What Does Cuticle Oil Do, Anyway? Here's Why You Should Use It For Nail Growth
You know that layer of tough skin that hangs around your nail plate? Those are your cuticles, and their main gig is to create a barrier for your growing nails so they stay protected from the elements. When that skin becomes too dry, however, they can start to peel and fray. And frayed, brittle cuticles are no fun—they can lead to damaged nail beds or even infection if left untreated.
To prevent these frays, you need to moisturize the nail beds, and that's where a good cuticle oil comes in handy.
What does cuticle oil do?
These vials may appear tiny and unassuming, but cuticle oil is not a frivolous product; rather, it's integral to healthy nail care. Allow us to sing the praises of just a few drops:
- Protects the nail beds: "Cuticle oils are formulated with emollients that act as a barrier to lock in moisture around the cuticle area," says celebrity nail tech Tammy Taylor. We all use our hands quite a bit on the daily, and our nails can take quite a beating. It helps to have some sort of buffer layer that simultaneously feeds your nails with fatty acids and antioxidants, especially if you're dealing with brittle, weak tips.
- Softens & moisturizes the skin: "Cuticle oil can soften, moisturize, and hydrate your cuticles," says Amy Lin, the founder of sundays—a nail care brand focused on wellness. "Think of it like applying moisturizer on your skin." Just like a quality face cream can soften your complexion, a cuticle oil can make the skin around your nails hydrated and happy.
- Encourages nail growth: As a general rule, moisturized nails grow faster. And according to Taylor, massaging a cuticle oil into the skin can stimulate blood flow, which can promote healthy nail growth.
- Helps nail polish dry faster: "You can also apply oil over wet nail polish as a quick dry," says Taylor.
- Prevents hangnails: When you have dead skin to the max, it can result in a painful piece of skin by the nail bed—otherwise known as a hangnail. "Cuticle oil helps prevent dead skin from growing onto the natural nail," Taylor adds, which can prevent those jagged frays (and swollen, stinging fingers) from making their appearance.
How to apply it.
It seems straightforward: Simply apply a few drops onto the nail beds (either with a dropper, brush, or applicator) and massage them in with your fingertips. However, a few tips can help the nourishing oil absorb deeper into the nail beds—and who doesn't want more efficient results?
According to Taylor, it's important to take the time to massage in the oil until it completely absorbs. "Forgetting to massage the oil into the skin can leave an oily residue, and the nails will not reap all the health benefits," she notes.
If you'd like to soften your cuticles even further, Lin recommends slathering on a hand cream and wearing a set of gloves for at least 10 minutes. "The heat from your body can help them absorb," she says. Better yet, wear the gloves while you do the dishes for a mini spa moment: The steamy, sudsy water can increase the skin's permeability1, which can help these healthy oils penetrate deeper into the pores for baby-soft skin.
This probably goes without saying, but avoid washing your hands right after applying cuticle oil. "Washing or sanitizing your hands after application will remove the oil and diminish the benefits," says Taylor. It only takes a few minutes for the formula to fully sink into your skin, so make sure to set aside that time.
When to apply it.
The thing is, you can apply cuticle oil any time of day you please. Chief educator of Paintbox Evelyn Lim once told us you can even use a cuticle oil up to three times a day, if your tips are feeling especially dehydrated (from, say, over-sanitizing). "Apply cuticle oil at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Why not?"
While the exact time of day isn't so crucial, Lin suggests adding cuticle oil to your nighttime ritual. Not only will this routine help you remember to apply daily, but it also serves as a self-care ritual to help you unwind before bed. Plus, you likely aren't using your hands as much as you're tucked into bed (aside from flipping through a book or your Netflix queue), so it's best for absorption, too.
Throughout the day, make sure to reapply immediately after washing or sanitizing your hands to lock in the moisture. According to board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., you don't want to wait longer than two minutes: "If you wait too long, you miss that narrow window of opportunity to really trap and seal those nourishing ingredients in the skin before all the water evaporates off the surface, further compromising your skin," she told us about caring for your skin microbiome.
Best cuticle oils.
Proper cuticle oils are usually thinner, easily absorbed, and have a quick dry-down time, but feel free to massage your cuticles with any organic, unrefined oil (even a fast-absorbing hair oil will do). Some of our favorites include extra-virgin olive oil, which contains a high dose of vitamin E2; coconut oil, which can help your skin boost collagen production3 and can help improve4 moisture levels and barrier function5; avocado oil, which contains oleic acid and monounsaturated fats; and almond oil, which is anti-inflammatory and can help prevent structural damage6 caused by UV radiation.
Or if you're looking for a portable, nourishing cuticle oil to set on your desk or toss into your bag, check out our favorite blends for brittle nails. For the ease of browsing, we've highlighted a few standouts below:
Your cuticles experience a lot of wear and tear, and they require the utmost care. That necessary seal of skin, while tiny, requires tons of moisture, and a good cuticle oil can keep them happily hydrated. And when your cuticles are thriving, your nails appear healthy, strong, and aptly prepped for a bold polish.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.