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 • Nails  • Nailcare Guides  • What Does Cuticle Oil *Actually* Do – and How Do You Use One?

What Does Cuticle Oil *Actually* Do – and How Do You Use One?

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Main image – Liudmila/Adobe

A cuticle oil was always something my mum used when I was growing up, but I never really knew what it was.

Fast forward a few decades and, like my mum, I now keep one on my bedside table without fail, after years of mistreating my nails (did someone say acrylics?)

By now you’ve probably guessed it’s used for keeping nails healthy and remedying any damage. But how does a cuticle oil work? How often should you apply it? And how do you shop for one?

Here, nail expert at Mavala, Lynn Mason, answers all your cuticle oil queries to help you decide whether you and your nails really need one.

Clue: If you’ve ever worn acrylic nails or any other nail enhancements, the answer is probably yes.



What is cuticle oil?

They usually come in a tiny bottle, easy enough to fit in your pocket or handbag. “Cuticle oils generally contain a combination of nourishing and moisturising ingredients that support both cuticle and nail health,” Mason explains. 


The benefits of cuticle oil

If you’re an acrylic nail wearer, then let’s be friends. I have had acrylic nails on and off since I got engaged in 2009. What can I say? My stubby, bitten fingernails just didn’t gel with the engagement ring look. 

But perfect-looking acrylic nails, and even other types of nail enhancements, sometimes come with a price if they haven’t been applied correctly, or you’re not doing the right after care. And that price is usually the condition of your nails and cuticles. 

“Those who have acrylic and gel nails in particular should regularly use nail oil, as these treatments can dehydrate the nail and leave them damaged,” Mason warns. 

So, if you’ve noticed your nails and cuticles peeling, flaking, splitting and breaking easily, then you’re probably in need of a cuticle oil. “Cuticle oil moisturises and conditions the cuticles, maintaining supple cuticles and healthy nails,” she explains.

“This in turn prevents dry and even cracked cuticles, which are not only painful but can be unsightly.”


Does it help nails grow faster?

Well, put it this way, it’s not a magic potion. But just like a well looked after scalp boosts the health of your hair, better nail growth starts with a healthy cuticle. “While cuticle oil can promote healthier nails, it does not directly stimulate nail growth,” Mason explains. 

“However, well-kept cuticles ensure the health of the nail so it’s always good to maintain cuticles for healthy nails.”



What’s the difference between cuticle oil and hand cream?

They might sound like similar things but cuticle oil and hand lotion have different direct roles. “While they both have nourishing and moisturising properties, cuticle oil is applied to the cuticles and targets the cuticles only,” she says. 

“Hand cream is applied all over the hand in order to nourish the skin. This can result in the nourishing of cuticles too, however using cuticle oil has more of a direct effect.”


How do you use a cuticle oil?

You’ll need to tidy up and remove your cuticles regularly with an at home mani to allow your cuticle oil to work properly. “We recommend using a cuticle remover once a week,” advises Mason.

“This helps roll back the cuticle on the nail bed and removes any dead skin.” So how do you do it? “Simply brush on the nail contour one coat of Mavala Cuticle Remover (£11.80 from Look Fantastic UK /$12 from Perfumes Club US), allow to act for one minute then gently push back the cuticles.”


Image – Yuliapanova/Adobe


You can do this using a wooden manicure stick, covered in cotton wool. I like Boots Everyday Cuticle Sticks (£1 from Boots UK) “Never use a metal instrument to push back cuticles as it will damage the nail matrix and cause the nail to grow ridged and dented.”

Mason also advises against using clippers or scissors “as this can cause a wound and allow bacteria into the nail bed.”

Once you’ve done this, you can then apply your cuticle oil. “Simply apply around the nail and also the fingertips, if necessary,” she recommends. “Then gently massage into the cuticle using a firm rotation motion which allows the oil to penetrate.”


How often should you use one? 

“Cuticle oil should be used daily, especially at bedtime to allow for product to act during the night,” says Mason.

“We recommend having it on your nightstand or with your skincare products – a great method to introduce the product into any night routine.”


And what happens if you don’t use a cuticle oil?

If you experience pain around your nails, this might be your first clue you should be using one. “If a cuticle oil isn’t used, it can lead to dry and broken cuticles which then leads to the development of hang nails,” Mason warns.

“Hang nails are painful and can also lead to a risk of infection, resulting in swelling, redness and discomfort.” This is something I have personally experienced and at one point my fingertips felt tight and bruised.



Can you use it too much?

Given the number of social media videos I see of people faithfully massaging their cuticles, you could be forgiven for thinking almost everyone is spending most of their day using an oil.  Which sort of begs the question; can you use one too much?

Mason says there’s no risk if you do, but you’ll be wasting your time and money. “While cuticle oil can be used regularly, overuse doesn’t provide additional benefits and overall is wasteful.”


How to pick a cuticle oil

So, what should you be looking out for when shopping for a cuticle oil?

Mason says to first check what’s in it. “It is good to look for high quality natural oils as these are best for the nails and it’s also important to note if you have any allergies to certain nuts as many cuticle oils contain nut oil.”

Next, think about your application preference. “Look around for different applicators,” she says. “While this is subjective, we find [a] brush applicator to be the most useful but a pen format may be more convenient for your lifestyle.”

Mason recommends Mavala Cuticle Oil (£16 from John Lewis UK /$16.75 from Mavala US) for its easy-to-apply brush applicator.

I use the OPI Pro Spa Nail and Cuticle Oil (£19.90 from OPI UK /$11 from OPI US) because it’s easy to apply, absorbs quickly and keeps my nails and cuticles nicely nourished. 

I’ve also heard really good things both online and from friends about The Body Shop Almond Nail and Cuticle Oil (£10 from The Body Shop UK /$12 from The Body Shop US) which comes in pen form. 


The takeaway

Anyone with flaky, splitting or painful nails and cuticles will find a cuticle oil helpful. Don’t ignore damage as this could make it worse and your nails won’t grow quickly or healthily in the long run.

Remember to remove your cuticles regularly so that your oil can work more effectively and keep it somewhere that will help you remember to apply it daily. 

You don’t need to over apply it – once a day will suffice – and choose one with an applicator that you enjoy using so that you’re more likely to keep doing it.


Meet the expert

Lynn Mason is the nail expert at Mavala, Switzerland’s leading nail care brand. Well-versed in the science of nail care, Lynn understands the intricacies of achieving natural nail goals and nurturing and maintaining healthy nails. 


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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