Nail Masks Are The New Sheet Masks

I’ve never met a mask I didn’t like. It’s become a weekly ritual to cover my hair with one (either a homemade concoction or Kiehl’s Olive Fruit Oil Repairative Hair Pak). And even more frequently, I rely on a mask for my face to draw out impurities. For some reason, I never considered masking my hands until very recently. I admit that this was flawed logic and have tried to rectify immediately.

Nail masks, like a lot of other nail treatments featured on ITG, aim to repair ragged cuticles, strengthen shabby nails, or lighten up yellowed nails (an unfortunate side effect of dark nail polish). The masks themselves are pre-soaked pouches that look kind of like finger puppets. You leave them on your digits for 15 or 30 minutes, and then behold: nails worthy of a hand model (or at least close enough).

I’m a DIY-manicure kind of girl, and I don’t always give my nails the kind of attention that I probably should, so buying a few masks already felt luxurious in that I-don’t-really-need-these kind of way. I’ve seen products like nail BB cream—Orly’s BB Crème has made a big splash in my circles—and other paint-on treatments that are nice and all, but nothing beats the reaction you get when you try something along the lines of Sally’s Box Friendly Milk Nail Mask or Kocostar’s Nail Therapy Multivitamin Nail Treatment (both promised to strengthen and soften with the hero ingredient glycerin). For argan oil fanatics, there’s Moisture & Nourish Fingernail Mask, too. After 15 minutes of wiggling my fingers around like I was about to put on a puppet show, my nails did look nice—dry cuticles gone and shiny! Plus, there was the extra relaxation of knowing you can’t use your hands (read: touch your phone) for 30 minutes or so. It’s also a pretty good excuse not to do the dishes (or whatever other chores you’ve got going on). See? Nail masks: useful on multiple fronts.

—Arielle Pardes

Photographed by Tom Newton.

Don’t dry out your cuticles with acetone. Here’s an all-natural nail polish remover that works double as cuticle oil.

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No-Polish Nail Polish

Here we are, nestled squarely in the well-documented and much-loved era of no-makeup makeup, wherein pretty much everyone except Dita Von Teese acts like they haven’t seen a magnifying mirror in the past six months. Sometimes, even when you mean to, it’s difficult to be honest about how much makeup you’re wearing. Can you really say you’re barefaced if you’re wearing BB cream? Can you claim you’re not wearing mascara and neglect to mention your eyelash tint? I’ve come to live under a general rule that, conversationally, you’re allowed to say you’re “not wearing makeup” if you’re wearing tint, concealer, mascara, balm, and powder. So, basically, just not color.

In this paradigm, there’s also no-makeup makeup for your nails—everything but color—namely cuticle remover, cuticle oil, nail primer, base coat, and top coat, brilliantly conceived and formulated by that best friend you haven’t met yet, Deborah Lippmann. And if you’re like me—part of the Collect-All-Five generation—you’ll appreciate that the set can be bought in installments.

The merits of the Cuticle Remover and Cuticle Oil I’ve lauded elsewhere. The 2 Second Nail Primer is the chemical lynchpin here—prepping, rinsing, scouring, and filling the nail all in two seconds. It does that invisible work that you think you can live without until you see how good the result is. The work you can see is done by the Fast Girls Base Coat. Need I even mention how laughably superfluous I used to think this was? “Scoff” is the word—I’ve scoffed. Not only did I think it was unnecessary altogether—let’s just slather on that glitter!—but I also couldn’t imagine a difference between this and the 99 cent Wet ‘n Wild offering. How wrong I was.

The subtlety of shine and thinness of the formula is what really makes DL’s base coat a no-makeup makeup product, just like a good tinted moisturizer. It’s healing and filling enough to even out your nails, but thin enough so you can still see your natural ridges and nail texture. Honestly, you could believe that you had buffed, (actually) bare nails. That’s the smooth, toned-down radiance you get—not that thick, glue-like 99 cent clear polish that globs on like melted plastic. Add the Addicted to Speed Top Coat, and this healthy shine is staying around all week.

Of course, I can’t be sure yet that my own set is complete. Maybe I’ll finally acquire The Cure, Lippmann’s super award-winning cuticle cream and start proselytizing about a nail makeup sextet. But for now, I’m doing these five steps. My whole routine takes about eight minutes—longer than necessary because I like to include a little nail bed massage with the Cuticle Oil. But this stuff dries super-fast. I don’t mean the kind where you think it’s dry but when you wake up you’ve got little ridge marks from your sheets imprinted on your nails. I mean that in 10 minutes you could be taking boxing class, assured your nails are solid.

And on top of it all, these bottles are a thing of beauty. No need to stash these away under the sink in that free beauty bag you got with-purchase in high school that houses the rest of your crusted, half-empty polishes. Leave these out on a mantle, jewel tones sparkling in the sunlight.

—Trace Barnhill

Photos by Tom Newton. Read more Nails here.

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Eliminating Cuticles In 2 Minutes Or Less

I’m all for manicures. But I also take a lot of pride, comfort, and autonomy in knowing that I can make myself look just about as good as anyone else can. I’ve got buffers and oils and files and polishes, but the last part of the kit—the thing even a frequent self-manicurist is unlikely to have—is a cuticle remover. But I’ve vowed to never be without one again. If anything, it’s the only thing I need now.

So, I tested a lot of these suckers and found an interesting motif running through the instructions printed on the backs. Please follow along:

The Butter Melt Away Cuticle Eliminator suggests you leave it on for a leisurely and gentle two minutes. The formula is milky and scent relatively neutral. Skin becomes emollient and yielding over time.

Whereas the Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover is like harnessing nuclear power, suggesting only a 15-second window of exposure. I found this to be best for toes. It’s like a chemical version of that baby-piranha pedicure. My own feet have never looked better, and, even a week out, those cuticles have no comeback.

Deborah Lippmann, the consummate manicure auteur, puts out a lovely option which clocks in at a 60-second limit. A truly professional-grade product that makes you feel like a professional-grade person. Cuticles glide away with a whisper on a cloud of angel-goo. I should note that it was Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil I applied after all of these removers, which nourishes back to health the bald bed you’ve left behind. Plus, it smells like tanning oil. Sine qua non, y’all.

A happy surprise was Orly’s Cutique, which I assume is a portmanteau of “cuticle critique.” And what a scathing critique it is. In 30 seconds, a swift castigation of dead skin. Ran those cuticles straight out of town. That weird kind of affixation that isn’t quite skin, but isn’t quite nail—it gets that too. It did start to eat away a tad at the base of my actual nail, but it’s possible that that’s a hazard I failed to guard against.

Which brings me to a brief caveat. Over the course of the two weeks I’ve been testing these, as is often the case with anything else you’ve never done before but do intensely for a brief period, I became a bit fixated. I started seeing what wasn’t there, and taking great exception. It’s true that in general you’ll want to go easy. But it’s also true that with products like these on the market, you should never feel like you have to hack through that nail-bed skin-overgrowth alone.

—Trace Barnhill

Photos courtesy of the author.