, and in most cases, you will not need to seek medical advice.
Cracked or hard peeling cuticles are typically due to cold weather. While they may be painful, there is no cause for concern. However, should you happen to notice the yellow skin around the cuticles, this is a sign that your body is carrying an infection.
1) Vitamin Deficiency
Yellow cuticles are often a sign of vitamin deficiency. To rescue your nails, make sure you take healthy doses of vitamins, mainly E, B complex and vitamin C. Vitamins A and D should also be included in your diet.
A vitamin deficiency causes a weakened immune system which ultimately leads to hard cuticles around toes and fingers. If there is no other medical condition causing a yellow tint in your cuticles, the most likely cause is a lack of nutrition.
Fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamins, and a healthy diet helps to ward off fungal infections underneath fingernails. However, you will also find hand products and cuticle care products contain active ingredients that will stabilize vitamin deficiency.
2) Nail Fungus
People with a weak immune system and diabetes are more at risk of developing a yellow nail fungus. A common infection is known as paronychia which produces a red swelling around the base of the nail.
Chronic paronychia can cause abscesses around the base of the toenail or fingernail and is usually accompanied by a stabbing pain. Acute paronychia causes the breakdown of the cuticle and separates the nail from the skin.
Paronychia is common in people with diabetes. It can also be caused by biting, chewing and picking your nails or pulling at hangnails. However, it occurs when nails are overexposed to water or harsh chemicals.
People that suffer from irritant dermatitis can also suffer from nail fungus. Once the skin is irritated, they are more susceptible to germs and can cause an infection.
Bright yellow cuticles can be an early warning sign of diabetes. If this is the case, associated symptoms include the need to urinate, feelings of fatigue and persistent thirstiness. The yellow around cuticles is caused by glucose attaching to collagen proteins in the nail.
4) Lung Problems
A variety of pulmonary diseases are linked with yellow nail syndrome and severe cuticle damage. The forming of yellow around the cuticles has been found in patients with pleural effusions, empyema, bronchiectasis, bilateral cystic lung disease, and sinusitis.
It is believed the yellowing is the result of defective lymphatic drainage, but could also be related to an immune deficiency as a result of a problem in the lungs.
How to Fix Dry Cuticles
For skin to remain healthy and in good condition, it needs moisture. Due to low temperatures and humidity, it is relatively common for people to develop dry cuticles during the winter months.
If your hands are overexposed to water throughout the day, it makes your skin soft and causes cuticles to become ragged and unsightly. You also lose the natural moisture in your hands, so your skin dries out more quickly.
Hard and dry cuticles around toes and fingers are painful and irritating. In severe cases, they can also crack and weaken the defensive walls that protect yours from bacteria.
To prevent cuticles from drying out, it is vital to keep your skin hydrated. You can do this by using skin care creams that are specifically designed to hydrate hard peeling cuticles, together with plenty of water intake throughout the day.
When the body is not properly hydrated, thick cuticles can become cracked and painful. The good news is that you can prevent cuticles from drying out. If your cuticles are already hard, dry and jagged, here are some effective ways to treat them:
Neosporin contains a combination of antibiotics that kill bacteria on the skin and can be used to prevent infections when cuticles are cracked. If you do have hard peeling cuticles, apply some ointment and cover your nails with a bandage.
2) Cuticle Oils
People that live in cold climates, have your hands in water a lot or suffer from thick cuticles that easily become hard, dry and cracked should systematically apply appropriate moisturizing lotion to your skin daily. The best time is after a bath or shower as the heat helps to soften the cuticles.
Some oils are specifically designed to lock in moisture. The types of cuticle oils experts recommend are rich in vitamin E such as shea butter cream, cocoa seed, and sweet almond oil.
For people that prefer natural remedies, you can soften and soothe dry, hard cuticles in warm olive oil for five minutes three times a week and gently massage the oil into your fingertips.
For extra hard cuticles, try soothing your hands for longer, or “a second time” and cover your hands with saran wrap when you’re done.
As we mentioned above, the yellow skin around the nails can be a sign of a vitamin deficiency.
A cure for fixing dry cuticles is to add more zinc and vitamin C, D and E into your diet. Make a concerted effort to add more spinach, sweet potato, butternut squash, salmon and other seafood to your diet.
