Help me take care of my fingernails and cuticles!
June 28, 2014 2:44 PM   Subscribe

I want to start taking better care of my nails and cuticles, beyond just clipping them when they're long, so I want to pick up some good products for cleaning up the ends of the nails and the raggedness of the cuticles.

I’ve done a little bit of looking into this, and now I’m thinking the following:

- Cuticle remover: what specific product should I use to soften and clean up? Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover, CND Cuticle Eraser, Blue Cross Cuticle Remover, or other?
- Orangewood sticks: or would a metal implement be better?
- Nail clippers: I was going to order the Mehaz pair recommended by The Sweethome.
- Nail file: simple disposable emery boards or would something else be better?
- Nail block: what should I look for?

Does this sound reasonable? Is there anything else that would be helpful (like nippers)? I’m a guy with short nails, so nothing that’s specific to having long nails or some such, please. Product links would be very helpful. Thanks in advance.
posted by jroybal to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
To specifically respond to your list:
-I use the Sally Hansen cuticle removers (the instant, in the blue bottle, and the mint green aloe vera gel) and find them effective. I've heard good things about Blue Cross, and I think it may be more of a salon product, but as I've never found it in a store I haven't been able to try it (cf. salon product, I suppose).
-Orangewood sticks, or a soft plastic cuticle shaper, over metal. You want something that's going to be assertive but not aggressive - metal can cut or jam your cuticles, but all you want to do is gently push them into place.
(I can't comment on particular clippers - mine are basics from CVS and they've lasted me for over a decade, maybe?)
-Simple emery boards are fine. Personal preference often comes into play here. Some prefer crystal files over emery boards, some metal (though I'm not sure who); personally I gravitate toward the pretty Sally Hansen ones you can get for $1 at Target. The best are those with a bit of cushion in the middle and two different grits, so you can file down significant amounts of nail with one side and polish the edge to something that won't catch or snag with the other.
-Nail blocks aren't anything I'm very familiar with, as I polish my nails v. buff them, but I'd look for a particularly fine grit and cushion in the block, so it adjusts to your nail rather than grating off too much.

Nippers are a recent acquisition for me and I ADORE them. Again, basic drugstore brand has been fine so far. I love keeping my cuticles clipped and very clean looking and these certainly help - also great for fine hangnails and such - but I think this is an advanced level that's not really necessary. I've been doing my own manicures since I was about 9 and I only learned about nippers when I invested in a salon manicure last year before a conference. I find them super useful, but I went most of my adult life not knowing they existed, pretty happy in my ignorance. YMMV.

In all, it might be worth it to get your nails done by a pro and ask them to explain what they do in each step and the tools they use. You'll get a good idea of what you think is useful for you and what you find to be unnecessary.

Welcome to the nail club!
posted by AthenaPolias at 3:03 PM on June 28, 2014

I like this sort of thing for trimming cuticles and hangnails. (It was weirdly hard to find a picture, but I'm pretty sure I got mine at Target.) I exfoliate before, with something like a salt scrub or one of those Body Shop scrubs with crushed walnut shells, and moisturize after. You might want a thicker, greasier moisturizer, like this, for your cuticles.
posted by clavicle at 3:10 PM on June 28, 2014

The Burt's Bees cuticle product clavicle linked to is magic. Use it daily (I keep mine on my desk at work) and you'll have less cleanup to deal with going forward.
posted by dayintoday at 3:37 PM on June 28, 2014

I like glass nail files; they're very fine grit and easy to wash and reuse. Sephora has good ones, but other brands make them too. As a lady-type, I alternate between having very short nails and slightly long nails, and I don't file them unless they're longer and need to be evened out, so you may not even have to bother with this step. I use whatever cheap clippers I got at the drugstore ten years ago; generic ones are usually perfectly fine.

The more you moisturize your cuticles, the less you'll need to do with them in the long run. When mine get too overgrown and stuck to the nail, I use the Sally Hansen gel remover and only leave it on for about a minute - cuticle removers are harsh! Wash your hands off thoroughly and then very gently push them back. You shouldn't have to do this too often, especially if you moisturize regularly.

For moisturizers, there are a zillion oils and creams marketed specifically for cuticles; use what you like. I alternate between brush-on oils and regular Nivea creme in the little blue tin. Apply to each cuticle, let it sit for a couple seconds, then massage it in.

I always recommend Loodieloodieloodie to people interested in nail/cuticle care; she's got a ton of interesting info and recommendations.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:38 PM on June 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like this nail block from Ulta. I don't really use the rough file side for shaping, but the other three sides do a great job of smoothing, buffing, & polishing to a shine. I use Sally Hansen and Ms Manicure emery boards--effective but gentler than the "sand" versions. Be careful with the tool clavicle mentions--it is sharper than it looks & you can end up bloody. It does work great; I have a Revlon one I originally bought in HS--so an antique!--and it still really sharp.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 3:51 PM on June 28, 2014

I found on metafilter (somewhere) that people use a paintbrush to really get good lotion into their cuticles.

