Manicure at home

This article has been updated and reposted from a previous version posted in 2018 when we interviewed Emily Stock, a Toronto Chiropodist and owner of East Toronto Foot Clinic about at home manicures and nail care. 

Myth #1: Cuticles need to be cut

The main concern when it comes to manicures and cuticle cutting at home is mistaking the eponychium (living skin) for the cuticle. The cuticle is a very thin, nearly transparent layer that grows at the base of the nail from under the skin. This skin gets pulled forward on the nail plate as the nail grows out.

Good to know for Manicures at home: What is a cuticle

In a professional manicure or pedicure, it’s very important to remove this layer from the nail plate to ensure nail polish sticks to the nail. Light buffing can help to remove the cuticle, but tough cases require a trim. If the tissue is attached to the skin at the base of the nail, it should not be trimmed. This is living tissue and trimming will cause ragged skin, putting you at risk of infections.

At home manicure tip:

Unless you’re absolutely positive the tissue is cuticle, put the nippers away!

Excessive trimming of the cuticle is purely for esthetic purposes and actually ends up making the area look worse in the long run. Instead use a lightweight oil (like sweet almond or jojoba oil) to soften the skin and use a fine grit buffer to lightly buff away any dead or loose skin. Finish off with a rich moisturizing cream to protect and nourish the skin.

Myth #2: You need to let your nails breathe

Nails, just like hair are not living tissue and therefore do not need to breathe. They get all the oxygen they need from the blood supply at the matrix of the nail. (The matrix is located at the base of the nail, under the skin). 

Nails don’t have lungs and have no way of processing oxygen from the atmosphere.

Nails are in fact extremely permeable. Some sources suggest that nails are even more permeable than skin, which means it’s even more important to watch what you’re putting on your nails. 

At home manicure tip:

Make sure you’re using 5-free polish (at the very least) and avoiding harsh chemicals like those found in acrylic nails.


Tips for Manicure at home

Myth #3: A body lotion does the same job as a foot cream

The skin on the soles of your feet contains an extra layer to help make it tougher and protect us from puncture wounds when walking. Because of this extra layer, typical body creams often don’t cut it for the feet. If you stop and think about how much we put our feet through, it’s not unreasonable to assume they require unique treatment.

At home manicure tip:

Use a moisturizer that’s specifically formulated for the feet. These moisturizers often have special ingredients to help ensure they will penetrate down through the tough layers on the soles of the feet. 


Myth #3: Soaking your hands & feet is necessary for a great manicure or pedicure

If you soak nails before applying polish, it’s a sure way to have them chip or peel soon after. This goes back to the point about nails being extremely permeable. When soaked in water, the nail plate quickly absorbs water and swells. It takes a while for the swelling to go down and the nail plate to dehydrate.

If you apply nail polish on soaked nails, it will lift or peel once the nail shrinks back down.

That being said, if you have thick or difficult to trim toenails, soaking is a good way to soften the nail plate and make trimming easier and safer.

At home manicure tip:

Make sure your hands are clean and sanitized, but wait a few hours after showering or washing up to apply nail polish.

Don't soak nails for at home manicure

Myth #4: Nails can be strengthened by using topical treatments

When it comes to nails, the main mistake people make is relying on topical nail strengtheners, rather than focusing on nutrition and hydration.  Approximately percent of nail strength comes from what we put in our body and about ten percent from what we put on our nails (i.e., cuticle oil or nail strengtheners). 

At home manicure tip:

Be sure to eat lots of protein from a variety of sources, stay well hydrated throughout the day, and consider taking biotin supplements if you still need some extra help for strong and healthy nails.


Bonus tip: All nail salons have the same sterilization standards

The right way to sanitize nail tools at salon

When you do go visit a salon, keep this in mind. Technically all sterilization standards should be the same, but some salons may be cutting corners. Here’s more from Chiropodist Emily Stock on that: 

The ‘gold standard’ in sterilization is to use a two step-system in order to ensure that our tools are sterilized and free of any infectious pathogens. After an initial rinse and scrub, an ultrasonic cleaner should be used to shake the tools free of any debris. The tools should be then dried and packaged in a sealed sterilization pouch and run through an autoclave.

The autoclave is what dentists and hospitals use to clean their instruments. It sterilizes through high heat steam and high pressure to kill all pathogens.

After the tools have been processed, you can check the sterilization pouch and see that the colour changing indicator in the corner (which is sensitive to the steam) will have changed colour. This is a great way to see that the tools have been properly cleaned. Tools that can’t be put through the autoclave, like nail files or buffers, should either be disposed or given to the client to take home after the visit.

At home manicure tip:

Clean and sanitize any metal tools you use with 70% alcohol and don’t share with anyone else. Frequently change up your nail files and buffers, since these cannot be sanitized.


For related content, read: “6 Things to Prevent & Treat Dry Hands”