The great thing about hands is that – unlike cats and small children – they respond gratefully to short bursts of undivided attention, and then you can leave them alone. Fingertips can go from grubby to groomed in just half an hour, and stay that way with a weekly manicure.
Hand care should be a vital part of any woman’s beauty regime. But even women who invest fortunes in age-retarding face creams have a tendency to be cavalier about looking after their hands. Yet, since they don’t have the benefit of make-up camouflage, hands never lie. At forty, your face can appear ten years younger, but one glance at your hands will give the game away: age spots begin to make their appearance, and one of the first signals of departing youth is loose and wrinkled skin on the back of the hands.
Nails suffer too. According to Howard Murad, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at UCLA (and founder of Murad, Inc, a skincare line): ‘The older you get, the more your nails are like your skin; they become thinner and rougher.’ They may also develop ridges, the result of natural changes in the nail matrix, the half-moon at the nail’s base responsible for new growth. But, as Goro Uesugi, Hollywood manicurist to the stars, points out: ‘Nails are like hair. If you keep them healthy and clean, they’ll look better.’
For a successful home manicure, preparation is essential – like priming a wall before you decorate it with a beautiful colour paint. Christian Dior, who are famous not only for their range of rainbow shades but for the durability of their polishes, have a step-by-step programme for the perfect manicure:
CHRISTIAN DIOR’S TEN STEPS TO ELEGANT NAILS
- Remove polish in upward strokes from base to tip of nail, using several new cotton wool balls for dark shades of enamel.
- Begin with the little finger of the right hand; it’s easier to start outside and work in. To shape a nail, take the wide ends of an emery board between thumb and index finger and file in one direction only, from outer corner to centre, never backwards and forwards. To shorten a nail, use the board’s coarser side; finish with the finer side.
- Lightly rub in a rich, nail-strengthening cream (such as Christian Dior’s Crème Abricot) into the surface of the nail and surrounding skin.
- Soak fingertips in a bowl of warm water. Alternatively, try an oil bath, using gently heated jojoba oil.
- Apply cuticle remover with a brush around the edges of the nail and, with a cotton bud, gently push back the cuticle. Remove dead skin with circular movements, tissuing off the cuticle remover.
- When the nails are completely clean and dry, apply a base coat. (We have had excellent results with Christian Dior Diorlisse, a ridge-filling, strengthening base which is pretty enough to use on its own.)
- Put a little enamel on the brush and apply a fine coat from base to tip. After a few minutes, apply a second coat. Light or frosted enamels may need a third. Stephanie Hayano, of the nail-care company Sally Hansen, recommends the three-stroke method: which delivers exactly the right amount of lacquer to the nail.
- Then try a clear top coat, which gives protective shine and significantly extends the life of a manicure.
- Leave nails to dry naturally, if you can; trying to speed up the process can spoil the appearance and quality of the manicure. And don’t wave your hands in the air; this creates an uneven texture.
- When nails are dry, rub in hand cream lavishly.
Top London restaurateur Sally Clarke’s hands are in and out of hot and cold water 50 times a day. She uses a gentle soap such as Neutrogena: ‘And I lavish my hands with E45 before I go to sleep, in the hope they’ll be restored by morning.’
Etiquette expert Drusilla Beyfus swears by Clarins Hand and Nail Treatment Cream, ‘Which is the only cream I’ve ever found that helps get rid of age spots.’
Goro Uesugi, who gives Angelica Huston, Winona Ryder, Bonnie Raitt, even Jack Nicholson that ‘star polish’, has been booked up two months ahead for the last 15 years. To save you the wait (not to mention the airfare) here are some of the finger-and-toe guru’s tips for the ultimate manicure:
- Always use acetone-free varnish remover, which won’t strip vital oils from nails. (Dried out nails soon become cracked nails.) Look for ‘gentle’ or ‘non-drying’ on the label, or ask at a cosmetics counter.
- Rather than soaking nails in soapy water, Goro suggests adding a few drops of bath oil to very hot water to soften hands and cuticles.
- Remove excess cuticle using an orange stick with the tip wrapped in cotton wool, dipped in cuticle remover. Never work on a dry nail.
- Just before you varnish, wash nails thoroughly with soapy water. Some manicurists like to do this with polish remover, but, explains Goro, ‘It’s too drying so the polish won’t go on smoothly.’
- For long-lasting colour, it is better to let nails dry naturally. Quick-dry sprays will deliver, but can mean your polish chips in double-quick time too.
- Nails grow about 1mm (0.0394in) each week
- It takes three to four months for a nail to renew itself from base to tip, and six to seven months for the entire nail (both visible parts and under the skin) to regrow
- Growth can be slowed by illness or dieting
- Stress can speed up growth to such an extent that nails literally outgrow their strength
False nails seem heaven-sent for any woman who has trouble growing her own. There are now several techniques to make up for unsightly or nibbled nails.
Acrylic tips: these don’t cover the entire nail but are fixed mid-way up the natural nail, with the surface pared down to hide the join.
Built-up tips: oval paper or metal is inserted under the nail, acrylic is painted on and allowed to set. The tip is then filed to your chosen shape.
Silk wrapping: this is a strengthening treatment for nails that split easily. A layer of silk is glued to the nail and the raw edges buffed away. (This can also be done to rescue a single broken nail.)
False nails: these can be applied in a salon or at home, using an inexpensive acrylic kit. The nails come with their own adhesive and can be cut and filed to a shape and size that suits you.
Patching: if you split or break a nail, it’s now possible to repair it with a patch that works on the same principle as a sticking plaster on skin. Inexpensive Repair-a-Nail kits are available for D-I-Y repairs, or they can be applied professionally in a salon. (See Directory.)
If you keep your nails permanently under wraps, it can lead to problems such as cracking, splitting, discolouration – or, at the worst, infections. If you do decide false nails or tips are for you, here are some nail-saving tactics.
- Don’t wear false nails for more than two weeks at a time, and give your own nails at least two days to rest between applications.
- Replenish lost moisture by giving nails an oil bath in warmed jojoba oil, between applications.
- Be careful cleaning under nails; use a brush and soapy water or a Q-tip, never an orange stick.
- If you notice any green or yellow-ish discolourations of the nail bed, consult your GP or a dermatologist; it could signify a fungal or bacterial infection.
- Beautiful hands start with hygiene: use a nail brush every day to scrub the underside of nails.
- Exfoliate hands once a week using your own home-made scrub: mix together crushed almonds, honey and lemon juice to slough off dead skin and moisturise.
- Make a ‘salad dressing’ for hands and nails of lemon juice and jojoba or even corn oil; pour into a shallow bowl and bathe hands in the mixture for 15 minutes. The lemon will bleach hands clean, and the oil will feed hands and nails.
- Rather than leaving leftover sun products to overwinter in the bathroom cabinet, use SPF creams as a ray-deflecting alternative to hand cream, particularly for gardening/sports/long-distance driving. (According to dermatologists, UV rays can actually penetrate windscreens.) But beware of high factors as they can discolour pale polish, turning it yellow.
- Keep hand cream – or sunscreen – by every single set of taps in your house, so you’ve no excuse for not using it.
- For a pampering boost, use a face mask on hands once weekly.
- If you are sleeping on your own, wear gloves to bed once a week. Heat your hands in warm water, dry, rub in some ultra-rich cream, then put the gloves on. You will wake up with amazingly silky hands.