Nail and Hand Care Essentials

May 29, 2014

The most frequently asked questions I’ve received have been focused around hand and nail care. I review lots of nail polishes and change colors frequently and taking care of my hands has always been a must. I’ll go through my hand and nail care routine and answer some questions that I receive on a regular basis.

I’ll share a bit of background on my nail/hand care routine and history. I played the violin when I was younger and kept playing through through college. This required me to keep my nails extremely short with only a sliver of the white tips showing. Out of habit and personal preference I’ve always kept my nails on the shorter end, although in recent years I’ve started growing them a bit longer. You can see the difference then in 2010 vs. now in 2014. For everyday hand activity I’ve had a diverse work history that has required a lot of typing from number crunching and market research. I tend to type with my hands at an angle (rather than having finger more at a 90 degree angle) so my nails don’t tend to hit the keys as much as someone who holds their hands at a more perpendicular angle to the keyboards. Some frequently asked questions:
  • Are your nails always professionally manicured? Or do you maintain them yourself? My manicures are a mix of both professionally applied nail polish and DIY. For the longest time I couldn’t properly do my own nail polish for a full manicure. Being able to paint one’s nails doesn’t always come naturally, it takes lots and lots of practice. I would say my manicures are 50/50 done myself versus at a professional salon.
  • How often do you get professional manicures? It varies depending on what I’m testing out, swatching, and also time constraints. I would say it ranges from every other week to once a month.
  • Your nail polish seems to have a long wear life without tip wear, I work at an office job that requires a lot of typing, how do you avoid tip wear? Tip wear will probably depend on how long your nails are, if they are on the long side there will be a lot of surface contact which can lend to more tip wear. I recommend keeping them on the shorter end to avoid breakage. Make sure you use a good base coat, brush the tips of the nails with a bit of color to cover the end of the nail, make sure your top coat covers not just the top of your nail but brush over the tip end as well.
  • What base and top coats do you use? I’ll go into what I use below, I usually use Deborah Lippmann Rehydrating Base Coat and Chanel Top Coat but it varies depending on what brand of color I’m using.
  • My nail polish never lasts more than 3 days, it starts to peel and chip no matter what brand, help? Several things could contribute to short-lived manicures. For prep, your nail might not be entirely clean. Even with polish remover, if you’ve used oils or lotions, there could be remnants of product still lingering on the nail. Use a nail cleaner or polish remover that helps clean (more below). You could be loading on too much color too soon. While it may seem to be a time saver to load up more color for 1 coat, don’t do it. Apply your polish in thin coats even if it looks uneven the first coat. The second or third (for sheerer colors) will smooth out the surface. You also might not be covering your entire nail tip with top coat – doing so will make sure you covered the entire nail.
  • What advice would you give to those who are a novice to DIY manicures? I would recommend getting your nails professionally manicured the first 3-4 manicures you have so you can observe their application technique in person. You really only need salon manicures every once in a while for a clean up. It’s easy to maintain your nails yourself in between salon visits. You don’t necessarily have to do it yourself, as some can vouch, manicuring your own nails can sometimes take longer and be more frustrating.
  • Do you need to stick with the same brand of polish and base/top coats? Or can you mix and match? I don’t think you need to stick with the same brands, although using the same can often be best. Different brands have different formulas and don’t always work well together for me. For example I’m super picky with top coats – I don’t like any sign of shrinkage where the top coats dry and shrink over the nail polish leaving a visible line around the edges. (Seche and OPI do that with Chanel for me). I like to mix and match.
The items I use are going to broken down into the following categories: Removers, Treatments, Tools, Base Prep and Top Coats. Like most beauty routines, I believe nail care items should be built slowly over time with testing or by researching reviews online.

