Tools and Tips
Even if you can't make it to the salon every week for a manicure, you can easily maintain neat nails. Have some basic, inexpensive tools on hand for at-home touch-ups -- here are the essentials and how to use them. Set aside 20 minutes to shape and buff your nails and treat the cuticles. These steps will keep nails looking nice, even when you aren't wearing nail polish. While it protects nails from breakage, polish can be dehydrating, so go without it for a day or so.
1. Nail Clipper: This can be used as needed to quickly shorten long nails before filing (Sephora, $3).
2. Emery Board: Applying gentle pressure, run the emery board (Victoria's Secret, $5.50 for three) over the tips of nails to shape them and smooth the edges. File in one direction -- sides first, then the center. A rounded square shape is popular.
3. Buffer: This tool (Sephora, $1.75) exfoliates the nail, smoothing ridges. "Buffing leaves nails looking healthy,"says manicurist Deborah Lippmann of New York City. Gently dust each, working up from base. Use just a few strokes so you don't weaken nail.
4. Cuticle Pusher: Prepare cuticles first: Brush cuticle remover on the skin surrounding the nail, then soak in warm water for a minute or two to soften. Next, use a metal instrument or wooden instrument around edge of nail to push back the cuticle (metal cuticle pusher by Lippmann Collection by Mehaz, $19; birchwood sticks by Sephora, twelve for $2). The nail is formed right below the cuticle, so use a light touch to avoid damaging it.
5. Cotton Balls: Saturate a cotton ball with nonacetone polish remover, and wrap it around the tip of the cuticle pusher. Rub it over the nail and cuticle to wipe clean.
6. Cuticle Nipper: It is the best tool for trimming hangnails, and it's easy to use (Cuticle Nipper, Lippmann Collection by Mehaz, $40). But don't cut your cuticles; there's a risk of infection.
7. Cuticle Oil or Cream: These types of products (Kiehl's Imperiale Moisturizing Cuticle Treatment, $18.50; The Body Shop Almond Oil Nail & Cuticle Balm, $8) contain strong moisturizers such as shea butter and beeswax; rub on the perimeter of nail and cuticle to soften. Wipe the nail with polish remover again to take off any oil or cream. Clean under the nail with the cuticle pusher. Follow with base coat and nail polish if you like.
For Soft Skin
For hands to be soft and supple, they must be well hydrated. Whenever possible, use a mild, moisturizing hand wash. "Apply lotion while hands are still damp to lock in water and prevent nails from cracking," says New York City dermatologist Rosemarie Ingleton, M.D. Hand cream is heavier than body cream; look for ones that contain petrolatum, mineral oil, shea butter, or glycerin and have an SPF of 15 or higher. Avoid alcohol-based products, which dry the skin. Exfoliators with ingredients like alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid, and urea can be used once a week.
1. The Body Shop Almond Oil Softening Hand Exfoliator, $14.
2. Orly Smooth Gentle Exfoliator, $27.65.
3. Fresh Milk Hand Wash, $20.
4. Kiehl's Hand and Body Lotion with Aloe Vera in French Rose, $11.
5. Fresh Sugar Blossom Hand Treatment, $36.
6. Molton Brown Naran Ji Soothing Hand Lotion SPF 15, $14.
7. Mario Badescu Elasto- Seamollient hand cream, $8.
Generally, a professional manicure with two coats of nail polish will last for about a week, unless you do a lot of housework. Sheer, pale polishes hide chips better than dark shades do, and will showcase a ring beautifully. When applying nail color yourself at home, follow these tips to keep the polish looking glossy and pristine for as long as possible.
Always start by applying a base coat to your nails, which gives polish a better surface to stick to. Certain formulas also harden or strengthen nails, helping them to grow. Put on nail color in two thin coats. Thick layers take longer to dry and won't adhere to nails properly, so polish may peel. Let nails dry two or three minutes between coats. Brush across the tip of the nail as a last step; this helps set the polish. Avoid quick-drying top-coat formulas; they can seal the outermost layer before the other coats have had enough time to dry, causing polish to chip sooner. Instead, give yourself plenty of time for a manicure; use a regular top coat and let your nails dry thoroughly -- about 20 minutes.
Ice water helps set polish more quickly. Fill a bowl of water with ice and let it chill (do this at the beginning of the manicure so it's ready by the time your nails are painted). After applying a top coat, immediately dip fingers in the water for about ten seconds.
1. Essie nail polish in Vanity Fairest, $8.
2. Lippmann Collection nail polish in A Whiter Shade of Pale, $15.
3. Estee Lauder Pure Color Nail Lacquer in Naked Pink, $18.
4. Lippmann Collection nail polish in Sarah Smile, $15.
5. Lancome's Vernis Magnetic Nail Lacquer in Willowy, $14.50.
6. Lippmann Collection On a Clear Day top coat, $16.
7. Bobbi Brown base coat, $8.50.
Discolored nails? At the start of a manicure, soak fingertips in fresh lemon juice for a few minutes. Then buff tops of nails. And always use a base coat to prevent dark polishes from staining.