If you're after a neat, long-lasting manicure, you don't want to skip this step.
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If you want to avoid public salons right now, you're not alone. Although salons are taking extra measures to keep customers safe, such as installing shield dividers and enforcing mask use, it's okay if you're not comfortable venturing out for a gel mani yet.

If you're sticking to DIY treatments, mastering the art of the at-home manicure might be high up on your list of to-dos. To keep your nails healthy and looking like you still drop into the salon weekly, you'll need to put in more effort than just swiping on a few coats of polish — you'll want to also take time for cuticle care. (Related: Exactly How to Get a Salon-Quality Manicure at Home)

Reminder: The cuticle is a clear flat layer of dead skin at the base of the nail that functions to protect the nail from bacteria. "A lot of people get cuticles and the nail fold confused," says Elizabeth Garcia, a celebrity nail artist and technician based in New York. The cuticle is that thin, barely noticeable sliver right at the base of your nail, while the nail fold is the live skin right beyond the cuticle. (You can find a visual here.)

Tout-How-To-Use-Cuticle-Pusher-AdobeStock_158599036
Credit: Adobe Stock

Left untouched, your cuticles will remain a build-up of dead skin at the base of each nail. That's not a bad thing in terms of nail health, but it can get in the way of achieving clean lines when applying polish. And if you skip pushing your cuticles back, the paint job might not last as long, says Garcia. "Pushing cuticles is an important step in a manicure because it will help you avoid hangnails and keep your nails looking clean," she says. (Related: This Clear Nail Polish Gives You a Salon-Worthy French Manicure In Seconds)

Keep in mind that your cuticles serve a protective function and so it's important not to get too aggressive. That's why experts recommend pushing back your cuticles to maintain nail health instead of removing them altogether with a tool like a cuticle nipper. For the same reason, you never want to cut the nail fold, which is still living skin. "Constant cutting causes splits in the cuticle and can make them become harder," adds Alicia Torello, an editorial nail artist also based in New York. Cutting your cuticles can even lead to serious infections if you don't know what you're doing.

Garcia recommends using a stainless steel cuticle pusher while showering (or just after) as your cuticles are nice and soft from the prolonged exposure to warm water, making them easier to gently push back. You can aim to use it every four to seven days (Related: Olive and June's Topcoat Has Transformed My At-Home Mani Game)

When shopping for a cuticle pusher, it's best to opt for a stainless steel or metal pusher to reduce waste, rather than a wooden cuticle pusher which only holds up after a handful of uses. Stainless steel options will be rust-proof and built to last a lifetime. Garcia particularly likes steel dual-ended or spoon-shaped pushers, as "the rounded end contours best for a smooth and gentle push," she says.

How to Push Back Your Cuticles

  1. Soften your cuticles by soaking your nails in water or applying cuticle oil. (Or, as mentioned, you can proceed to step two during or following a shower.)
  2. Holding the cuticle pusher at a 45-degree angle to each nail, gently push each cuticle using the flat or round side of the cuticle pusher.
  3. Once your cuticles are pushed back to your liking, you can begin polishing if desired.

Ready to try one out for yourself? Here are a few cuticle nail pushers customers are loving. Make sure to add one to your nail routine ASAP if you're after a perfect manicure.

Orly Cuticle Pusher and Remover

Orly Cuticle Pusher and Remover

This metal cuticle pusher by Orly doubles as a cuticle pusher and gel nail polish remover/scraper. (You'd use it during step four of the gel nail polish removal process spelled out here.) Self-identified nail techs who've reviewed the cuticle pusher write that their customers are constantly asking to take this one home for themselves. Reviewers also note that the tip doesn't wear down over time with continuous use.

Flowery Push It Pro

Flowery Push It Pro Cuticle Pusher and Cleaner

While you're giving yourself a mani, you can clean underneath your nails with the help of this double-ended cuticle pusher. One side has a traditional metal pusher and the other has an arrow-head shaped end that can be used to clean out all the gunk and grime from underneath your nails.

Multi-Colored Cuticle Pusher and Trimmer Set

Multicolored Manicure Set
Credit: Amazon

If you like surrounding yourself with beautiful things, your nail care kit doesn't have to be an exception. Jagaad Life's six-piece set includes a nail file, nail pick, a cuticle peeler, pusher, and clips, and of course, a cuticle trimmer for any hangnails. Rather than plain silver, you can go with a fun iridescent option. They're worthy of display on your bathroom shelves next to your nail polish collection.

Revlon Dual-Ended Nail Groomer

Revlon Dual-Ended Nail Groomer
Credit: Amazon

Revlon makes a no-frills, high-quality cuticle pusher you can easily grab during your next drugstore run. It's double-ended and boasts an impressive 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Reviewers love that the tool keeps their nails looking healthy and neat.

Steel Chrome Cuticle Pusher

Tropical Shine Cuticle Pusher
Credit: Ulta

If you choose a tool made from stainless steel, it'll be rust-proof, durable, and will last you for years to come — not bad for something that costs roughly 3 bucks.