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How to care for cuticles and nails

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, or following me on social media, you probably know that I love having nice nails. I always have them polished and tend to wear them fairly long. However, this wasn’t always the case. When I was younger, my nails were a wreck. I bit them, and I worked in cafes where they just got ruined every day. I stopped working in hospitality about four years ago, and started trying to grow my nails. After I conquered the biting, I wanted to figure out how to make them strong and look nice. My nature is to research everything I’m interested in to great detail. So over the last few years I’ve been researching how to care for your nails, from the internet as well as through having a couple of friends who are qualified nail technicians. In this post, I’ll be sharing some of the products that I use to care for my nails and cuticles, as well as some of the lifestyle tips that help me too.

First up, time for some anatomy. Whilst your nails are dead tissue, the way you treat the cuticle and the surrounding skin when they are growing helps to grow strong nails. What we commonly refer to as our cuticles is actually more technically complex as there are a couple of parts to them.

Anatomy of a finger and nail
The Anatomy of a Finger and Nail (Illustrations by Yuiko Sugino, Nails Mag)

The two parts that are of most relevance in the post are the Eponychium and the Cuticle.

Eponychium – the visible part of the proximal nail fold that appears to end at the base of the nail

Cuticle: the eponychium will shed a thin, colorless layer of skin that rides on the nail plate and appears to grow from under the proximal nail fold. It is this transparant skin that is removedd during the manicuring process.

Some manicurists like to clip the cuticle and eponychium but it is risky business. When I do my nails, I first use the Weleda Cuticle Softener pen and then use a metal cuticle pusher to gently push back the cuticle. At this point I usually use cuticle clippers and remove the dead cuticle skin, however it is very easy to accidentally cut your living eponychium. Not only does that hurt and looks unsightly, but it gives an opportunity for infection to enter your body. Low quality mall salons often use cuticle clippers, which coupled with their poor sanitation practices is a recipe for disaster. It’s probably best to avoid cutting cuticles but I can’t get on a high horse about that and not practice what I preach.

The traditional wisdom is that it’s best to file only in one direction along the free edge (distal edge). I prefer to use a glass file because you can file in more than one direction and they seal the keratin layers together at the edge of the nail, preventing peeling and chipping. They also last forever, I’ve had the one pictured for several years and it hasn’t really blunted.

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My nail and cuticle care tools

Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream*

I keep this little tin of goodness in my desk drawer at work. Working in healthcare, I wash and sanitise my hands pretty regularly and that does a number on my poor cuticles. I try to apply it at least once a day. It includes ingredients such as sweet almond oil, beeswax,  and lemon peel oil to create a nice moisturising balm. My only criticism is how hard the little tin is to open, I live in fear that it will cause me to break a nail one day.

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Just the usual office essentials

Lush Lemony Flutter Cuticle Cream

Two lemon butter cuticle products? Is there a difference, you say? Well, yes there is is! The Burt’s Bees is a texture more akin to a lip balm texture, whereas the Lush on is much creamier. I used to keep this at work but it got a bit too greasy if I had to do anything after applying it. Lush Lemony Flutter is best kept for home, I usually apply it when I’m about to go to sleep when it doesn’t matter if my hands are greasy.

Weleda Cuticle Softener Pen*

As mentioned earlier, I use this pen as part of my cuticle removal process. It contains ingredients such as organic pomegranate seed oil, jojoba oil, almond oil and calendula flower extract, to soften and help to remove overhanging cuticles. To use, apply onto cuticles and let it soak in briefly. Gently push back cuticles with the pen tip. You can then either clip them or leave them be. I used to use this on my then-boyfriend since his cuticles were extremely tough, they needed some oils to be able to push them back.

Weleda Cuticle Softener Pen - Lena Talks Beauty

Weleda Nail Care Pen*

Cuticle oil in a pen is an innovative idea, as most I’ve seen have been in either a dropper or a nail polish style bottle. The Weleda Nail Care pen is designed to intensively nurture and protect nails and cuticles. Like the cuticle softener pen, it contains regenerating organic pomegranate seed oil combined with replenishing shea butter and protective beeswax to nourish your nails. I keep this in my handbag and try to apply it whenever I feel like my nails are a bit dry. I will also use it after I’ve painted my nails, or used acetone to remove a gel manicure since that can be quite harsh on the kin.

Vaseline Intensive Care Healthy Hands Nails Strengthening Lotion

As I said in my October empties post, the jury’s still out on whether this actually strengthens nails BUT I like it a lot. Vaseline says it “contains keratin and liposome’s to penetrate nails and leave them at least 30% stronger”. I recommend using hand cream regularly anyway, so I’m willing to give this one a go.

OPI Nail Envy Nail Strengthener

Strengthening polishes are something that’s a bit controversial. Many brands offer them, but many people believe that they don’t make any difference. My friend Jessie from Nailed It NZ is a nail technician and she thinks they’re rubbish. My anecdotal experience is that OPI Nail Envy is amazing at strengthening nails. I don’t use it all the time as it can make your nails too brittle, but I cycle it in and out of my manicures as I feel I need to.

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At this point of writing this post, I talked to my mum since she’s also a nail care aficionado like me. She recommends taking Biotin and Silica supplements as they help to grow your nails and keep them strong. Also, if you’re flying, slather your hands in lotion since they can really dry out which leads to breakages. She also said to not get too disheartened if you are following these tips and your nails still aren’t great  – it can run in the family. We inherited Grandma’s lovely strong nails, whereas some other people inherit slim thighs from their parents (not me though!).

New Zealand stockists and prices for my nail and cuticle care essentials are below:

  • Weleda Cuticle Softener Pen RRP $19.90 – available from health stores, pharmacies, and Weleda NZ
  • Weleda Nail Care Pen RRP $19.90
  • Vaseline Intensive Care Hand Cream & Nails tube – $5.89 from Countdown, The Warehouse, Farmers, and pharmacies (prices may vary)
  • Lush Lemony Flutter Cuticle Butter $19.90 from Lush NZ
  • Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream $18 from Farmers, health stores, and pharmacies – Burts Bees NZ
  • OPI Nail Envy Nail Strengthener $39.99 (for full size, not mini pictured) from Farmers and Pharmacies.
  • Glass files are widely available at pharmacies and department stores.
  • Biotin and Silica supplements from iHerb – use my code JPP391 and save $5-10 on your first order

I hope you find these tips useful to help you to care for your cuticle and nails! Bear in mind that it takes several months for your nails to grow out from cuticle to tip, so don’t expect changes to happen overnight. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

*Product provided for review

How to care for cuticles and nails - the ultimate guide by Lena Talks Beauty

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