How to Maintain Healthy Nails and Cuticles Right Now

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As we all do our part to help flatten the curve, nail salon appointments are on hold indefinitely. As a result, you might have some questions about maintaining healthy nails and cuticles right about now—like how to perform an at-home manicure without the mess, or how to remove a gel or dip manicure without damaging your nails. If that’s the case, we’ve got you covered.

Here are some basic tips to help you maintain healthy nails and cuticles right now (and some tips to keep them looking pretty, while you’re at it).

How do I keep my nails and cuticles healthy?

First up, no cutting your cuticles or pushing them back. Keep them moisturized, but otherwise leave them alone.

Here’s why: Your nails grow from an area beneath the cuticle called the nail matrix, or nail root, Nada Elbuluk, M.D., a clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California, tells SELF. The cuticles are just skin that protects the matrix and the new nail as it grows. Cutting or pushing cuticles back is standard practice during salon manicures, but Dr. Elbuluk says this is a DIY beauty don’t and to put down the cuticle cutters and wooden pushers. The cuticle is essential to “protecting the nail matrix from bacteria and other germs entering the body [that can] cause infections,” she says.

Beyond that, make sure that your at-home nail tools are clean. Disinfecting previously used clippers and files is a must. “Tools should be disinfected on a monthly basis,” Dr. Elbuluk says. “This can be done by soaking a brush in isopropyl alcohol (70% or higher) and using this to clean the clippers followed by a hot water rinse.” She also says that you should use a separate nail clipper for your fingers and your toes.

How do I remove a gel manicure or fake nails at home?

Before you start the removal process, you’ll need a few things: cotton balls, 100% acetone, and a 2-by-2-inch square of aluminum foil for each nail. You’ve likely seen your beloved nail artist complete this process, but if not, here’s where to start.

First, use a nail buffer to remove the shine from the top coat of the gel. Next, Dr. Elbuluk recommends soaking a cotton ball in acetone and applying this only to your fingertips. Be sure to secure each cotton ball with a small piece of foil and leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes. When you remove the foil, gently scrape the gel off with a nail file. Acrylic nails can be soaked off using the same process, but be prepared to soak the nails for up to 45 minutes. If there is any lingering product that won’t budge, repeat this process.

Post-removal, Dr. Elbuluk advises giving your fingernails a break from nail polish for at least one week while moisturizing regularly with thick emollients or creams with petroleum jelly, like Aquaphor. After a week, you may want to try an at-home manicure, but only trim and shape the nails after a warm shower, Dr. Elbuluk says, since that is when nails are softest.

How should I give myself an at-home manicure (that actually looks good!)?

The first step to a professional-looking manicure is to file and shape your nails, according to Morgan Dixon, the manicurist in charge of the nail artistry on TNT’s show Claws. She suggests either holding up a high five in the air with your nails facing you, or holding your hand in a “holding something” position, whichever is more comfortable. From there, use light strokes with the file on the sides of the nails to get your ideal shape, and then follow up with cuticle oil. If you don’t have any on hand, Dixon says olive oil or coconut oil will do.

Next comes the hard part—painting the nails. “A lot of us think we have to paint directly on the cuticle to get the right look, but that just results in a messy manicure,” Dixon says. “If you take your time and put the smallest space between the cuticle and polish line, you will have little to no polish to clean up at the end.” Another tip: Apply “light layers of polish,” she says. “It is much easier to paint an extra layer or two, instead of trying to correct a thick chunky polish job.” If you do need to clean up, Dixon says to clean as you go with a little acetone and an eye shadow brush.

To help your manicure last, Dixon says to apply top coat every two days “to keep your polish in place with fewer chips during wear.”

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