Have you ever watched what the pros actually do to your nails when you’re sitting in the salon? As much as you're probably too busy concentrating on scrolling through Instagram and replying to emails on your phone with one hand, it's hard not to stare when you can't move without messing up your mani. But your desire to get back to your phone is also why you’ve probably missed the fabulous finale of applying cuticle oil. You know, the bit you always skip when you DIY?
Now, what if we told you that little droplet of oil could add an extra day or two to your fancy-looking fingers? Now we've piqued your interest. As well as moisturizing peeling, scuffed cuticles back to good health, cuticle oil forms an extra barrier on top to protect your polish. So if you do knock your nails when they’re not completely dry, the rogue offender will slip away rather than catch and smudge your otherwise perfect-looking tips. But, exactly what is cuticle oil and what does it do? We talked to nail experts Michelle Saunders and Sonia Hully to get the details.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to find out exactly how to use cuticle oil and the benefits it has on your nails.
What Is Cuticle Oil?
"Cuticle oil is usually composed of a fruit or nut oil—olive, apricot, almond, avocado, coconut—specifically applied to cuticles (skin surrounding fingernails)," says celebrity manicurist Michelle Saunders. She explains that cuticle oil is meant to help nourish both the cuticle and nails. "Sometimes I recommend soaking the tips of the fingers in pure avocado oil, especially if your nails are brittle and chipping," she adds.
The Benefits of Cuticle Oil
- Hydrates the cuticles. Cuticle oil helps solve issues relating to dry skin around the nails by immediately offering hydration. “Look for oils rich in nutrients that quickly absorb into the skin. Sweet almond oil is really reparative and doesn’t have a greasy feel, and vitamins A, E, B1, B2, and B6 are great hydrators,” says Sonia Hully, founder of Nailberry.
- Toughen up weak and vulnerable nail plates. "It keeps the skin and nails supple, which then prevents hangnails and nail breakage," says Saunders. This can be especially healing for cuticles exposed to extreme weather (freezing temperatures or sun exposure) or cracking due to excessive salt or chemical interaction (salt water swims, chlorinated pools, or tough cleaning products).
- Stimulates nail growth. Just as with hair, long nails are healthy nails. Cuticle oil not only helps with nail damage but also protects further damage from occurring. It's also known to increase circulation around the nails (from the act of rubbing it in), which can improve growth. Saunders adds that moisturized cuticles will help prevent you from picking or biting any loose skin around nails.
- Adds shine. There's a reason nail techs slather on the cuticle oil, and it's not just for nail health. The rich oils coat the skin and freshly dried polish to amplify the shine and protect your new mani from premature chipping or cracking.
How to Apply Cuticle Oil
So, how do you apply cuticle oil? We've got you covered.
- Clean cuticles. Carefully wash hands concentrating on nail beds and fingertips. You can soften the cuticle by letting them soak in warm, soapy water (just like at the nail salon) several times a week.
- Groom cuticles. This step is optional, but it requires mentioning: If you prefer the look of salon-maintained cuticles, gently push them back with a cuticle pusher after softening. Then trim away any hangnails or loose skin. Cutting cuticles is not advised as it can lead to infection.
- Apply cuticle oil. "There are several different applicators that cuticle oil can come with," Saunders says. "It's ideally applied to each cuticle on each finger and rubbed in, and is recommended after each hand washing but could also be applied as often as you like." If your cuticle oil doesn't come with an applicator, you can dab a few drops on with a cotton ball.
- Massage cuticle oil in. Take a little extra time to massage the oil into each cuticle. This indulgent little touch ensures the oil is completely absorbed so there are no greasy fingerprints throughout the house. (If you've applied too much, just wipe away the excess with a tissue or clean cloth). Plus, it will help with the aforementioned circulation and nail growth.
When to Use Cuticle Oil
In a dream world, you’d rub some in every time you washed your hands to stop them drying out. Naked nails will love a drop of the good stuff, too. You can use it pre-painting your nails, but make sure it’s been thoroughly absorbed, otherwise, your polish won’t adhere properly. "Anytime your cuticles appear dry, you can apply cuticle oil to them," says Saunders.
Apply cuticle oil before bedtime and leave it on overnight so it can fully absorb into the cuticles.
Shop Our Fave Cuticle Oils
Essie Apricot Cuticle Oil
A favorite of Saunders, this cuticle oil contains cotton seed and soybean oil to hydrate your cuticles and nails. She loves the easy application of the paintbrush.
Jessica Phenomen Oil
Like dynamite for your digits, we haven’t seen a pro without this on their person, even if they’re aligned to another brand. Jojoba, sweet almond oil, and rice bran oil make up its cuticle-softening superpowers.
L'Occitane Shea Nail and Cuticle Oil
Not only does this cuticle oil help promote stronger nails and cuticles, but it's also another one of Saunders's top picks. "It's good to keep in your purse or car," she says.
Nails Inc. Vitamin E Cuticle Oil Pen
The beauty of this is how mess-free it is. Twist the end and a tiny globule of oil will appear through the brush so you can just swipe it over cuticles. No spillage, an on-the-go essential.
French Girl Nail & Cuticle Oil
This roller-ball applicator cuticle oil is incredibly easy to apply. Beyond that, though, their use of high-quality oils like argan, hemp, and pomegranate oil ensures your cuticles and nails stay hydrated and damage-free.
How long should you leave cuticle oil on?
Once absorbed into the skin, cuticle oil can remain on until your next hand wash—the longer it's on the skin the better. If applying before nail polish, make sure the oil has been completely absorbed first or the polish won't set properly.
Does cuticle oil help with nail fungus?
Cuticle oil can prevent nail fungus and infection by increasing circulation and keeping the nails nourished so there are no cracks for fungi or bacteria to enter. Some oils may help with nail fungus if they contain ingredients with antibacterial properties (such as coconut or tea tree oil) but this can vary on the percentage of the ingredient present.
Does cuticle oil expire?
While oils have a longer shelf-life than most other products, cuticle oil can expire. Check the packaging for any dates suggested by the manufacturer and stay vigilant about changes in color, odor, or consistency. Some ingredients can also lose potency if repeatedly exposed to oxygen over time.