Good grooming extends beyond (and below) the neckline, and one of the most important — and overlooked — things a guy can do is take decent care of his own two hands. And it is more than just vanity.
"There's a real health benefit in it for men," says Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer. "Because men use their hands in a lot of places women would never go" — like under car hoods. "So cuticle care, especially, is an important way to protect against infection."
We know what you're probably thinking, but in reality, a manual overhaul doesn't require darkening the doorstep of a nail salon. Any guy with half-decent DIY skills might find this a surprisingly easy one-beer renovation project that requires only a few tools.
In addition to a fingernail clipper and a bowl of warm soapy water (both of which should be readily available in your own home), you'll need a cuticle pusher (a stainless steel version not only looks more manly, it can be sterilized with alcohol after each use), a thimbleful of cuticle oil (usually a blend of oils that can include things like avocado oil, almond oil and Vitamin E), a nail brush and a nail buffer (one of those rectangular cubes that look like a combination kitchen sponge and sanding block). All are readily available at local drugstores. Our out-of-pocket for this project was a whopping $27.46 — including tax.
Using soapy water, wash the fingers and give them a scrub with a nail brush, then soak them in the soapy water for a few minutes (to soften them up). Follow that by cleaning underneath each nail with a nail file. (The one that's attached to the nail clipper will do in a pinch, or you can add a separate file to your shopping list.) Then, clip the nails following the natural curve of the finger. Using a nail file, smooth each cut nail, then give each nail plate a quick hit with the nail buffer (as if you were giving a pair of dress shoes a quick rub).
The next step is to apply a dab of cuticle oil to the cuticle of each nail, wait about one minute, then use the cuticle pusher to shepherd each wayward cuticle back from whence it came. The last step is to moisturize completely. If this is novel territory for you, just put a liberal amount of hand lotion in one palm and then rub your hands together in a cartoonish pantomime of greed. After all, you just saved the cost of a professional manicure.
It's simple, but you probably have a few questions, such as:
OK, but what about hangnails?
Cut a hangnail back with a (sterilized) nail clipper or nipper. "Don't pull it off," warns Berjouhi Beramian, master stylist and center director of Pasadena men's salon 18|8. "That will just make it bleed."
What's the proper length for men's fingernails?
The thin white crescent of unattached nail at the top of the finger should be cut to about the width of a dime. "If you cut past that you can get an infection," cautions Beramian. "It should be just enough to scratch your head."
Why push the cuticle instead of cut it?
"We don't cut men's cuticles here," Beramian says. "Because we're just cleaning it up, and not preparing it for the kind of polish or acrylics that women usually get." She also points out (as does Dr. Lancer) that cutting the cuticle increases the chance that an infection can find its way between the nail plate and the skin.
Which reminds us — what about nail polish?
No polish. Ever. Unless your name is David Beckham.
But moisturizer is OK?
It's not just OK, it's crucial, Beramian says, because it prevents layers of dead skin from becoming calluses and because it helps keep the skin surrounding the nail grooves from drying and cracking, which is essentially laying out a welcome mat to potential infections. (And, if you're in the habit of biting your nails, having lotion on your hands will help make them less palatable.)