Our nails have a knack for displaying polish, in every sense of the word. When they’re well-groomed and shiny, we feel pulled together while making a point in a meeting or holding a drink at a cocktail party. When they’re chipped and scraggly from neglect, into the pockets they go. To get yours in fine form, simply adopt these healthy routines, nail the basics of a modern manicure.
Always Cleanse Gently
Frequent hand-washing fights germs, but the harsh chemicals in many antibacterial formulas strip moisture from nails. Instead, use a mild soap like (1) Dove Beauty Bar ($4 for 2, dove.com), and always wear rubber gloves when doing dishes or housework.
Cuticles keep bacteria out and moisture in. When they’re compromised, ridges and brittleness happen. Before bed, massage them with oil, then lavish your hands with an emollient rich cream. We like (2) CND SolarOil Nail & Cuticle Care ($13, cnd.com) and (3) Lano Rose Hand Cream Everyday ($20, ulta.com).
Nails should be flexible, not hard enough to tighten screws; otherwise, the slightest stress or ding (like bumping against a table) can make them crack. Replace formaldehyde-laden strengthening “treatments” with hydrating base and top coats. Try (4) NailsInc. SuperFood NailKale Base Coat ($15, nailsinc.com) and (5) Dermelect High Maintenance Peptide Infused Anti-Aging Top Coat ($16, dermelect.com).
Most of today’s lacquers are considered “three‑free,” meaning they don’t contain questionable ingredients like formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP).
Manicure Master Class
Once a week, reach for these trusty tools to shape up cuticles or sand down a jagged edge. Then brush on a chic, neutral shade that whispers, “I’m on point.”
Clip And Snip
To trim nails, make one clean cut across, and leave the corners intact. Remove hangnails with nippers. We like (1) Revlon Deluxe Nail Clipper ($3, revlon.com) and (2) Tweezerman Ultra Precision Cuticle Nipper ($35, tweezerman.com).
File And Shape
Most emery boards are too coarse. Use a finegrit version, like (3) Deborah Lippman Smooth Operator ($12, deborahlippmann.com). Stroke it in one direction (not back and forth) to shape the edges. Then buff nails until they glow.
Gently push them back with a wooden stick wrapped in a cotton ball (or use a wet washcloth in the shower). Try (4) Diamond Cosmetics Manicure Sticks ($2 for 10, ulta.com).
Start with a base coat. Then, for a precise, even coat of color, don’t overload the brush with too much polish. When painting, press down slightly to fan out the bristles, and do it in three even strokes: one on each side, then one down the middle.
(1) No Strings Attached by OPI, $12.50, opi.com. (2) So Daupe by Sinful Colors, $2, sinfulcolors.com. (3) Wild Nude by Essie, $9, essie.com. (4) Bitter Buddhist by Smith & Cult, $18, smithandcult.com. (5) Tranquility by Sparitual, $12.50, sparitual.com. (6) Cathy by Zoya, $10, zoya.com.
Clean up any mistakes with a pointed cotton swab dipped in nailpolish remover. We like Q-tips Precision Tips ($4, qtips.com) and Cutex Moisture-Rich Nail Polish Remover ($3, jet.com). Finish with a top coat.
According to several studies, biotin supplements have been shown to help strengthen nails after being taken daily for about four months. Hum Nutrition Killer Nails, $10 for 30, humnutrition.com.
Research shows that glycolic acid can smooth out pits and ridges on nails, much as it does on skin, says Stern. Deborah Lippmann Marshmellow Whipped Hand & Cuticle Scrub, $29, deborahlippmann.com.
Dana Stern, New York City dermatologist and nail specialist; Chris Adigun, a dermatologist and nail specialist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Elaine Watson, educator and founder of Nailebrity.com.
WATCH: How to nail the perfect manicure