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The Surprising Reason Your Nails Look Like Crap

Here's a hint: It all comes down to cuticles
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If no matter what you do, your nails are constantly breaking, chipping, peeling, or just generally look unattractive, it's time to consider the state of your cuticles. The skin at the base of the nail plays a crucial role when it comes to nail health: "The cuticles cover the area underneath the nail bed known as the matrix, which is where growth begins," explains editorial manicurist Geraldine Holford. A damaged cuticle can lead to an unhealthy matrix, which results in an unhealthy nail. And that aside, let's talk about the aesthetics -- there's nothing cute about ragged cuticles. "Your nails will never look nice if your cuticles are a mess. Well-groomed cuticles are the foundation for healthy, attractive nails," says hand model Susan Schell. To learn how to keep your cuticles -- and by extension, your nails -- in tip-top shape, we went straight to the people who best know the importance of cuticle care -- manicurists and hand models. Ahead, they share their expert advice.

Image via Jennifer Fisher Jewelry

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Oil Up on the Regular
Everyone we spoke with agreed -- dousing your cuticles with oil will keep them both healthy and looking good. "Moisturizing is the No. 1 best thing you can do," says Holford. While hand creams are great, cuticle oil will actually penetrate through both the skin and nail, delivering moisture to the matrix to ensure healthy nail growth, she explains. (We like Nails Inc Vitamin E Cuticle Oil Pen, $12.)

If you don't want to buy a separate cuticle oil, there's no need, since natural oils are just as effective. Holford recommends jojoba oil, specifically: "Because its molecular structure is similar to that of the skin's natural oil, it penetrates extremely well," she says. Try Desert Essence 100% Pure Jojoba Oil, $14. An added benefit? Oil adds a pretty sheen, enhancing your natural nail or refreshing polish that's a few days old, adds Holford. Just keep in mind that you need to be moisturizing your cuticles on the reg in order for it to do any good. "This is not a one-and-done type situation. Work it into your daily routine -- every time you brush your teeth, apply some oil onto your cuticles," suggests hand model Ashly Covington.

Image via Getty

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Drop the Scissors
Repeat after us: Though. Shall. Not. Cut. Cuticles. "The cuticle is a protective layer that prevents water and bacteria from entering the nail," explains Ruth Kallens, founder and partner of Van Court Studio in New York City. Cut them -- or let them be cut -- and you risk both infection and water damaging the nail plate and creating unsightly ridges. It's a golden rule for hand models: "I've walked out of many a salon as soon as they pull out the cuticle clippers," says Covington. "Cutting down your cuticles can make your manicure look pretty for the moment, but it destroys the nail in the long run." Parts model Jay Wen seconds these sentiments. "I never cut my cuticles. When they start to grow out it looks even worse than if you don't touch them," she says. The only thing that is OK to snip is excessive hang nails, says Holford, though cutting should be limited just to that little piece of dead skin.

Image via Getty

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Push 'Em Back
So if cutting them is (most definitely) not an option, how do you ensure your cuticles don't grow out and start to cover your entire nail? Push them back, and do so daily. The best time is post-shower, when skin is soft and damp and cuticles are still pliable, notes Holford. You can do so with the tip of your towel, lightly rubbing the base of the nail in circular motions, she says. Alternately, you can use an orange stick (metal cuticle pushers are too harsh), like Tweezerman Manicure/Pedicure Sticks, $4.49. Still, be careful about how much pressure you apply and be supergentle, cautions Kallens. "Pushing too hard can damage the nail and create ridges and valleys in the nail plate, deforming the shape," she says. Work slowly and carefully, adding cuticle oil as you go to help keep the skin soft.

Image via Getty

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Reach for Cuticle Remover
If daily push backs aren't quite doing the trick, a liquid cuticle remover is another a great alternative to cutting. Add a drop to each nail and let it sit for a few seconds. Then, use a clean spoolie or toothbrush to buff the cuticle area, moving in circular motions. Wipe off any residue, then buff again. "This is an ingenious trick that quickly makes the entire nail look clean and neat," says Holford, who recommends Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover, $5. Just remember that you should always wash your hands after using a cuticle remover, since it can potentially irritate your skin if left on for too long, notes Kallens. Try this technique weekly, or anytime you want to make your nails look good, stat.

Image via Getty

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