Little Bits of Luxury: Manicures

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My bridesmaids bullied me into a manicure for my wedding day. I went to the salon just for an updo, but left with Essie Ballet Slippers on my nails. I felt for the manicurist because she was trying to make dry, rough, gnawed nails and cuticles look Wedding Day worthy.

That was the last manicure I had for almost a decade.

I was a chronic nail biter. Worse than that, I was a cuticle biter, the type that kept going until it bled and went in for more. In high school, I got pinworms and the doctor said it was likely from nailbiting. In college, I got an infection that left a permanent dent in my thumbnail. I even chewed on my wedding day to the point of bleeding, and it got on my wedding dress. When I was a trainer and visual merchandiser, my supervisor strongly suggested I get acrylic tips to have a more professional appearance during my presentations. I would wiggle my teeth between my nail and the acrylic and crack them off, sometimes even in my sleep. I gave up and just accepted that I was a nail biter.

Last summer, I was driving to work and was at a stop light and turned to look at the car next to me. In the driver’s seat was a really hot guy in a nice suit… and he was going to town on his nails. He was oblivious to his act, watching for the light to turn green, and looked as though he hadn’t eaten in days and his fingers were breakfast. It was disgusting to watch and I realized that while I looked at him with disgust I was doing the same exact thing.

No more justifying it, no more pretending, this HAD to stop. Not only did it look gross to watch and leave me with disgusting hands, it just wasn’t healthy. No more.

So I went home and researched the best ways to stop biting nails. I had tried the foul-tasting ointments and had chewed through it to the skin. I tried Band-Aids, using an emery board on rough parts so they wouldn’t taunt me, and I already shared my “success” with acrylic tips. But I learned about N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) which has been proven to help people who are chronic nail biters. After a chat with my doctor, I started taking 1,000mg two times a day; a month after starting NAC I got a manicure.

acrylic nails biting NAC
Oh man, I've become one of those people who shares her manicure on Instagram!

Since September, I have been getting almost bi-weekly manicures. I am back to acrylic because it makes the nails too thick to get to the cuticles, but I have them make them as short as possible. I started with neutral shades that didn't draw attention but gained confidence, donning a sparkly candy apple red for Christmas oxblood for fall, and currently a pale gray with a hint of shimmer.  Though gel polish is controversial, I have had more success with it because it is nearly impossible to chip and looks great for two weeks straight.  As soon as I get a chip, I start futzing with it.

Recently, I ran out of NAC and I went longer than two weeks between fills and I started chewing again. I completely pulled the polish off all but four fingers, chipped off edges of the nails, and gnawed my cuticles raw.  It taught me that this is something I will have to battle the rest of my life, and that this isn’t really a luxury but a necessity.

I keep a bottle of Solar Oil in my car and rub it into my cuticles when I get the urge to gnaw at a stop light, I have Sally Hansen VitaSurge Cuticle Gel and Weleda Skin Food on my desk at work, and Glysomed on my nightstand. The more hydrated my hands, the less I wish to chew.

Unlike a pedicure where you can play with your phone, sip a latte and read an old issue of Cosmo, getting acrylic fills and gel polish (can't chew it off, lasts until next appointment so no chips) means spending an hour with a stranger practically in your face and your hands in her control.  It has taught me to unplug, to develop all those thoughts in my head, and be silent for a while.  My current nail salon doesn't have a TV so I don't get lost in Wendy Williams or a cooking show, I just get lost in my mind.

I recommend checking out a site like Yelp for salon reviews.  I started off with the nail salon walking distance from my home, but I didn't think they did that careful of a job.  I went to Yelp and tried another salon, and they did a far better job, but the two women who I liked were usually booked and the technician I kept getting was sloppy.  I am now going to a salon near a college campus and they do a very careful job and have a clean, friendly shop.

Manicures are an extra expense, so I have had to make some changes to fit them into the budget.  I no longer buy Starbucks (unless it's my weekly date with Emerson, and then I get a cheap drink and no snack), I bring my lunch more often, I buy far fewer beauty products, and I box dye my hair between salon visits.  In fact, manicures have caused me to reassess a lot of my spending, and is a good example of how reducing small purchases helps me get what I really want or need.  And while I like the look of my new pretty non-mangled nails, I also know I have broken a lifelong bad habit.

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  1. I used to bite my nails…all my life actually. I stopped a few years ago and didn’t know why, but then I read this article:

    and found out that nail biting might be an issue with mineral deficiency (such as lack of calcium). A few years ago, I started taking a multivitamin regularly as well as a calcium supplement to ward off osteoporosis…that’s about the time I stopped biting my nails.

    I don’t know if science actually backs up this theory, but it’s definitely something to think about!

  2. First, congratulations! You’re extraordinarily brave for sharing this with all of us. Thank you for your courage and honesty.

