Sunday, August 5, 2012

Basics of Nail Care

My sister requested a tutorial for a "good old fashioned manicure" (no nail polish, just the basic grooming) and tips on general nail care. I'd like to preface this with a reminder to everyone that I am not a professional. Everything contained in this post (and on this blog as a whole) has been self-taught, learned through trial and error or from friends, reading other blogs etc. I'd also like to note before getting into this post that, like our hair, our skin, our homes, etc. we all care for our nails in our own ways. I'm not by any means saying that any of this is a "must" or "the right way". This is just MY way of caring for my nails and some general things that I feel would work well for most people. This is not a tutorial so much as it is simply a basic guide and a run-down of my own routine.

You really should not cut or trim your cuticles. I don't care how many cuticle trimmers/cutters/scissors you see in the store. You shouldn't do it. When you cut back your cuticles, you can leave the skin open and this can lead to an infection. And you definitely don't want that! Of course, we've ALL been there - we use the trimmers because they come in every manicure kit out there so we assume we need to use them. But they really are not essential.

Rather than using cutters/trimmers to remove any over-grown cuticles, you should instead apply a cuticle removing/softening product. Let it sit for a minute or two (follow the instructions on your product of choice; most state to let it sit for one or two minutes) and then use a cuticle pusher to gently push back the cuticles. If your cuticle removing/softening product is good, the over-grown cuticles will be easily removed from your nails in the process. Once you've finished pushing back your cuticles, wash your hands to remove any remaining cuticle removing/softening product that is still on your nails. Gently scrubbing with a nail brush can help loosen and remove any small bits of remaining cuticle that needs removed.

To help keep your cuticles from getting out of control, after removing any excess that may exist (I know most of us get lazy about this, hence the need for the removal/softening products!) make pushing your cuticles back a part of your regular routine. If you don't often wear nail polish, every time you shower once you step out of the shower you can use your towel to gently push your cuticles back. If you do frequently wear polish, make pushing the cuticles back part of the process every time you remove old polish.

Keep your cuticles moisturized with a cuticle oil or balm or any good lotion of your choice. Apply this product after every manicure, and on a daily basis to keep your cuticles soft and hydrated. Keeping your cuticles moisturized helps prevent hang nails which are most often caused by dry skin.

Speaking of hang nails, if you've got one don't just grab it and yank it off. We all do it from time to time and we know how painful it is when we do it. Even though it's called a hang nail, it's actually skin and not your nail. Because the hang nail is dry and hard, you need to start by softening the skin a bit. A simple soak in warm water for a couple minutes will do the trick, though you can also make use of the above mentioned cuticle removers/softeners for this job as well. Once the hang nail has softened a bit, use cuticle scissors to clip it off.You could also use nail clippers to clip it off if you don't have cuticle scissors, but the scissors tend to be better suited for the job as they can get closer to the base of the hang nail and they're sharper for a cleaner, easier removal. After removing the hang nail, apply some cuticle balm or a thick lotion.

Trimming and filing your nails seems like a simple enough task but there are different schools of thought as to how the process should be done. Some people say to only file your nails, never use nail clippers. If you don't have much length to remove this may be just fine. But sometimes you have a good bit of length you want to get rid of and to merely file it away would take all day. Some people say to soak your nails in warm water for a few minutes to soften them prior to clipping, others say to just clip when they are dry. I've never had any problems clipping my nails when they are dry. When I trim my nails I usually clip three times - once on each side and then once more in the middle. Then I follow up with filing to even things out.

I think pretty much everyone agrees you should only file dry nails, as filing your nails when they are soft can cause damage such as splitting. There are a couple kinds of files on the market: metal, glass, and emery boards are the most common. I've never used a metal file that I thought worked well; I have only used them in a bind when that was the only file that was available. In my experience they do not work well, and they are hard on the nails. I've not yet had the chance to use a glass file, so I can't speak from personal experience but I have only heard good things about them. My weapon of choice, obviously, is emery boards. They are readily available, cheap and do the job well.

Regardless of what kind of file you like to use, you should be sure you are using one with the correct grit for your nails. Grit refers to how rough or smooth the file is; the bigger the number the finer the file is. If you have artificial nails, you will need a rougher grit file than someone with natural nails. Many files have a rougher grit on one side and a smoother grit on the other side. Generally speaking, you will want to use the rougher side to remove length, and the smoother side to smooth and shape the nail.

When you file your nails, always begin at the edge of your nail and use one smooth stroke toward the center of your nail. Never file with a back and forth motion - it weakens the nail and can lead to breaks, splitting, or peeling.

Some tips for whiter tips: There are plenty of ways to get whiter nail tips.But there really is no need to spend money on a special product for the job. If you really want to, by all means do so! But there are cheaper alternatives. One is to soak your nails in lemon juice for a few minutes. My preferred method involves a manicure bowl, hot water, and.... denture cleaning tablets! You don't have to get anything special - generic store brands will do the job just as well as more expensive brands. The ones labeled as "whitening" are best but the regular ones work too. If you can only find the ones with the mint added, that's fine too. Think of it as aroma therapy. ;-) Fill the manicure bowl with hot water - not so hot you can't stand it though because you will be putting your hand in it soon. Pop a denture cleaning tablet in the  water and immediately submerge your nails in the water as well. Let your fingers soak for about five minutes, then rinse them with cool water and gently scrub with a nail brush and let your nails dry. This may not give you immediate results, however if you do this once a week you will see results in a couple of weeks.


There are many nail buffers on the market. Single step buffers, two step, three, four... even seven step buffers! I've used many of them, and I think the one step buffers are plenty sufficient. Buffing helps smooth the nail surface and also helps remove light surface stains such as those left behind from certain shades of nail polish. The two step buffers are my personal favorite. Similar to emery boards, they have a side to 'buff' the nail and a side to 'shine' the nail. Whatever kind of buffer you like to use, like filing, never use a back and forth motion. Start at the edge and move toward the center with single strokes of the buffer across your nail. Don't over do it when buffing your nails - three or four strokes should be plenty to do the job. Buffing your nails too much or too often can lead to thin, weak nails. Twice a month is generally enough.

You can also get a buffing cream to apply to your nails when buffing. Follow the instructions on the buffing cream of your choice; most are applied prior to buffing and help shine the nail while you buff. Alternately you can buff your nails first, then apply the cream and gently massage it onto the nails with a soft, clean cloth to add shine to your nails after buffing.


Steps For A Basic Manicure

This manicure will result in shiny natural nails.

1. Remove any existing nail polish with nail polish remover.

2. Soak nails in warm water for 3-5 minutes to soften cuticles. If you want to add whitening benefits, add some lemon juice to the water or a denture cleaning tablet, as described above.

3. Push back the cuticles gently with a cuticle pusher. If needed, apply cuticle softener/remover for stubborn cuticles. Wash hands with warm soapy water and scrub gently with a nail brush to remove residue from the cuticle remover if it was used.

4. Use nail clippers to clip your nails to the desired length, if clipping is necessary.

5. When nails are completely dry, file the nails to the desired shape and to smooth the edges.

6. Buff your nails if necessary, and use a buffing cream to add shine to your nails.

7. Wash your hands again to remove excess buffing cream (if directed, some buffing creams do not need to be washed off but others do) and finish your manicure by massaging cuticle cream or balm on your cuticles, or apply your favorite lotion to your hands, focusing on the cuticles.


Final tip: Wear rubber gloves when washing dishes and when cleaning where your hands will be in contact with cleaning products. This will help keep your nails and cuticles from drying out from exposure to cleaning chemicals/water, and also helps protect nail polish from peeling and chipping.


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