Fingernail Care

Appearance matters, and the care and condition of your fingernails is especially important. Here are some tips and techniques for fingernail care for men and women.

Cleaning Your Fingernails

  • Clean your fingernails daily with a nail brush, soap, and water.
pumice stone and nail brush combination
A pumice stone
and nail brush
  • Use lemon juice and a pumice stone to clean nicotine stains on your fingertips. Use lemon juice daily and pumice once a week.
  • Always use hand lotion after cleaning your fingernails.

Filing and Cutting Your Nails

  • Shorter nails are easier to maintain.
  • Emery boards and metal files usually have a rougher and a finer side.
  • The rough side is for quick removal of excess nail length and gross shaping. The finer side is for smoothing and fine shaping.
  • Metal files also have a tip that can clean under the nail.
  • One way to maintain a consistent fingernail length is through periodic (twice a week) filing.
  • Sometimes it can be easier to hold the file stationary and move your finger back and forth instead.
  • Manicure scissors usually have curved blades for more precise trimming.
  • To trim nails, nail clippers may be easier for some individuals to use initially.

Cuticle Care Is Important

orange sticks
  • Use an orange stick and cuticle remover cream.
  • An orange stick is usually made from wood, has a pointed end for cleaning under the nail, and a flat end for cuticle care. Orange sticks are available in most drugstores.
  • Scrub your cuticles and fingertips with a nail brush, soap, and water.
Nail Brush

A fingernail care brush

  • Apply cuticle remover cream around the base of each nail.
  • Push the cuticle back gently on each finger with the flat end of the orange stick or with the fingernail of the opposite hand.
Cuticle cream and orange stick

Cuticle cream and an orange stick

  • Leave the cuticle cream on for three minutes.
  • Wash the cream off with a nail brush, soap, and water.
  • Dry your hands and push the cuticle back gently once again, this time with a hand towel or face cloth.
  • Apply hand lotion afterward.

Please note: Never use nail clippers or scissors to clip your cuticles. Clippers or scissors can cause cuts and breaks in the cuticle or skin at the base of the nail that can become infected.

Nail Polish Selection

Hands using a nail buffer
  • Use a nail buffer and buffing cream for a glossy finish.
  • Store nail polish in the refrigerator. When polish is cool, it is possible to receive feedback during application and feel the coverage on the nail.
  • Use a base coat, which prevents the nails from yellowing.
  • Start with clear polish or lighter colors, but note that white-based colors tend to streak.
  • A clear top coat extends the life of a manicure.

Practice “Preventive Clean Up” Before Applying Nail Polish

  • Use nail bed protectors for easier clean up. These are available in many beauty supply stores.
  • Apply Vaseline on the skin and cuticle surrounding each nail. If you accidentally get polish on this area, it will wipe off easily once the polish has dried.

Nail Polish Application

  • Use a nail polish pen, which is similar to a felt-tip pen, to apply polish.
  • Stabilize the nail enamel brush with your middle finger while holding the handle of the brush between your thumb and first/index finger.
    Stabilize brush
    Use your middle finger to stabilize the brush.
  • Three brush strokes are usually sufficient to cover each nail. Make one stroke on the middle of the nail, from the base/cuticle to the tip. Make a second stroke to the right of the middle stroke, and a third to the left of the middle stroke.
  • Please note: Most nail polish tends to thicken and become more difficult to apply two to three months after opening.

Cleanup Techniques

  • Trace around the skin and cuticle surrounding the nail with a manicure stick or Q-Tip dipped in polish remover.
  • Use a nail polish corrector pen, available in most drugstores.

Additional Resources for Nail Care

  • See How To Manage Diabetes for information on proper foot care, foot inspections, and resources for foot care.
  • If you would like additional instruction in nail care or other areas of personal self-care, you can contact a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist. See Vision Rehabilitation Services on this website for more information.

By Maureen A. Duffy, M.S., CVRT