Help me help my hands.
February 11, 2015 5:37 PM   Subscribe

My poor fingers and nails are in really rough shape. Teach me how to take care of them!

I do manual labor, and sadly, gloves are not an option, as I need dexterity to tie/untie knots in fairly fine string. I cut my nails crazy short both because they get absolutely filthy underneath, and because they break incredibly easily. My cuticles are a mess. The skin around my fingers seems to separate and peel really easily.

I'm tired of having hideous beatup hands. Give me your tips and tricks and basic life skills that I really should have figured out by now! Bear in mind that I need my hands to remain tough. An otherwise perfect solution that makes my hands delicate is an absolute non-starter.
posted by mollymayhem to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I know you need your hands to be tough, but your cuticles and the skin on the sides of your fingers will do much, much better if you prevent them from drying out excessively. Especially if you can't do anything about it during the day, slather something very heavy on your fingertips at night, as thickly as you can, and wear cotton gloves to protect your bedding. By very heavy, I mean either a heavy neutral cream like Eucerin, or petroleum jelly. After you bathe, rub cuticle oil into your cuticles and the sides of your fingers, until you're totally shiny and drippy. Wait a few minutes and wipe off the excess. You won't get super-baby-soft delicate hands, especially on the palms or backs - you just won't have all the ripping of the cuticles and peeling.
I don't know what to do about brittle nails - mine are soft and brittle, even when I moisturize and get enough protein in my diet, and I think it's just genetics. I've never found anything topical that helped particularly.
posted by gingerest at 5:52 PM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

If your nails are weak, try taking a multivitamin for a few weeks - some people see an improvement in their nails when they do.

Also, when you go to bed, put Aquaphor on your cuticles - it will help moisturize them. Also, get a good pair of cuticle nippers to remove hangnails.

If you need the calluses on your hands, avoid hand creams that have lactic acid or alpha hydroxy acid as ingredients, since they will dissolve the tough layers of skin.
posted by Lycaste at 5:54 PM on February 11, 2015

During the daytime, the answer is the constant, obsessive application of lotion. Any time your hands get wet, moisturize them. After a longish session of manual work, moisturize them. Get a nice rich hand cream (I like shea butter) and moisturize like it's your job. If you let your skin dry out, it'll set you back at square one so make it a habit!
posted by Rora at 6:01 PM on February 11, 2015

For nails, even though you keep them short, try a clear shellac. You can get it done professionally or buy a kit from ebay. It'll help keep your nails strong and together, even though growing them isn't the aim of the game. A little nail does help with knots.
posted by Youremyworld at 6:01 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

You also might want to try an invisible glove cream. My dad, the mechanic, swore by it.
posted by peakcomm at 6:01 PM on February 11, 2015 [9 favorites]

They really don't look that bad!

My drafts keep disappearing so sorry you'll need to search, but try neutragenia dry skin formula hand cream, or working hands brand. Apply morning, midday and night. Apply cuticle oil, like beauty secrets cuticle oil, at least once a day.

Use cuticle nippers on the cuticles as needed, but at least once a week. Ditto a nail file to shape or even the nails.

Watch a YouTube video, or better, get a manicure so you can see what needs to be done and how to do it.

A little prevention every day is easier than needing a big clean up.
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:21 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

OPI Nail Envy should help with the splitting and peeling nails. It's not exactly cheap, but it works.
posted by Vervain at 6:25 PM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I really like Healthy Cuticles Now by Sally Hansen. It really moisturizes and helps my cuticles heal a bit. I find it makes my nails look better as well, and it lasts longer tan general lotion. It comes in a little orange container with a white lid.

For lotion, I find most anything with vitamin E works well because it moisturizes but also helps your dry skin heal.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 6:50 PM on February 11, 2015

Any cream containing urea. Ureaka! absorbs really beautifully without any kind of slick feeling. I like Eucerin's Intensive Hand Cream (5% urea), too.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:22 PM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

It may sound like woo, but file your nails instead of using clippers. I'm a mechanic, and my nails caught on every damn thing until I started filing them. I always file the same direction - toward the thumb of each hand.

I file twice a week, maintaining about 1.5mm, and now have nails that can actually be used to, you know, help pick up things off the floor.
posted by notsnot at 7:27 PM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

My mom has told me since I was a kid to "push back your cuticles." While your hands/nails are still wet after a shower, push 'em back. Use the flat side of an orange stick or just other fingernails. When I do this I definitely get fewer hangnails.

