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Why do my clients cuticles grow thicker during the winter?
Why do my clients cuticles grow thicker during the winter? Are they doing that because of the cold weather?
The most misunderstood part of the fingernail is the cuticle. Some complain their cuticles are growing extra thick, but that doesn’t really happen. They are confusing the cuticle with the proximal nail fold. It’s easy to do, even doctors and scientists are confused about this issue. Here’s what’s known and presently understood.
This answer contains recently updated information about nail anatomy that I’ve obtained from leading dermatologists and pathologists.
1. The cuticle is attached directly to the nail plate. If what you are looking at is a thin layer of tissue directly attached to nail plate only; it is the cuticle. The cuticle rides the nail plate and comes from the underside of the living skin and is created by very thin layer of specialized tissue called “eponychium”.
2. The proximal nail fold is the living skin at the base fingernail. Any visible skin permanently attached to the proximal nail fold is not cuticle.
3. If the skin is attached to both the nail plate and the proximal nail fold, it is really just part of the proximal nail fold, and is not the cuticle.
4. When the proximal nail fold is cut or damaged, it will grow thicker to protect itself. This isn’t an overgrowth of the cuticle; it’s a hardening and thickening of the proximal nail fold. This happens for the same reason that the foot develops a thicker callus when the skin is subjected to increased pressure or rubbing.
5. The cuticle will not grow back thicker when removed from the nail plate; nor will it grow thicker during the cold season. The cuticle can’t grow, because it is dead tissue. It is shed from the eponychium and rides the nail plate as it moves toward the free edge. Why? To serve as a seal to prevent infectious organisms from getting under the skin or into the nail matrix area.
6. The cuticle will not bleed when cut, it is dead and has no blood supply, since it is detached from the living skin and attached to the nail plate instead.
7. If the tissue bleeds when cut back too much, this is part of the proximal nail fold and is not the cuticle.
8. If the cuticle and proximal nail fold seem to merge together and become “overgrown”, this is usually caused by damage or injury to the living eponychium, often as a disease condition or some other unknown issue. This type of tissue is pterygium, which is an abnormal growth of skin.
In these cases, when the nail professional trims off this dry, crusty skin this can cause the proximal nail fold to grow back faster to protect itself from this injury. That’s why the best solution is to avoid cutting the skin. Instead, treat hardened tissue with high quality nail oil and repeat this daily. Also, performing weekly hot oil treatments will help a lot. After thirty to forty days, this dry crusty-looking skin will begin to flake off and eventually will disappear to reveal the healthy tissue underneath. Do not cut or remove the hardened layer on the proximal nail fold, it will just make matters worse- just like a dog chasing its own tail!
Understanding Pterygium: Beyond Nail Plate Misconceptions
I’d also like to add this about the term pterygium. Contrary to what some teach, this is not another name for the dead tissue on the nail plate. Pterygium is a medical condition that occurs on different parts of the body, including eyes and fingernails. In general, the term is used to describe any wing-like and triangular-shaped tissue on the neck, eyes, elbow, knees, ankles or fingers. The word comes from the Greek word for wing and refers only to abnormal growths of skin that are stretched into a wing-like shape.
Pterygium commonly occurs on the eyeballs of people exposed to lots of sunlight or wind. This explains why those who surf or fish on the ocean are sometimes affected. It can occur on the nail plate, but is considered an abnormal medical condition often caused by burns, serious injury, damage, disease and possibly allergic reactions. Cuticle tissue is normal and is not an abnormal growth, so it can’t be pterygium.
Embracing Correct Terminology for Nail Anatomy
This term and others are creating confusion in the industry. I know, everyone is confused. But as research continues and new information is learned, slowly the facts are emerging. For clarity’s sake, my recommendation is that all educators and manufacturers only use the word “pterygium” to describe abnormal stretching of the proximal nail fold or the hyponychium. I don’t fault any company that’s confused about this issue, but I would encourage them to research and teach the facts. It’s time to move past the use of incorrect terminology. It’s time for change and all responsible companies should help to lead the way. It’s a new day and we should all be doing our best to always use the correct terminology when describing the natural nail. You have my commitment to continue researching new discoveries and passing that information on to nail professionals.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Why do my clients’ cuticles grow thicker during the winter? Are they doing that because of the cold weather?
Answer: No, the cuticle does not grow thicker during the winter. The cuticle is actually dead tissue that sheds from the eponychium and rides the nail plate. It cannot grow back thicker. However, the proximal nail fold, which is the living skin at the base of the fingernail, may appear thicker due to the cold weather. When the proximal nail fold is cut or damaged, it thickens to protect itself, similar to how the foot develops calluses under pressure.
2. What is the difference between the cuticle and the proximal nail fold?
Answer: The cuticle is a thin layer of tissue directly attached to the nail plate. It comes from the underside of the living skin and is created by a specialized tissue called “eponychium.” On the other hand, the proximal nail fold is the living skin at the base of the fingernail that is not permanently attached to the nail plate. It is often mistaken for the cuticle but is a separate part of the nail anatomy.
3. Does the cuticle have a blood supply? Will it bleed if cut?
Answer: The cuticle does not have a blood supply since it is detached from the living skin and attached to the nail plate. Therefore, it will not bleed when cut. If bleeding occurs, it is likely from the proximal nail fold, not the cuticle.
4. Can the hardened layer on the proximal nail fold be removed or trimmed?
Answer: It is best to avoid cutting or removing the hardened layer on the proximal nail fold. This hardened tissue, known as pterygium, is an abnormal growth of skin often caused by damage, injury, or disease. Instead, treating it with high-quality nail oil and performing weekly hot oil treatments can help soften and improve its condition over time.
5. What is pterygium and how is it related to the cuticle?
Answer: Pterygium is a medical condition characterized by abnormal growths of wing-like and triangular-shaped tissue. While it can occur on the nail plate, it is not synonymous with the cuticle. Pterygium is usually associated with burns, serious injury, damage, disease, or possibly allergic reactions. Cuticle tissue, on the other hand, is a normal part of the nail and not an abnormal growth.