To effectively carry out their role of removing rough and dry cuticles from nails, cuticle removers consist of two main ingredients, potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide. These alkaline ingredients are caustic and work by dissolving the dead skin around the nail to allow for easy removal of cuticles.
Cuticle-removing products are specially formulated to soften and break down the dead skin from the sensitive nail plate. To carry out that function, cuticle removers have an acidic pH that is greater than 12.
Due to the aggressive nature of potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide, many people opt for a gentle alternative cuticle remover that consists of alpha hydroxy acids instead. Alpha hydroxy acids are natural acids that are derived from milk or plants. These acids are glycolic, maleic, lactic and citric acids. As exfoliants, the alpha hydroxy acids work by breaking down the cuticles so that they can be gently pushed away.
Despite their relative mildness, cuticle care products containing alpha hydroxy acids can still cause skin irritation. Cuticle removers containing potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide cause dryness and irritation if left on the skin for an extended period. In addition, they are poisonous when ingested and small children should be kept away from such products. Caution should be exercised when using any cuticle-removing product.