February 13, 2011

Nail color may be fun, but for active women, it may be too much to expect. "Many women these days have schedules that don't include keeping up a paint job on their nails," says Yan Lu, owner and founder of San Francisco's Le Creme Spa. With this in mind, Lu set out to create a "natural manicure" for her clients, skipping the polish and opting for treatments that strengthen nails and relieve stress. Lu's manicures use ingredients like flowers, fruits, and essential oils instead of the fume-laden chemicals most nail salons rely on. We've incorporated Lu's techniques into a treatment you can do in less than 20 minutes. Afterward, nails shine like they've been polished -- minus the smudges and chips.

1. Trim hangnails.

Using small nail scissors, clean up any ragged skin around the nail. Do not cut cuticles (the delicate area where the skin meets the nail), as they help protect the nail bed from infection.

2. Soften rough skin.

Soak hands in a basin of warm whole milk for several minutes. The lactic acid in milk helps remove dead cells and soften cuticles; the natural fats help replenish dry skin.

3. Push back cuticles.

Using an angle-tipped nail stick, gently push the cuticles back toward the base of the nail, clearing the nail surface for buffing.

4. Shape nails.

Using a nail file, shape nails into squares with rounded corners, which makes them more resistant to cracks and tears. To avoid misshapen or split nails, file in one direction only -- no sawing back and forth.

5. Buff nails to a shine.

Using a smooth-surfaced buffing block or buffing disk (not a filing block, which will scuff nails), buff the entire surface of nails using a side-to-side motion.

6. Moisturize and massage.

As a final step, rub hands with warm almond oil, avocado oil, or light olive oil, or apply an oil-rich hand and nail cream. Pay particular attention to the nail and cuticle areas.

The Right Stuff

All the tools you need to give yourself a quick and easy manicure are right here. Most are available at drugstores and beauty-supply stores, as well as online.

Small nail scissors

Whole milk

Angled nail stick

Nail file

Buffing block

Hand and nail cream or warm oil


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