Readers: To submit a question for a medical doctor, e-mail it to Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org. See this space each week for answers.
Q: The sides and cuticles of my fingernails tear and get red and raw during the winter. In addition to hand lotion, is there anything I can do?
A: This sounds like a common skin problem that affects most people to some degree. Most likely, this is skin dermatitis due to one or more external substances that cumulatively irritate and damage the skin. In this case, the affected skin is the thin layer that attaches to the nail, commonly called the cuticle. The cuticle creates a seal between the skin and the nail. It the cuticle is damaged, germs can easily penetrate and cause an infection around the nail and perhaps beyond. Thus, healthy cuticles are important. Common factors that damage the cuticle include water, soaps, household cleaners, workplace chemicals and often nail products. Winter weather brings low temperatures and low humidity, an important factor in this case. If you have trouble maintaining healthy cuticles using a hand lotion, try an ointment, such as petroleum jelly, or a more moisturizing cream, along with less exposure to the factors that compromise the integrity of the skin.
-- Dr. F. Hall Reynolds, Chattanooga Skin and Cancer Clinic; member, Chattanooga-HamiltonCounty Medical Society