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Created by the eponychium on the ventral surface of the proximal nail fold, the cuticle is formed of sticky dead skin cells. These are dead skin cells are shed by the proximal nail fold just like they skin cells are from any surface of epidermis but instead of falling off in flakes, they are bound together with a very sticky substance, that sticks them firmly to the emerging nail plate beneath them and the frame of keratinised epidermis above them.
This thin layer of dead skin, sticks fast to the nail plate and the proximal nail fold, forming an important seal. This is non-living skin, though, and is safely removed prior to manicures and pedicures, to avoid any lifting of artificial nails, for example.
Ask the Experts
Should you push back your cuticles?
The cuticle that is exposed and on the nail plate can be safely removed as it is non-living tissue, however to prevent infection of the finger, stop when you reach the frame of keratinised epidermis at the edge of the proximal nail fold. If you go further, and push deep under the proximal nail fold, you open the area up to infection.
What is the role of the cuticle?
With the proximal nail fold and the nail plate sealed together with the sticky cuticle, there is a very efficient first line of defense against all types of invaders, from pathogens to chemicals to fungus spores.