Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Functional Male Manicure (tutorial)

Male Manicure © Valua Vitaly - Fotolia.com
A decent male manicure, for me, is something that solves a problem: A combination of cycling, swimming and rowing leaves my hands dry and dehydrated. Without frequent manicures, the skin at the top of my palms is hard and dry, my cuticles catch on things (which is slightly painful but mostly annoying), and my nails are over-hard and brittle and are covered in ridges. You might find the same if you are as active as I am or if you have a career that is hard on your hands. The purpose of this tutorial is to show you a way around this which will leave your hands healthy-looking.

Male manicures have bit of a mystique about them--especially for the uninitiated. We aren’t talking about applying colours or glitters and, actually, there is no reason why anybody should know we’ve taken care of our hands. If you’re looking for a more polished look and want to add in more products, that’s great, and I’ll cover that too. However, nail polish isn’t essential or even necessary (whilst at school I was known for my immaculate but bright-red-tipped French manicure which, in hindsight, might explain why in those intolerant years my only friends were squirrels). 
The focus of this tutorial is needs-based and organised as such. You can skip to the sections which will benefit you. It is laid out in the order in which you might like to complete your manicure. 

Note: Manicures should be avoided completely or adjusted appropriately when there is bruising, new scar tissue, or when suffering from bad cases of eczema or psoriasis. However, mild cases of eczema or psoriasis may benefit from manicures and can be tailored to include complimentary products--something you might like to ask your dermatologist about. 

Trimming ragged cuticles

The cuticle is the skin at the base of the nail. When it works well, the purpose of the cuticle is to protect the nail 'matrix' from bacteria and infection. However, it can become ragged and unsightly and might become annoying if it catches on things. Cuticle scissors can be purchased to trim off excess cuticle but care must be taken not to trim too low in a way that could damage the cuticle. Always ensure your cuticle scissors are sharp so that you can snip away excess cuticle without tugging. You can buy cuticle scissors in most supermarkets and chemists, such as these available at Boots (£3.50 each). 

Improving skin texture, removing rough spots, and evening-out skin colour

By removing the outer layers of dead skin you are revealing softer, brighter and evenly-toned young skin. You are also allowing subsequent products, such as hand creams, to be more effective because they can now absorb easily. 

Aesop Reverence Hand Wash
A simple and effective way to do this is to mix a couple of teaspoons of salt with a little oil (even olive oil will do) and massage it into your hands for a minute or two before rinsing off. However, if you'd rather not free-style with home-made products, you can try something shop-bought. I like Aesop Reverence Hand Wash (read my review here) which is a masculine-smelling product infused with natural oils and exfoliators such as pumice which naturally exfoliates day-in-day-out (£27.00 / 500 ml). 

Shaping the nail

Nail files can be used to shape the nail if you want a more polished look than you could get from using nail clippers only. Avoid metal nail files completely and instead use an emory board. File from the outside inwards rather than using a sawing motion which could both damage the nail and cause heat-making friction which will dry the nail unnecessarily. Don't ever file into the sides of the nails as this will cause weakness. You can pick up emery boards from the supermarket or chemist. These, available from Boots, cost only £1 for 10. 

Removing ridges by buffing the nail

Nail buffers can be used to remove ridges from the nail bed and to improve  the appearance of stained nails (from smoking, applying tanning lotion, and more). This makes the nails look healthy and can also add a well-groomed shine which can be as natural or as glossy as you like. 

Buffing should only be performed in one direction--that is, from the cuticle (but don't buff the actual cuticle!) to the free edge. Although it is easier to buff from left to right in a sawing motion, this should be avoided because it may damage the nail preventing healthy regrowth and the friction will dry out the nail causing flaking and damage. 

Consider what kind of effect you want before buying a buffer. One choice is The Body Shop's Big Nail Shiner which has three levels of coarseness (£2.00 each). The most course is used very occasionally--perhaps once a month--to remove ridges. This step should not be performed too often and only sparingly because overzealous buffing can weaken the nail. The next step, which is less course, can be used more frequently to refine the nail and add a dull shine. The final step can be used to create a high-gloss finish if that's the look you are going for. You can repeat this step weekly if required. 

Applying nail enamel

There are a few reasons you might consider using nail enamel: You might want to minimise ridges without buffing, hide discolourations, create a sheen, or for purely fashion or style purposes. There are lots of enamels designed for men rocking around lately. A really great one is Man-e Cure by Essie (available online at Liberty amongst other stockists) which protects the nail with a matte finish (£15.95 / 15 ml). 

Neutrogena Norwegian Formula
Concentrated Hand Cream
Whilst there are all kinds of rules about how many coats of enamel to apply, the best guide here is to follow the instructions on the product you buy. Often a single coat will do and there isn't a need to buy separate base and top coats unless you are experimenting with colour. It should always be applied to clean, dry nails without oily residue, so if you've put  on hand cream or treatment first then take a cotton wool pad doused with nail enamel remover to clean the nails first. 

If you're going to buy nail enamel, though, remember also to buy nail enamel remover and some cotton wool pads to take it off with. Even the best-applied enamel will chip eventually or will require removing at some point so be prepared. Also, you don't want to apply nail polish for the first time to discover you don't like the look and then have nothing to remove it with. 

Daily care for dry hands and nails 


Using hand cream is a good, easy way to prevent the hands and nails from drying out. When the hands are well-moisturised they are softer, less likely to split, crack or flake in harsh weather or after using detergents or other chemicals. Well-moisturised hands will also improve the strength and quality of the nails. You might decide to use cream one or twice a day--perhaps after doing the washing up or before going to bed--or more often. A nice product to start with is The Body Shop's Hemp Hand Protector which is great for very dry skin and smells great (£5.00 / 30 ml). Another good product is Neutrogena's Norwegian Formula Concentrated Hand Cream (read my review here) which is easy to find in the supermarkets and works well for all skin types (£3.69 / 50 ml). 


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