May 21, 2021 0

How to properly cut and clean your nails to fight germs

Guidelines and restrictions put in place to limit social interactions around the world are essential to stopping the spread of coronavirus, despite the cultural and financial implications for businesses like hair and nail salons, many of which are closed for the foreseeable future.

As we all settle into a new normal, many of our routines, such as haircuts and manicures, are off the table. But there's a reason to recognize our nails have nothing to do with vanity - nails, especially long ones, can host germs and bacteria, including those associated with COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus.

With that in mind, and in an effort to keep our nails from becoming a threat to us, we called in the experts to break down best practices for nail health and care at home.

Sorry, but - it's time to take a shortcut.

New York dermatologist Jessica Krant offered a hard truth to the long-nail lovers among us: Now may not be the time.

"The best and safest way to keep your nails short, smooth and clean," Krant said. "Normally this only applies to health care jobs, but with COVID-19 these days, we should all keep our nails as germ-free as possible." She said the best way to do this is to keep them trimmed short, with about 1-2 millimeters of white showing and in the shape of the natural end of the nail bed. "It's also very important to smooth them gently with a file so rough edges and corners don't stand a chance," she said. "This makes them the strongest and easiest to clean, as well as use with protective gloves."

But if you're going to stay long, buy a brush.

Sarah Gibson Tuttle, founder and CEO of Olive & June, a boutique nail salon in Los Angeles that also offers a line of tools that allow you to get great manicures at home (their poppy nail tool has something like a ball in it), recommends replacing files every few months, as well as thoroughly washing metal tools after each use.

"Germs can live under all nail lengths, but especially under long nails," Tuttle told HuffPost. "The most effective defense is to make sure you wash and dry your hands consistently and properly. You can also use a brush with antibacterial soap to make sure they are under the nail. But also make sure that this brush is clean."

Don't get too clipped.

It's short and then dangerously short, Krant explained.

"Don't cut off the whole white part," Krant said. "That risks hurting the seal at the nail bed and opens the finger to infections that will get in."

Don't rush to get your gel polish wet.

Thick gel polishes can create gaps on your nails that harbor germs and bacteria, so it's time to get rid of them.

Losing access to our opposable thumbs when gels get wet can be a challenge, but think of it this way - there's no reason to rush into doing anything, especially something like a manicure, right now.

"Proper gel removal at home takes time," Tuttle said. "I recommend removing while talking to a friend or watching TV so you're not tempted to damage your nails in a hurry. You'll need a file, acetone, tin foil and a hot towel as a bonus.

"First, file a little to break the seal of the top layer. Then place acetone-soaked cotton balls on your nails and wrap your fingertip in tin foil. Ideally, we like to soak our nails until the gels come off completely, which takes about 10-15 minutes. We also like to wrap a hot towel around it to speed up the soaking process. And the most important part is to have patience to let the gels rise before removing the cotton. No harsh removal or picking, please!"

If you have acrylics, consider making a video.

"The acrylic removal process is similar to gel, but much longer," Tuttle said. "First, you will need to trim the edge of the acrylic nail before you file to properly break the seal. Then follow the same steps to remove the gel. You'll also need to let your nails soak for close to an hour until the acrylics easily remove on their own."

Looking for inspiration for ombre nails? See more at >>

In case you get sick and need medical attention, it's best to remove the polish completely.

Krant offered a little insight into our nails, which present a whole different problem.

"When you go to the hospital, the doctors there will have to put a pulse oximeter on your finger," Krant said. "This will help them easily see how well your lungs are able to deliver oxygen to the rest of your body. With COVID-19, this is a key measure to see how well you are doing or if you need more help. While not all doctors agree, Krant said nail polish alone doesn't allow for proper readings. Sometimes they may find some acetone at the hospital to remove your polish, but you can't rely on that. Artificial nails make it completely impossible to use a finger pulse oximeter. They may or may not have other simple methods on hand to measure your oxygen levels."

Now that you have best practices, there's no time like the present to try DIY at home. Tuttle hosts manicure boot camps on the Olive & June Instagram page that cover a wide range of mani-curiosities, from general care to nail art.

Tuttle also shared her insights on the perfect manicure at home:

Shape, clip and file

It's all about the 90/10 rule: 90% of the shape comes from the nail clipper, 10% from filing. First, use flat-edged nail clippers to give your nails the shape you want. Then gently smooth the edges. All the better if you're wearing polish. Smoothing your nails with polish allows you to visualize the final shape of your nail without being distracted by natural nail polish.


Dip each nail into a nail polish remover pot to remove old polish and excess oils that can interfere with the nail polish adhering to the nail plate. Pro tip: After prepping your nails, avoid touching your face and hair with natural oils.

Trim (nails only!) and buff cuticles

Using a buffer, gently slide the buffer cube back and forth along the edge of the cuticle to erase dry skin and smooth things out.


Paint, dry; paint, dry; apply top coat: dry, dry, dry. If you're just starting out, anchoring your non-dominant hand (or even your whole arm) to a flat work surface gives you a stable canvas.

To apply your first coat of varnish, start with a middle stroke of polish and then pull on both sides. You should be able to cover an average nail plate with 2-3 strokes. Repeat the process on each nail.

Waiting 5-10 minutes between coats makes a difference. It will reduce the chance of bubbles and it will dry faster! Then seal your nails with a top coat for maximum shine and to protect your polish.


Once the top coat is completely dry, apply a cuticle serum to give your nails a mani shine. The cuticle serum is essential, it can't/won't leave your home without the product. You can have zero polish and give your cuticles a dose of serum to add instant shine.

Pro tip: If you've found any nail polish on your cuticles or fingertips, dip a cleaning brush in nail polish remover and then use it to remove the unwanted color or to clean up paint lines.

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