Winterizing Your Fingernails
November 18, 2009
Finger pickers take note - you can salvage your fingernails during the winter.
Winter is coming on like a freight-train folks. Eat, drink, be merry and watch your nails go to hell in a handcar. Brittle, rough, easily breakable nails don’t have to be another sign of the season. With a little TLC, your precious fingernails can survive intact.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
First and most important is to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and hot tea to keep those nails from drying out from the inside (and help protect you from cold and flu germs). For years we’ve been fed the old eight-glasses-of-water-a-day rule, but that’s really not a very useful or practical rule at all. Here’s a much more doable system: drink around eight ounces of water first thing in the morning, and then have a drink, just one or two swallows of water, every hour you’re awake. If you have a big glass of water with lunch or dinner (even better lunch and dinner), you’re set.
‘Tis the season to be jolly, but the merrier you make, the more you rob your skin, hair and nails of moisture. Alcohol is a terrible dehydrator, so moderation is a big key. If you do over-indulge, drink about half again as much water as you usually do for a day or two. The same goes for over-eating, especially those heavy holiday meals; drink a glass of water before you eat, and be sure to have a glass of water along with whatever else you’re drinking. That steaming cup of pumpkin-flavored cappuccino isn’t doing you any favors, either. Loaded with fat and sugar for starters, it’s a diuretic that will steal away a good deal of that water you’re trying to remember to drink.
Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
Our nails get beat up bad on a daily basis in wintertime; between scraping ice and snow off the car, washing your hands 20 times a day because you’re stuck in an office with a bunch of sickies, and being in buildings with forced-air heat, our nails are almost destined to crack and splinter like glass.
There is nothing better for fighting off cold and flu germs than plain old soap and water; however, frequent washing with hot water can dry your skin and dramatically weaken your nails. That’s where the (now ubiquitous) hand sanitizers come in; instead of washing every time, substitute the hand sanitizer for about half those washes to literally save your skin. They’re available in a dizzying array of fragrances, dispensers and formulations, including moisturizing gels, too.
A little moisture and massage can work holiday miracles. Use a heavy-duty hand lotion at least twice a day, like Neutrogena Deep Moisture Hand Cream, St. Ives Intensive Healing Lotion, or Gold Bond Ultimate Healing Lotion. Then, no less than three times a week, spend a few minutes rubbing Bag Balm, which is pure lanolin, into your nails and cuticles. It comes in green tin boxes—cute and portable or large economy size—and can be found in most pharmacies, and even in craft or sewing shops. It’s powerful stuff, and a little dab’ll do ya. The large tin will probably last at least a couple years. Within days, you’ll see increased sheen, flexibility and real strength.
If your hands get extremely dry, here’s a bedtime routine that can help: smear them up with a good layer of Bag Balm and put on some cotton gloves; then go to bed. Your hands will look and feel significantly better in the morning. Repeat for a couple nights and your hands will look like you’ve never done a day of honest work in your life.
Of course, some folks are allergic to lanolin, which comes from sheep wool. If you aren’t sure whether it’s safe for you, test a little patch of skin on the back of your hand to see if you get any reaction.
File Smart, File Often
Keeping the ends of your nails smooth will prevent a lot of accidents, like rough nails catching on a sweater or blanket and getting torn. Be careful to file smart, though. Get a quality nail file with multiple textures: rough, medium and smooth. Get two or three and carry one with you always. Don’t let your nails get too long or you’ll greatly increase the risk of breaking them.
Another essential tool is a nail block or buffing block, which also has three textures. I use one from Seacret. The smooth side is made with silk, which draws natural oils out of the nails and leaves you with a very subtle polished look (but not girlie enough to tarnish your macho image). Weekly filing and buffing will make your nails grow faster and stronger.
Shaping the nail is a very personal issue. Some prefer a rounded nail with nothing to catch the strings, and some prefer more of a French-style nail, squared off with only the slightest curve at the end. Use a quality nail file and block to maintain your shape.
Let’s Take This Show on the Road
Gigging guitarists can easily put all their nail care tools into a portable package. Be sure to keep small nail files and clippers in each guitar case that you take with you, and keep a set of files and blocks just for the road, along with travel-size versions of hand sanitizer, lotion and Bag Balm. Make nail care part of your nightly post-gig routine.
Old Wives Tales
Drinking Knox Gelatin dissolved in hot water to strengthen nails is utterly unproven, but if you like that sort of thing, a lot of people say it helps. Follow package directions.
Vitamin A is often called “the skin vitamin,” and it may help nourish the nails, too. Consult your doctor, or at least read package directions to ensure you’re getting a proper dose, and don’t over-do it. If one is recommended, two is too many.
Crisco shortening can be used as a hand cream (among a vast array of other nonculinary uses), “light and flaky” refers to pie-crust only. If you are sensitive to Bag Balm or other moisturizers, Crisco makes a great substitute—especially for the bedtime “slime-and-glove” routine. Like the Bag Balm, a little dab’ll do.
Exfoliating your hands (removing dead skin cells by scrubbing with a gentle abrasive) with expensive creams and potions can make your skin and cuticles healthier, but your wallet may suffer dehydration in the process. Common table salt is equally effective, and way more budget friendly. Wet your hands, put a little liquid soap in the palm of one hand, and mix in about a half-teaspoon of salt. Scrub your hands gently with the mixture for a little bit, being careful not to scrub too hard or too long. Saline rehydrates the body, so in addition to leaving your hands soft and smooth, it helps restore the moisture balance. You probably don’t want to do this every day, but three times a week should be fine.
You are what you eat. No kidding. Eating a healthy diet is the best way to maintain overall wellness. Don’t skimp on the veggies, and watch the fat and sugar. If you haven’t already, switch to cold-pressed virgin olive oil for cooking, and try to avoid highly processed foods.