what is a cuticle?

everything you need to know about nail care

what is a cuticle?

go back to school with Julie Kandalec, a New York City nail artist known for her A+ manicures on celebs like Camila Cabello, Lucy Boynton, Chloë Grace Moretz, Joe Jonas, and Jessica Chastain. here, the pro walks you through the ABCs of nail care so that you can ace your next polish job like a pro.

nail anatomy 101: before diving into a manicure, brush up on your vocab.

perionychium: the skin surrounding the sides of the nail plate.
lunula: the white, half-moon shaped area at the base of the nail.
cuticle: the watertight seal near the base of the nail.
nail bed: the pink area under the nail plate that extends from the lunula to the hyponychium.
nail plate: the actual fingernail made of translucent keratin.
hyponychium: the skin just under the free edge of the nail.


cuticle care 101: think of the cuticle like the gatekeeper for the nail: “it [forms] a watertight seal that prevents dirt and bacteria from entering the nail matrix, which can cause infection or stunt growth,” says Kandalec. in short, cuticles are essential—and they work hard. keep reading for ways to show yours some well-deserved TLC.

essential supplies:

cuticle pusher

cuticle nippers

cuticle oil

oil up. essie apricot cuticle oil, a fast-absorbing formula made of apricot kernel and jojoba oils, is key to keeping cuticles healthy and hydrated. it also helps prevent hangnails, which occur when the sides of the nail (the perionychium) become dry and separate from the nail plate. Kandalec suggests applying cuticle oil around the perimeter of the nail at least two times a day (for extra credit, apply even more!) and don’t skip the skin under the free edge of the nail. “that area is so frequently forgotten about when we apply hand creams,” says the mani guru. “keeping that skin moisturized prevents a torn hyponychium, which can be very painful.”

push back. “pushing back your cuticles stimulates healthy growth of the nail bed, loosens dry skin, and allows more of the nail plate to show,” says Kandalec. “it also allows you to apply polish further back, making your manicure last longer.” at least twice a week, apply cuticle oil to soften the skin and gently push back cuticles using a metal cuticle pusher with a beveled or square shape.

snip sparingly. “only trim what's loose to keeps cuticles tidy,” says Kandalec. hangnails happen, and when they do, snip them with a clean pair of sharp cuticle nippers. “keep the nipper blade parallel to the skin—never trim on an angle or the hangnail will still be present and can catch or tear,” she adds. removing the entire cuticle can leave nails vulnerable to infection (especially if done incorrectly) but if you do prefer a more meticulous mani, leave that level of trimming to a trustworthy pro.

nail prep 101: after caring for your cuticles, it’s time to turn your attention to the rest of the nail. “prep is the most important step for polish longevity,” says Kandalec. consider this your cheat sheet for creating a flawless foundation.

essential supplies:

nail clipper

glass nail file

padded buffer

disposable mascara wand

91% isopropyl alcohol

nail strengthener

base coat

shape up. remove any leftover polish, apply cuticle oil (this gives skin time to soften), and trim tips with a clipper to remove length if needed. for a rounded shape cut the sides of the nail and leave a little length in the middle. for square, cut straight across. then, file nails using a windshield wiper motion. Kandalec prefers a glass file, especially if you have dry or brittle nails: “it will seal the free edge and prevent them from splitting further,” she says.

get buff. push back cuticles and lightly exfoliate the nail plate using a padded buffer between 240 and 180 grit. (FYI, the higher the number, the softer the buffer will be.) begin by gently buffing around the cuticle, where the nail is “new and fresh,” says Kandalec. then, buff back-and-forth horizontally across the nail before switching to a vertical motion that “goes with the grain,” she adds. doing this smooths ridges, helps erase stains, and eliminates any dry skin that may be on the surface of nails.

come clean. post-buff, scrub under the free edge using a bamboo mascara wand dipped in 91% isopropyl alcohol or acetone, which is more forgiving on delicate skin than an orangewood stick, says Kandalec. then, swipe the surface of the nail plate with a lint-free cotton pad saturated in the same isopropyl alcohol (a pre-soaked alcohol wipe works, too!) to remove debris, cuticle oil, and oils naturally picked up throughout the day from hand creams, etc.

stay strong. if your nails are prone to breakage, keep them coated in a strengthener between polish jobs. essie hard to resist nail strengthener shields tips against daily wear and tear. plus, it provides a hint of tint. choose between pink (for a natural glow) and purple (to neutralize yellow tones). if you want to polish nails right away, skip straight to base coat, like strong start (infused with biotin to help resist peeling, chipping, and breakage) or smooth-e (a ceramide-rich formula that fills uneven surfaces).


apricot cuticle oil cuticle care apricot cuticle oil $11.00 essie&reg; apricot cuticle oil absorbs quickly to instantly condition and protect cuticles from dryness, and provide nourishing moisture.<br /> <div>&nbsp;</div> glow & shine essie glow & shine $11.00 let your nails steal the show and shine brighter than ever <ul style="list-style-type: disc;"> <li>life can be tough on nails. luckily our next-gen nail strengthener knows just what to do. hard to resist nail strengthener creates a protective barrier against daily wear &amp; tear. it provides instant nail strength and resistance. with nail bonding technology it bonds weakened nail surface to improve fragile, brittle nails. after 3 days: nails are less brittle and appear healthy, smooth with natural shine.</li> <li> instant strength + instant resistance; 96% agreed instantly nails feel protected* *in a consumer study.</li> <li> with nail bonding technology: bonds weakened nail surface to improve fragile, brittle nails.</li> <li>creates a protective barrier against daily wear &amp; tear.</li> <li>after 3 days: nails are less brittle &amp; appear healthy, smooth with natural shine.</li> <li>vegan formula: no animal derived ingredients or by products; formulated without formaldehyde.</li> </ul> neutralize & brighten essie neutralize & brighten $11.00 let your nails steal the show and shine brighter than ever <ul style="list-style-type: disc;"> <li>life can be tough on nails. luckily our next-gen nail strengthener knows just what to do. hard to resist nail strengthener creates a protective barrier against daily wear &amp; tear. it provides instant nail strength and resistance. with nail bonding technology it bonds weakened nail surface to improve fragile, brittle nails. after 3 days: nails are less brittle and appear healthy, smooth with natural shine.</li> <li> instant strength + instant resistance; 96% agreed instantly nails feel protected* *in a consumer study.</li> <li> with nail bonding technology: bonds weakened nail surface to improve fragile, brittle nails.</li> <li>creates a protective barrier against daily wear &amp; tear.</li> <li>after 3 days: nails are less brittle &amp; appear healthy, smooth with natural shine.</li> <li>vegan formula: no animal derived ingredients or by products; formulated without formaldehyde.</li> </ul> strong start base coat strong start $11.00 our new strength boosting formula, infused with biotin, helps reinforce for less weak and brittle feeling nails. the result: a beautiful manicure due to strong nails more resistant to peeling, chipping & breakage. smooth-e base coat smooth-e $11.00 our new ceramide-infused formula fills uneven surfaces on the nail to provide a sleek finish. instantly primes nails for a smooth and even surface for color adhesion. provides a barrier to help prevent nail staining. the result: even and smoothed out ridges for a perfectly beautiful manicure.