Your hands are usually one of the first places to show signs of ageing, so it’s important to take good care of them – which includes looking after your nails, too. From everything you need to know about regularly using hand cream and cuticle oils to giving yourself an at-home manicure and useful tips for applying nail polish, we’re making sure your hands stay looking youthful and get the care they deserve…
Common nail problems and how to solve them
The key to a good manicure is a healthy nail, so here are a few common problems that you may be suffering from and how to fix them…
Nail ridges: The most common cause of nail ridges is ageing, but they can also be caused by an injury – trapping them in a door, for instance. Help restore healthy nails with a specialist treatment containing a nutrient-rich formula designed to smooth and plump out the nail, giving a perfectly even finish. Use the treatment on its own, or before your usual base coat whenever you paint your nails.
Weak nails: If your nails break easily, you need a strengthening treatment. Look for a specialist product that’s loaded with calcium and keratin – two ingredients that work to support and strengthen weak nails, as well as helping to defend against any damage. Use this type of product instead of your usual base coat, or wear it alone.
Nails that won’t grow: If your nails never grow past a certain length before splitting or breaking, try a strengthening formula that promotes fast growth. It’ll be a formula enriched with nutrients, multivitamins and collagen to help them grow longer, stronger and healthier. Use under your usual base coat or wear it alone.
How to look after your cuticles
It’s easy to forget cuticles need a bit of TLC, too. Dehydrated cuticles can make otherwise healthy nails look dull and lacklustre, so invest in a cuticle oil, in a bottle or a pen, that you can use on the go, and apply at least twice a day. Cuticle oil works by forming a protective barrier that locks in moisture, as well as helping to soothe chapped skin and preventing nails from becoming brittle.
Every time you paint your nails, take the time to push your cuticles back, too – this will keep them looking neat and can make your nails look longer.
To push them back, apply nail oil or specialist cuticle cream to the area and leave it for 5-10 minutes, to help soften them. Using a cuticle stick, gently push the cuticles back to the base of the nail, then use a cuticle nipper or gentle nail scissors to get rid of any excess.
The best way to file your nails
Before you file your nails, make sure any polish is removed, your hands are clean and you have the right type of nail file to hand. Emery boards are the best type of file to use. They will have a number on them that indicates what grit it is – the lower the number, the rougher the grit. It’s best to use one with a grit of 220-300. Try to avoid metal nail files as they can tear your nails.
Once you’ve got your nail file sorted, it’s time to decide what shape you want. The most common nail shapes are:
- Oval: This is the option for short nails; your nails will be curved at the top, which creates an oval shape.
- Square: The top of your nail should be slightly curved but the sides flat, and again this is a good option for shorter nails.
- Squoval: This is a good shape for those who have wide nail beds. The shape isn’t quite as straight as square nails, but isn’t as curved as oval nails.
- Round: This is the most common nail shape. It elongate your hands as the sides of the nail are rounded and they meet at a rounded point, giving the illusion of longer nails and fingers.
- Stiletto: As the name implies, stiletto nails are quite extreme and work best on naturally long nails. Both sides of the nail are straight, and they meet at a point in the middle.
When you’ve decided what shape you want, it’s time to start filing. Make sure your hands and nails are completely dry as they’re more prone to damage when they’re wet. Always file from the outside of the nail towards the centre, and only file in one direction otherwise you could end up tearing and break your nails. Try not to apply too much pressure as this may also cause damage.
Types of nail polish
Aside from traditional nail polish, there are a few other types available. The most common are:
Quick-dry nail polish: This is formulated in the same way as regular polish but the ratio of ingredients is different, meaning they dry more quickly. Quick-dry nail polish is great for when you’re in a rush – the key is to paint it on in a couple of thin layers rather than one thick one.
Gel nail polish: This lasts at least two weeks without chipping and has a high-shine finish. Gel polish is ‘cured’ by a UV or LED light. Each kit comes with instructions and the products you need to complete your manicure. Make sure you remove your gel manicure properly (see below), and always have a break between gel manicures to let your nails breathe and recover.
Gel-look nail polish: This lasts longer than regular polish but not quite as long as a proper gel manicure. It usually works in two steps: step one will be the colour, and step two will be the topcoat, which ‘cures’ the colour in daylight, giving it its staying power and shine. Gel-look polishes can be removed with normal nail polish remover.
How to prep your nails for nail polish
Once you’re happy with your newly filed nails and have chosen your colour, it’s time to prep them for nail polish application. Find a flat surface to rest your hands on while you apply the polish, and spread out your fingers, too, to stop any polish transferring from one finger to another.
Start with a base coat, which is a clear polish that acts as a foundation for nails and often includes additional ingredients to help strengthen and protect nails. Base coats also extend the life of your manicure and help prevent polish from staining your nails.
Apply the base coat in a thin layer and leave to dry fully dry before you go in with your chosen colour.
How to apply nail polish
Keeping your fingers spread out and on a flat surface, start by painting your little finger on either hand and then working your way along. Remove any excess polish from the brush and paint a thin layer in three strokes to cover each nail: one stroke down the middle and then one on either side. Don’t worry if you can still see your natural nail underneath – the second coat will cover that.
Work your way along all your nails, and don’t worry if you end up painting your skin or make a mess around your nails – this can be cleaned up later.
Once you’ve painted all 10 nails, go back and paint them with a second layer – using the same three strokes – in the same order as for the first coat.
When your second coat of polish is dry, finish with a top coat. This will add a high shine, prevent the colour from chipping and make sure the nail polish lasts longer. Again, apply the top coat to your nails in the same order as you painted them.
When the top coat is dry, take a small make-up brush – a small eyeliner or lip brush will work well – dip it in nail polish remover and clean up the edges of each nail.
Removing nail polish
Use a cotton-wool pad soaked in nail polish remover to get rid of nail polish. Use a clean cotton wool pad for every nail, and hold it over the nail for a few seconds before you wipe the cotton-wool pad up and down until all the colour is removed.
Removing gel nail polish
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to make sure you remove gel nail polish properly. Here’s how:
- Gently buff over each nail with a nail file as this will break the gel seal, making it easier to remove.
- Soak a cotton-wool pad in acetone remover, place over the nail and secure in place with tin foil. Repeat on each finger.
- Leave your fingers wrapped in foil for about 20 minutes.
- Remove the foil from one finger at a time, using a cuticle pusher to loosen the polish – it should peel off easily.
- Once all the polish is off each finger, apply cuticle oil all over the nail to rehydrate.
Caring for your hands
Your hands are often subjected to lots of things that will cause them to dry them out. Washing your hands will dry them out, so to help protect them, always use gloves when you’re washing up, and apply a hand scrub once or twice a week to exfoliate them and remove any dead skin.
You should also use moisturising hand cream regularly, keep a travel-sized tube in your handbag for when you’re on the go, and apply intensive moisturiser at night. Wearing cotton gloves through the night will prolong the effects of the moisturiser.