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Get ready, because we’re about to let you in on a little beauty insider secret. The reason your nails always look so good after a professional mani has nothing to do with the way they’ve been painted or shaped—it’s all about how your cuticles have been cleaned up. Don’t believe us? Try getting a manicure where they do absolutely nothing to your cuticles, then compare the difference.
The thin layer of skin at the bottom edge of your nail, the anatomical function of the cuticle is to protect the nail bed, the area from which new nail growth starts. And yes, that’s a very important function. But when it comes to aesthetics, if that bit of skin is left unchecked it will continue to grow out and can quickly start to get dry and cracked, leaving your nails looking anything but pretty. Whether or not you should cut your cuticles or simply push them back is an age-old debate that, quite frankly, we believe boils down to a matter of personal preference. (Though if you are cutting them or are having them cut just make sure all the proper sanitary precautions are in place since this area can easily become infected.)
That being said, we rounded up the best cuticle removers out there, from liquids to pushers to trimmers. So even if you don’t have time to hit the salon or DIY a full manicure, you can at least clean up your cuticles to quickly make your nails look way better.
Best Overall: Butter London Melt Away Cuticle Exfoliator
Liquid cuticle removers work by exfoliating and essentially dissolving away the dead skin, and this is one of our favorites. All you have to do is swipe it on, give it a few minutes to soften and break down those beat-up cuticles, then gently push them back and wipe off any excess. Bonus points for the fact that this formula is free of seven different types of questionable chemicals commonly found in nail products.
Best Splurge: Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover
Yes, a bottle of this may cost more than a professional manicure, but one, it will last you a long time, and two, it really, really works. The exfoliating formula breaks down dead, dry skin, and is ideal to use every few days to keep your cuticles in check. We also appreciate the dropper applicator, which makes it easy to apply just the right amount onto each nail.
Best Professional Grade: ProLinc Cuticle Eliminator
You may have seen this bottle at your local nail salon; it is, in fact, a professional formula. It works lightning-fast and is especially ideal on even the thickest of skin, think the cuticles on your toenails (yes, you have them there too). Also nice: It’s safe to use on gel polish or acrylics.
Best Budget: Blue Cross Cuticle Remover
For just a few dollars you get a big ol’ bottle of this effective formula (which consistently pulls in great reviews from satisfied Amazon shoppers, BTW). It’s infused with moisturizing lanolin so that it will not only eliminate excess cuticles but also keep the area around your nail bed nice and hydrated.
Best Drugstore: Sally Hansen Problem Cuticle Remover
Specially formulated with a pH level that’s meant to break down even super thick cuticles, this is ideal to use when you’ve really let your cuticles go. You do need to leave it on for a bit longer—anywhere from three to five minutes—and wash it off afterward, but for cuticles that are in really rough shape it can’t be beaten. We also appreciate that it comes with several manicure sticks to help you push back cuticles after you soften them.
Best Trimmer: Seki Edge Flat Slant Tip Cuticle Nipper
Like we said, trimming your cuticles is often frowned upon, but there’s no denying that it does make for a very clean-looking manicure. Not to mention that even those who don’t promote nipping will agree that sometimes you just need to snip off a hangnail. Enter this Japanese-made stainless steel trimmer. The three-millimeter, extra sharp flat edge makes it easier than ever to snip off dry skin, and double springs ensure smooth opening and closing.
Best Pusher: Tweezerman Dual-Sided Pushy
Pushing back your cuticles is arguably the fastest way to make your nails look better; enter this convenient tool. The soft-touch handle makes for a comfortable grip, while the dual-sided, two-size tips make it easy to perfectly reach every part of your nail. They also have buffed edges to keep the process comfortable and not scratch up your nails. Just make sure to apply some type of cuticle remover, cream, or oil to soften cuticles before pushing them back.
Best Multi-Tasker: Dr. Hauschka Neem Nail & Cuticle Pen
We love a good multi-tasker, and this is no exception, particularly given how travel-friendly it is. You can use the felt-tip pen to dispense a nourishing cuticle oil (infused with strengthening neem leaf) and leave it just like that. Or, you can then use the beveled edge of the cap to push back your cuticles and make them look even better. Plus, it comes with three replacement applicator tips.
Best Fast-Acting: Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover
No time for a mani? No problem. This speed demon gets the cuticle-eliminating job done in just 15 seconds. We’ll go ahead and say that’s totally worthy of being called ‘instant.’ Couple that with the fact that the formula is also infused with moisturizing and soothing aloe and chamomile and you’ve got yourself a real winner.
Best Orange Stick: Ulta Manicure Sticks
A wooden orange stick is a mani essential. We love these for the affordable price (which means you can BYO to the nail salon) as well as their versatility. They work great at, you guessed it, pushing back cuticles, but you can also use them to clean out the gunk that somehow always inevitably gets stuck under your nails, or dipped in nail polish remover to clean up smudges and messes.