I used to use cheap nail polish removers from CVS and Target, but after I started changing my nail polish frequently, I found that they made my nails and fingers extremely sensitive and that my nails started to peel (the actual nail). Based on reviews and recommendations I’ve found several new removers that are gentle for sensitive fingers but still very effective in removing all traces of polish. Items shown above described left to right:
  • Zoya Remove + Big Flipper is a 3 in 1 product that removes color, preps the nail and conditions. I discovered this thanks to the recommendation of Café Makeup – we discussed nail care, I shared my finger woes, she said try the Zoya, it’s “so good.” She was right. Read the reviews on Zoya or Makeupalley and you’ll see others agree. There are different size options, I like the Big Flipper because it has an easy push down dispenser.
  • Sephora Formula X Delete Nail Polish Remover is another love (reviewed here). This is another item I bought based on online reviews. It has a similar push down dispenser lid. I like this one because it’s compact and the design is very sleek and simple. The easy to use pump action makes it super handy –  you don’t have to flip over the bottle and risk ruining painted nails if you need to clean edges or mess-ups.
  • Dior Dissolvant Abricot is an ultra luxurious and pricey non-acetone remover, it has a rich abricot scent formulated with ingredients to nourish, hydrate and strengthen. I found it was extremely effective in removing Dior’s Gel Top Coat and dark polish underneath. I’m not a fan of the price and those sensitive to fragrance may find this too heavy. I went through one bottle pretty quickly and repurchased a second. It’s the only remover I’ve tried that has a slightly moisturizing/hydrating feel. If the bottle were about 3-4 times larger I think I could justify the price for more frequent use.
  • Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover is the only cuticle softener that I’ve tried but I was lucky to find a really good one on my first try. It comes in a milky white liquid with a dropper. Apply to the cuticle area for a minute and then push back with a cuticle tool and it removes excess cuticle skin easily. This is a definite must for anyone who does their own manicures. It’s gentle but super effective.

I attribute good looking hands to good hand care. I’m almost always carrying one to two hand creams in my purse. I rely on L’Occitane because they come in travel sizes, a variety of scents and have fun packaging. Plus the formula is hard to beat. For extra care I’ve discovered layering oil into hand cream can help give an added boost of moisture. I prefer hand creams that absorb quickly into the skin and that aren’t greasy feeling so it doesn’t ruin paper, clothes or get everywhere you touch. My current loves, left to right:
  • Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil is as good as it gets (there’s a mini version as well). A little goes a long way with the dropper, you only need a little bit. It’s not greasy but can get sticky, I recommend applying this with precision to the cuticles and rub in quickly. It has Jojoba Oil, Coconut Oil, Mineral Oil and smells amazing. I use this about once a week and it keeps the cuticles looking really good.
  • Caudalie Divine Oil is a must for me (review here), unfortunately they’ve changed the packaging of the mini size and it doesn’t come with the spray pump dispenser. When I visited the Venice Boutique, they had hand massage treatments and they mixed the oil with their Hand and Nail Cream (review here) which is another staple of mine. I can’t rave enough about these.
  • Tatcha Soothing Silk Indigo Hand Cream (review here) helps to soothe dry or irritated hands, it hydrates well and absorbs quickly into the skin, the packaging is compact enough to fit into the purse
  • L’Occitane Hand Creams have been a classic for me for years (check out the L’Occitane Hand Cream Bar), they can be on the pricey side for the side, but the formula is worth every penny, these come in a variety of scents and special formulas, my current favorites are the Shea Butter Honey (soothing and creamy) along with the new Vitória-Régia from the Viva Brazil collection (lush sweet floral). L’Occitane has monthly gift with purchase promotions in stores and online, it’s one of the few brand newsletters I subscribe to that I don’t mind receiving weekly (they have good deals). I’ve converted so many of my friends to L’Occitane as these hand creams make good small gifts or add-ons (just add a box of Godiva chocolate or small bouquet of flowers).
  • Estee Lauder Re-Nutriv Hand Cream was a huge step-up gift with purchase from Neiman Marcus at one of the Estee Lauder events they had a year ago in store. I was a bit intimidated by the size and packaging as it looks like an intensive treatment. It is indeed an intense hand cream but still very gentle and is the best at smoothing lines. You can see the effects immediately and over time it does improve the overall look and appearance of your hands.

