They’re the ‘brain’ of your nail, and taking care of them properly could help your nails to grow stronger and longer. Here’s how to boost your cuticle health, and why cutting them is rarely a good idea…

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From  acrylics  to gel nails  to drying air con and seasonal weather changes, there are many factors that can affect the health and hydration of your nails, but if you’re hoping to nurse yours back to their prime, or even just keep them in good shape (literally), don’t overlook a tiny aspect that could make all the difference. Here’s why your cuticles are so vital to keeping nails smooth, shiny and strong, and the cuticle care ‘dos and don’ts’ according to Mavala  nail expert Lynn Gray.

Your cuticles are part of your nail’s control centre

“The white half-moon at the base of your fingernail is actually part of a full moon, half of which is beneath the cuticle skin. This full moon is called the ‘nail matrix’ which acts like the brain of the nail, controlling the health of the nail that then grows through. The nail matrix is where new cells develop and where old cells are pushed forwards to form the visible part of the nail, so the quality and health of the cells that are being produced in the matrix will determine the condition of the nail as it grows through.”

Mind your matrix

“The matrix is the most sensitive part of the whole nail structure and can be easily damaged by what many of us regard to be typical manicure steps. If you’re regularly experiencing ridged nails, discolouration or nails that break easily, the answer may well be lying in how you’re treating the nail matrix.”

Don’t cut your cuticles

“There’s often a misconception that cuticles need to be cut. The part that people cut is actually not the true cuticle but the eponychium or proximal fold.

“The eponychium is the slightly thicker skin around the base of the nail - it is there for a very good reason and should never be removed. This skin protects the nails and body from infection and cutting it leaves you exposed to bacteria and infections. Plus, cutting away this area is counterintuitive anyway, as if you do cut this skin the body reacts by sending skin cells into overdrive to the area, making skin thicker and the “problem” you’re trying to address even worse.”

Do remove dead skin safely

“The true cuticle that does need to be removed is the small, scaly area of dead skin that is stuck to the nail plate. These dead skin cells need to be removed to help to prevent hangnails, encourage the growth of the natural nail, and from an aesthetic point of view, to give a clean cosmetic look to the nails. To remove this dead skin, people typically push the cuticle back, but this is how the nail matrix becomes damaged.

“To remove the cuticle without forcing it back and impairing growth, try using a dedicated cuticle remover ( Mavala Cuticle Remover , £12 for 10ml). The potassium hydroxide in the product will dissolve the dead skin without the need to push back the delicate area around the lunar (half-moon) and nail matrix, where the nails are still slightly soft and still forming. If you apply too much pressure and are rough in this area in general, you can damage the nails, leading to white spots, ridges and may weaker nails when they do grow.”

Oil up

“If you do have really dry skin around the base of the nail then you should be using a cuticle oil or cream, preferably in the evening before bed so it can work overnight while your body regenerates- plus you won’t be washing your hands as you would during the day, giving the product a chance to sink in. The massage movement will also help stimulate blood flow, bringing vital nutrients and oxygen to the area, thus helping to speed up nail growth and improve health. Doing this in the evening also allows for a mindful moment before bed.”

Three cuticles creams and oils we rate

Mavala Cuticle Cream, £12.60 for 15ml

“A thick, rich balm that melts into the base of the nail.”

Buy online

OPI Pro Spa Nail & Cuticle Oil, £17 for 14.8ml

This is senior features writer Ayesha’s pick for softening dry skin around your nail plate.

Buy online

L’Occitane Shea Nail & Cuticle Nourishing Oil, £14 for 7.5ml

A rich, buttery and nourishing oil that sinks in beautifully, plus the pen delivery makes it perfect for al desko application without the mess.

Buy online

MORE GLOSS: The best cuticle oils reviewed