There’s just something about a fresh manicure that makes you feel like you’ve got your life together—even if you haven’t done laundry in a month. Given that many of us are opting for at-home manis over heading to the salon these days, it’s worth learning how to take our mani skills to the next level.
The key to giving yourself a salon-worthy manicure at home isn’t only about how neatly you can spread your polish. It actually starts with proper cuticle care. Taking care of your cuticles, says manicurist and hand model Christina Grant, sets the foundation for a great manicure. It shapes the nail and allows for a smooth polish application. And the secret to healthy-looking cuticles? Cuticle remover. It helps break down excess tissue that could ruin your mani’s aesthetic.
Before you tend to your cuticles, it’s essential to understand what cuticles really are. “The cuticle is dead, often sticky tissue that is attached to the nail plate and forms a seal between your nail and living skin,” says licensed manicurist Kelley Baker of The Nail Executive in San Francisco. “Cuticles help prevent bacteria from entering living tissue.”
The tricky part is that cuticles are often confused with the healthy living skin at the base of the nail. Going crazy with the cuticle remover can lead to damaging the living tissue.
Ready to give cuticle remover a go? Keep reading for the step-by-step breakdown on how to use cuticle remover, plus product recommendations and cuticle care dos and don’ts.
How to use cuticle remover correctly
1. Identify the cuticle
Since cuticle care is a delicate art, Baker recommends familiarizing yourself with the basic anatomy of a nail so that you can properly distinguish between the cuticle and healthy living skin next to it. “This can be tricky,” Baker says. “Even some professional nail techs have trouble making this important distinction. Refer to a nail anatomy diagram to ensure you know what you’re looking at.”
2. Apply remover to the cuticle
Not all cuticle removers are the same, so thoroughly read the product’s instructions first to avoid irritation. “Many cuticle removers contain high-pH chemicals like sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide that can irritate your skin, so you’ll want to avoid getting this on your skin and leaving it on too long,” Baker says.
Once you’re familiar with the instructions, you can apply the cuticle remover. Grant recommends beginning with a tiny amount. “The amount of remover used will vary because some cuticles need more love than others,” Grant says, adding that applying about the size of a peppercorn is sufficient in most cases, but again refer to the product’s instructions for best practices. You can use an orangewood stick to spread the remover and loosen the cuticle carefully.
3. Let the cuticle remover sit
Next, allow the cuticle remover to sit according to the instructions (usually ranges from a few seconds to five minutes).
4. Push the cuticles back, carefully
Use a cuticle pusher or an orangewood stick to push your cuticles back gently in one fluid motion. (Notice,we said push, not trim. Nail pros generally don’t recommend cutting your cuticles because it’s too easy to damage the living tissue.) “Each time you push back, be sure to lift the pusher so as to not drag it across the nail plate,” Grant says. “This can be damaging, and we don’t want that.”
Watch a professional nail technician gently push back the cuticles in the video below.
5. Wipe off excess cuticle remover
If there’s any cuticle remover residue, wipe it and any lingering dead skin cells off with a cotton pad. Both Baker and Grant recommend using a buffer for those last bits of remaining cuticle tissue. Then wash any leftover product off of your hands.
6. Finish up your mani
You’re all done with cuticle care, so you can proceed to add polish or rock a bare, clean nail.
4 best pro-recommended cuticle removers
Baker is a fan of this cuticle remover because it uses alpha hydroxy acids to chemically exfoliate the cuticle tissue instead of potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. “It takes a bit longer to work than traditional cuticle removers, so it’s important to be patient and follow the manufacturer’s instructions,” she says.
Shop now: CND Cuticle Eraser, $11
Grant favors this cuticle remover by Deborah Lippmann for loosening and softening dead cuticles. “It’s soft but powerful at the same time,” she says.
Shop now: Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover
Shop now: Blue Cross Cuticle Remover
Working in just 15 seconds, this fast-acting remover is excellent for quickie manicures. Plus, it’s wallet-friendly too. “This is the best budget cuticle remover,” Grant says. “It gets the job done for half the price.”
Shop now: Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover
Cuticle care dos and don’ts
- Hydrate your cuticles: Like all skin, cuticles require hydration. Grant recommends applying cuticle oil religiously to keep your cuticles strong and healthy.
- Be gentle: “The area around your cuticle should be handled with care,” Baker says. “Avoid aggressive filing in this area, jabbing, or prodding beneath your skin.”
- Apply cuticle remover only to cuticles: Remember that cuticle remover should not be applied to the living skin around the cuticle.
- Pick your cuticles: Like with pimples, picking cuticles is a big no-no. That also includes not tearing off hangnails or picking at your polish, especially gel polish. Picking can damage the nail plate.
- Cut too much: Resist the urge to cut your cuticles. “The skin around your cuticle is very delicate and protects the area where new nail cells are formed,” Baker says. “It’s not a good idea to remove too much of this important tissue.” Instead, Grant recommends pushing them back and only trimming when absolutely necessary.
For more at-home mani inspo, watch registered dietitian Maya Feller walk you through her self-care nail routine, below.
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