Sunday, February 2, 2014

Nail arsenal part one - which has very little to do with nails, actually

I got a specific request on my Facebook to do a nail primer post and I've had a number of private discussions about it, apparently there's a real manicure knowledge gap!

There is surprisingly little nail specific info on this post (bear with me) so if you're at all curious about how I care for my (non face) skin you're in the right place.

This post is all about groundwork. If you want manicures that stand up to daily life and look great you need skin and nails that do the same, or you're just whizzing into the wind.

I did do an earlier nail polish post so if you want to know more about how I got so into this whole thing stop over there and give it a read.

Please note that I'm not an expert and a lot of nail products are fairly new to me so I'm still learning their ins and outs. I can generally get a pretty good result, but with any body products personal chemistry is crucial and what works for me may not be ideal for you.

More after the jump:

Moisture is the essence of wetness and wetness is the essence of beauty

MerMAN - Zoolander, 2001
Whoo, okay, I have strong opinions about soap and moisturizer so I'm starting there.

I have struggled with contact dermatitis and eczema my entire life. What that basically boils down to is that if I encounter something I am allergic to, or even just get too dried out, my skin reacts as if it has been chemically burned and the skin in the affected area will literally blister, crack, and peel away. The place which is always the worst hit is, of course, my hands. Woo!

Luckily once I figured out the real source of the problem I found a number of ways to deal with it and I almost never get a full fledged reaction anymore. Double bonus that all of the things I do to deal with it have worked out to be GREAT for my skin and hair in general.

I do not use detergent, sanitizer, or mineral oil/petroleum products for skin care. Sometimes with makeup you have to pick your battles on the petroleum products thing, but nothing I use with the intent of CARING for my skin contains these products.

Here is a good article on the difference between soap and detergent. Detergents are extremely widespread because they are cheaper to make and much of their modern popularity can be attributed to the fact that they don't use materials which were rationed during WWII. They do have some advantages in hard water areas, but I am not in one of those.

Detergents and sanitizers strip oils away from the skin, don't do any better of a job getting rid of germs than regular soap, and contribute to the creation of resistant diseases. They also make me look and feel like I have poison ivy. Yeah, no thanks.
My preference is goat's-milk soap, I don't have a specific brand loyalty, I go for whatever I can find that has that beautiful spicy goat's milk scent, but I'm currently using SallyeAnder's Almond Goat Milk soap. Any time I wash my hands I must moisturize pretty much immediately afterward, even if the soap I use is gentle.

If only dry scaly skin was this cute on humans!

A lot of nail polish bloggers joke about their obsessive lotion use, but for me it's been non-optional for so long I don't even think about it. I interface with the world through a thin barrier of lotion.

Mineral oil/petroleum products are basically inert and will seal moisture into the skin just fine, but only if the moisture is already there! They seal moisture out just as well, so anything you put on after is just going to sit on your skin. Why bother with that noise when I can use products which moisturize, nourish, and allow my skin to breathe all along?

My skin LOVES cocoa butter but sadly my Holy Grail moisturizer Nubian Heritage Ivorian Cocoa butter lotion has been discontinued for a while and it has now become nearly impossible to find. Shea butter seems to be the big thing in lotions lately, but has a strong plasticy smell so I just can't get behind it. If you have a recommendation for a heavy cocoa butter lotion which actually SMELLS like cocoa butter I am ALL EARS. It should actually smell faintly but pleasantly burnt, instead of smelling like a cheap chocolate Easter bunny or suntan lotion. I've been using the unscented Alba Botanical Very Emollient Body Lotion in the meantime which works okay, but it's a bit light for my tastes. If you like a light lotion I do recommend it.

I use a lot of straight coconut oil and jojoba oil lately to balance out lighter lotions. I have been trying to use jojoba more across the board as supposedly it is the closest to the natural oils in our skin and have generally found it to be good stuff. Monoi Vanille coconut oil is a long favorite and has become my go-to of late. It smells AMAZING. Imagine a warm, full, vanilla scented cotton candy. Coconut oil is solid in cooler temps which is annoying for application, but at least I don't have to worry about it spilling in my bag until it gets warmer out. I do have some pure cocoa butter around somewhere, but it takes too long to melt to be ideal for regular use. Someday I'll get around to making more lotion bars.