My tools are very basic, items were either found at local drugstores or Ulta. There are a wide number of tools out on the market, I’m sure there are more experienced nail experts who know more about tools, my picks were picked out without much research or planning.
  • Revlon Nail Clipper is an older version that I have, they’ve gone through a few revamps and upgrades in packaging design but the overall shape and size remains the same
  • Tweezerman Nail File I’ve picked up various nail files over the years, I find Tweezerman to be sturdy but with a rough enough surface to be effective on harder nails but not too harsh, the ones from Sephora that I’ve bought come with a plastic storage sleeve which is convenient for storage (and makes sure it doesn’t scratch your other products)
  • Ulta Crystal Nail File if you’re one who hates the feeling of filing nails, you need to check out Crystal Nail Files, a multitude of brands have these such as OPI and Sephora. These have a unique fine-grade glass surface that is good for sensitive or thinner nails, it gently smooths edges and also has a tapered precision tip to clean beneath the nail.
  • Tweezerman Pushy Cuticle Pusher is a smaller tool for cuticles, I prefer smaller shapes, although some prefer ones with larger curved tips to match the natural shape of the nails. I find the Tweezerman one to be small enough for my small fingers, it’s sturdy and effective for me. For any kind of cuticle removal or care, I recommend you proceed with extra caution. Don’t push too hard and be extra gentle with the cuticles – this is where I recommend you observe a professional several times before attempting on your own.
  • Revlon Cuticle Nippers are another basic drugstore purchase, I’ve had two from Revlon, both have lasted over 5 years, just make sure you clean them regularly with warm water and soap (I use antibacterial dish soap) or alcohol. I wouldn’t recommend using cuticle clippers regularly, I use them to clip hang nails or only use if the cuticles have been softened and properly prepped.

For base coats, I look for something that helps protect bare nails. I look for items that won’t turn the nails yellow, items that aren’t drying and that also don’t make the nails peel. I’ll highlight the ones I use briefly, let me know if you need more information on any of these, I find they all work well with other brands such as Chanel, OPI, YSL, Dior, Tom Ford and NARS.
  • Sephora Formula X Nail Cleanser (reviewed here) is a relatively new discovery for me but I find that having a completely clean nail surface before using base coat or color really makes a difference in the wear of nail polish
  • Sephora Formula X Base Coat (reviewed here) is a sticky formula that helps polish adhere well, I like this best with the Formula X polishes but I’ve also tried (and love it) with Dior, Marc Jacobs and Chanel
  • CND Stickey Base Coat is a classic that I’ve repurchased multiple times, it’s an affordable option that works well with all brands I’ve tried
  • Deborah Lippmann Rehydrating Base Coat is my most-frequently used base coat, I don’t usually have nails that peel except when I do a lot of swatching and comparisons on the fingers, this helps immensely

  • Sephora Formula X Shine Top Coat (review here) is an awesome top coat but is on the thicker side, it works best with Formula X brand nail colors, when I used The System and their Nail Color, I had a manicure last over 7 days without any tip wear or chipping
  • Creative Nail Design Super Shiny Top Coat is another beauty staple, some of the nail salons I go to layer this with a Revlon top coat for an ultra cushy look (I haven’t looked into the Revlon personally)
  • Chanel Laque Brilliance Extreme is my all time favorite top coat, it helps my polishes last long, doesn’t crack or chip and give a lush shiny gloss
  • Rescue Beauty Lounge Top Coat is another item I’ve repurchased (I’m on my third bottle), it’s just as good as Chanel, some say it’s better, mine has a pinkish tinge because I didn’t let my pink nail polish dry long enough and had some color transfer
  • Dior Gel Coat is a top coat I’ve found works best with Dior Polishes (Chanel v Dior post here), it works well over other brands for a gel-shine finish and lush look, but can be prone to cracking on certain brands
This sums up my hand and nail care favorites. I hope this give you a comprehensive overview on my personal hand and nail care routine. To recap, I definitely think you can maintain your hands and nails on your own but regular salon visits help keep hands looking better. You don’t need an expensive salon to maintain your nails, there are a lot of good ones that are more affordable.

This post contains some items that were sent for review consideration. Most items were purchased by me. Press samples include Sephora The System, Tatcha Indigo, L’Occitane Vitória-Régia. For more information refer to my Disclosures.

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  • I always trust you for exhaustive posts and this is no exception. I know what you mean my typing at an angle, even I try to use my fingertips than the nail.
    I might get the Revlon cuticle Nipper.

    • Thanks Maddy, glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Anonymous

    WOW! Thank you so much for all of the details. I try and do my nails on my own but really think that I need a manicure to get the cuticles cleaner…. your advice was the extra push that I needed to get my nails done professionally at least once in a while.
    Your nails look great and I love your blog! It is the best!

