I have learned, the most important thing is to focus on the health of my skin and nails; appearances are secondary and easier to maintain when healthy. As a general rule, I try to find products that do not have harmful ingredients. For me these include: Parabens, Phthalates (often listed as fragrance), Dimethicone, and/or Sulfates. I figure since I try very hard to make sure the polish and treatments I buy are at least 3-Free (no DBP, Formaldehyde, Tolulene); I should continue the same attempt at vigilance with the nail care products. I'm not always 100% successful - but I try. My shopping is mostly done online with an occasional trip to the drugstore or Sally's.
OK, moving on to the good stuff. Over the past couple of years, I have read a LOT of bloggers' posts regarding nail care including nail filing, moisturizing and clean-up. I found it very important to remember that what works for some does not work for all. However, one of the MOST helpful guides for everyone is by Emily, the Lacquerologist in her post, "The Lacquerologist Tells All: Eponychium and Nail Plate Health and Care". Her explanation of nail anatomy is worth a close read if nothing else to clear up the confusion about cuticles vs eponychium. Until I digested this information, I was in the dark about exactly what was to be removed, pushed-back, etc.
My preference is to file my nails BEFORE I remove the polish. The free edges throw me off in trying to file the nails straight and keeping the nails the same length as each other. Occasionally, if I have a design on my nails it can throw me off visually - so I may choose to just tidy them up and wait until the next time to do any serious filing or shaping. After trying clippers and various kinds of nail files, I found the best files for me are the cardboard ones by Tropical Shine (found at Sally's). One of the pleasant surprises for me in learning how to file my nails properly is the reduction of hang-nails and other issues - YAY!
If I need to remove any length, I start with the Medium (220/320 Grit) file. After that I use the Fine (400/600 Grit) file to straighten edges and corners. I follow those up with a multi-finish file (not in picture) that smooths and buffs the edges as I have fairly thick nails. Oh, and to help keep the nails an even length I use my caliper from my jewelry making supplies to measure them; otherwise, if I relied on eyeballing my nail beds or free growth I'd be lost. I don't know if this is overkill, but it works for me. I also found it helpful with stamping; knowing both the length of my nails and the stamp-plate image makes a big difference.
Once I've removed the polish (more on that below), sometimes I find it necessary to work on my eponychiums and/or cuticles. I've been using Mango Miracle Cuticle Remover and the squishy end of the tool shown above. I have found I can not use any hard item for this or I end up with damaged nail plates. To push the eponychiums back, my preferred method is to use my fingernails or finger and towel right after getting out of the shower - it's more gentle and helps train them by doing it regularly. Then I only have to remove cuticle from the nail plate on rare occasions. If I don't have to remove anything but want to push back the eponychiums, I will use a cuticle oil such as Essie's Apricot Cuticle Oil.
When it's time to remove polish and/or prepare my nails to polish, I have used different items, but most often return to Sally's Acetone remover (it's a cheaper alternative to Zoya Remove) and Swisspers Cotton Squares. However, when I use up this Acetone remover (shown in picture), I thought I'd try to make my own following Loodie's DIY acetone+glycerine recipe so that I'm eliminating ingredients I don't want (phthalate PEG mostly). For glitters, I used to use the tin-foil method; but now I use Nail Pattern Boldness' Glitter-a-Peel (see my Oh, Splat! post). I've used other cotton and non-cotton type pads, but keep coming back to these squares; I like the larger size and higher quality construction. After the polish is removed, I wash my hands and nails. If I am going to be taking pictures I will follow with a sugar scrub and medium nail brush. Again, the scrub shown in the picture by Originails works fine, but contains ingredients I'd rather not be using - so I'm on the hunt for a better one.
After (or sometimes during) polishing my nails, I use a few things to help clean-up the extra polish (as well as to smooth out the edge of polish at the top of my nail plate). Currently I'm using an angled brush and with practice I am mostly happy with it. I'm thinking of trying a smaller flat brush, we'll see. I use pure acetone for all of my clean-up. This glass jar with screw-on lid that I inherited from my Grammie is perfect for holding a small amount that I can dip into! Toothpicks, orange sticks, regular and pointed Q-tips are all kept at the ready for any errant and left-over polish that winds up on my skin (especially from stamping or sponging).
And now, the best for last - moisturizers, lotions and balm! The three items shown above make up my "can't live without" products. I've used (and still am using-up) other hand lotions from various brands, but Silk Elements Shea Butter with Olive Oil is my absolute favorite. It doesn't have an overpowering smell and it dries within a couple minutes withOUT leaving a greasy residue. And it seems to provide all the moisture I need (except maybe a intense moisturizing needed in the driest winter months). I have been finding it at Sally's so far and always have a couple back-ups just in case. For the extra moisture needed for my eponychiums/cuticles/nails - I found a "homemade" lotion at a local farm store that has done wonders for my nail health (and doesn't have any bad ingredients). If/when I use up this up and need a replacement, I will seek out other ones with these ingredients (click on the picture to see it larger/read ingredients). And, a bonus - as I use this before bed every night, the smell is relaxing and not over-powering. I used to only use Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream in the winter - but now I use it almost daily because of seeing my nails with macro photography. Since this is in a tin and often my polish is still wet, I use a brush to apply it around my nails before photographing and otherwise as needed. I find it to be very effective, just wish it wasn't quite as strong smelling.
I had been wanting to record this information for a while. So when, I recently injured my left wrist, which has made polishing and photographing my nails impossible until it heals, now became as good a time as any. (Actually, I couldn't type for the first week either - so it is much better already.) I've wanted so much to spend time in my "kolor kave" playing with polish and ignoring the cold, grey weather. Hopefully, I will be able to resume the 31DC2013 designs very soon. Speaking of winter and its associated nail-blues, Emily just posted another extremely awesome guide, "The Lacquerologist Tells All: Your Winter Nail Survival Guide!
As always, any comments and questions are welcome. If you know of any products that you think I'd like, I'd love to hear about them.
DISCLAIMER: This post is in no way written as advertising or promoting specific products; I am not reviewing these items or affiliated with the companies in any way. Nor am I a professional or educated in nail care - these are only my opinions. I wanted this post to keep track of what I've liked, a post to refer back to as time goes on. As stated, there are tons of articles and videos available on blogs and YouTube regarding nail care, filing, etc. that may show products that work better for others, as well as guidance and directions on their use.And, if I don't post again this week - Happy Thanksgiving (to those who celebrate)!!
EDIT January 2014: Since this post, I've added more products to my favorite nail care list. You can find some more in this post, Oil Slick Recovery.
Till next time,