You can’t have healthy nails without healthy cuticles, so my first step on the road to nice nails is to remove excess and dry cuticles.
I choose to do so with a cuticle remover, but you can get the same result by soaking your fingers in warm water for a few minutes instead. I prefer cuticle remover since it feels less messy, and because I feel like it “eats” at the cuticles and not just softens them.
Let’s get started!
Products I use:
Clockwise, starting at the top (middle):
Cuticle remover. I use Blue Cross, which works very well, but I want to make it clear that it is NOT vegan. It contains lanolin. The bottle you buy is absolutely ginormous, so I have decanted a little bit into an old polish bottle. The active ingredient is Caustic Potash which is a strong base that will eat away at your cuticles.
Tissue. To keep the cuticle remover from dripping, and to wipe off “gunk”.
Orangewood stick. This is definitely my preferred tool for cuticle care. I do NOT like metal pushers or scrapers. I find them way too harsh, especially since the nail will also be softened by the cuticle remover. One side is flattened, and one side is pointy.
Cuticle nippers. I could not live without these. The ones I own are ancient, and of really good quality. It pays to get a nice pair since they will literally last you for life.
Cuticle cream. I use pure shea butter here, since it is rich and nourishing. And I have run out of my home-made vegan cuticle butter.
Plastic place mat. To protect my surface. It’s a very cheap place mat I cut to a size that works for me.
Applying the cuticle remover:
I apply a very liberal amount of the Blue Cross. I take the brush straight from my little bottle without wiping off excess, and let the product pool and run along my cuticles. I repeat this until my whole cuticle area is totally saturated with liquid.
Removing the dissolved cuticle:
After maybe a minute (some people say less, but my cuticles are stubborn!) I start gently wiping away any loosened cuticle with my orangewood stick. I like how the wood acts as a gentle exfoliator in itself, since it provides a bit of friction. I start off by rubbing along the surface of the nail, with the flat side of the stick flush against the nail. I run the stick back and forth with short strokes.
After I am satisfied with the nail surface I repeat the same process on the skin surrounding the nail.
Finally I run the stick (just once) under the nail from one side to the other. I find I don’t need to apply any product specifically under the nail since the Blue Cross is so liquid, but if you are using a gel remover it’s a good idea to apply the product there as well.
I always do my thumbs separate from the rest of the fingers, because of the liquid nature of my remover. I do the thumb first, and then the remaining four fingers in one go. If you find that the remover eats away too fast, keep it to one or two fingers at a time.
When you work away at the cuticles there will sometimes be little bits poking out that you can’t remove with the stick. This is where the nippers come in. You should NEVER cut the actual cuticle, but for these little hang nails and loose bits the nippers are unrivalled. Keep the flat part of the jaw parallel with your finger, and don’t “dig” the tip down. Always be gentle and use discretion. If you are unsure about using them, just don’t. In the picture you can see that I’m pulling the side of my finger taut with my thumb to make the little piece I’m about to cut easier to isolate.
Wash, scrub and dry:
When you are happy with the results from the previous steps it’s time to wash the hands. I use a soft nail brush and scrub my nails thoroughly, both across, up and down, and underneath. After washing them I dry them with a towel, and use my opposite hand’s thumb to push the cuticles back on all fingers. This is a good habit to use EVERY TIME you wash your hands. It will definitely help to lengthen the nail bed over time. There is a chance that scrubbing and pushing will reveal more little bits of skin sticking out. Just gently nip those as well with the nippers.
Nourish and massage:
My final step is to take a really rich cuticle cream and massage it in for a good few minutes. The massage will both help the product penetrate and provide a circulation boost. I use pure shea butter here as I have run out of my home-made cuticle butter, but you can use any rich cream you like. Lemony Flutter from Lush is a popular choice, as well as Burt’s Bee’s Lemon Cuticle Cream. Neither of those are vegan, but they are cruelty free (although I have heard that Burt’s Bees might not be).
That’s it for the first step! The important thing now is to keep pushing the cuticles back after every hand wash, and to MOISTURIZE. Don’t limit the moisture to lotions either, make sure you drink plenty of pure water as well.