I recently picked up a bottle of CND Solar Oil which I keep on my desk at work for random cuticle love, but I can't say that I've noticed any difference over the oils I already use. It does smell like almond cookies, so that's pretty awesome as long as you're not overdue for lunchtime.

I'm really bad with taking vitamins regularly for my HEALTH, so I don't see myself ever getting into a nail vitamin regimen.

I joke that I'm a cheesatarian but it's really not far off, when given the choice cheese and nuts make up the majority of my diet. I am not a vegetarian but I have been keeping Meatless Mondays since I saw the Ted Talk "Why I'm a weekday vegetarian" in May 2010 and have been working to lessen my consumption of factory farmed meats for the last several months. I expected my skin, hair and nails to suffer a bit because of this but have not noticed any issues.

I don't particularly like drinking water, but I've been working on drinking more of it for the last year so I've pretty much cut out all soda, iced tea, pre-prepared juice and the like at this point. I have one daily cup of coffee, but for the most part everything else is water. This has made a noticeable difference in my skin so I think it's pretty safe to say it's helping my nails too.

Finally, some information about nails!

In the interest of conveying the unvarnished (ha!) truth I've posted a pic of my completely nude, un-moisturized, post nail polish removal hands here to show the ugly state of my natural nails. They grow insanely fast but they do peel and stain easily. The yellow isn't quite that dark in real life, but the illustration of the grow out is interesting so I've left the shot as is.

If I'm keeping my nails short and unpolished for any amount of time I'll just use clippers, but otherwise I use files to shorten and shape my nails. I am probably far less patient and gentle than I should be which I'm sure contributes to the peeling. I found a GREAT series on proper filing technique here at Loodie Loodie Loodie and I could reinvent the wheel... or just link to all the fabulous-ness she has already provided.

In general:
file dry, painted nails whenever possible
use a good file and aim toward a light grit
always file in one direction toward the center of the nail (no sawing back and forth)
put a smooth finish on the edge with a fine file
Many people swear by glass files and I do have one, but to put it bluntly the sensation totally grosses me out so I only occasionally use it for finishing.

My nails curve heavily so I have to maintain the sides or I get tears across the nail right where the white starts, or worse - hang-nails along the side which split my nail down into the bed. Straightening the edge also makes it easier for me to function when my nails get very long. I had not yet done this in the pic above and you can even see a little proto-catch starting along the side of my middle nail.

The thumb-ward sides of my pointer and middle fingers on my right hand naturally bend down at the corner (not me, but a good example of what I'm talking about) but will grow straight if I file them carefully and keep them polished.

I had not been having many issues with peeling until the last few weeks, so I suspect that wearing my nails squared off for a bit recently is what lead to that. I type a LOT between work and play, so the corners of my nails really took a beating. I'm now sticking to oval and keeping an eye on the situation. I remove as much of the peeled up portion as I can before repainting via a combination of careful removal of the lifted portion of the layer with an Exacto blade and buffing.

Uh, confession time: I use Exacto blades for manicure assists WAY more than I probably should.
I do a rather insane amount of foam pumpkin carving so it's a tool I'm highly comfortable with, I wouldn't recommend it for anyone else though.

As far as ridges go my nails are fairly smooth at the moment, but if they are particularly bad and/or I am using a fussy frosty polish I will buff out any ridges. I typically do have to do this with my big toes as I tend to jam them a lot and if you do it hard enough that can cause a noticeable ridge.

I was going to put a pic of my toes here for reference as I'm wearing duochrome polish over un-buffed ridges but the macro setting on my phone informs me that it's long past pedicure time.

An unmolested cuticle is a happy cuticle!
Cuticle care
I gently push back my cuticles pretty often and I'll give them a good scrub after shower, but I DO NOT use remover or trimmers. That's pretty much a one way ticket to Hangnail Town for me. I also don't like the look where the cuticle has been pushed back so much it appears like a totally smooth rounded edge which is disconnected from the nail.

I do own a couple of those little cuticle removal tools (the gouge thingy, not the pliers thingy) but consider them way more useful for cleaning up wayward polish after a manicure than any actual cuticle manipulation.

Bet you didn't think there was that much to talk about on the subject of polishing your nails without actually mentioning nail polish but it all seems to make a difference. I swear I'll get to the actual polishing part soon.

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