Don’t let your hands make you look older than you really are—with lines, wrinkles, dark spots, thin, fragile skin, and dry, brittle nails. Hands are subject to a lot of daily abuse, and to keep them soft and supple requires daily care and maintenance.
In the first place, stop thinking of your nails as a tool—they are more like protection for your finger tips and made of protein called keratin. Even strong, healthy nails can break or snag easily when you use them to pull out staples or lift heavy packages. Avoid prolonged exposure to anything that can dry out skin, including harsh detergents, hot water, and sun.
To make a manicure last, keep nails at a reasonable length that is easier to maintain. Slightly oval or rounded shaped nails with the corners left more square tend to wear well. The longer the nail, the more susceptible to stress and breakage. Never use a nail clipper! Gently filing nails into shape is your best bet. The new glass nail files work well and last forever. I absolutely love the Leighton Denny Large Crystal Nail File ($19.05) that comes in its own aluminum traveling case. In fact, I stocked up on them at Boots on a recent visit to London. These are an ideal tool for squaring off your nail with a perfect straight line. If you are using traditional nail buffers or sanders, make sure to get the right grade for your nail type. Never use a file intended for artificial nails on your natural nails.
Trimming cuticles is really a matter of preference. Do not push back dry cuticles. Soften cuticles in the shower or bath, or soak in warm water for a few minutes before trimming. Push back your cuticles with a clean moistened orange stick or cuticle instrument rather than to cut them. If your cuticles become unsightly, gently trim only the excess dry skin carefully with a clean nail nipper. Don’t let a manicurist cut your cuticles unless you bring your own sterile instruments.
Make sure nails are clean with no oily residue from creams, oils or lotions before applying a nail base or polish. If your nails are brittle, use a nail strengthening serum on natural nails first. Then apply a layer of protection, such as a ridge filler or nail hardener or thickener, depending on your particular nail concern. Barielle Pro Instant Liquid Nail Hardener ($14) is a miracle worker to keep nails strong.
For the most long lasting mani, use colors closest to your natural skin tone. For example, a nude, pale pink or peach shade will show less wear and chips than deep red or dark or jewel hues, navy or charcoal. Metallics can also prolong your mani because they are easy to touch up. Two even coats of polish should be sufficient. The larger the brush, the fewer strokes you will need to cover the whole nail, which can leave a less streaky look. Finish up with a good top coat to prolong the polish. Each time you see that polish is peeling or chipping away at the tip, try to touch up the color and use another coat of clear polish for extra protection and added shine. Avoid nail polish removers containing acetone, which will dry your nails out even more.
Cuticle and nail oils are great for keeping nails from drying out. The cult classic Creative Nail Design Solar Oil ($7.59) is the perfect choice. Use twice a day or any time you think of it, and keep one in your desk drawer or night table. Hand creams that contain lactic or glycolic acid are brilliant exfoliators, such as Amlactin Ultra Hydrating Body Cream ($15). Shea butter is another key ingredient for added hydration, especially in cold weather. L’Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream ($28) is a staple, and comes in a travel size too, handy for throwing in your bag. Use a rich, emollient hand cream twice daily or more as needed. Massage cream into nails and cuticles as well so it penetrates deeply for long lasting hydration.
For an über luxurious hand enriching experience, invest in the ZO Skin Health Oraser trilogy; Microderm Hand Renewal ($50), Daily Hand Repair SPF 20 ($65), and Overnight Hand Recovery ($65). Fully loaded with retinol, powerful antioxidants and an amino acid complex, this anti-aging hand treatment will improve texture, tone, and pigmentation. A brightening complex helps erase age spots while a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen SPF20 protects against future damage.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, or driving with your left hand exposed to the sun, a good SPF is non negotiable. Clinique Even Better Dark Spot Correcting Hand Cream SPF15 ($35) can also reduce sun spots with continued use. If your hands are severely dry and dehydrated, pick up a pair of cotton gloves and slather on Aquaphor ($23.59) ointment overnight. (Works great to keep your feet soft and pedi fresh too).
Dry, brittle nails may also respond to supplements, in addition to a generally healthy diet. There are many blends that contain vitamin E, essential fatty acids, iron, zinc, and antioxidants and biotin that can be effective. Appearex ($25) is a favorite among dermatologists. Each tablet contains 2.5 mg of biotin to strengthen nails.