Nothing takes a beating quite like your nails. Even if you don’t use them as ironclad tools (you know: popping open a can, picking at a plastic seal, digging in dirt), day-to-day life demands so much of your nails. Over the years, they may have become brittle or dull, but not all is lost. With these eight nail products in your manicure arsenal, you can keep your tips looking like they’re in top shape.
Problem: Ridges. Like with skin, the passage of time tends to strip nails of moisture, which can cause them to develop ridges. In turn, ridges can affect the look and longevity of your manicure. To counter unevenness, use a ridge-filling base coat. “It contains tiny particles that fill in the ridges to create a smoother surface for your nail polish application,” says Tracylee Percival, international nail artist and industry expert.
Solution: Diorlisse Abricot Smoothing Perfecting Nail Care, $28, dior.com.
Problem: Overgrown cuticles. Not only are overgrown cuticles unsightly, but also they interfere with nail polish adhesion. To rid your nails of gnarly cuticles, use an exfoliator. After showering, apply the exfoliator to your cuticle. “The dead skin that is attached to your nail plate (the true cuticle) will start to soften and break down, making it easier to remove,” Percival says.
After allowing a cuticle exfoliator to work its magic for 30 seconds, use a cuticle pusher (or orangewood stick) to gently push back the softened dead skin and clean off any residue with a lint-free wipe. Don’t reach for nippers! It’s best to never nip your cuticles because you could cut live skin rather than dead skin, causing your cuticles to scar and grow back thicker or — worse yet — leave you vulnerable to infection.
Problem: Dull nails. Want to show off naked nails? Buff them first. Percival prefers a three-way shiner. After shaping nails, “gently buff with the roughest side first (typically black in color), then the side that’s a bit smoother, followed by the smoothest surface, which will buff nails to a high shine,” she says. Bonus buffing points: “Buffing creates a smooth surface for your nail polish application and the buffing action stimulates the blood vessels under the nail plate, which promotes faster, healthy nail growth,” Percival says.
Solution: Deborah Lippmann Smooth Operator Buffer File, $12, sephora.com.
Problem: Dry, cracked cuticles. Hydrated cuticles and nails simply look healthier, but of course, applying cuticle oil actually makes them healthier. “Oils are the only product that can actually penetrate the eponychium to reach the nail’s epicenter (the matrix) and hydrate nails, making them flexible and less apt to break,” Percival says. And don’t forget to oil up toenails. “They become very thick and dry as we age,” she says.
Solution: Essie Apricot Oil, $9, essie.com.
Problem: Stained nails. Much like a BB cream, an optical diffuser corrects any staining or discoloration on your nails. “These sheer tints help to disguise nail imperfections,” says Percival, who favors Zoya’s Naked Manicure Perfectors, which come in five sheer hues for a variety of correction needs.
Solution: Zoya Naked Manicure Perfector, $10, zoya.com.
No Problem: A nude manicure. Nothing is quite as age defying (for nails!) as a nude manicure — when you pick the right neutral nail polish. Base your selection on your skin tone: If you’re fair, choose a neutral polish with a pink undertone. “The cool undertone complements fair skin tones and helps cancel out any redness in the hands and cuticles,” Percival says. Darker skin tones should seek out beige neutral hues that have a yellow undertone. “These help brighten up your warm complexion,” she shares.