Recent chilly weather and dry, gusty winds have been hard on hands, nails and cuticles. That's typical this time of year and throughout the winter, when manicures seem to look haggard just days after a trip to the nail salon.
Besides the weather, the repeated application of hand sanitizer during cold and flu season makes fingers feel taut and claw-like all day.
For expert advice, I spoke with Katie Cazorla, owner of the Painted Nail salon in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and star of the TV Guide Network's "Nail Files" show.
She talked about treatments, products and precautions to employ during the season of harsh weather, excessive hand-washing (and sanitizing) and holiday travel.
"We see a lot of people for manicures this time of year, and the first thing I notice are the busted-up, dry cuticles," Cazorla says. "You can have a great manicure, but what's the point when you have bad, dry cuticles?"
The No. 1 offense, according to Cazorla, is cutting cuticles. Cuticles act as the nail's protective barrier, guarding against bacteria and infection. Snipping them away opens up the risk of infection and the chance that skin may grow back uneven or ragged.
"A hangnail or loose skin is the only thing that should ever be cut. Never cut live skin," Cazorla says. "Especially when it's dry and cold out, you'll start to see the cracks and openings. And people tend to pick at the dry skin, which is the worst thing you can do."
Rather than cutting, picking or biting, ask the nail technician to push the cuticles back (or do it yourself).
Once cuticles are intact, Cazorla recommends using a good cuticle oil. She likes the Painted Nail by Nubar sugar cookie oil ($12.50 at www.thepaintednail.com) for its delightful scent and 97 percent organic ingredients, but she also recommends an easy at-home remedy made of stuff that's probably already in your pantry.
Mix a couple of teaspoons of olive oil with a spoonful of brown sugar, rub it onto the backs of hands and around the nail bed, then rinse off with warm water. The mixture is an exfoliant and moisturizer in one. It works not only on hands but also on elbows and feet.
Use olive oil or cuticle oil on the cuticles several times a week, especially during colder weather.