Close-up shot of a manicured hand showcasing a perfectly groomed nail bed. The focus is on the delicate, translucent skin surrounding the nail, commonly referred to as the eponychium.

Another Name For Nail Cuticle – A Comprehensive Guide

If you’ve ever gotten a manicure, you’ve likely heard the nail technician use the term ‘cuticle’ when referring to the skin around your fingernails. But did you know that cuticle is not technically the correct name for this part of the nail anatomy?

In this comprehensive 3000 word guide, we’ll explore the true name for the cuticle, why it’s often misnamed, and go deep on all things related to the nail’s eponychium.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Eponychium is the correct name for what is commonly referred to as the cuticle.

The True Name: Eponychium

Definition of eponychium

The eponychium, also known as the cuticle, is the thin layer of skin that overlies the proximal nail fold and underlies the proximal portion of the nail plate. It is an important protective barrier for the newly forming nail plate below.

The eponychium is made up of a stratified squamous epithelium that is tightly bound to the underlying nail plate. As the nail plate grows out, the eponychium moves with it, maintaining its protective connection.

Why it’s often called cuticle

The terms “eponychium” and “cuticle” are often used interchangeably, which can cause confusion. Technically, the eponychium refers specifically to the epithelial tissue overlying the proximal nail fold, while the cuticle refers to the entire dead keratinized epithelium surrounding the nail plate.

However, in casual parlance, people often use “cuticle” to refer to just the proximal portion. This is likely because it is the most visible part of the cuticle to the naked eye.

Key differences between cuticle and eponychium

While there is overlap in meaning, there are some key differences between the cuticle and eponychium:

  • The cuticle refers to all the dead keratinized skin around the nail plate, while the eponychium is just the proximal portion.
  • The eponychium is made of living epithelial tissue, while the cuticle is dead keratin.
  • The eponychium moves outward with the growing nail plate. The cuticle does not travel with nail growth.
  • The main function of the eponychium is to protect new nail growth. The cuticle helps seal the nail plate to the finger/toe.

Anatomy of the Nail

The nail is made up of different parts that enable it to grow and protect the fingertips and toes. Understanding the anatomy helps care for nails properly.

Parts of the nail

The main divisions of the nail are the nail bed, nail matrix, nail plate, lunula, eponychium, hyponychium, and cuticle.

Nail matrix

The nail matrix is the part hidden under the cuticle and is responsible for nail growth. It contains nerves, lymph, and blood vessels needed for fast nail production and regeneration.

Nail bed

The nail bed lies under the nail plate and contains blood vessels and nerves that aid nail growth. The visible whitish half-moon shape at the base of the nail is called the lunula and corresponds to the nail matrix beneath it.

Nail plate

The actual visible part composed of translucent keratin is called the nail plate. This provides protection, helps pick up small objects, and enhances sensation in the fingertips.


The lunula is the whitish crescent shape near the cuticle, defining the base of the visible nail plate. Changes in lunula shape or color can indicate an underlying health condition.


The hyponychium is the area of thickened skin situated behind the free edge of fingernails and toenails. It helps anchor the nail plate to the finger or toe underneath.


The small band of epithelium-like skin overlapping the top of the nail plate to connect it with the skin of the fingertip is called the eponychium or cuticle. This seals the area underneath to protect against bacteria and fungi.

Functions of the Eponychium


The eponychium, also known as the cuticle, plays a crucial protective role for the nail bed. This thin layer of skin covers the nail matrix and helps shield it from damage, debris, and bacteria. Without the eponychium acting as a barrier, the sensitive nail matrix would be exposed and more prone to infection or injury.

The cuticle seals the gap between the nail plate and the proximal nail fold, preventing irritants from entering the matrix. Its snug fit around the nail plate also stops dirt and germs from creeping under the nail.

This barrier function is one reason why it’s important not to cut or damage the eponychium – any tears can create an entry point for harmful microbes.

Lubrication and moisture

In addition to being a protective seal, the eponychium helps keep the nail unit lubricated and hydrated. It secretes natural oils that moisturize the cuticle and surrounding skin. This lubrication enables the nail plate to glide smoothly over the nail bed as it grows outwards.

Without enough lubrication, we may experience painful hangnails or dry, cracked cuticles. The eponychium’s oils ensure the proximal nail fold stays supple and flexible as the nail emerges from the matrix. Proper hydration also prevents the new nail plate from sticking to the nail bed.

Nail growth

The eponychium directly overlies the nail matrix, which is the area responsible for producing new nail cells. As matrix cells multiply and differentiate into hard keratin, the nail plate is pushed forward. The cuticle provides a protective environment for this growing nail plate.

