The cuticles may appear tough, but they are just as prone to damage as the rest of the skin. Biting the fingernails or toenails and exposing them to irritants can cause infection that culminate in intense cuticle pain and swelling. Continue reading to learn more about sore cuticles.
What Does Sore Cuticles Mean?
If you have not experienced a traumatic injury to your cuticles or fingernails, then having sore cuticles mostly likely means that you are dealing with an infection, a condition medically known as paronychia. According to MedlinePlus, “Paronychia is a skin infection that occurs around the nails.” Paronychia can affect the skin around the toenails as well as fingernails and can either be acute or chronic.
Most commonly associated with sudden cuticle pain, acute paronychia is caused by bacterial infection when injury to the skin e.g. from cutting cuticles, creates a point of entry for bacteria. In addition to severe pain in cuticles and surrounding areas, acute paronychia is characterized by redness, swelling, and warmth.
Another possible cause of sore cuticles, chronic paronychia is caused by yeast (fungus) infection, especially candida. It typically occurs on several fingers. Chronic paronychia is notable for gradual swelling that is accompanied by redness. The affected areas of skin also feels warm to the touch. The condition is often accompanied with nails deformity.
According to Drugs.com, people with diabetes are at higher risk of chronic paronychia and so are people whose occupation involve working with water and chemical solvents for long hours e.g. dentists, bartenders, dishwashers, hair dressers, etc.
Sore Cuticles Causes
If you have sore fingernail cuticles, then you may have been exposed to one or more of the following causative factors.
- Traumatic injury: Injury to the cuticle e.g. accidental strike by a hammer is an obvious cause of nail and cuticle pain. In addition to the initial pain, fingernail injury may cause secondary infection leading to sore cuticles and related symptoms. If you don’t recall ever injuring your cuticle, then the following factors may be to blame.
- Cutting cuticles during manicure: If you keeping getting sore cuticles after manicure or pedicure (even with gel polish or shellac) or getting acrylic nails, the first question you need to ask yourself is whether or not your manicurist cuts (clips) your cuticles during the process.
- Nerve damage due to improperly done gel manicure: If your cuticles and other parts of the skin around nails is accidentally filed and cut during gel manicure, the chemical used may then seep into the skin and cause nerve damage, potentially culminating in cuticle pain. Such a case, involving a client by the name Ubell-Meyer, was reported in ABC News in 2010; she experienced severe pain in the thumb after a gel manicure.
- Biting or sucking the fingernails: According to Bruce Robinson, MD, a clinical instructor of dermatology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, “Your mouth is a dirty area, and saliva is an enzyme that breaks down skin…You can get an infection if you violate the cuticle”. Picking at hangnails can also cause infection and lead to cuticle pain.
- Exposure to water and other solvents: cuticle pain may also result from prolonged contact with water and other solvents e.g. acetone solvents used to remove nail polish. This causes drying of cuticles and interferes with the integrity of the cuticles, ultimately leading to infection.
Medical Sore Cuticles Treatment
Now that you know what may be causing painful, swollen, red cuticles, you are probably wondering what helps to cure the problem. Well, the best treatment for cuticle pain varies depending on the nature of the infection.
Antibiotics coupled with anti-inflammatory medications are usually effectively in healing acute paronychia which typically involves staphylococcus bacteria. For Minor infections, antibiotic creams such as bacitracin and Neosporin may be effective. Your health provider may also cut open and drain the affected area around the fingernail or toenail if they deem it necessary.
2. Anti-Fungal Medications/Cream
Chronic paronychia is usually treated with prescription anti-fungal medication and anti-fungal creams.
Home Remedies for Sore Cuticles Prevention and Treatment
In addition to the above over the counter and prescription medications, you may find the following home remedies helpful in getting rid of cuticle pain and swelling.
1. Warm Soak
Soaking your fingertips in warm water for 20 minutes or so 2 to 3 times daily may help to reduce cuticle pain and the associated swelling and other symptoms. As you do this, push the cuticles back gently with a clean washcloth, advises Dr. Richard K. Scher, a former professor of medicine at Brown University.
For an even more effective healing, you may want to add a pinch of salt to the arm water. After the soak, wrap the affected fingernail or toenails with a Band-Aid. This is especially important for sore cut cuticles.
2. Don’t Cut or Allow Cutting of Cuticles
Cutting the cuticles during manicure or pedicure may help to make your nail appear longer and more beautiful but you may end up paying a higher price – intense cuticle pain – for that. According to Dr. Scher, “The cuticle has a purpose, to keep the space between the nail and skin closed to prevent infection”. You don’t want to break that barrier and facilitate bacteria invasion do you?
NB: Even if you don’t cut the cuticles but push them far much behind e.g. with an orange stick, you still risk hurt their integrity and predispose them to infections. So, go slow with pushing the cuticles as well.
3. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and is particularly effective for nails fungus according to the WebMD. Add a few drops of tea tree oil into warm water and soak your fingernails or toenails in the solution 2 to 3 times daily until the symptoms go away.
4. Vinegar Soak
Soaking your hands in a vinegar solution can also help to repair sore cuticles, the Mayo Clinic says. Vinegar works by reducing fungal growth and inhibiting the growth of certain types of bacteria.
- Mix white vinegar with 2 proportions of water.
- Soak your fingernails or toenails in the solution for 10-15 minutes.
- Dry your fingernails or toenails with a clean towel.
- Repeat once or twice daily until cuticle pain and other symptoms clears.
- In case of irritation, dilute the solution with more water or cut use to 2 or 3 times only per week.
5. Snakeroot Extract
Snakeroot extract may also be effective in treating sore cuticles due to chronic paronychia. According to the Mayo Clinic, this extract from a plant in the sunflower family has been shown to be as effective as ciclopirox.
More Tips to Help Prevent and Heal Sore Cuticles Fast
- Wear rubber or plastic gloves – preferably with cotton lining on the inside – when working with water, chemicals, detergents etc.
- Do not pick, bite, or suck your fingernails
- Instead of picking at hangnails, soak them in warm soapy water for 10 minutes, then trim them with a clean sterilized pair of scissors.
- Keep the injured area of fingernail clean to avoid secondary infections that culminate in cuticle pain.
- The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology recommends washing your hands with antibacterial soap after dirty work to effectively treat and prevent sore cuticles.
- If you are diabetic, Drugs.com recommends regulating your blood sugar levels by sticking to your diet and using your medications as prescribed.
- Use clean tools for manicure and pedicure. Professional salons sanitize their tools; be sure it is strictly done where you get your nail done. If necessary, carry your own sanitized tools to the salon. And most importantly, avoid sharing of the same.
- Always keep your fingernails and toenails dry. Also, a little sunshine now and then doesn’t do any harm.
- ABC News: Woman Says Gel Manicure Done Wrong Caused Possible Nerve Damage
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: Paronychia Nail Infection
- Drugs.com: Paronychia
- Mayo Clinic: Nail Fungus
- MedlinePlus: Paronychia
- The New York Times: Beauty; Hands-On Nail Care
- WebMD: Tea Tree Oil
- WebMD: 6 Ways to Care for Your Cuticles