With all the exciting manicure and nail art trends to try these days, everyone is paying a little extra attention to their nails.
And while changing up your polish is a fun and easy way to update your style, it can certainly take a toll on your nails and cuticles.
So whether you are a nail salon regular or a fan of the natural look, we all need to care for our nails as much as any other part of our body.
Here’s everything you need to know to start a nail and cuticle routine that will ensure beautiful hands all year round.
Keep Them Clean
This may seem like a no-brainer, but keeping your nails properly cleaned is something that is usually either neglected or done too aggressively.
Of course, the surface and tips of nails get cleaned every time you wash your hands. But what about the area underneath your nail, where dirt and debris can get stuck?
You may be tempted to use any pointed metal tool in your manicure kit to scrape out visible dirt, but this can create other problems. Sticking any kind of tool underneath nails can cause injury to the skin beneath. If you are too aggressive, the area between the nail and the skin can be opened up and left vulnerable to bacteria.
Instead, use a soft nail brush to gently clean underneath your nails. Make sure to also use a good cleanser that is not too drying.
To choose a nail and skin friendly cleanser, it is best to look for a creamy or milky liquid formula. Clear and foaming hand soaps tend to be more drying, as they do not contain moisturizers.
And be sure to avoid antibacterial soaps, especially ones containing the chemical triclosan. This ingredient tends to be especially harsh on the skin.
Keep Them Hydrated
Everyday tasks can really dry out your nails and cuticles, so adding back lost moisture is a must.
This is especially true when the weather is cold and dry. These conditions can affect your nails’ ability to retain moisture so you will need to be extra diligent with moisturizers during the winter months.
Of course, keeping a bottle of lotion next to the sink or in your purse is one of the best ways to help you to moisturize more often.
You can also look for specific oils or creams made for nails and cuticles. These should contain concentrated ingredients that will nourish your nails. Some of the best vitamins to look for are vitamins A, C, and E. Plant oils like coconut and argan oil are also great natural options for providing what nails and cuticles need most.
Both nail techs and dermatologists alike will tell you that thicker and more emollient moisturizers such as ointments and petroleum jelly are also great for locking in nails’ moisture. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of applying these greasier creams at night before you go to sleep. They will soak in overnight, and you may see a visible difference the next morning.
The important thing is to be consistent. Practice applying lotion to hands, nails, and cuticles after washing your hands and before bed every night.
Not sure where to begin?
The Hand & Body Lotion is a great place to start! It even comes in a travel size for easy carry.
Focus On the Cuticles
Hydration is especially vital to the health of your cuticles. But unfortunately, cuticles are often misunderstood. Instead of nurturing their cuticles, many people try to get rid of them by scraping or cutting them away.
But the cuticle is actually an important part of your skin, and functions to protect the nail growth matrix. The growth matrix is mostly hidden but is partially visible as the little white-colored half moon at the bottom of nails.
This area underneath the skin is where new nail cells are created. As new cells grow, older cells are pushed up, creating the nail itself. In other words, the nail is actually made up of dead cells but is able to increase in length as the new cells generated in the matrix keep pushing older cells ahead.
So to have strong nails, healthy and intact cuticles are vital! Treat your cuticles gently and give them lots of moisture, as this will go a long way toward keeping your nails in top shape.
Trim Nails, But Never Cuticles!
Naturally long, beautiful nails are the goal of many. But to achieve this you may need to make the counter-intuitive choice to cut your nails often. This is especially true if you struggle with weak or brittle nails that break easily.
Regular nail trims are similar to hair trims: if the ends are split, healthy hair can’t continue to grow. Just like a trip to the salon to skim off damaged edges is necessary when you are growing out your hair, your nails require some cutting as you allow them to build up their strength.
But, it’s also important you cut your nails the right way, in order to let them grow in an optimal and sustainable shape.
Follow these four easy steps to properly trimmed nails:
- Soak. It’s a good idea to soak your nails in lukewarm water for a few minutes before beginning, to allow them to soften. This will make it easier to cut. Or better yet, trim nails after getting out of the shower.
- Use the proper tool. Always use a trimmer or scissors designed for nails, and make sure that it is cleaned properly between uses. If you slip up and cut your skin, you don’t want any bacteria entering the wound.
- Cut straight across. When it comes to shape, this is not the time to try anything exotic. Nails, especially toenails, need to be cut straight across every time. Not cutting straight across can cause ingrown nails and other problems.
- Smooth. You can then gently round the edges or smooth any jagged spots with an emery board. Make sure to file in one direction only, instead of moving back and forth. Sawing with your file going both directions can weaken your nails.
Now, when it comes to cuticles, trimming is not only unnecessary but can actually be counter-productive. The cuticles are there to protect the nail matrix and to keep germs and debris from getting below the surface. Cutting this away compromises this barrier, and can cause pain and inflammation.
