No one likes the look of cracked and peeling cuticle skin. Whether you are on a date, at a business meeting, or for that matter, even in your daily life, flaky skin around the nails can be quite unpleasant to look at.
Peeling skin can also be painful, especially when you are eating with your hands or when it comes in contact with water.
“I often encounter patients suffering from skin peeling associated not just with their facial skin but also the skin around the finger and toenails, which are the other most commonly exposed parts of the body,” says Dr Nivedita Dadu, a dermatologist at Skinology Skin and Hair Clinic, New Delhi.
The peeling of the cuticle skin can be triggered by a number of things.
Here are some of the major causes:
Our skin is exposed to a number of external elements on a daily basis, which can affect the skin hydration.
“The cuticle skin bears the brunt of most of the environmental agents, which are one of the most common triggering factors for the drying up and eventual peeling of the skin,” Dr Dadu says.
“Inherent dry skin or seasonal changes leading to dry skin is one of the major causes for peeling of skin. Harsh weather conditions like dry summers and extreme winters result in damage to the exposed surface of hands and feet,” she adds.
She says excessive washing of hands or prolonged exposure to water can also lead to dryness of skin.
“Besides, nail biting, picking of skin around the nails can lead to injury, and the raw areas on the skin can be painful,” she adds.
Exposure to chemicals substances like soap, detergents or nail paint can cause an allergic reaction leading to skin irritation and peeling.
“Allergies to different cosmetics, including nail polishes and acetone-based nail polish remover, or to chemicals like soap or detergents used for dishwashing or laundry, or use of gloves made of latex, can all lead to peeling of the skin,” Dr Dadu says.
Dr Chiranjiv Chhabra, director and chief dermatologist at Skin Alive Clinic in Delhi, says skin peeling alongside soreness and pus could indicate a bacterial infection.
And, when the peeling is accompanied with swelling, redness and itching, it can be a symptom of fungal infection. Both the conditions, she says, require proper assessment and treatment by a doctor.
Underlying health conditions
A certain type of skin disorder or disease can also cause the skin to become dry and peel off.
“Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition which can cause redness, scaling and cracking of skin around the fingers even in and around the nails,” says Dr Dadu.
“Chronic eczema, atopic dermatitis and pompholyx are other skin conditions which can lead to dryness and skin changes,” she adds.
Apart from skin diseases, lack of certain vitamins and minerals in our body can also contribute to skin peeling. Insufficient intake of Vitamin B, A, E and C can all affect the skin health making it dry, scaly and ragged.
“Nutritional deficiency in the body can lead to changes in the skin, hair as well as nails,” says Dr Dadu.
When to be concerned?
Dr Dadu says there is no need to be alarmed immediately as cuticle skin damage and peeling is most often due to environmental factors.
“Home remedies, such as keeping the skin moisturised, and following some preventive measures, can help a lot. However, if the condition persists and shows any associated symptoms apart from just the peeling of skin you should consult a dermatologist immediately,” she advises.
Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to keeping the cuticle skin healthy and stopping it from peeling.
“If it’s just dry and chapped skin, the simplest thing to do is to start using a moisturising hand cream. Massage the cream well into the nail holes and onto your hands regularly, especially after meals. You can go for emollients, petroleum jelly or almond oil,” Dr Chabbra says.
“Make sure you have enough water to keep the body hydrated. And, at the same time, have a healthy diet comprising of at least five portions of fruits and leafy vegetables of different colours so that your body gets the required amount of vitamins and minerals,” she adds.
As external factors are often the major cause of skin peeling, we should avoid overexposure to these agents.
“Alcohol-based hand sanitisers and cosmetics containing alcohol and acetone should not be used excessively. Using harsh chemicals as detergents should also be avoided. You can instead go for kitchen gloves (not containing latex) for these purposes,” Dr Dadu advises.
“Prolonged sun-exposure can lead to sunburn and ultimately peeling of skin, so always use a good sun-screen on hand and feet. Bad habits such as nail biting, picking up of cuticles and thumb sucking should be controlled,” she adds.
Many of us like to go for manicure and pedicure as part of our skincare routine. While it’s perfectly okay to pamper your hands and feet, there are certain things, Dr. Chabbra says, you should watch out to prevent skin peeling.
“During the manicure, we should never allow the beautician to remove the nail fold. If you want the nails to look clean, you can just gently push the cuticles back with an orange stick, a thin wooden stick used for nail care. You should try not to use metal instruments on the nail fold or cuticle,” advises Dr Chabbra.
“The cuticle is closely stuck to the nail bed and it doesn’t allow fungus or bacteria to get inside our body. If we cut the cuticle out, then we expose ourselves to germs entering our body through our nails,” she explains.