Even if you can't make it to the salon every week for a manicure, you can easily maintain neat nails and soft, touchable hands and feet.
Have some basic, inexpensive tools on hand for at-home touch-ups, and set aside 20 minutes a week to pamper your fingers and toes.
These steps will keep nails looking nice, even when you aren't wearing polish. While polish protects nails from breakage, it can be dehydrating, so go without it for a day or so.
The following tools will help keep your nails neat without a weekly trip to the salon. Here's how to use them.
1. Nail clipper: This can be used as needed to quickly shorten long nails before filing.
2. Emery board: Applying gentle pressure, run the emery board over the tips of nails to shape them and smooth the edges. File in one direction -- sides first, then the center. A square shape with rounded edges is popular.
3. Buffer: This tool exfoliates the nail, smoothing ridges and giving it a healthy shine. Gently brush across each nail, working up from base. Use just a few strokes so you don't weaken the nail.
4. Cuticle pusher: Soak nails in warm water for a minute or two to soften. Then, use a metal or wooden cuticle pusher around edge of the nail to push back the cuticle. The nail is formed right below the cuticle, so use a light touch to avoid damaging it. You can also use the cuticle pusher to clean under the nail.
5. Cotton balls: Saturate a cotton ball with nonacetone polish remover, and wrap it around the tip of the cuticle pusher. Rub it over the nail and cuticle to wipe clean.
6. Cuticle nipper: This is the best tool for trimming hangnails, and it's easy to use. But don't cut your cuticles; there's a risk of infection.
7. Cuticle oil or cream: These types of products contain strong moisturizers, such as shea butter and beeswax; rub on the perimeter of nail and cuticle to soften. Wipe the nail with polish remover again to take off any oil or cream.
Always start by applying a base coat to your nails, which gives polish a better surface to stick to. Certain formulas also harden or strengthen nails, helping them to grow. Then put on nail color in two thin coats. Thick layers take longer to dry and won't adhere to nails properly, so polish may peel.
Let nails dry two or three minutes between coats. As a last step, brush across the tip of the nail; this helps set the polish. Avoid quick-drying top-coat formulas; they can seal the outermost layer before the other coats have had enough time to dry, causing polish to chip sooner. Instead, use a regular top coat and let your nails dry thoroughly -- about 20 minutes.
The trick to preventing nail polishes from thickening and becoming lumpy is to keep the solvents in them from evaporating.
After each application, clean the neck of the bottle with nail polish remover, and twist the top tightly to ensure a good seal. Store polishes in the refrigerator; bring to room temperature before using.
Nail color may be fun, but for active women, it may be too much to maintain. With this in mind, Yan Lu, owner and founder of San Francisco's Le Creme Spa, set out to create a "natural manicure" for her clients, skipping the polish and opting for treatments that strengthen nails and relieve stress.
We've incorporated Lu's techniques -- which use ingredients like flowers, fruits, and essential oils instead of the fume-laden chemicals most nail salons rely on -- into a treatment you can do in less than 20 minutes. Afterward, nails shine like they've been polished, minus the smudges and chips.
With a light texture and loads of vitamin E, almond oil is an excellent hand moisturizer: It penetrates dry skin and protects hands and nails from environmental damage.
Rub 1 teaspoon of oil into hands and cuticles. Wrap each hand in a small towel, and allow the oil to penetrate for at least 5 minutes. Wipe the excess oil off hands, but don't rinse them; any remaining oil will be absorbed over the next few minutes. Follow with a rich hand cream.
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