4) Cutting Your Cuticles
Cuticles are a natural protective shield for nails and should never be cut. Even when you have ragged hangnails, or they feel hard, dry and painful, you should refrain from removing them.
Causing trauma to the cuticle area can lead to the spread of bacteria and result in irregularities in the nail – such as discoloration, hardness, and soreness.
Furthermore, cuticles are supposed to be soft. Cutting them will cause them to go hard whereby they are more likely to fracture. If you want to make your nails look longer, experts recommend gently pushing cuticles back with a wooden orange stick.
5) Wear Disposable Gloves
Excessive exposure to water will leave your cuticles hard and dry. This is a common occurrence for cleaners, bar staff, kitchen porters and anybody that works with chemicals.
When cuticles dry out, they crack, peel, and flake. While ointments offer a remedy in some cases, they can be messy and impractical during the day. The best alternative is to prevent your hands from getting excessively wet by wearing disposable gloves.
How to Soften Hard Cuticles
When cuticles become hard and dry, they crack and cause discomfort. You can ease the pain and irritation by adding various treatments that soothe and soften hard cuticles around toes and fingers. Below is a list of moisturizers and oils that will help.
However, before applying moisturizer or oils, soften the skin by soaking your hands in lukewarm water for 10 or 15 minutes. After taking a shower or a bath is also a good time to apply treatment for hard peeling cuticles.
If you have thick cuticles, you should push them back to the nail base with an orange stick. Angle the orange stick and push the cuticle down gently. If there is some resistance, soak your hands a little longer in soapy water.
For cuticles that are hard and dry but have not detached from the nail, apply a moisturizing treatment. Ointments which contain citric acids, petroleum, and glycerin work best.
If your cuticle is cracked or ragged and coming away from the nail, the best choice of treatment is a specially formulated cuticle oil that contains vegetable oils, coconut oil, flaxseed or citric acids. These ingredients perform deep hydration, so it is advised that you use the ointment sparingly. Otherwise, your cuticles will become accustomed to the moisture and cause more problems in the future.
Recommended Products to Soften Hard Cuticles
- CND Solar Oil Nail and Cuticle Conditioner: contains almond oil, jojoba oil, and vitamin E that to help restore and recondition skin.
- C.O. Bigelow Lavender Salve: Contains lavender extract to heal and dry skin.
- Burt Bee’s Cuticle Cream: Contains citric acids to nourish damaged cuticles and has a sweet lemon-burst scent.
Experts recommend keeping your hands and cuticles moisturized in the winter months by applying oils or creams before going outside.
Lotions not only add moisture to your hand but also helps to protect your skin from damage caused by the elements. Wearing gloves on cold days also helps to prevent oils from drying up too quickly.
How to Prevent Hard and Thick Cuticles
As we mentioned, the yellow skin around cuticles can be an indication you have something wrong with your health that could lead to worse illnesses. It is therefore important to identify what is causing the yellow skin around the nails.
Here we will walk you through some effective methods of preventing hard and thick cuticles or helping to cure health conditions that may be causing damage to your cuticles. By following our tips, you can also be assured you are looking after your overall health and well-being.
Yellow skin and hard peeling cuticles are caused by one of these principle categories:
- Bacterial infection, allergy or illness
- Poor diet – which can also cause the underlying illness
- Mechanical damage – caused by cold weather, water or trauma following an injury
To make your cuticles look smooth and eliminate the yellow discoloration around the nails and prevent the pain caused by hard peeling cuticle, we recommend addressing all the above issues by adopting the preventative measures outlined below.
Infections of Skin around the Nails
Severe cuticle damage weakens the defensive wall around your nails. If your cuticles are hard, dry, cracked or bright yellow, it could mean that you have an infection or illness.
Although yellow cuticles can be caused by serious illnesses, you don’t need to consult a medical professional specifically about damaged cuticles. Taking care of your nails and your health may relieve the symptoms, but if the problem does persist you should visit your podiatrist.
Bacterial infections are a common cause of yellow skin around the cuticles. Soaking your nails in hot water laced with Epsom salt several times a day will soften the cuticles and help to reduce the pain and swelling.
