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Is Cuticle Remover Good For My Face?

Posted Jul 30 2012 2:01am

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Cryjac asks…Has anyone used cuticle remover on their face to get rid of dead, dry skin as in this Ezine article?

The Right Brain responds:

According to this article  that Cryjac referred to, getting red of “dead, dry and all around ugly layers of your skin” is the first step to a brighter complexion. The article goes on to explain that cuticle removers are a “cheap and painless” way to remove dead skin. While I agree with the author that sloughing off dead skin is a way to brighten and smooth your complexion I wholeheartedly disagree with the cuticle remover approach. Here’s why.

Most cuticle removers are based on chemistry that is similar to hair relaxers. That’s because fingernail cuticles and hair or both are made of keratin, which is a very tough protein. Keratin has a double bond structure (from disulfide bonds) which can only be broken down by aggressive chemical attack at a very high pH. Relaxers accomplish this with a variety of hydroxides (such as sodium, calcium, and lithium) in a cream with a pH of 13 or 14. (14 is the highest on the pH scale.) Here’s an example showing that cuticle removers are also hydroxide based:

Water, Glycerine, Potassium Hydroxide, Styrene Acrylates Copolymer, Octoxynol 9, Sodium Dodecylbenzene Sulfonate, Carbomer, Stearic Acid, Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Juice, Fragrance (Parfum)

Notice that potassium hydroxide is one of the first ingredients. Using my handy dandy litmus paper test strips I checked the pH and found it to be in the range of 13 to 14. (see picture.)

Applying high pH hydroxides to your face seems ill advised. If the hydroxide concentration is high enough you could end up with skin burns. While this product is no doubt weaker than most relaxers I would still be very concerned about leaving it in contact with the delicate skin of the face.

Okay so the product is relatively cheap and potentially damaging to your skin. Does it provide some incredible benefits that offsets this danger? The answer is no. Skin doesn’t have the same amino acid profile as hair and nails and therefore skin doesn’t have the same kind of disulfide bonds to break. To remove the top layer of dead skin cells you need a chemical that reduces the adhesion of the cells so they slough off easily (without irritation.) That chemical is salicylic acid a beta hydroxy acid that can penetrate between the dead layers of your skin and loosen the scales. This product is on the acidic side (with a pH of around 3 or so) so some people may find it mildly irritated. However, it is much less likely to burn skin then a high pH solution of hydroxide.

Considering that there are safe and effective products that are NOT expensive, I don’t know why anyone would try this potentially dangerous process. I’m curious to see if this is a widespread practice. Is anybody out there actually using cuticle remover on the face? Leave a comments if you are. I’d love to hear about how it works for you.

Reference:    Structural characteristics and permeability properties of the human nail: A review JSCC, 1999, Vol 50

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