I haven’t been very well. I changed up some things in my life and it meant that I have been essentially bed/sofa-bound for a fortnight, which one might think isn’t conducive to beauty writing, but one would be wrong.
Just because I have stopped brushing my hair doesn’t mean I still can’t give myself a manicure to liven myself up a bit. I’m all about trying to maintain some vague element of therapeutic conditioning in my life even when I’m not leaving the house, and over the past two weeks that has manifested in a really simple element of self-care.
Everything else can fall to pieces, but if one bit of me appears a little bit together, it’s reassuring. Grounding. Or something. My hands and nails can be a real point of distress for me. My anxiety manifests itself really obviously in my hands. In one treatment centre I was at, we had to lie on the floor and get someone to draw an outline of our body and then draw where we felt things like anger and anxiety and sadness. For me, it was all in my hands.
I absentmindedly claw at myself when I’m angry, I pick at my cuticles until they are a gory mess, I peel back my nail varnish, and then layers of my nail, and then just my nails until they really hurt. Like, really hurt. And I’m really trying not to because, not only is it gross, but it makes me disproportionately sad. It’s picking apart bits of my body, and a part that I fixate on in others.
Because my anxiety is so hand-based, I am obsessed with looking at other people’s cuticles just, y’know, to make me feel a little bit worse about myself sometimes. I have this weird assumption that to be grownup is to have manicured hands – not necessarily long nails, but fingers that don’t look like they’ve been in a blender.
(Sidenote: bulimia is not conducive to delicate and scar-free hands; if anyone knows the science behind this, I’d love to hear it.)
So, here’s my 10 Step How-To-Salvage-Anxiety-Ravaged-Hands tutorial:
1. Vitamins. Various commenters sung the praises of Biotin over the past few months and I’m insanely grateful. I have been taking the hideously named Perfectil for 6 weeks because it was on sale in Superdrug, and it has made an insane difference. I take ridiculous amounts of supplements, but Perfectil is now my favourite – my nails are the strongest they’ve ever been. Can I have a favourite vitamin? Is that weird?
2. File your nails properly. I know how annoying it is when one nail breaks, and how tempting it is to just have that one be shorter than all the others, but having your nails at the same length – even if shorter than you ideally want – is a surefire way to keep them from looking trampy. Bite the bullet. File them to the same size, same shape (oval will be harder to break than square). If your nailfile is too rough, grind it down a little on some brickwork.
3. Cuticle oil is your friend – I am really into Sally Hansen’s Vitamin E oil (£7.50), particularly because it contains Aloe which soothes the red-raw bits that I have peeled apart. Carry a cuticle oil pen in your handbag and do it on the bus, because you’re never going to remember to do it twice a day at home. Again, Sally Hansen do a rad one (£2.99).
4. Once softened by cuticle oil or cream, soak your hands in some warm water for a few minutes, ideally with some essential oils or bath salts, and push cuticles back either using orange sticks or, my favourite, a Tweezerman Pushy cuticle pusher (easier to disinfect, and you never run out). Trim your hangnails and any excess cuticle buildup with one of those scary looking devices, to keep from peeling them apart.
I actually think that investing in a decent cuticle nipper (like Tweezerman's, my favourite) is worth the lifetime investment, because there's nothing healthy about trying to trim cuticles with a cheap, blunt one. You just mangle it. Frustratingly, they don't have an online store, but you can usually find them in Boots or Superdrug (failing that, Amazon).
5. Buff your nails. It will help them grow and keep them ridge-free. I like buying blocks from beauty supply stores because how different can a pricey nail buffer really be? Buffing your nails (lightly) increases blood supply to your nails and encourages new growth.
6. Paint nails. I am really, really into Kure Bazaar nail polish at the moment. It is 85% natural, and I’m not sure why that has been so great to my nails but it has been. It comes in beautiful colours – my favourite at the moment is Rose Milk, which leaves your nails looking natural and healthy with one coat and pretty and pink with two and Cappucino which is my favourite nude at the moment.
It’s all about pared back nails this season – did nobody else inspect the manis at Victoria Beckham’s NYFW show? Genuinely, I have only used Kure for the past month and it has made a substantial difference – I guess it lets my nails breathe – and it doesn’t peel like most eco-varnishes I’ve found.
7. Top coat, always. Although I am a die-hard Seche Vite fan, I have been wanting a more natural gloss since I’ve been going au natural and Mavala’s Top Coat Fixator has been serving me well. It keeps my polish on longer than any other top coat I’ve ever found – I have been keeping manicures on for 5 days without chips, which is unheard of for my anxious finger-peeling.
8. Because the Mavala top coat isn’t quick drying, I’ve been using it in conjunction with their Oil Seal Dryer (£10.67), which you just paint all over your cuticles and fingers when you’re done. It not only makes your mani touch-dry in seconds but it smoothes out any polish bumps and nourishes cuticles. It is my favourite beauty product I’ve found so far in 2013 – seriously, that good.
9. Hand cream. I am in love with Ambre Botanicals Mango and Carrot Seed hand cream which is 100% natural, smells incredible, comes in the cutest glass tub and most importantly, works.
10. Carry a nail file wherever you go. Because nothing is going to make you pick at your nails more than a broken nail.
And voila. My nails might not be long, but they ain’t too shabby right now and that makes me happy. What are your nail tips? Girls with long nails, how do you do it? Does anyone else peel their hands apart or am I some freaky, disgusting anomaly?
I am discussing these life-changing issues on Twitter @oliviasinger.