In cases where the skin around the nails is caused by a bacterial infection, you should apply some anti-fungal cream. If you have blisters, you should also pierce the abscess and drain away the fluid.
If this doesn’t ease the pain, or if you notice the infection getting worse or spreading, consult your doctor. They will be able to prescribe you with some antibiotics to clear up whatever infection is causing your cuticles to dry out.
Correct nail care can help prevent fungal infections around the nails. It is good practice to trim your nails every week or so. Never cut the cuticles though as their purpose is to provide a barrier to protect you from germs. Cuticle damage increases the risk of getting more infections.
You should also only ever use your own nail tools. It is possible to pick up fungal infections from nail salons. However, don’t let this put you off visiting a nail salon if you like to get your nails repaired by a professional, but as a precaution, take your own tools.
1) Improve Your Diet
A healthy diet means you will have healthy skin and perfectly smooth cuticles. Yellow around cuticles is common in people with an immune deficiency and those that suffer from diabetes.
Make sure your diet is rich in zinc, calcium, and vitamins, A, B, C, D, and E. Vitamins are responsible for keeping your skin in excellent condition, and a vitamin deficiency, especially vitamin E, is often the main culprit for cuticles drying out. Also, drink plenty of water.
The types of food that have plenty of skin-friendly vitamins are milk, eggs and cheese, oats, olive oil, shellfish, and citrus fruits. Avoid alcohol and processed foods from the supermarket, together with fast-foods of any kind.
To help speed up the process, and boost the health of your immune system, take appropriate vitamin supplements. It is also good practice to remove sugar and fats from your diet until the discoloration of the skin around the nails clears up.
Yellow skin around the cuticles that is caused by a vitamin deficiency should take around two to three weeks to fix if you stick to a proper diet. If the problem persists for more than three weeks, consult a doctor.
If the yellow around the cuticles does clear, bear in mind that the cure is because you have been eating well and providing the body with the nutrients it needs to stay fit – so, keep up the healthy eating habits.
2) Mechanical Damage
To eliminate external damage to your cuticles stop using cheap lotions and oils that are not rich in vitamins and other ingredients that are good for treating and nourishing skin complaints.
If you have ragged and jagged hard peeling cuticles that are cracked and painful, do not use nail polish and polish remover as they will dry out sensitive skin. Whenever you do use polish remover, use a moisturizer that is designed to lock in moist and revitalize skin cells.
Investing in good hand cream is a prerequisite to maintaining healthy skin around the nails. Ointments that state on the bottle that they are specifically for dry and chapped hands are the best moisturizers for preventing cuticles from drying out.
If you prefer natural remedies, pure olive oil from the grocery store or almond oil from a chemist or reputable organic food store is an excellent alternative option to hand creams.
You should also look for ways to protect your cuticles from damage. If your job involves getting your hands wet, you should wear disposable gloves. Also, wear appropriate gloves in cold weather and when doing the housework or gardening.
Before applying moisturizer, exfoliate your hands to clear away all the dead skin. This will allow more ointment to sink deeper into the living skin and get right down to the cells that need replenishing.
Be careful with the repair of your cuticles. You should never clip, nip or trim them. Damage caused to cuticles invites bacterial infections. If they appear jagged, peeled, or thick use an orange stick to tuck them in at the nail base.
Clipping your cuticles will also cause them to grow back thicker, ragged and out of shape. This makes them appear unsightly and ruins the look of your nail polish.
4) Invest in a Humidifier
If you live in a warm climate, the air will dry out your skin. Air is also excessively dry throughout the winter months and will cause chapped hands if you do not protect them with gloves and moisturizer cream.
Purchasing a humidifier to add moisture to your home or workplace, replenishes the air and benefits your skin. A good place to store humidifiers is in the bedroom so you can benefit from the magic box while you’re sound asleep.
So to wrap up, we’ll go over the key points again; maintain a healthy diet, eat plenty of vitamins, zinc, and calcium, drink plenty of water, never cut your cuticles and protect your skin with hand cream or appropriate gloves.
If you follow these hard and fast rules but still experience hard and dry cuticles or yellow skin around the nails, consult a doctor as there could be an underlying health concern.