Complete Guide to Hand Care: 2021 Update

Way back in 2012(ish. I buried this post for a reason, so it probably wasn't that long ago. I mentioned watching s10 of Supernatural on Netflix) I wrote a guide to taking care of hands and cuticles. It was definitely a primer for beginners, and included links to my favorite products and some basic tips. But we now live in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, so I figured it was time for an update.

(no affiliate links are in this post)

Choose a nail shape. Or don't. I'm not a cop.
In the original post, I mentioned something I call a "power shape". This means the ideal shape that your nails want to be, and it is generally the strongest and easiest shape for you to maintain. There are a ton of different cuticle shapes, this is just a tl;dr. And this isn't a hard'n'fast rule either, so take it with a grain of salt. My personal opinion used to be that you will find that your strongest shape will usually mimic your cuticle shape. So if you have very square, straight cuticles then a squared shape is probably going to be best for you.

I don't necessarily believe whole-heartedly in the Power Shape theory anymore. I haven't abandoned it completely, and for the average human it leads to nails that look tidy and natural. But a couple of years ago I took the plunge and went "pointy". It was fully against the way my nails want to grow, but I had less than five breaks along the sides of my nails the whole time I had that shape. I did snap the points off once or twice, but I am like a tractor in a flower shop...not exactly nimble and delicate.

I have since gone back to shorter square nails, and they are definitely easier on the upkeep.
originally from Pinterest with no link

Like I said, your Power Shape is usually going to be a similar shape to your cuticle shape. So if you have rounded cuticles, then you should definitely give almonds, ovals, or even stiletto's a shot. They could look super chic and be surprisingly comfortable.

I posted this on the original post, and I still stand by this:

A note on finding your length:
comfortable nail length is very subjective and personal, akin to hair length. you'll have to experiment and figure out what length you like. I still don't know what length I prefer...but I do know that for day-to-day, shorter is a lot more practical. Theoretically, you want the free edge (that white bit) to be long enough to protect the tip of your finger. Beyond as you will.

I still like having just a tiny bit of "free edge" for practicality's sake. It makes peeling stickers, saving my eyeballs from killer eyelashes, and scratching puppies and kitties all infinitely more efficient. 

Right Tools for the Job.
Using good quality tools makes any job easier and faster. The whole "buy once, cry once" philosophy really is true most of the time. Not everything is $$$$, but if you find something that works for you and it sparks joy, then I say go for it. Some of my favorites are spendy, and others are really affordable and accessible. 

Looking back at my previous recommendations, I haven't really changed my recommendations. If it ain't broke, don't fix it...right? 