    I do this too, unfortunately. A few years ago I managed to break myself of biting my nails, but now I pick at the cuticles on my thumbs. Usually to bleeding. You may have inspired me to rethink my lifelong scorn of mani-pedis. 🙂

  3. Solar Oil is great stuff! I do my own manicures 90% of the time, but really enjoy a professional one too.

  4. I’ve never been a nail biter, but I have very dry cuticles and the skin around my nails tend to crack and then I pull it off….not nice. There’s no place to get a manicure where I live, but I’m going to pull my act together and start giving my self manicures on a weekly basis.

  5. I’m a reformed nail biter as well, although I know I can revert back at any time, almost like an alcoholic. I know the embarrassment of having others look at my gnawed nubs with awe and pity, and more than once I’ve destroyed an expensive set of acrylics in record time. The only thing that’s helped me is going out of my way to make sure my nails are filed, my cuticles are moisturized, and my nails, no matter the length at the time, are painted perfectly. It’s actually spawned a new obsession with all things nail related just to keep myself on the straight path. I’ve never heard of NAC, but I’m kind of fascinated.

  6. I’ve never heard of the stuff to reduce nail biting. My husband will chew away on his nails, I’m going to remember that for him. Most of us fritter money away on all kinds of things without thought. You’re probably getting more satisfaction from nice looking nails than from the endless coffees, impulse lipsticks and carryout sandwiches you’ve skipped to do your nails.

  7. A great post Allie. I have recently gone back to my home manis and pedis as a way to feel a bit more glam (turning 40 and struggling to lose weight have made me want to be nicer to myself). I can’t afford regular salon trips, and doing my nails at home means I can chill out with a movie and hang out with my husband (sometimes I do his nails too!). Last week I had bright red nails and nude toes; this week my hands are sporting a ‘natural’ pink and toes are fuschia! I feel well groomed and a little bit more ladylike and glamorous. And that, to me, is a necessity.

  8. I agree with you – that’s not a luxury, that’s a necessity! (Or nearly so anyway). It sounds like you’ve found the best way to deal with a pesky, stressy habit.

  9. I love this practical real world solution to a problem. And what an added bonus that it’s some built in quiet time during the week. I have been dealing with some major stuff recently and am finding that I desperately need the quiet time in order to stay sane. Moving to Colorado has been TERRIBLE for my cuticles even though I put oil on every night.

  10. Even though I was not that of a chronic nail biter, I was a nail biter for a long time. Once I was holding my husbands hands and realised that i could not tell our fingers apart, because mine looked so manly. Back then I made the effort to stop chewing and even though I have come a long way – I still have to fight the urge-

  11. I have the same issue. Out of ten fingers I count at least three raw cuticles and two healing. I usually go with arcylic to keep my biting picking at bay in the winter but did not do it this year. When they finally heal I will be getting mine done.
    good job on keeping yours looking good.

  12. I’m a HUGE shellac/gel polish fan. I had one done 2 years ago for a family wedding across the country and I haven’t polished my own nails since! It lasts me 2-2/12 weeks and it doesn’t chip. My manicurist takes it off safely and my nails are healthy.
    I have adjusted my budget too-it’s definitely a luxury. I go to a very nice nail-only salon in my neighborhood. It costs much more than the mall, but it’s always clean and quiet, and Heidi the owner is an artist. I do it for me; it just brings some color into my life. The weird thing is that I have had a few friends passively/aggressively judge me for it. When I was younger I would have felt bad, but now I see it’s a win-win. I’m happy, and I support a local woman-owned business. If that isn’t a feminist idea, I don’t know what is!

  13. Have you looked at Jamberry Nail Wraps? They are plastic (unlike the drugstore paper ones) so more durable. I was recently introduced and they come in one color, sparkle and patterns, super cute and keep me from biting my cuticles 🙂 A sheet of wraps is about $15 and does 3 manicures!!! So I am changing mine every 10 days or so. I love a good mani – but wanted to share this as an alternative.

  14. I’m the same way! I haven’t used NAC, but the only way for me to consistently not bite is to keep my nails perfectly manicured. Once I get a chip, all bets are off. Right now I’m doing a gel manicure every 2.5-3 weeks and it seems to be working, though the dry, cold weather makes things tougher. I love the look of your short square acrylics, though. I may have to try that. Also, love that gray polish–what is it?

    1. The gray polish is from the salon, a gel color:Entity One Color Couture Gel Polish in Silk Naughty

      And the short square seems to be a shape that holds up best, and I am least tempted to fuss with. I do have to tell them over and over to make them as short as possible, you can see the light gray nails are a touch longer, what I have right now and I am due for my salon visit and these nails feel like talons right now! 🙂

  15. Help me out – about how much a month does your new nail regime cost? I know nothing of such things. It is refreshing to read about tweaking your budget to give up some luxuries to allow for this one. Isn’t that what we all do? Yet no one seems to admit it.

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