I have always suspected there’s a price to pay for indulging in our vanities too much. I’m the one at the back muttering that all those acid toners will give you brown spots eventually, and the price for your smoothly Botoxed forehead is those beady, lidless eyes. I understood how people would get hooked on Russian lashes when I had them once, but the number of my own lashes I lost in the process made them anything but addictive to me. I’ve marvelled at the transformational effect of a hair weft for a photo shoot, but the thought of the damage permanent extensions can do to your hair has always made me settle for the not particularly luxuriant hair I’ve got. And I’m permanently jealous of the pretty gel nails literally none of my beauty colleagues are ever without anymore. But there is no way you’re going to tell me they won’t make your own nails weaker in the long run. And so: no pretty gel nails for me.
Of course, with the right (intensive, and often professional) care, any damage can be mitigated, so each to their own. And whether we’re talking skin, hair, or nails, any pro will advocate ‘fallow periods’ between courses of treatment; temporary amnesties for your fibres or tissues to let them recuperate and regenerate. They make a all the difference, and allow you to push on with impunity when it comes to your personal beauty essentials.
Problem is, in practice, most people aren’t particularly scrupulous about doing the fallow thing. Who wants to take a meeting with crap hair or chaotic nails? And there’s always another meeting, never enough time to take a break.
Except right now. Corona Quarantine could, in some ways, be the best thing that ever happened to your looks. Fine, your roots are showing and you may have gone pale from being cooped up inside, but those face packs and hair masks you marinate in will restore your skin and hair to a condition you haven’t enjoyed since the 20th century. And when it comes to your nails, you have an opportunity not to be missed. With a little effort, you could have rosy toes and shell-pink digits permanently – without any polish, gel, or stick-on talons. There is a podiatrist called Bastien Gonzalez who travels the world (maybe not at the moment) giving his celebrity clientele feet meant to be seen naked at all times, so pretty and healthy-looking are they. Bastien’s methods are so straightforward you can easily achieve at least some of his results all by yourself – you just need some time and dedication. Which you now have.
I’ll just assume your gels are gone by now, and that you have achieved this carefully, with lots of acetone soaking and gentle scraping with an orangewood stick. Gonzalez is not necessarily anti-gel or anti-polish, but he sees them as temporary adornment for a special occasion, not as something you keep on for any length of time. “Nails don’t breathe, but the nail bed does; the porous nail lets oxygen in and carbon dioxide out,” he says. “Gels, which are much like car paint, and, to a lesser extent, regular nail polishes, prevent this process. If you don’t take extended breaks between gel manis and pedis, or remove your varnish every few days, your nails will eventually get weaker and thinner.”
As for the oft-heard claim that any polish prevents nails drying out, as it stops water seeping into and out of your nails: “that is true, but it’s much better to protect them with nail oil, after carefully drying them after every wash,” says Gonzalez.
That’s all nice and well, but it’s not going to make your put-upon nails look a match for freshly painted pearly gels. For that, you need to add a buffer, a fine-grained scrub, and a week or two.
Gonzalez uses his own marble dust buffing cream (available for a mere £42) to massage nails and cuticles, softening and conditioning the latter in preparation for easy pushing-back (never cutting); any powder, clay or jojoba-beads-based scrub could substitute. During his signature dry pedicures and manicures (£140 and £120 respectively at London’s Mandarin Oriental Spa) this is followed by extended nail buffing with a chamois leather-covered tool. It was inspired by his 90-something gran, who buffed her fingernails with a chamois every day. “Her nails were perfect,” Gonzalez will tell you. “The buffing doesn’t just make them glossy. It stimulates circulation to the nail bed, which gives them a rosy glow and provides nutrients that keeps nails strong and flexible.”
Granted, his foot treatments also involve ridge-smoothing, callus-scraping, corn-removing procedures, alongside a lot of divine massage, foot-shaking and toe-realigning work, some of which has its DIY equivalent in the use of a good foot file and a regular foot rub-and-squeeze. But the difference daily use of nail oil and a buffer (it doesn’t have to be a chamois; as long as it hasn’t got a rough surface) can make to your nails is surely the most remarkable revelation. You may indeed never go back to polish again.