  • orangewood sticks are the multitaskers of the nail tool universe. You can use them to clean up errant bits of polish, scrape off glitters stuck to the skin, push cuticles back, apply nail art appliques, clean under the name it, you can probably do it with an orangewood stick. I like to keep an old-school emery board handy for cleaning and sharpening, but you can use a scrap of fine-grit sandpaper if that is more convenient. I bought a set of 50 years ago, and I still haven't finished it.  
  • "glass" nail files are so much nicer to your nails than old-school emery boards. Not only do you get a smoother result from these, but it cuts down the filing time by at least half. Plus, they are washable and will last you forever and a day. I picked up the linked Germanikure set for my birthday this year, and I have no ragrats. It is worth every single cent. I will never ever go back. 
  • cuticle oil is the universal moisturizer for dry, hard cuticles. It doesn't have to be a purpose-made oil, almost any oil will do. As I get older, I am enjoying rosehip blends because rosehip reportedly has natural anti-aging magic...I don't know. But if you like a fun scent, I really enjoy the Cuticula Nail Nectar oils (which I received back when I accepted PR) I also really enjoy the oils from Northern Star (also received as PR) as they have a nice slip to them. 
  • cuticle remover is key if you are impatient. I am impatient. Blue Cross is my very favorite brand, as it is super budget-friendly, easily available, and very gentle on sensitive skin. HOWEVER...if you do have very sensitive skin, I recommend a patch test. If you experience any irritation, vinegar will neutralize the effects. And as always, follow the directions and wash your hands well after use. Or DOOM.
  • Cuticle Nippers are, by far, the scariest thing on this list. These SHOULD NEVER BE USED ON YOUR CUTICLES. NEVER. Would you do surgery on yourself? No? Ok, then don't cut your cuticles. I promise, proper care and attention will painlessly and without danger form your cuticles to conform. But...shit happens. Cuticle nippers are amazing for getting hang nails without injuring yourself further. Torn skin, hang nails, and even random splinters don't stand a chance. It is better to cut things off than leave them and mess with them. Especially if you are like me and tend to pick at things. I clip any sticky-uppy bits off as soon as I feel them. If I don't I will fuck with them until my hand is red and irritated.
  • hand cream is a must. I had a long love affair with The Body Shop Vitamin E hand cream...until they discontinued it. I have recently fallen for two different creams: Bioderma Atoderm hand cream and Bygone Apothecary Luxury Hand Cream. The Bioderma has a clean, unisex scent so I like to keep that one with me during the day. The BA hand cream comes in an array of scents (try Cleopatra) and it lives on my bedside table. I love the soft scent at night. Whatever you choose, just be consistent with it. Even the cheapest drugstore lotion will work wonders if you use it regularly.
  • exfoliate yourself. Dead skin will not only look awful, feel uncomfortable, and catch on fabrics but it can keep your manicure from adhering properly and prevent your skincare products from penetrating properly. You can buy a fancy scented scrub from pretty much everywhere, but I still enjoy a good DIY now and again. If you would rather not use oils and sugars, I also recommend this Italy Towel from Amazon. It works best after a long, hot shower or soak...but it is very abrasive. Use with care if you have any skin or circulation issues.
  • S U N S C R E E N. If any of your skin is exposed to the sun, sunscreen it. Hands, arms, neck, chest, head, ears, face, lips...everything. Not only will it keep you looking young and fresh, but it will PREVENT CANCER. Please don't die. Sunscreen is your friend. Remember to reapply every few hours or after washing your hands. 
As with any new routine, consistency is the key to success. For serious nail junkies, a full routine can take an hour or more...which is a lot to commit to if you are just starting out. This list is pretty basic, and will get you on the right path to getting the nails you want (health problems notwithstanding. Lots of conditions and medications can affect your nail health, shape, and appearance.) Even if you can only handle the scrub + moisturize + sunscreen, you'll still see an improvement if you stick with it.

My Favorite Tips
  • If you have nail beds of uneven length (like I do) then shape your nails while wearing polish, and take a break and look at different angles often. It is easy, especially with extremely efficient glass nail file, to file too much.
  • If you can't afford a ton of new gear, grab a washcloth and hop in the shower. Seriously. After about ten minutes in a warm, relaxing shower your skin will be soft enough for you to push your cuticles back with your fingernails. You might see a white, filmy layer around the nail: that is your cuticle and dead skin coming up. Take your washcloth and gently rub the loose, dead skin away. This is a great way to exfoliate gently without irritating sensitive skin. As always, listen to your body and if it is painful STOP immediately.
  • Apply your lotion every time you wash your hands. Make it a habit. Keep a tube of lotion in your bag, by your sink, and by your bedside. Its obsessive, but keeping the skin moisturized will keep it in good shape...and keep you from picking at things and sliding back down to where we all started. Lotions tend to penetrate better on slightly damp skin, and with the apocalyptic hand washing we do now you will definitely need some moisture barrier repair. I keep lotion all over the some kind of super hydrated squirrel.
  • Massage your cuticle oil in while watching tv. You don't need light to let an oil soak, and if you are healthy enough for a massage then this is a great time to stimulate blood flow and really work the oil into your skin. Increased blood flow can improve skin's healing time and promote healthy nails, so give it a go if you can!
I hope this update is helpful. Even though I am not swatching anymore, I still enjoy keeping my nails happy and healthy. As I get older it has rolled into my anti-aging routine, and when I stick with it I see less dryness, wrinkles, and dark spots on my hands. Let me know if you have a secret tip! I love learning new nail hacks.