You might think that someone who loves painting nails and adores nail art and reads technician's manuals for fun would be nice to her own digits, but in my case you'd be sorely mistaken. Just yesterday I tried to unscrew the back of a picture frame using my index fingernail when I couldn't find a screwdriver (that particular MacGuyverism didn't work, by the way; I had to resort to using the tip of a knife.)
I do try to look after my cuticles, though, because I'm predisposed to dryness and painful hangnails and any problems with them are magnified tenfold and then captured for eternity when I take photos of my nail jobs for all the Internet to see. They're still not perfect - and I really hope that only Photoshop can achieve the sort of incredible invisible cuticles I see looking Vogue-ready on other blogs - but they're currently in extremely good nick considering the amount of solvent-based abuse I inflict on them daily.
I don't cut or trim my cuticles, regardless of how raggedy or unruly they get. Instead, I gently push them back with the corner of a towel after a bath or shower when I remember to, and then use these three products to keep them in good shape.
1. Sally Hansen Gel Cuticle Remover (this is the US version; it's packaged in a white tube for Europe)
The fact that you only need to leave this gel on for a minute or so per nail gives some indication of how strong it is; this one is strictly for out-of-control overgrown cuticles (I'd say I now need to use it less than once a month, and only then if I've been neglecting my nails.)
To use, you squeeze a small amount directly onto cuticles and leave to work for a few moments. At this point any excess cuticle clinging to the nail plate will have turned to mush and should simply wipe away - sounds gross, I know, but it's amazingly effective - and the rest will be easy to push back gently with a cuticle pusher or hoof stick. Wash off the excess with warm soapy water.
2. CND Cuticle Eraser
There's a bang of oranges off this thin white cream, which I use to prevent cuticle build-up as it contains exfoliating AHAs together with moisturisers to dissolve any excess cuticle while conditioning the nail plate and surrounding skin. The integrated nozzle dispenser makes for easy application and a little goes a long way. Additionally, this is a product that you can whack on, massage in, and then forget about, which appeals to lazybones me no end.
3. CND Solar Oil
I've trialled plenty of cuticle oils and whipped up a few DIY versions, too, but in the end I always repurchase this old dependable; the only possible way I think CND could improve on it would be to produce a more portable pen version. A blend of jojoba and other light oils combined with Vitamin E, it smells of marzipan on application - that'll be the sweet almond oil, then - and is relatively quickly absorbed, leaving not a trace of greasiness behind.
While I notice better results if I use it every day as recommended, even dabbing it on a couple of times a week is enough to overhaul the condition of both cuticles and nails, preventing the peeling and flaking from which they usually suffer.
Sally Hansen is available from chemists, department stores, and supermarkets nationwide. CND products are available in salons (call 01 4295122 to find one near you) and from select online stockists like Cult Beauty, 8ty8beauty and Transdesign. Remember to factor the cost of shipping into online purchases and bear in mind that you're liable for VAT on non-EU purchases over €22.