I joined these people and seriously, my life is changed. Three times a day I put a dab of Aquaphor Healing Ointment on each thumb cuticle and spread it among the other fingers.

Life. Changing. I'm not kidding.
posted by bilabial at 5:41 PM on June 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

The diamond deb files work really smoothly.
posted by SandiBeech at 6:07 PM on June 28, 2014

I've done this for years and never have to worry about my cuticles: brush your nails, cuticles and the side under your nails in the shower, right before you get out so the skin is soft. I use a flat medium/firm toothbrush with regular soap. It takes a minute to do both hands and saves you lots of time and money on other cuticle remedies like the ones mentioned above. Manicurists always compliment me and my mom/sisters who all do the same.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 6:42 PM on June 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest going the whole route and buying a specific hand/nail brush and using it every day in the shower. I can't stand cut cuticles and this does a great job of pushing them back gently and smoothly. I had to buy my last one at Home Depot because I couldn't find them in chain drugstores anymore.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:12 PM on June 28, 2014

I really like using nail oil (like this) on cuticles. I never cut mine, just push them back a little.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:43 PM on June 28, 2014

When you get out of the shower, push your cuticles back with a towel. I learned this from my aunt who was a beautician. When I do it my cuticles look great. Also, I've taken 5000 mcg of Biotin for the last 2 years & ;my hair and nails are noticeably stronger/thicker.
posted by BoscosMom at 9:09 PM on June 28, 2014

I also use Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover. I leave it on longer than the recommended time, though (about two minutes), otherwise it doesn't seem to be effective on me. I wouldn't recommend metal cuticle pushers, because they tend to be too harsh -- orange wood sticks are better. If those are still too much, you can wrap them with a bit of cotton before pushing your cuticles back. After that, I scrub off the remover with an old toothbrush and soap.

I keep my nails fairly short, but I don't remember the last time I used clippers. I normally use a glass file (easy to wash and reuse) to shorten and shape my nails. Then I run a cheapo Revlon nail block over the free edge so they don't snag on anything. You could use the same block to buff your nails, if you felt so inclined. It has a pretty fine grit.

I don't know if nippers are essential; I have a pair, but I only use them to prevent hangnails. A pair from the drugstore would be fine.

As for oil, you could use anything. I usually use almond oil, but I've also used mineral oil, Aquaphor/Vaseline, and in a pinch, I'll use lotion. There's no need to buy an oil marketed specifically for the nails.
posted by supermassive at 8:10 AM on June 29, 2014

I love my nippers, if for nothing else but trimming a ragged cuticle before I pick at it and make it worse and painful. I also use the Sally Hansen cuticle remover in the blue bottle and it works really well. If you do decide on a metal cuticle pusher, be very careful. They are sharp and can gouge your nail if you're too forceful. I never use clippers, just file my nails down to whatever length I'm looking for using one of those cheap files with padding in the middle. I use an OPI Smoother to get rid or ridges on my nail surface and soften newly filed edges. It leaves the surface a bit dull, but I always use polish so that's not an issue for me. A buffing block, or the smoother and another, finer grit board will help with shine.

One thing that helped me get into a regular nail routine was to have a manicure every 2-3 weeks for a period of time. It forced me to pay attention to my nails much more than I was used to and I learned things from my manicurist. Once paying attention was normal, I took the things I learned and did it myself. If you've never had a manicure before, get recommendations for places from the girls in your life or look on yelp. In my experience, the European salons are better for manicures than Asian salons.
posted by youngergirl44 at 9:13 AM on June 29, 2014

I am also a huge fan of cuticle nippers, but have found the kind like this to work much better. They used to be pretty common in drugstores, but have become weirdly difficult to find in recent years.
posted by Kat Allison at 2:42 PM on June 29, 2014

In my bag, I carry both Tweezerman cuticle nippers and the type of slanted nail clipper that Kat Allison linked to (mine are Revlon, and I've had them for maybe, six years?). The nippers work well for small snags or snags that are hard to get to (like, deep in the corner of the nail bed), while the slanted clippers work better for big hangnails. Just be careful that you don't go overboard and start trimming live skin.

A few cuticle treatments I like are Lush Lemony Flutter and Ultrabalm (both last for ages), and Paula's Choice Cuticle and Nail Treatment.

I'm a big fan of crystal nail files; I find them much easier to use than normal emery boards. Once I started using crystal files, I stopped cutting my nails with clippers, and just file them down. That lets me control the shape much better.
posted by neushoorn at 3:38 AM on June 30, 2014

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