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Beautiful Nails

By Salome

In preparation for performance we attend to, not only our dance, but our physical beauty as well. We create an exterior to enhance our presentation with elegant costumes, coiffured hair, and suitable make-up. Our hands and feet require (at least an occasional) beauty treatment too, overgrown and ragged nails detract from an other wise refined appearance.

To administer your own manicure (or pedicure) you will need the following tools:

Cotton balls
Nail polish remover
Pan of warm water
Hand towel
Wooden manicure stick
Fingernail file - medium and fine grit
Nail buffer - fine grit
Nail polish
Clear coat

I buy nail products from my local beauty supply store however everything listed should be available at a drugstore.

1. Remove existing nail polish

Douse a cotton ball with polish remover and in short, tight circular motions rub each nail free of polish. It may take several fresh cotton balls to be completely rid of the residue. Tip: before rubbing, place the cotton ball over the nail and allow the polish remover to soak in. I recommend using 100% cotton. The fibers from synthetic cotton balls rub off onto your hands, causing mishap in the polishing stage.

Acetone nail polish remover works best but can dry out nail beds, you may want to look for a brand that contains aloe vera or other gentling agents. Non acetone nail polish remover is available but it takes a herculean effort to achieve the desired results. Which ever you choose, I recommend either buying the liquid by itself in a bottle or using the individual pre soaked wipes/pads. Forgo presoaked foams - the foam becomes permanently stained with past polish removals and you can't control how much skin contact occurs.

2. Shape

Create your preferred shape: round, square, "sqoval" (partly square, partly oval). Natural nails file down quickly so avoid strong pressure with the file. Use short strokes and no more than two or three before examining your work. You can file the top and sides of the nail to achieve the desired shape but try not to file into the nail well. This is the area on the side of each nail where it meets the finger tip. Filing here weakens the nail and it's more apt to break under stress.

There are different types of fingernail files on the market. I recommend an emery board by Beauty Secrets. They're about 90 cents, washable/sanitizable and have a long life. For fingernails use an Extra Fine or Fine 240/400 grit and for toenails a Coarse-medium 100/180 grit.

3. Buff

In a few smooth, even motions drag the buffer along the nail edge to smooth rough spots. The buffer will affect the shape so don't get too carried away or you'll fudge the shaping work you just did. If your nail beds (the area from cuticle to finger tip) are ridged you can gently buff the nail beds to smooth the surface. Do NOT use a coarse or even medium grit buffer on natural nails, those are meant for artificial nails. Instead use a fine grit, like "Polar Block".

4. Soak

Soak your hands (or feet) in a pan of warm water for about five minutes. You can add a drop or two of scented oil or shower gel to help soften your nails and cuticles. Dry thoroughly with a cotton towel.

5. Cuticle care

Use the slanted end of the manicure stick to gently but firmly push back the cuticle. Start at one edge of the nail and work your way across to the opposite side. Don't push the cuticle to far back, just off the base of the nail will suffice. If there is excess cuticle, you may want to trim it off with cuticle trimmers or carefully with toenail clippers .

If you have never or rarely push your cuticles back it can be uncomfortable. For regular care I suggest doing it in the shower. Exposure to steady warm water allows the separation to occur with the least discomfort. And as you do it regularly it ceases to be sensitive.

6. Polish

You may not enjoy wearing polish in which case your manicure (or pedicure) is complete! If not, then make certain your nails are dry. Pat the bottle of polish firmly in your hand to mix the paint. Polish indoors in an area devoid of drafts (moving air will cause the polish to set up (dry) before it's time).

Take one last look at each nail and make sure there is no debris or sneaky fibers from the towel or cotton balls stuck to the nail bed. You want to shoot for polishing in three strokes - down the middle and once to each side.

Control how much paint is on the brush by dipping the brush in the bottle, then depressing one side as you draw it out. This allows a small concentrated dollop to bead up on one side. Adjust the size of the bead to the polish consistency and the length of your nails. The thicker the paint the smaller the bead. The longer the nails the larger the bead.

