Nail 101: What you need to know to take care of your nails like a pro

Our nails are one of the things that can easily give away how well (or how poorly) we do even the most basic grooming. We don’t need to have a perfect manicure 24/7 but it’s important to at least keep them clean and well-shaped. If you haven’t given them much thought before, here's what you need to know about how to keep your hands (and feet) presentable!

Invest in your own collection of nail tools

Even if you normally have your nails done at the salon, it’s a good idea to keep your own set of tools in case you need to care for them yourself. You don’t even need to splurge on expensive brands – just make sure that cutting tools like clippers and nippers are sharp and sanitized before every use. Replace nail files and buffers regularly to keep them effective. Finally, stock up on cuticle oil, nail polish remover and your favorite polish shade in case you need to quickly fix any chips or treat a hangnail!

Learn the do’s and don’ts of basic nail care

  • For a cleaner look, you can opt to push your cuticles back with a stick, but do this no more than once a week. It’s best not to cut them unless you get a hangnail, in which case you should cut away with care.
  • To keep your cuticles and nail bed from looking gnarly, apply moisturizer on the area regularly. You can also use cuticle oil or a balm like Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream.
  • Don’t buff your nails too often – it can actually thin out and weaken your nails when you overdo it! You can lightly buff them once a month to give them a healthy sheen. Make sure never to use a nail file on the surface of the nail though; there are special buffing tools that can even out the ridges without being too harsh on your nails.
  • If you’re DIY-ing a pedicure, make sure to use a separator so your toes don’t bump into each other and ruin your fresh paint job.
  • Before applying nail polish, make sure to put on a base coat. It will prolong the lifespan of your manicure and protect your nail from getting stained by the colored polish.
  • Avoid using pure acetone to remove your nail polish. Acetone is harsh and can really dry out your tips. Try the Caronia Nail Polish Remover, which is acetone-based but formulated with moisturizing ingredients, or the Etude House Nail Remover #3 Sensitive Nail which is acetone-free.

Be picky about your nail polish

Old nail polish formulas contained harmful chemicals that we really shouldn’t have been putting on our bodies. Fortunately, we now have safer alternatives available, and there’s no shortage of the variety of colors and finishes to choose from! Before picking up a bottle, check the label for these terms:

  • 3-free nail polish formulas do not contain the “Big Three” toxic chemicals commonly found in nail polish: Toulene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), and Formaldehyde. Many of today’s brands adhere to this standard, including local brand Bobbie.
  • In addition to the ones mentioned above, 4-free also removes Camphor from their formulations. It’s not a hazardous chemical per se but it can be an irritant. Inglot polishes are touted to be 4-free.
  • So apparently there’s more than one kind of Formaldehyde, and 5-free also doesn’t use Formaldehyde resin in their formulas. Some 5-free nail polish brands include Chanel, Deborah Lippman, Zoya, and Girl Stuff.
  • The newest trend in non-toxic polishes are 7-free formulations, which do not contain Toulene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde, Camphor, Formaldehyde resin, Ethyl tosylamide and Xylene. Butter London was one of the first brands to switch to 7-free.

For small kids who want to join in on the fun, water-based polishes are your safest bet. They replace solvents with water, so they’re gentle on young skin and can be removed easily without the need for a polish remover. Local brands such as Girl Stuff and Allue have water-based polishes.

Extend the life of your manicure

A base coat serves as a barrier between the nails and the polish. It will protect the nail from possible harsh effects of nail polish, including staining and peeling. It will also help the polish stick to the nail more smoothly. Products like Orly Top2Bottom also allow you strengthen the base while sealing the work below. If you don’t like polish removers, you can also buy a special type of base coat that’s designed to be peeled off when you’re ready to switch polishes.

Top coats protect the applied polish and any nail art that it is placed over. The added gloss acts like a lacquer to prevent chipping, plus it looks pretty posh, too! If you want a matte nail though, there are also mattifying top coats. Quick dry top coats are must-haves for those who are perpetually in a hurry but if you really want to have fun and stand out, Girl Stuff carries a special UV Glow that makes nails glow in the dark!

If your nails break easily, use a nail hardening treatment to keep them strong.

And that's it! Hope this guide helps you in taking better care of your nails, if you're just starting to see them in a new light. As for those who are already nail obsessed: how do you take good care of your digits? What advice would you give to newbies?

Photography by Samantha Gonzales

Sources: Polish Police, Nail Polish Lingo Dictionary - Peachy Polish, Decoding Non-Toxic Nail Polish - Into the Gloss, Do you need a base coat before applying nail polish? - HowStuffWorks