I've bitten my nails consistently since I was in the womb so I feel your pain.
posted by bendy at 8:01 PM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's a bit spendy for such a small quantity and seems like a silly, unnecessary thing, but the Burt's Bees cuticle cream is amazing. I am a heavy lotion user and have always had baby soft hands, but I used to have really shitty cuticles. Using this stuff regularly, my cuticles are gorgeous. No more scraggly rippy painful bits. Recommended 100%.
posted by phunniemee at 8:12 PM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also - to keep your calluses, you could also just use whichever cream you like over your whole hands, and then just wipe it off your fingertips with a moist washcloth or paper towel.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:22 PM on February 11, 2015

Yes, Burt's Bees lemon butter cuticle cream is pretty great. I've been using it just for a couple of months and I don't have raggedy chewed hangnails anymore.
posted by librarina at 10:38 PM on February 11, 2015

I haven't tried this, but nail salons have this extra tough polish that gets cured with a UV light. (I'm not sure what the word for it is, I'm here for the nail care tips myself) It's supposed to last a long time even if you use your hands a lot, but I haven't tried it. I talked to one salon and they said the nails need to be slightly sanded or something before they put it on (so it adheres better), but that once the UV stuff was on the nails were stronger than before. The place I asked had it available in clear.

If you don't want your nails to look dirty, you can get the UV stuff in something close to your natural nail color and the dirt will be hidden.

I've never actually been to a nail salon but I think it's standard for them to do things to make your hands be not-tough. Ask in advance if they can just not do XYZ thing, and remind them at the appointment.
posted by yohko at 11:37 PM on February 11, 2015

A professional manicure could be a good place to start. A good manicurist can take care of the peeling/flaking skin around your cuticles, do a paraffin soak to soften the rest of your skin, and give you advice on how to take care of your hands.

The UV polish Yohko is talking about is called soak-off gel - so-named because you need to soak it off with acetone. Regular soak-off gel polish *can* build strength, but the actual removal is hell on fragile nails. You don't really need to buff your nails before you apply, just scruff the nail plate a bit to remove shine, but if your nails are thin/weak/peely that might be a bit much for them. You could, potentially, ask for a clear gel application with a structure or builder gel used as the base, because that could help give your nails a bit more strength. Just be clear that you don't want them to glue on or sculpt a tip!

A gentler option would be to use the type of strengthening/building polish that you apply daily for a week, remove and repeat. I grew up with the venerable Dr LeWinns, and can recommend it highly. A strengthening polish could also help you develop a regular nail care routine. This routine could look like:

- Once a week - scrub hands with a mixture of olive oil/sugar/lemon juice (I just combine it in the palm of one hand over the sink, scrub my hands together, then rinse - works wonders). Gently file nails (glass files are gentle, long lasting and a pleasure to use). Apply cuticle remover and push back whatever's stuck to your nail plate with a pusher. Finish with a coat of your strengthening polish/lotion.

- Once a day - apply a coat of your strengthening polish while chilling on the couch at night. Once it's dry give your cuticles a coat of oil or balm (I've used Fauldings Lanolin since I was a teenager).

Taking care to moisturise, exfoliate, file and strengthen the nail plate will go a long way to help your nails look better. Good luck!
posted by nerdfish at 2:32 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

The biggest thing that stands out to me in your photo is the jagged nail edges, which are super easy to fix with some simple filing. Don't use the metal file on your nail clipper, get a cheap nail file from a drugstore (the one I always buy is short and has three different textures to it - one for shaping, one for polishing, and one for buffing). File your nails while dry and only go in one direction. The goal is to have a smooth edge with no sharp corners. You may want to also try growing your nails out just a little, as it looks like you're cutting them way below the natural nail bed, especially on your thumbs. Cleaning with a nail brush afterwards might help keep the ends clean. Finally, as others have said, every time you wash your hands put on a protective layer, be it Vaseline or cuticle oil.
posted by Yellow Silver Maple at 6:10 AM on February 12, 2015

I ended up with stronger, less brittle nails when I started using a homemade hair gel that was basically aloe juice + gelatin. I just rub the excess into my hands and nails and my nails love it. My hands like the aloe, too. Not sure you if you want to make your own aloe jello to rub into your nails, but gelatin is definitely a great nail strengthener (either topically applied or ingested).

During the day when I need to apply lotion, I use something with beeswax in it because I find everything else either gets absorbed or rubs off leaving my hands feeling dry and chapped.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:13 AM on February 12, 2015

My husband had, until recently, a terrible time with the nails on his thumbs splitting and cracking. He started taking biotin supplements a couple of months ago and it's made a world of difference. It's not going to help your cuticles, but it will with the nails. (It also helps with hair, if you are having a lot of splitting and breakage on that front.)

My cuticles & skin around the nails are actually worse than yours are, they are dry and then I pick at them constantly. This post has motivated me to look for an urea product - god knows I've tried everything else.
posted by 8dot3 at 10:02 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Climb On!

My cuticles were getting torn up and separating from the nail bed like yours, and my nails were starting to pit (unhealthy nail bed) from rock climbing frequently. This stuff greatly improved both issues.

Apply this stuff liberally after you're done working. It isn't too greasy and has a pleasant smell. It's meant to let your skin heal while allowing the hard-earned callouses to maintain, whereas lotion/cream might moisturize/soften too much.
posted by blueberrypuffin at 10:24 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

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