"Manicures, whether they're in a salon or at home, can help with nail health when the proper techniques are utilized and the products that are being used are formulated with high quality ingredients," says Dana Stern, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, who specializes in nail health. "If you're just letting things go, the cuticles will become somewhat ragged, you may develop more hangnails, and the nail itself will be long and more prone to breakage and subungual debris collection." Ick.
If you look down at your hands, your untouched nails could be dry, brittle, chipped, and surrounded by split cuticles (or all of the above). "A lot of people are starting to deal with the dryness and with cuticles splitting since we're washing our hands so intensely to stay healthy," says Fleury Rose, a New York City-based nail artist. "You also probably have raggedy nail edges or your nails are breaking." Check and check.
If you can deal with seeing your nails bare, you can reap some benefits of going without polish. "A polish-free manicure will give your nails a break from nail polish remover," says Dr. Stern. "Polish removers are solvents and they tend to be very dehydrating to the nail plate and cuticle. With time, you may observe that your nails are less brittle." That said, if you're sanitizing your hands as frequently as the COVID-19 crisis calls for, she recommends adding in cuticle oil or hand cream to prevent dryness. To keep your nails healthy and looking polished (even if you're not wearing nail polish), keep scrolling for what the pros recommend.
How to keep your nails healthy without a trip to the nail salon
1. Manage your cuticles: Dr. Stern compares your cuticles to the grout between your shower tiles: "It keeps water, moisture, and organisms out of the nail unit," she says. "When that seal gets dry and dehydrated, it becomes compromised and breaks, and then water and moisture is able to enter the nail unit causing all sorts of problems." If that happens chronically, she says that the nail can grow in irregularly, with white patches, bumps, or discoloration.
Her tip? Push back your cuticle. "Do this in the shower with a wash cloth, and also apply cuticle oil or cream to it after your shower and throughout the day to keep the cuticle tissue hydrated, healthy, and functional," she says. You could also just scrub them. "If you have a hand scrub or body scrub, something that's oil-based, you can give your hands a really good exfoliation and focus on the cuticle area," says Rose. "You can also get a product called the CND Cuticle Eraser ($12) to exfoliate and loosen the cuticle from the nail plate so that you can push it back easier." To do this, she recommends using something like a Q-tip if you don't have an actual cuticle pusher at home.
2. Take care of length: As Dr. Stern points out, having long nails makes you more prone to picking up bacteria, which isn't exactly what we want right now. Rose recommends using a nail file over nail clippers, and to only turn to clippers if your nails are super long and you need a lot of length taken off. "A file will make the edges a lot smoother," she says, noting to use a 180-grit or higher nail file on your natural nails. "If you have a buffer too, it's good to file first and then buff to make sure the edges are really smooth."
3. Maintain that moisture: Dryness around your nails and cuticles leads to hangnails and breakage, so the pros say that it's key to stay on top of moisturizing. "If you're not wearing polish, I'd be sure to use an oil or something like that to keep your nails moisturized," says Rose. "Massaging a cuticle oil directly onto your nails can make them look glowy and healthy." To give yourself more of a spa-like hydration treatment, she recommends using something like pure organic coconut oil on both your hands and your feet, sliding them into socks or gloves, then letting them soak.
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