    • Thanks Cathy! I highly recommend treating yourself to a salon visit every now and then, it's super relaxing, it's one of the few things in my life that really helps shut off my brain sometimes (lol), it's like hitting the re-set button and I always leave feeling polished and refreshed 🙂

  • Spectacular post! I'm actually trying out the Formula X The System now and am so impressed with it thus far. Not a single sign of wear and my nails are still shiny like I just recently polished them. I'm already prepping for a rave review and will be trying it out with a drugstore polish to see how that experiment fares, as well.

    Also, thanks for the tip about the Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover, that's definitely making it to my beauty products wish list.

    – Amanda | The Chic Counsel

  • Anonymous

    This might be one of my favorite posts ever that I've read on your blog….so informative and it will be fun to try out some new products! I use the Chanel topcoat and CND base coat as well. I like Deborah Lippmann polish remover, but the Sephora one is great too. My favorite hand cream (I have tried soooo many), is a hard to find brand called "L' Annine", and you can buy it online at Beautyhabit. It is wonderful – I buy the lemon one. Thanks again for the tips!
    M. Fay

  • I really need to up my nail care game. They are quite horrid to look at.

    Connie | Sponsored by Coffee

  • Love this post, so informative and thorough! I also used to play a musical instrument and had to keep my nails extremely short (and unpainted), so learning how to paint them definitely took time…actually I'm still learning. Will definitely go take a look at that Sephora base coat. I'm almost out of my bottle of CND Stickey (which I love), and I want to try something similar but new. Thanks!

  • I loved this post. I really need to invest in some of these items, especially when it comes to strengthening and looking after my nails. I love it when they're long, but they get to a point and just start breaking because they are brittle.


  • I'm currently looking for a new base and top coat… Real useful post!! Thanks 🙂 Lilly xx alittlelilly.blogspot.nl

  • Gra

    I love these kind of posts, and yours is definitely no exeption! You have a nice variaty of options, which what I tend to prefer.
    That Shea Butter and Honey handcream from L'Occitane is divine! That's a shame it's been discontinued here. Have you ever tried the Love + Toast handcreams? They're fantastic, very similar to the L'Occitane ones but slightly richer, better to use at night.
    I'd love to see a tutorial of your maintenance routine in between salon visits! Thank you

  • Thank you for such an extensive review and tutorial! Your nails always look so gorgeous! I never did my own nails….which meant they looked good for one or two weeks a month after a visit to the salon and look terrible the rest of the time! A beauty resolution this year was to give myself the time every week to do a pedi/mani at home. As you said, practice does make perfect. I've only had a couple of fails, mostly due to to color/formula of the polish. I also like the Deborah Lippman cuticle remover, Sticky as well as the Butter London Nail Foundation base and top coat. I've been using Chanel's hand cream for decades. It helps with age spots as well as softening the skin. The Revlon clippers are a must for me. My cuticles (and nails) grow like weeds! I absolutely must do cuticle trimming. I'm putting the Sephora polish remover on my "buy" list. The packaging sounds so convenient! Much to my surprise I've really become addicted to my nail routine and really look forward to purchasing new colors to try. I just picked up Chanel Coup de Coeur. I'm looking forward to trying it next week. Now I have Chanel Koala (OLD!) on my toes and Rose Cache on my fingers. And I'm buying YSL Bleu Cyclades today!

  • Thank you for the thorough details on the products you use! This is very helpful to me and I will definitely purchase some of these items that you recommend.

  • Thank you for all the awesome recommendations! I'm still a Seche Vite girl but now, I'd love to try out some of the top coats you mentioned. Of all of these, I've only tried the L'Occitane hand creams and they are fantastic for keeping cuticles soft.


  • And here I was thinking that all I needed was polish, lotion, and a good nail. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. Thanks for this post! It really was an eye opener. Lol.

    XoXo Shea L.


  • I don't do my nails that often, but I have been using the Zoya Remove + for years now and I love it! I think I need to try the RBL Top Coat, because part of the reason I don't paint my nails is because my manis never last! Maybe that will solve the problem 🙂

    BTW, I need to tell you how much I love your blog. It is hands down the best beauty blog out there. I have never gotten the feeling that you do this for anything other than the love of blogging, but if anyones deserves to make some money from their blog it is you my dear!


