Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Favorite Things 2013

I thought I'd end the year with a post about my favorite hand and nail care products. I've learned a lot in the nearly two years we've been doing this blog (two years! OMG!!!) and it's nice to be able to share items I've discovered, either on my own or through other blogger's recommendations. Please excuse the less-than-stellar product shots but we recently got a couple of adorable twin kittens from a shelter and I had to shut myself in the bathroom to take the photos without them "helping." Here's a picture of Charlotte, the quieter one (Emily is the adventurer who won't stay still long enough for me to take a photo of her.)
How can you resist this little face???
Nail Files
I'll start off with files because I tend to shape my nails at the beginning of every manicure, even if it's only to even things off rather than take down length.
My favorite files
My first really good glass file was an Essie that I found at Ocean State Job Lot for $3. It normally sells for $18 so that was a good price for me to risk. The only other glass files I'd tried were ones I'd seen at the beauty supply register for $2 or so (terrible) and a Revlon one (only slightly better.) I wasn't impressed with them at all but I kept reading about how glass files were the best thing ever and Essie was a big name in nail products so I went ahead and got it. Finally! I could see what everyone was talking about — it shaped my nails without chewing them up! Later on I was lucky enough to also get a Mont-Bleu glass file and I learned a lot about what goes into making the really good ones (hint: they're almost always from the Czech Republic.) When I want to take down length I use the Soft Touch files in either 240 or 280/320 grit. These sell for about 79¢ with a Sally Beauty Supply card and last for months.

Polish Removers
I will admit that I love the scents and non-drying features of Zoya Remove+ and butter LONDON's Powder Room, but at $4.60 and $8 (plus $5 shipping!) for a 2 oz bottle, respectively, they are way out of my budget so I have to stick with something more affordable for my everyday use.
Mostly I use the Target brand "strengthening" polish — more because I like the purple color than because I actually need any strengthening — but in the winter, when my skin gets so painfully dry, I like to use Cutex Advanced Revival remover. After reading a comparison between the Cutex and the Zoya removers at Lace & Lacquers I began to look for the Cutex and eventually found it at Walmart. At $2 for 6 oz it's a bargain!  Eventually I will try to make my own non-drying remover using Loodie's directions, but for now I am quite happy with these. Now if I could only find that baby powder scent that butter LONDON uses…

On the occasions where I need to remove polish without ruining an entire manicure I like to use the dip-it removers. My favorite is Target's upandup brand because it has plastic bristles instead of a flimsy sponge so it's great at removing stubborn polish around the nail bed and especially good at removing glitters (I keep a separate jar for glitters so it doesn't contaminate the remover.) Don't the bristles look like a lamprey mouth? Like something out of The X-Files.

Cuticle Care
I have to constantly keep on top of cuticle care or else my cuticles get ragged, then I start chewing on them and before I know it they're a bloody mess. Don't be like me! Moisturize!
Once a week I use Blue Cross Cuticle Remover ($4.99 for 16 oz with a Sally Beauty Card.) I have been using this bottle for nearly two years and I'm only about a third of the way down so I expect this bottle to last me the rest of my life. You really only need a teaspoon or so. I pour a bit into a thimble-sized dapper dish (89¢ with a Sally Beauty Card) and apply it with a cotton swab. After a minute or two I gently scrape the cuticle with a birchwood manicure stick to remove the excess cuticle. Every other week or so I also use a dab of Sally Hansen Cuticle & Nail Refiner cream to exfoliate a bit more. Then I use a nail brush to remove all the residue and brush on some CND Solar Oil ($7.50 for ¼ oz at Ulta.) I actually use several different cuticle oils but I just love the almond scent of Solar Oil!

I try to keep hand lotion within reach at all times and always lotion up after washing my hands. I found this fabulous Revlon Hand and Foot Exfoliator at Big Lots one day and love how it softens my skin as it exfoliates! I wish I had gotten all that they had because it normally sells for $6–$10 online, but I only need a little bit at a time so it should still last me for a while.
Neutrogena's Norwegian Formula hand cream is on my night stand and I use it every single night, year round. It absorbs a bit slower than other lotions and really helps dry skin. I keep a mini tube in my purse in the winter, too, although the purse-size bottle of Aveena is also great for normal use. My favorite hand lotion is the one from Bath & Body Works in the rice flower and shea fragrance which, alas, appears to no longer be available. They used to have it in their annual re-release of old favorites and I would stock up but it's not there this year. Sob…

Base and Top Coats
I used to think that any old base or top coat would do but soon learned that some base coats interact with some polishes and cause streaky or gloopy application or don't adhere well. I do like the OPI base coat and will get it when Ulta has a special where it's free with any two OPI polishes, but for the most part I'm quite pleased with the SinfulColor base coat. It's inexpensive and is nearly a ridge filling base, but I tend to use the Essie base when I need a really smooth surface for polishes with a metallic or foil finish because those show every defect.
For a long time Seche Vite was my go-to top coat because it's so very shiny and dries so quickly, but I hate how it thickens when you're only halfway through a bottle, plus it's a little on the pricey side. Then I discovered RUSH at Sally Beauty and it's now my very favorite top coat. It's only $3.50 for an ounce, it doesn't thicken, and it applies beautifully. The only drawback is that you do have to wait an extra minute or two before putting it on, unlike Seche Vite, which lets you apply it immediately, but it's just as shiny and just as durable.

I used to wrap a bit of cotton around a manicure stick and dip it in polish remover to clean up around my nail beds, then I tried the pointy cotton swabs, but both of those always seemed to leave strands of cotton fiber in the polish. After a web search I found videos and blog posts showing how to use a small brush instead so then it became a quest for the perfect brush.
e.l.f. concealer brush and dapper dish
I did find several perfectly adequate brushes but eventually I kept reading in other blogs about the e.l.f. concealer brush, only $1 at Target stores. Only not my Target! But sometime last year they built one of those Super Targets near where I work and they had it so I stocked up (it's just my luck that when I find the perfect anything it soon get discontinued.) The brush head is small enough to easily maneuver and the bristles are stiff enough to let you scrub if necessary. I use a pipette I got at Sally Beauty to put about a teaspoon of pure acetone into the dapper dish after making a huge destructive mess by trying to pour it directly from the bottle. Then I dip the brush in the acetone, tap the excess off on the edge of the cup, swipe along the nail bed, wipe the brush on a tissue, and repeat until I have a neat nail line. So professional looking!

Rewards Cards
It would be remiss of me not to mention the advantages of getting an Ulta Rewards Card (free) and a Sally Beauty Card ($5/year, but cheaper for seniors and military.) The Ulta card gives you coupons and you get reward points based on how much you spend each quarter that you can exchange for products, although you can get the Ulta smartphone app for the coupons. The Sally Card gives you discounted prices in addition to monthly 15% discounts once you've spent a certain amount. If you shop at either of these places, in store or online, it's definitely worth getting the cards!


  1. I really want to try all of those hand creams. I'm constantly battling with dry cuticles.

    1. I definitely recommend the Neutrogena, then. It's my go-to cream for winter skin!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! I can't wait to see what next year's favorites will be.

  3. Replies
    1. It was fun going over past posts to see what stood out to me.

  4. What a fun post! Lots of great products (and I love the cat photo)! Happy New Year, Robin!!

    1. Isn't she a sweetie? The two of them are so much fun!

  5. Excellent post! I found a few things I want to try! <3

  6. This is really helpful, thanks! I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for that Cutex remover.

    1. The only place I was able to find it was at Walmart, so I'd recommend starting there.