The subtle allure of natural, healthy nails is timeless. But achieving a beautiful naked nail isn’t so simple for some. Here, a chronic nail-biter on what it took to finally start caring for the health and wellbeing of their hands.
0 minute read
Since the day my first tooth arrived — and I became aware of my own internal and limitless anguish — I’ve turned on my nails to deal. Probably since I was 1 or 2 years old.
As a serial fidgeter, biter and itcher, I’ve spent the last three decades chewing, picking, and peeling every millimetre of my digits with unrelenting gusto. There’s been blood (lots). There’s been scarring. There’s been nerve damage. And mostly, there’s been a shame.
A brand of shame that seemed to perpetuate itself; my nails were often the cause of worried glances in job interviews, doctors’ appointments – even intimate Chinatown dinner dates with close friends.
I’ve been known to bleed simultaneously from three fingers in the back of an Uber en route to a first date; only to arrive at the bar with each fresh wound semi-mummified in toilet paper.
I’ve had to leave meetings because my anxiety-ravaged cuticles have bled onto my notepad. I’ve had to excuse myself from Zoom meetings because a thin trail of blood is coiling around my wrist.
A period leak or a bloody nose is a mishap. A torn weeping epicuticle is a cry for help.
A few years ago I turned to my local rose-hued nail salon for a solution, and it came in the form of SNS.
Essentially an alchemical paper maché for your nails, it’s the process of building up the surface of your nail surface by individually plunging them between wet chemicals and dry pigmented dipping power, shaving them smooth with an eclectic buffer tool, and filing them into submission – whichever shape you please!
Once, to feel something, I selected the coffin.
This bi-monthly ritual provided a temporary solve.
I couldn’t bite through the colourful mass that sat atop my nails, and I could barely get my teeth around the fleshly edges of my cuticles, even in moments of maximum pandemonium and duress.
And so I sailed calmly on with my personal nail shields in place… until the lockdown meant this was no longer an option.
When the too-persistent SNS coating finally came free of my nails after about 5-weeks away from the salon, I was quite frankly shocked.
My nails looked awful… worse than ever; peeling, flimsy, dented in strange corrugations like a tired tin roof.
And so weak. I could barely use my hands to towel dry my body after a shower – they were so damaged.
It was from this moment of self-diagnosed physical impairment that my pursuit of healthy, natural, and durable nails began.
I craved freedom; freedom from the blood spills, the compulsive biting, the routine (and very expensive) chemical salon procedures, and the shame. Here’s how I started.
Safely remove all traces of old polish, gels, and glues. Ideally, this would be done professionally at your local salon, but if you’re unable to do so, try this rollout: Buff off the top layer with a gentle nail file. Soak a cotton pad in acetone and place it on top of each nail. Wrap each nail in foil and wait for about 20-30 minutes. Gently remove the foil and with it, the polish.
Be present to the everyday situations that give you the inclination to bite your nails. For me, it’s client meetings, the scary part in a film, or if I’m having a serious chat with my boyfriend about our future plans. I found having a nice hand cream lying around or a hair tie to play with means I am less likely to pick!
Pop by your local chemist and get some medical-grade supplies. I purchased a gentle nail buffer, an emery board for shaping, cuticle oil (we love Essie Nail Care Apricot Oil Cuticle Treatment, OPI Pro Spa Nail & Cuticle Oil To Go, and L'Occitane Shea Nourishing Nail and Cuticle Oil) and a nourishing nail serum.
Speak to the pharmacist and they might be able to help you find a more targeted solution. (This kit by Bare Hands is also beautiful if you feel like a fancy treat!)
Like breaking up with any bad habit, rebuilding the health of my nails (and my relationship with them!) took time and attention every single day.
Part of that included routine moisturising, a light trimming off any loose skin that I would be prone to pick, daily cuticle massage with oil, plus a light file and buff every 3-4 days. I also keep my nails short, clean, and lightly polished which means I’m less inclined to chomp.
After a few weeks of regular upkeep, I am pleased to report that my nails are in good shape. They’re smooth, shiny, and strong, and I feel much less resentful towards them. From time to time, I catch myself bringing my hand up to my mouth but that’s ok. Breaking up with a bad habit takes practice. What I can do is try.
As a clinically depressed and self-employed creative whose emotional pendulum swings between rushed deadlines, saccharine Instagram gratification, and the anticipation of getting paid – the relationship between myself and my nails will never be easy.
Yet, as I gaze down on them now as I type and spot a glint of light reflecting off their buffed shiny surface, I feel a hint of pride I may not have felt otherwise.