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What Causes Dry & Cracked Skin Around the Fingernails?

author image Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist in Washington, D.C. Currently a foreign affairs writer, she loves time on the road and has reaped travel tips for the nearest and most remote destinations. Johnson was once editor of a national cat magazine and has a variety of furry, scaly and feathered pets.
What Causes Dry & Cracked Skin Around the Fingernails?
A woman gets a manicure in a beauty salon. Photo Credit Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

Your hands do the walking through a minefield of irritating substances and situations. Dry skin around the fingernails, in form of scraggly cuticles or rough fingertips, can be more than just an aesthetic annoyance if cracked skin lets in harmful bacteria. Take care of this skin whether you're braving a chilly day, sitting down for a manicure, scrubbing a floor or scrubbing your hands.

Drying Elements

You're likely subjecting your hands to all sorts of torture in the course of a day, whether you're clinging to a cliff on a rock climb or plowing through a sink full of dirty dishes. Constantly exposed to dirt, detergents and nasty weather, cuticles can be dried out even more by constant hand-washing necessary to kill germs. The sides of the fingers or the fingertips can develop rough skin from constant use and dry, cold weather. Fingertips can also be neglected if you're quickly rubbing some lotion between the backs of your hands.

Polish Pitfalls

A beauty treatment intended to bring out the best in your hands can have the unintended consequence of irritating the skin around your nails. Taking a trimmer to the cuticles can do more harm than good and potentially invite a bacterial infection. Pushing back the cuticles with a stick is the preferred method, but any rough treatment of this skin can still cause irritation or worse. Some nail polish removers contain vitamin E or other moisturizers to lessen negative effects from the paint stripper, but a pad soaked with remover can still dry or irritate sensitive skin around the nail.

Bad Habits

The condition of a person's nail and cuticles can reflect a nervous habit or a lack of nourishment going into your body. Biting or picking at nails and cuticles predictably results in damage to these structures and even skin infections. Hangnails that are ripped off instead of gently clipped at the base with a sterile tool can result in damaged or wounded skin. Not getting a balanced diet or drinking enough water can be reflected in brittle nails and dry skin. And not donning a pair of rubber gloves when you scrub the bathtub or do other household chores that involve cleansers and chemicals can make your hands extra dry.

From Dry to Smooth

Good skin starts from the inside out, so eat a healthy diet rich in essential nutrients and hydration. Use a moisture-dense shea butter or vitamin E cream on fingers and nails once or twice a day, and swap your hand soap and dishwashing liquid for rich, moisturizing formulas. Remember to give your hands a scrub with an exfoliating puff in the shower and moisturize afterward. Be kind to your hands during a manicure by using acetone-free polish remover and don't trim the cuticles; try a different manicurist if the technician is uncomfortably aggressive with your hands. For high-intensity healing, slather moisturizer on hands and fingers and slip into a pair of cotton moisturizing gloves before going to bed.

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