Some research also suggests the eponychium may help regulate nail growth. It anchors the proximal nail fold to the nail plate. This attachment may influence how quickly matrix cells divide and how fast the nail can advance.

Barrier against infection

Preventing microbial invasion is one of the eponychium’s most vital roles. Its snug fit around the emerging nail plate blocks bacteria, viruses, and fungi from entering the matrix area.

Without this protective barrier, infections could easily take hold, potentially affecting nail growth or destroying the matrix altogether. Fungal infections, like onychomycosis, often start when the seal between the eponychium and nail plate is compromised.

The cuticle seal may be broken by excessive manicures, nail biting, picking/peeling, or trauma. When the eponychium is damaged, it’s important to keep the area clean and use an antiseptic to prevent infection.

Caring for the Eponychium

Avoiding Damage

The eponychium, also known as the nail cuticle, is delicate and prone to injury if not cared for properly. To avoid damage, it’s important to keep cuticles moisturized and avoid aggressively pushing them back.

Consider using a cuticle remover product to soften cuticles before attempting to push them back. This helps prevent painful tearing. When trimming cuticles, use sharp, quality nail clippers and take care not to cut the skin. Ragged or torn cuticles open you up to the risk of infection. Be gentle!


One of the best ways to care for the eponychium is to keep it moisturized. The cuticle helps protect the nail matrix, but it can become dry and cracked without proper hydration. Apply a thick cuticle cream or oil daily, gently massaging it into the nail folds. Petroleum jelly also works well.

Moisturized cuticles not only look better, but serve as a protective barrier against germs. For added moisture, try this all-natural trick – soak nails in olive oil for 10 minutes each week. The monounsaturated fats penetrate deep to soften and condition.

Cuticle Removal

While moisturizing is great, sometimes you’ll need to remove excess, ragged cuticle tissue. Do not aggressively tear or pick – this can damage the nail bed. Instead:

  • Soak nails in warm water to soften cuticles
  • Apply cuticle remover solution for 3-5 minutes
  • Gently push back cuticles with a wooden stick, never metal
  • Trim off any excess dead tissue with nippers

Be patient and take it slow – forcing cuticles yields cuts and hangnails. For safe cuticle removal at home, invest in quality tools.


Routine trimming keeps cuticles tidy and neat. But don’t overdo it! The eponychium protects newly formed nail cells. Only trim what’s necessary using sharp nippers, preferably with a built-in safety guard to avoid cutting skin. The best practice is to:

  • Soften cuticles first in warm water
  • Trim after showering when cuticles are pliable
  • Cut straight across, not down into corners
  • Stop any bleeding immediately with pressure
  • Apply antibiotic ointment to nicks

Proper cuticle care is easy with the right tools and techniques. In no time, you’ll be showing off pretty, healthy eponychiums!

Eponychium Conditions and Disorders


Hangnails, also called agnails, are small tears in the skin near the eponychium that can occur from picking or biting the skin around the nails. They can be painful and prone to infection if not properly treated.

To prevent hangnails, moisturize the hands regularly, trim nails carefully avoiding short edges, and avoid picking or tearing the skin around the nails.


Infections around the eponychium are common nail issues that need medical care. Paronychia is an infection of the eponychium that causes redness, swelling, and pus. It is often caused by trauma from nail biting, finger sucking, nail procedures, or injuries that allow bacteria under the skin.

Treatment involves antibiotics, warm soaks, and keeping the area clean and dry.

Other common infections include:

  • Herpetic whitlow – a viral infection often marked by grouped blisters
  • Candidal infections – fungal infections that can cause thickened, painful nails


The eponychium can sometimes overgrow and appear raised, ragged, and discolored. This overgrowth is often caused by the following factors:

  • Repeated trauma – from nail biting, picking, consistent moisture etc.
  • Poor circulation
  • Medical conditions like lichen planus or eczema

Trimming off the excess tissue, using antibiotics for infection, and treating any underlying conditions can help resolve an overgrown eponychium.

Splitting and Peeling

It’s common for the eponychium to become dry, cracked and start peeling or splitting. This happens from exposure to irritants like cleaning solutions, moisture extremes, or allergies. Applying moisturizer daily helps prevent splits as do gloves when hands are wet or exposed to chemicals.

See a dermatologist if it persists despite good skin care.


Now that you know that eponychium is the true name for the cuticle, you can help educate others on proper nail anatomy. With this comprehensive guide, you have a deep understanding of the eponychium’s structure, function, care, and disorders.

Knowing the parts of the nail and how to properly care for the eponychium will lead to better nail health and beauty. Share this knowledge with your friends and family to spread awareness of the eponychium as a key part of overall hand health.

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