An Idiot's (My) Guide To Growing Longer Nails

If Adele's Oscar nails and Barbra Streisand's vintage-album-cover nails had 10 little nail babies, that's what I'd want my nails to look like. Here's how I'm trying to achieve that.
Publish date:
May 16, 2013
How-To, nail polishes, hand creams, covergirl, Sally Hansen, cuticles, manicure, Curel, cuticle oil

When I decide I don’t like something, I usually stick with my decision. I’m a bit of a curmudgeon for a 30-something.

Every now and then, however, I’ll change my stance.

For instance, I decided about five years ago that leggings were ridiculous. Not for everyone; just for me. I already did leggings once in my life, and I’m not in the mood to relive high school. Then I got pregnant, and real pants and I were not on speaking terms for quite some time. Now I am eating my words and wearing leggings (sometimes).

When it comes to nails, I have always been a short nail kinda gal. It might stem from my early memories of my mother working at my hands with her tiny nail scissors and trusty metal file; it might stem from a fifth grade science project in which we looked at our nails with a microscope to find horrendous creatures living under our seemingly pristine nail edges. Whatever the driving force behind my decision to keep my nails super-short, this preference has morphed into a lack of concern for hand or nail care of any kind.

I chop their heads off with clippers as soon as any free edge appears and leave it at that. Then my mother reminds me that hands show age before any other body part, and I realize that I have the hands of a hundred-year-old woman.

So this quest was sparked by my new interest in hand cream, but pop culture has thrown kindling on the fire and now I’m aflame with disappointment and unsteady hands and… OK, that metaphor isn’t working.

Basically, I saw Adele’s peachy almond-shaped nails at the Academy Awards and thought they looked pretty cool. Actually, I made fun of them at first, then I was reminded of Barbra “My Nails are Like Buttah” Streisand in the 1960s, and THEN I thought, “I wonder if I could pull that off?”

The answer is “Yes, I probably could,” and the rest of the answer is, “if I weren’t incredibly awkward and I knew how to paint my own nails.”

Before I could worry about painting nails, though, I had to grow my nails. Easy. Just don’t cut them, right? (This is dramatic irony happening right here. Keep reading!)

These are my hands two weeks into the process. It is such a lifeless picture that my husband comments that it looks like a mug shot.

I find this a few days later. Surprise, my husband is an idiot. Not to worry; my nails are not going to end up like this (yet).


As is my pattern in life, I run out and start buying nail stuff at the drugstore. I am fueled by nostalgia and brand recognition. I buy my first nail file. I buy some Sally Hansen Nail Nutrition Green Tea + Olive Growth Treatment because it has the word “growth” on the label. I buy some Sally Hansen Cuticle Massage Cream because it reminds me of my step-mother.

Of course, you could just hop on the internet (or ask Glennis) and research great-quality products (thanks, technology), but I got all excited, and there is just no excuse for that. Luckily, I try to put a positive spin on things when they don’t turn out as ideally as we hoped (I am a therapist, after all).

  • Make sure you buy a file for natural nails. In my fervor, I bought a file meant for acrylics and I’m lucky that my nails are pretty strong. I used it gently and filed in one direction only.
  • A base coat, growth treatment, hardener, whathaveyou will help to keep nails looking neat but also add a layer of reinforcement to the nail. The one I used did a lovely job. It made me feel pretty and polished.
  • Massage your cuticles. I bought a massage cream based on childhood memories. I liked that it wasn’t super-oily, but it does leave a waxy film on nails. My positive spin on this is that massaging and moisturizing your cuticles is a good idea, and for me, just having this product on hand would remind me to do just that.


I once had a friend ask for a hairstylist to give her a 1/8th inch trim. The stylist said, “So you want me to pretend to cut your hair?”

Just as you would shape and trim your hair while it grows, you should shape your nails. I learned that if you just let the nail grow, it mostly just looks really bad, and you can catch rough edges on myriad surfaces and cause damage to the nail.

I bought another nail file, one appropriate for my real nails, and kept it on hand for emergency touch ups. BONUS TIP: Don’t keep that sucker in the same bag as uncased sunglasses because you will regret it.

  • Use a rich moisturizer on your hands several times a day. I used Curel Hand & Cuticle Therapy.
  • Wear gloves when cleaning the house, washing dishes, or working in the garden. Also, if your nails are too wet too often, or for too long, the nail can become weak. The sensation of a nail folding over on itself has become a nightmare for me.
  • Invest in a nail brush. I have found that I always have something stuck under my nail. Orange peel. Diaper cream. Dirt. Lipstick. Doritos dust.
  • Trim hangnails. No pulling or peeling, please.


I wanted lovely peach-colored almond nails--to recreate dreamy Barbra Streisand album covers with graceful hands and headscarves.

I ended up purchasing two very nice polishes that just happen to be the wrong color. Thankfully, China Glaze in Love Letters is a great, sheer, everyday color, and CoverGirl Outlast Stay Brilliant Nail Gloss in Coral Silk will look great on my toes this summer. (Positive spin, see?)

I also realized that I am just horrible at painting my nails. I need to stick to pale, sheer colors until my skills improve.

Also, this takes a LONG time. I’m nine weeks in and it’s driving me crazy. I realize I need about six months to get Adele or Barbra length.

I absolutely cannot stand the sensation of typing when my nails are this long, and my husband jokingly called me Nosferatu the other day, but I am definitely going to keep my nails a little longer and better groomed than I have in the past.

In fact, sometimes I catch myself staring at my nails a little too often. It’s been interesting how a few millimeters of growth have transformed my tomboy nails.