The Worst Pedicure Mistake Doctors Say You Can Make

Updated: Jan. 27, 2024

Keep your toes in tip-top shape by following this expert-advised golden rule. Plus, shop our vetted list of popular cuticle creams.

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Pedicures are about more than splashing a trendy new color on your toes (though, we might argue, that can be the best part). Whether you DIY it at home or swear by the pro at your salon, men and women alike benefit from keeping their toes trim and tidy. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 99 percent of people will have a nail disorder at some point in their life, from stubborn fungal and bacterial infections to brittle, splitting nails. Keeping up with a regular grooming routine can help keep these problems at bay—while adding that little touch of pampering to your daily grind.

But experts emphasize one big caveat: you can scrub, trim, file, and polish. Just make sure you keep your cuticles intact.  

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Here’s Why We Have Cuticles

Your cuticle is the thin, clear layer attached to the skin at the base of your nail—called the nail bed. That nail bed serves a crucial role in your nail health, explains Anna Chacon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Florida. That’s because your cuticle, also called the eponychium, is the nail’s primary barrier against allergens, irritants, and pathogens. Without it, nail beds are at risk of everything from minor irritation to more serious conditions and painful inflammation. 

A healthy cuticle also protects and strengthens your nail—so, if you’re dealing with weak, brittle nails, take note. Nails are made up of a type of protein called keratin that hardens as it ages, which is why the tips of healthy nails tend to be the strongest. This firm protein deposit works to protect our toes, making them less vulnerable to infections and injuries. (Just imagine: it would hurt a lot more to stub your toe without a toenail!)

As new, fragile keratin forms in the nail bed, your cuticle protects it as the keratin fortifies so that your nail can grow.

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“Why Shouldn’t I Cut My Cuticles?”

“My patients ask me this question all the time,” Bradley Schaeffer, DPM, a board-certified foot and ankle surgeon who appears on the TLC show My Feet Are Killing Me, tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest. Dr. Schaeffer’s verdict? “They’re there for a purpose, designed as a protective barrier—and should be preserved as such,” he says.

Trimming this skin opens the door to all types of bacteria, he explains. Still, even if you avoid irritation or infection, Dr. Chacon says that cutting your cuticles can lead to plenty of other problems, like slower nail growth, uneven ridges, and white spots or lines. “Chronically cutting the cuticles can also make them hard and more likely to break off,” she adds. 

It’s common for cuticles to grow past the nail bed, however, which can be a big reason it’s so tempting to trim them. While this overgrowth can be a cosmetic nuisance, it doesn’t usually cause any problems.

If you just don’t like the sight of them, one option is to push overgrown cuticles back gently with a sterilized tool or wooden cuticle stick—and only if they’re soft and well-moisturized. 

Shop the Best Cuticle Creams

The key is to maintain good cuticle health so that regardless of their length, they don’t dry out, flake, and crack, effectively breaking their protective seal. Specialized cuticle creams can go a long way in keeping your nail’s protective barrier strong and soft while encouraging stronger, healthier nails in the process.

Check out these top-rated cuticle creams to nourish and protect your nails through sandal season and beyond. 

Also check out Brooke Shields Exclusive: Her 4 Wellness Must-Haves

Hard As Hoof Nail Strengthening Cream

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This best-seller from Onyx Professional is a moisturizing blend of vitamins, minerals, and conditioners like jojoba seed oil and beeswax. Some shoppers suggest it’s a must-have if you’re prone to drying, cracking cuticles that hamper healthy nail growth, according to the product’s 55,000 reviewers. “My ragged cuticles instantly softened and disappeared,” wrote Amazon reviewer RoseAnn Gibbons. “Within minutes, I actually saw and felt a difference.” 

Sally Hansen Cuticle Massage Cream

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Sally Hansen is synonymous with all-things nail care—and this shea butter-apricot oil combo is no exception. It’s ideal for those with extra-sensitive nail beds, especially if you struggle with ragged cuticles and painful hangnails. One user, Cheryl Veazey, explained that her cuticles grow excessively but are prone to drying and other issues. “After a week [using this product], I was completely blown away,” she wrote. “I couldn’t go without it.” 

Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream 

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This tiny tin packs a punch with ultra-nourishing sweet almond oil, vitamin E, and sunflower oil. You’ll also get a hit of fresh lemon oil that’ll leave your toes (and hands!) refreshingly hydrated. “I’ve tried many creams going all the way to dermatologist-prescribed ones to keep my cuticles in good shape,” wrote verified reviewer Seward. “I usually get small skin splints that stick out next to my nails—after applying this once, everything goes back to normal the next day.” 

OPI Pro Spa Nail and Cuticle Oil

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If your toes need an even stronger dose of TLC, this cuticle oil from fan-favorite nail brand OPI is “something you don’t know you need until you get it,” writes user Weatheredreader. “Works great on hard, torn cuticles—saw a difference after the first day.” 

Now, before you slap a coat of paint on those stronger, healthier toenails, learn more about what experts want you to know when it comes to choosing a safe, non-toxic polish

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