Saturday, June 23, 2012

Nail Care And Prep For Beginners

Nail care is important.  With just a little extra care and attention each day, anybody can have beautiful and strong nails that look good with polish or without.  I've gotten a few requests for a post on the basics from friends just getting in to nail polish.  Since proper nail care is the foundation of a good manicure, I'll start there first.  In the future, I'll talk about base coats, top coats, and nail treatments.

1. Moisturize!

I moisturize my hands several times a day, and usually use an extra thick layer around my cuticles at bedtime.  Properly moisturized hands will have fewer hangnails and stronger nails.  Moisturized hands will also look younger.  Using a moisturizer with Vitamin E is good for cuticle health, nail strength and flexibility, and a lotion containing lanolin oil will improve the look of your skin dramatically.  But really, any moisturizer is fine...don't get too bogged down with finding the perfect product at first.  The important thing to remember is to moisturize frequently!  If you don't want to spend money on hand creams, look in your medicine cabinet for abandoned face creams, and use those instead.

The Last Human knew the importance of moisture, but sadly, she had no hands.
2. Exfoliate!

Just like your face, your hands and nails accumulate dead skin cells that need to be removed.  Dry, dead skin on your hands can prevent your hand lotion from doing its job properly, and can also make your hands look scaly and old.  Exfoliating your hands once a week or so (or whatever you find works best for you!) is an easy step to work into your regular beauty routine, and you don't need any kind of special product specifically for hands.  Just use the same thing you use on your face.  I really like St. Ives Apricot Scrub - it's cheap, smells good, and is nice and scrubby.

3. Remove!

This step is a little more technical, but if you are dedicated to a long-lasting and good-looking manicure, I'd advise you to read on.

There's a common belief in the nail world that your cuticles are something you want to get rid of.  This is probably due to the many, many products labeled "cuticle remover" on the shelves at your local drugstore, but what they are actually referring to is dead cuticle.  It's the stuff that creeps up your nails and looks kind of uneven, pale, and rough.

The live cuticle, known in anatomy classes as the Eponychium, is actually the half-moon of living tissue at the bottom of your nail beds, and should never be snipped, scraped at, or broken.  It is alive, and can bleed if you cut it.  It can take awhile to heal if this happens, will grow back thicker and tougher, and could cause infection if you use dirty tools.

It is my belief that you never need to use a "nipper" to snip the dead cuticle from your nails.  Just try to avoid it, and if you go get yourself a professional manicure, don't let your technician do it either, unless you absolutely trust that they know what they're doing.  Using cuticle remover every week or so will make a huge difference in how your nails look and how long your manicures last.

My favorite cuticle remover is Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover, and is available at any drugstore, but there are many different products available.  If you are serious about nail care, you'll soon discover what product works best for you.

Cuticle remover is very easy to use.  Wash your hands, then put down a piece of paper towel and squirt goop around the cuticle and sidewalls of your nails.  Wait about 60 seconds for the chemicals in the remover to dissolve the dead skin, then use a spoon pusher, orange stick, or curette to push back your cuticles and scrape dead skin and residue off your nails.

Wash your hands after using the remover, and use a good moisturizer.  Clean off and disinfect your metal tools, and throw away orange sticks after one use.

After using cuticle remover and moisturizer, my fingers look smoother, healthier, and there is no dead skin on the surface of the nail bed that could prevent polish adhesion.  I've been doing this for awhile, so the difference isn't as extreme as it used to be, but those new to polish will definitely start to notice a change for the better.  I treat my cuticles like this once every few days, but try to work out what's good for you.  If you'd like to know more about such awesomeness, watch this excellent youtube video for some good techniques.

4. Clean!

This step is the easiest.  Once you've exfoliated, moisturized, and cuticle removered (?) your hands within an inch of their lives, you might be excited to slap on some polish.  WAIT - don't do it.  The oils on your nail bed from moisturizers and removers can cause your manicure to peel off in sheets.  Wash your nails first, and don't be afraid to scrub underneath your nails with a nail brush (an old toothbrush works well too.) Then, give each nailbed a quick swipe with nail polish remover or a nail primer solution to fully prepare the nail bed for polish.

These four steps may seem like a lot of work at first, but each step takes very little time, and once you get into the habit of performing them when you have an idle minute (watching tv, just after a shower, etc), it goes by even more quickly.  Following these steps will definitely make a difference in the length of your manicure and the health of your hands and nails.

Please feel free to comment with any questions you might have.  To reward you for making it to the end of this massive post, here's a picture of David Tennant with a kitten.

Thanks for reading!


  1. I love the doctor who additions to this post :) awesome! thanks for the info about cuticle removing aswell :)

  2. This is a very good nail care guide for beginners. Well Photographed (heehee! the best was the last picture!) and well written.
    Thank you.