For the first stroke (down the middle) start by touching the brush to the center/top of the nail, letting the biggest blurb of polish deposit there, then work it down to the cuticle ( never on or over the cuticle). Next, place the brush near the center and bottom of the nail and swoop the brush up in a j shape. Repeat to the other side. Re dip brush as needed. As the j shape indicates, follow the curve of the nail as it meets cuticle. Depending on the consistency you may need to work the polish in several short strokes up or down the length of the nail. Or it may glide on easily. Some polishes are "frosted", because of the style of paint you will see the brush strokes. In this case take care to draw your brush straight up so the 'lines' will be attractive. Also, depending on the how the polish settles, you may want to quickly smooth out the 'seams' with a wet brush before the polish sets up.

The temperament of different polishes vary. But generally the longer the cap is off the bottle, the more air it's exposed to, the thicker and globbier it becomes and the harder it is to work with. Generally I tend to reseal the bottle and shake after every three nails. This ensures an even, smooth consistency. How many coats to apply depends on the polish. With thick paints I would suggest one coat, just use an ample amount to get even coverage. With medium and thin paints two coats will suffice. If you want a sheer look and have the proper paints for that (neutral, opalescent, glitter...) just use one coat.

Most people fudge up here and there and polish outside the lines. Earlier I recommended buying a wooden (versus metal) manicure stick - because it can serve a duel purpose. Submerse one end of the wooden manicure stick in the bottle of polish remover. With the fine, slanted edge you can carefully work off excess polish that might have gotten in the nail wells or cuticle. For an immaculate look rim the inside edge of the cuticle to get a perfectly even shape. Wipe the edge off on a napkin to clean the surface during use. You can use your nail file to go over the wooden manicure stick and 'clean' it of polish residue after it's dry. You can find a similar tool, a felt tipped pen with polish remover already in it. That might be OK if you always wear neutral shades of polish. But the first time you use it on reds, pinks, browns... it stains the felt tip and compromises its future effectiveness.

The hardest part (for me anyway) is being patient enough to let the polish dry before accidentally smudging or dinging it. Here's a tip that will save you a lot of heartache. After you apply a coat of polish let it thoroughly and completely dry before applying the next one! If you are not sure the polish is dry and want to test, softly run your fingernail over your lip. If it's a little bit sticky just hold up and wait.

If you DO smudge or ding your polish you *might* be able to fix it without starting over. Stick your finger in your mouth and get plenty of saliva on the tip. Take the saliva moistened finger tip and applying very light pressure smooth the polish where it's been damaged. Do not polish over the mishap while the finger nail is wet with saliva. Spit and polish mix like oil and water. You may have done such a fabulous restoration that you don't need to hide it with one more coat. And actually that's preferable. Just smooth it and let it be. Another coat will mean chances for another mishap, and it'll be a darker color than the other nails.

For those who polish regularly (read fanatically) and aren't very patient (me!) you can invest in a UV top coat and nail dryer. You apply the special top coat as you normally would, though you don't wait for your polish to dry first. It just has to be dry enough not to run the color. Then you put your fingers under a UV lamp. The top coat and lamp react together causing the polish to completely harden in about 2 or 3 minutes. The UV top coat runs about ten dollars and you can get generic lamps starting at around 30 dollars.

About the quality of polish brands, I've used everything from 99 cent Wet'n'Wild to expensive salon brands like OPI and NINA. And I've found them, more often than not, to be of equal quality. Some of the brand names do have a better quality brush and paint consistency but... so do some of the cheapies. For a clear coat I like "Out the Door" high gloss, quick dry polish.

With natural nails an immaculate polish job has a limited life span. When your nails get wet for an extended period, say bathing or washing dishes, the nail expands. And as the nail drys, it shrinks. Nail polish cannot accommodate the expansion/contraction process and quickly chips off. There are 'chip free' longer lasting polishes on the market but the consistency is like rubber and difficult to work with, at least for longer nails.

You can extend the life of your polish job by: putting a limit of 3 coats on and that includes your clear top coat. The thicker the polish is applied the shorter the life span. By wearing rubber gloves when you submerge your hands in water, and engage in any cleaning activities that involve scrubbing, the use of abrasive sponges etc. And by not picking at your nails.

Doing an excellent job takes practice. The more you care for and polish your nails the better you will become at it. Good luck!