  • I swear by Estee Lauder Re-Nutriv Hand Cream. I have one tube in my purse, one on my night stand, and a 3rd that's unopened. I first read about it via a blogger whose mom's skin became sensitive due to chemotherapy. Thankfully, I don't have anything life-threatening but, I do have an illness which causes my skin to be fragile.
    I ordered a Re-Nutriv from Estee Lauder's site & I haven't used any other hand cream since. It's the only product that protects my hands from the elements, that doesn't burn, doesn't have a fragrance, and stays on through several handwashes. The bonus is that the cream isn't greasy.

  • I was surprised Guerlains Gel Top Coat didn't make your list! It translates well on all my usual brands. So grateful for your tips!

  • I LOVE this post!! I too am obsessed with nail care. I typically get Shellac/gel manicures every 1-2 weeks but am obsessed with keeping my hands in tip top condition at all times. I'm a healthcare provider so regular nail polish would not last half a shift on me with the amount of hand washing I do. These are a few of my HG nail products:
    -CND Solar Oil for cuticles is ultra moisturizing and noticed my nails grew out healthier. The scent is DELICIOUS too. Hard to not lick it.
    -For On-The-Go: Opi Avoplex or Nails Inc. Cuticle oil. I don't love these as much as CND but its a lot more convenient to throw in my purse.
    -Aveda Hand Relief!!!! My HG hand cream. It keeps my hands moisturized for a LONG time. I love this more than L'Occitane – less greasy feel plus longer lasting.
    -CND Sticky Base of course for my pedicures (since it's Shellac on the hands)
    -Seche Vite or Nails Inc Kensington top coat for pedicures – I prefer the quick dry top coats so it's easier for the nail tech to slide on my flip flops after.
    -CND Cuticle Eraser is more of an exfoliant than instant cuticle remover. My cuticles on my toes grow faster so I find that with daily use, it keeps it from getting gnarly between the weekly pedicures.

  • I think you should try Uka's cuticle oils. They're pricey, but they're supposed to smell amazing. I read about them on style.com. I use Jin Soon's base and top coat, along with Nuance Salma Hayek top coat (thicker, dries super fast, cheap), as well as Dazzle Dry's base and top coats.

  • Thank you so much for this extensive post! I'm the type that never bothers with hand and nail care simply because I'm oblivious about it. I was looking for a good nail polish remover and some tools to help maintain a good manicure and nice hands. I'm definitely going to check out your recs!

  • I think if you have a lot of contact with water (dishwashing, long soaks in the bath, etc), your nails will chip faster.

    I like OPI nail envy matte as base coat (it is thick and keeps nails hard) and seche vite as top coat. I carry the OPI avoplex cuticle oil in travel tube (it has a brush at the end of it) for moisturizing cuticles during my commutes.

  • Oh wow, this is an amazing post!!! Thanks.

  • I love this post, I've still got a long way to go before I can do my own nails fully. I need a steady hand!


  • Great post!!! I have fun reading your post and I have def learned a lot here.

  • Anonymous

    Yet another great post. I always wear nail polish and do my own manicure (no good mani-place around here). I've been wondering what you do to make your manicure look so good and now I know 😉 I read all your posts and especially like posts like this one and the ones you have done on brushes – very informative. After reading this post I ordered the Deborah Lipmann cuticle oil and cuticle remover and the tweezerman cuticle pusher. I'm in Europe so I couldn't click on the links you provided and get you a little commission. You sure deserve that for all the work you put into your posts. Your blog is very elegant and well written – something I look forward to do when my workday is over – thanks 😉

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant post Sabrina and been a fan of your amazing blog for a long time. Can I ask where you bought the pale green/blue striped bowl from? Thanks, Martine

  • That is absolutely true! Salon equipments are a great investment to maintain the beauty products. With the help of such useful equipments, a high quality and satisfactory service can be provided to the customers. In fact, there are some major benefits of using modern and technical salon equipments. Some of the most important benefits are:
    It saves salon owner’s money and time.
    It also assists to control various types of inventories used in the salon.
    Many salon owners prefer to use various types of equipments like salon chair, hair color equipment, etc that helps them to keep their salon neat, clean and tidy.

  • Great! Thanks for such tips, again.

  • Hi Sabrina! It's so nice to get all your nailcare tips in one spot. It's been almost two years since this post; is an update in order or is it still relevant? Thanks so much; I'm a huge fan of yours.