How to do a basic manicure

Now, I must confess: though I love most things beauty-related, I am just not a nail polish girl. It’s a sensory thing; it feels…squicky. I wish there was an actual word in the English language to describe “squicky.” What I’m getting at, is it feels like it’s shrinking onto my nail, and my nails are coated. It makes my hands feel claustrophobic. Yes, I am insane. Funnily enough, I only experience this squicky feeling on my hands. My toes are blissfully squick-free. This is fortunate, as I have ugly cracking toenails that are best seen shrouded in candy apple red polish.

While I’m not a nail polish user, I do enjoy a good manicure to keep my hands soft and my nails clean and tidy looking. If I were a better groomed and more organized person, I would probably keep this grooming ritual up weekly, particularly before job interviews and parties. In reality, I maybe indulge twice a year. As I am not only poor but also a cheapskate, I only do home manicures. The last time I had my nails “done,” was for prom approximately a thousand years ago, before I had bills to pay. That time, the squicky feeling accompanied beautiful silver sparkly polish; totally worth it.

So, after much ado, here is my technique for basic nail grooming.

  1. I always start by trimming or filing my nails. Typically, I just use clippers because they are faster. If I’m going all out to do a manicure, I will file my nails. I always file them in one direction only because I read somewhere in some magazine that probably just made it up that this will keep your nails stronger. No back and forth motions. I always follow the natural shape of my nail and keep my nails very short. Again, this is a sensory thing; they feel dirty once they start to extend past my fingertip. You can, however, file your nails into whatever shape and length you wish.
  2. Next, I fill a bowl up with very warm water, and pour a little oil in. Today I used coconut oil, which I quite liked. I have also used olive oil in the past. You can use whichever oil you have around the house. The oil just helps soften the cuticles. Soak your fingertips (even better, your whole hands, if they will fit) for a few minutes. Probably 5 minutes or so to really soften everything up.
  3. Step three is my favorite part: scrubbing. You can do this with a homemade sugar scrub, a store-bought hand scrub, or with a microfiber cloth. Even a washcloth would work in a pinch. Today I used a microfiber cloth for the first time and I loved it. I have been using them to wash my face lately, and while I have not decided yet how much I like them for that, I definitely like them for nail use. Microfiber is just that, tiny little fibers. They are small enough that they can get into the nooks and crannies and scrub. They also attract dirt, oil, and water like a magnet, and can hold much more moisture than cotton. This is why microfiber makes great hair towels, like the Turbie Twist, which I rely on every wash day to speed up the air-drying of my thick hair. When I scrub my hands with microfiber, I gently wet the cloth, then scrub my cuticles gently in every direction, and push them back to loosen the dead skin and detach the cuticle from where it has overgrown onto the nail bed. This gives a very neat and tidy look. I find there is no need to cut them, which is good, because it would be very easy to get an infection through a cut cuticle. Scrubbing is definitely the safer and gentler method to use. Once the cuticles are pushed back, I scrub my hands and in between the fingers as well. I am particularly prone to dryness on the skin between my thumb and pointer finger so I make sure to get this area. Microfiber is such a good exfoliant that you have to be careful with it. If you scrub too vigorously, you will end up with raw, irritated skin. You can always go back and do more tomorrow, but it’s hard to undo over-scrubbing.
  4. Once your hands and nails are properly exfoliated, apply oil on your cuticles. Again, you can use any oil you prefer. Alternatively, you could use a cuticle cream at this step.
  5. The final step is to coat your hands in a thick hand cream. If you are on your way to bed, you could really step this up a notch with an occlusive like Vaseline, or Shea butter or a beeswax-based cream for a more “natural” alternative, then put cotton gloves or socks on while you sleep. Yes, socks. Yes, it looks dumb. Yes, you can’t pick anything up. It works!

Alternatives and tips:

My mother always told me to trim my nails straight out of the shower so they were softer. If this is how you prefer to do it, feel free to switch steps one and two.

The manicurist who did my prom manicure told me to push back my cuticles with my towel after every shower, when they are nice and soft. This is a great way to maintain the neat look of a manicure, but you have to keep up with it. My cuticles will quickly overgrow again if I skip a few days.

This same technique can be adapted for a pedicure. However, if the skin on your feet is thick and barnacle-like, as mine is, you will probably need to use a pumice stone. Lately the pumice stone hasn’t even been working well enough for me and I am currently searching for the best technique to exfoliate my feet. I’ve thought about using some of my 8% Alpha Hydroxy Acid on them, but I’m not sure it will be strong enough. I will report back when I know more.


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