Top Tips for Cuticle Care (With Protocol)

Katie Barnes (@katiebarnes.toolrange) shares tips for proper cuticle care.
Katie Barnes (@katiebarnes.toolrange) shares tips for proper cuticle care.
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Katie Barnes (@katiebarnes.toolrange) shares tips for proper cuticle care.

The cuticle remains one of the most debated and controversial topics in the nail and beauty industry. With allergies being a close second, many nail technicians are grappling with what it entails, what is living and non-living and how much can safely be removed. 

The terminologies surrounding the cuticle such as cuticle, proximal nail fold (PNF) and eponychium can be be confusing, as they all look similar, especially to the naked eye. This article will help you understand the differences between them.


The cuticle, which appears as white, dry, flaky residue on the nail plate or on top of the eponychium, is non-living tissue and can be removed with care.

Hangnails are also white and sit on the skin, usually at the side of the nail.

The eponychium appears as a yellow jelly strip at the bottom of the nail, while the nail folds are the skin that encloses and seals around the nail.

Proximal refers to the nearest fold at the base of the cuticle area, leading into the eponychium.

It's helpful to understand these basic differences to avoid confusion around the terminologies.

Living and Non-living

Dermatologists have clarified that everything that is yellow, pink, green and the bone is living, which includes the eponychium, nail folds, nail bed and matrix. The cuticle and hangnails, on the other hand, are non-living tissue that can be removed safely. The non-living tissue appears white and can be removed without cutting into the living tissue, which appears yellow or pink. Precision scissors are recommended for the safe removal of the cuticle as they allow techs to target small areas without blocking your view.

The cuticle and nail plate are dead tissues and are safe to reduce with manual tool or e-file bits if done carefully and when qualified to do so. Precision scissors or a diamond cuticle e-file bit can be used to remove the non-living tissue. 

Magnifying glasses can be used in place of a microscope to help see the difference between the white and yellow areas.


When it comes to safe cuticle work, the tools you use are essential to your success. Although many people may fear sharp tools, they are much more effective than blunt ones. Using a blunt tool can be compared to trying to slice food with a dull kitchen knife. You end up using more force, which causes tearing and damages the food as well as more pressure and strain on your hand, wrist and shoulder. Similarly, using blunt cuticle tools can cause tearing and ripping of the skin and require more force from you, adding to nail tech hand, wrist and shoulder strain.

It's important to invest in good quality and sharp cuticle tools, which will glide smoothly and gently without causing any damage. With sharp tools, the precision and accuracy of the work will improve. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that the tools you use are of high-quality purchased from a professional tool range and not a third party marketplace and consistently sharp and kept in optimum condition to achieve the perfect finish. Using good quality cuticle tools will ultimately increase your efficiency and effectiveness while reducing the likelihood of issues.

When it comes to cuticle work, the tools you use are critical to achieving the best results. Sharp and high-quality tools perform better and are much more effective than blunt ones. So, be sure to invest in and consistently maintain your tools to glide smoothly through your work and avoid unintended skin damage.

Perfecting the Protocol

Each tech and customer will prefer and require a different prep routine determined by their cuticle growth and natural nail, as well as home care. Whether you use manual nail tools, e-file bits or a combination of both, perfecting cuticle work requires following a few essential steps. Here are the steps to achieving successful cuticle prep.

Step 1. Begin 3/4 of the way down the nail plate and push back the cuticle growth from the nail plate using a cuticle pusher. Choose the right size pusher to your client's nail size. 

Work up and down from side-to-side or from the center-to-side, center-to-side in a 45-degree angle pushing motion. Don’t forget to tuck and roll the pusher into the side walls to remove protein. A curved edged pusher is recommended to mirror the shape of the cuticle zone and to avoid sharp edges catching the skin. Hold the tool at a right angle while pushing back the cuticle to prevent it from scratching the nail plate — too high and it will scratch, too flat and you will not get results. You can also use a diamond cuticle e-file to push and lift the cuticle from the nail plate, as well as or instead of a manual cuticle pusher.

Starting at one side, turn the hand and work in small circular motions along the side wall, across the cuticle and up the other side.

You can split the nail in half, and work from center to side and then repeat on the other side, but make sure to change direction of your e-file when changing direction.

Step 2. Use the cuticle knife side of the cuticle pusher tool to remove excess stubborn cuticle, especially around the sidewalls, using the same angle as in step 1.

Step 3. After step 2, use curved cuticle scissors to remove any remaining cuticle or hangnails. Lay the scissors against the fold of the skin, including any cuticle you wish to remove, then turn the blade to face upwards. This technique ensures that the sharpest point of the blade is facing away from the skin. Rather than pulling at the cuticle with your tools, it is recommended to use a sharp, high-quality tool that makes it easier to remove the cuticle.

Step 4: If there is still cuticle present on the nail plate, use an additional small e-file bit to remove any remaining cuticle on the nail plate. This tool should be used similarly to a cuticle pusher, which helps to ensure all remaining cuticle is removed, making sure to get right into the corners where this tissue can build up. 

Note that it is essential to err on the side of caution when working with the cuticle area. If redness, irritation, discomfort or bleeding occurs, then living tissue has been removed, though this may not be visible until the following day. Therefore, it's important to take care when working with cuticles, especially with the use of sharp tools. With these steps, you can perfect your cuticle work and achieve an excellent result.

Be Safe and Effective

In essence, understanding the difference between living and non-living tissue is crucial when it comes to cuticle care. Choosing the right tools should be used to ensure the safe removal of non-living tissue. 

About the Author:

Katie Barnes has over 15 years of experience as a nail professional, starting her own salon in Warwick, England in 2007. She started her education journey in 2011, obtaining her teaching qualification from the University of Warwick. Barnes is the founder of the Katie Barnes Academy and founded the Katie Barnes Tool Range in 2017.

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