A natural mani-pedi can be a welcome break—and a chic breather. Here's a handy guide to maintaining and strengthening your nails.

By Erica Sloan
April 02, 2021
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Nail polish isn't for everyone—maybe you simply don't like the maintenance, or you just prefer the look of unpolished nails; others have a hard time keeping polish intact due to their job or lifestyle. Whatever your reason for preferring bare nails, know that falling into this camp shouldn't preclude you from shaping, buffing, and maintaining the tips of your fingers and toes. Doing so leads to a clean, manicured look and healthier nails, no lacquer necessary. Ahead, your complete guide to polish-free manicures and pedicures.

Remove Polish

Swipe it off with an essential-oil-rich solution, like Sundays Pr 01 Soy polish remover ($28, dearsundays.com). It'll take a few more passes to do the job than an acetone formula would, but the oils will leave your nails nourished, says Shelagh Wong, general manager at Smith & Cult. Instead of cotton balls, enlist hand-washable Base Coat Take Off Reusable Nail-Polish-Remover Pads ($14 for six, basecoatnailsalon.com).

she butter hand cream tube
Credit: Courtesy of Loccitane

Slough and Shape

Our experts agree: You should skip the soak. "Water depletes natural fats in the nail keratin," says Suzanne Shade, founder of nail-care brand Bare Hands. Smooth foot calluses with a rasp, and massage L'Occitane Shea Butter One-Minute Hand Scrub on dry digits ($24, loccitane.com). Trim your nails, then even the ends with a 180-grit emery board, says celebrity nail artist Tom Bachik. Or go for glass, he says: OPI Crystal Nail File ($12, ulta.com) is a washable, reusable option.

lemon cuticle remover
stone eraser cuticle remover

Care for Cuticles

Like gatekeepers around your nails, they seal out bacteria, so cutting them too deeply opens the door to infection, says Bachik. It can also signal trauma to the body, triggering thick regrowth. Instead, soften them with 10+Free Non-Toxic Lemon Cuticle Remover ($18, 10freelife.com) before pushing them back with Sally Beauty Stone Eraser Cuticle Remover ($3, sallybeauty.com). Then carefully nip hangnails.

cuticle oil

Seal in Shine

Now for the fun part: Working from the grittiest side to the finest, sweep a four-way buffer across each nail to whisk away unevenness and gloss the surface, says New York City manicurist Christina Grant; try the Deborah Lippmann Smooth Operator ($12, sephora.com). For a shield of protective hydration, brush on Bare Hands Cuticle Oil ($21 for two tubes, barehands.us), a blend of moisturizing jojoba and castor oils.

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