Hand model Susan Schell. (Photo: Amber Gray)
We all remember the hyperbolic glass dome worn by David Duchovny’s “world’s greatest hand model” character in Zoolander. And while real-life professionals do indeed take great care of their hands and nails, the lengths they go to aren’t so extreme — and they’re actually easy to emulate at home. “I know of a few hand models who do wear gloves all the time, but I’m personally not that radical. I do try to be very careful, especially when cleaning my apartment,” says NYC-based hand model Susan Schell, whose portfolio includes a plethora of work for clients like Paintbox, Vogue.com, Refinery29, and Ladurée.
The 23-year-old says she had no knowledge of proper hand care when she first began modeling, but that she quickly gleaned a lot from other girls. The most important tip? “Not to cut my cuticles, [because] cutting them improperly can make the skin around your nails grow back thicker and more jagged.” Cuticles are like the root of the nail, she says, so like the roots of our hair, they are very important. “Biting or cutting cuticles improperly can also lead to infections. If you have a hangnail of course it’s OK to cut off, just make sure you aren’t digging into your skin.” But cuticle care isn’t the only key to getting model-status hands.
“I use moisturizers daily,” says Schell. “Nothing too fancy, just really hydrating stuff. I love Trader Joes’ Coconut Body Butter — it’s super cheap, smells great and works really well.” She is also a proponent of both cuticle creams and oils, using them all the time. “I think a healthy cuticle makes for a healthy nail,” says the model whose go-tos are Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Creme ($6) and Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil ($20).
Hand model Susan Schell modeling a manicure. (Photo: MP Nails)
Critical to keeping hands in picture-perfect shape is hydration, and also exfoliation (she uses Clarins One-Step Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser with Orange Extract ($35) on her sensitive skin), especially in the winter. Additionally, she swears by paraffin wax treatments. “You can get this done at certain spas or use an at-home paraffin bath and do it yourself. When your hands crack or peel due to dryness, it’s fun to dip your hands in the warm wax and it soothes sore cracks as well as leaves you feeling really moisturized,” she says.
Occasionally the night before a shoot she’ll “slather my hands in lotion or hand salve and wear cotton gloves to bed to give them some extra hydration.” Plus she wears SPF whenever she’s in the sun, to avoid sunburn and sunspots. As far as her nails go, between jobs — she’s worked with top manicurists including Madeline Poole and Jin Soon Choi — she pushes her cuticles back, files her nails and paints a clear, protective topcoat on herself.
On a job — as you should at home — Schell always asks for a base coat under pigmented colors, because she’s been stained before by bright red polish. The model’s parting advice? “Keep a bottle of lotion next to your sink—it will remind you to moisturize after washing your hands and help keep them from drying out.”