Instead, if your cuticles have become overgrown and you would like to clean them up, simply apply some cuticle cream or nail oil to loosen and soften the skin. You can then carefully push down the cuticle with an orange stick or soft-tipped cuticle pusher. Be cautious not to push too hard or too far, however. You only want to push down the area that has grown up over the nail, not damaging the area of the growth matrix.
If you have any hangnails, you can remove the part that has completely come away from the skin. However, never rip a hangnail off with your fingers or tweezers! This can potentially tear away some healthy skin with the hangnail and can be painful or lead to infection. Simply take nail scissors or clippers and carefully trim the hanging portion of skin.
The final step in trimming should always be to moisturize nails and cuticles thoroughly. Doing so helps protect the newly trimmed nail edge from splitting, and will leave your nails shiny and smooth.
Follow this routine about every two weeks, or as needed as nails grow. Eventually, you may be able to maintain more length as nails grow stronger and less brittle.
Wondering if there are hand-and-nail-specific products to use?
Yes, of course there are! These tend to be formulated with hydrating botanical oils, skin-restoring humectants like glycerin, and smoothing emollients like Cetearyl Alcohol. If you’re unsure where to begin, this basic manicure set will just the trick.
Strengthen Your Nail Health
On top of keeping nails trimmed and cuticles hydrated, you can further enhance your nail health by paying attention to what you eat. Nails are made up of layers of keratin, which is a protein. A diet rich in healthy proteins, vitamins and minerals will nourish every part of your body—including the nail growth matrix, which is responsible for generating the cells that become your nails.
While protein and basic vitamins like A, C, and E are recommended for nail and skin health, biotin is another nutrient that is now being looked at for its role in healthy nail growth.
Biotin is one of the B vitamins that play a role in the growth of cells and the use of keratin in the body. These processes are important in the growth of both nails and hair.
You can get biotin naturally in a number of foods, so you are bound to find a few that you like and can stock up on to enhance nail health. Almonds, carrots, eggs, oats, peanuts, and sweet potatoes are just a few of the biotin-rich foods you can choose from.
But, if you have trouble maintaining a diet that includes natural sources of biotin, you can speak with your doctor about taking biotin supplements. While many people raving about the effects of biotin supplements on their nails and hair, you don’t want to start taking anything without checking in with a medical professional. There are some drug interactions to consider before starting a biotin supplement.
What to Avoid
Your nails are a handy tool for all kinds of daily tasks, but this certainly takes a toll on them. While you cannot completely avoid activities or substances that are hard on nails and cuticles, there are some things you should definitely make a point to avoid:
- Household cleaning solutions.
- Harsh soaps like laundry detergent or dish detergent.
- Extreme temperatures—very hot or very cold water.
- Using your nails to peel or pick hard surfaces—aluminum can tabs, for example.
- Your mouth! Biting your nails or cuticles is obviously a habit that should be broken, but putting fingers in your mouth at all exposes the skin around nails to the bacteria in saliva.
- Wetting and drying hands repeatedly—try to limit how often you wash your hands.
How to Protect Your Nails and Cuticles
Now that you know what harms your nails and cuticles, you may be wondering, “How can I effectively protect my nails from everyday sources of damage such as water, soap, and chemicals?”
Luckily, there are definitely some simple ways to lower your nails’ exposure to these things.
First, use cotton-lined rubber or vinyl gloves for cleaning around the house and for washing tasks like doing the dishes. These gloves can do double duty by both preventing hot water or harsh soap and chemicals from making contact with your fingertips, and by sealing in lotion or creams you apply before putting them on. It’s like getting a skin-softening spa treatment while you work!
Next, the oft-repeated advice of slathering yourself in sunscreen applies just as much to hands and nails as it does to your face and neck. Your hands get an incredible amount of sun exposure every single day, and it shows. Fingers and the backs of hands can show aging faster than the other areas of skin that we are more likely to remember to protect.
This is extra important if you get gel manicures or any other nail application that involves drying or curing under a light. The light used for this exposes the skin around your nails to UV light, which just like anywhere else on the body, causes skin damage. It can even up your risk of developing skin cancer. Applying a high SPF to skin before going for your manicure can help protect you, as well as cutting back on this type of manicure.
In addition, be sure to use a good base coat when doing your nails at home. Not only is base coat essential for getting a smooth and opaque application of color, but it also can ensure that color does not stain your nails. It also is an added layer of protection between the surface of your nail and any chemicals in your polish. You may even find a base coat that includes strengthening elements, making it a two-in-one benefit for beautiful nails.
Finally, make sure you keep your nail tools clean and dry. Use quality clippers and scissors and wash anything metal or plastic in warm soapy water after use. You can then disinfect with some rubbing alcohol and cotton balls and dry thoroughly.
With a little time and attention, your nails and cuticle routine can incorporate seamlessly with your regular beauty regimen, and with wonderful results.