How to take care of your nails at home, from removing gel polish to making a DIY hydrating hand mask

  • Many local governments in the US and in communities around the world have temporarily banned many "nonessential" businesses, including nail salons, to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Even in areas where salons are still open for business, experts have urged people to cancel their appointments.
  • Professional manicurists shared tips for at-home nail care, including how to remove gel polish, a DIY hand mask treatment, and products to keep cuticles and skin hydrated.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the temporary closure of many nail salons in the US and communities around the world as local and state government officials have banned "nonessential" businesses and ordered residents of various locales and states to "shelter in place," or stay at home except for necessary errands to the hospital, pharmacy, or grocery store.

Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for social distancing and expert advice to cancel hair and nail appointments, that upcoming manicure on the calendar is likely not happening. However, there are still plenty of ways to take care of your nails at home.

Insider gathered advice from two professional manicurists who shared how to safely remove gel and dip powder polish, among other at-home nail tips to add to your social distancing regimen.

Avoid scraping off your gel or dip manicure and remove it safely following these steps

Kristin Pulaski, manicurist and founder of Paintbucket nail salon in Brooklyn, New York, told Insider that the supplies needed for safe gel or dip powder manicure removal are acetone, cotton balls, aluminum foil, a nail file, cuticle oil, and an orange wood stick or metal cuticle pusher (which can be substituted with a metal spoon at home). An optional item is a nail buffer.

Pulaski's steps are as follows:

Step 1: "With your nail file, file off the first layer of color to break the chemical bond on all 10 nails. This will allow the acetone to really soak into the rest of the product on the natural nail."

The key is to not peel the nail polish, but rather to gently remove it using a file. 

Step 2: "Starting with one hand, soak a cotton ball in acetone then place it on one nail. Secure the cotton ball with a piece of aluminum foil. Repeat this step on the rest of your nails on one hand. Wait 10 minutes."

Step 3: "Remove the aluminum foil and cotton balls from one hand. With your orange stick or metal pusher, or metal spoon if you don't have either, push the polish off of the nail. If it is not coming off yet, re-wrap your nails with an acetone-soaked cotton ball and aluminum foil piece again and allow to soak for another five minutes. Try sliding off the product again after that."

Step 4: "Repeat steps two and three with your other hand."

Step 5: "If you have a buffer at home, gently buff your nails to smooth the surface. Use your nail file to shape the edges of your nails."

Step 6: "Apply cuticle oil to your nails and the surrounding skin to hydrate and nourish because acetone is dehydrating."

It may be tempting to pick off your gel polish, but removing it at home is do-able with the right supplies.
GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images

Stay hydrated and treat dry hands and nails to a DIY heated cuticle oil treatment

"Drink a lot of water," Pulaski said. "Staying hydrated is one of the best things for our hair, skin, and nails, and while we're at home under stress, sometimes we can forget the most fundamental things."

In light of frequent handwashing that may leave skin feeling cracked and dehydrated, Pulaski also recommended a DIY heated hand mask treatment, which can easily be replicated at home following these steps:

Step 1: Heat cuticle oil or a hydrating hand lotion in the microwave on a plate for a few seconds.

Step 2: Spoon the oil or lotion into a pair of plastic gloves.

Step 3: Wear the gloves for about 10 minutes.

"If you don't have plastic gloves, massage the heated product into your skin and try to wrap them with plastic cling wrap," Pulaski said.

If you don't already use hydrating nail products, now is a good time to stock up

Experts recommended keeping nails hydrated with natural oils.
Shannon92/Shutterstock

For weak nails, Pulaski recommended strengthening products from Nailtiques or Rejuvacote, which can be purchased on Amazon.

"They work really fast and can be applied two to three times a week," she said.

However, natural oils can also be powerful hydrators and strengtheners for nails and cuticles, Pulaski explained.

"If you want to keep things as natural as possible, just leave your nails bare and apply cuticle oil or even coconut or almond oil a few times a day. Your nails and surrounding skin will look and feel 10 times better in less than a week," Pulaski said.

Mabelyn Martin, a professional manicurist and creative director at Paintbox salon in New York City, also recommends using natural oils to effectively strengthen nails and keep cuticles hydrated. She previously told Insider that argan oil, jojoba oil, and sweet almond oil are her natural remedies of choice.

"Your nails need the same amount of moisture that your face needs," Martin said. "Not hydrating, whether you have gel or regular polish, is the biggest mistake I see women make on a regular basis."

"Applying oil all over the nail and cuticle will hydrate the new nail once your gel polish grows out," Martin continued.

Avoid applying layers of top coat over your polish — it won't help your manicure last longer

Martin said that people should stop adding layers of clear top coat to their nails throughout the week.

"It'll just make your nails thicker, and people usually aren't wiping off their nail with an alcohol pad to clean it before adding the top coat, so that can trap dirt and dust," Martin said. "The best solution is to opt for cuticle oil."

However, for those who want to go without polish on their nails, Pulaski said it's safe to wear clear polish on its own, even though it may chip quickly.

"Top coat is designed to adhere to another polish versus the actual nail plate. I'd recommend using a base coat if you have one and then applying a top coat on top of that for a more shiny effect," Pulaski said. "It should last a bit longer and still give you that shine you're looking for."

Use extra time at home to learn a new nail technique and get creative

In lieu of sitting down at a nail salon for an in-person manicure, Pulaski recommended tuning into social media tutorials from manicurists and salons.

For those looking to sharpen their DIY manicure skills, YouTube and Instagram are filled with step-by-step tutorials that show everything from the best nail-painting techniques to how to transform a bare nail into a tiny masterpiece — like a half-moon manicure created using office supplies.

Paintbucket is one of many nail salons hosting Instagram Story videos two to three times each week that walk users through at-home gel polish removal, as well as how to shape nails and safely push back cuticles.

As Pulaski said, it's important not to feel the need to buy a ton of new polishes or supplies for at-home nail care. For example, she said, while doing an at-home manicure, skipping a base coat, or using top coat in lieu of a base coat, is not going to make a big difference.

"We're all trying to work with what we've got right now," she said.

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