I've always had issues with my nails. When I was kid I used to bite them until they were jagged little nubs that would catch on my clothes. My mother, who has beautiful, strong nails rounded into perfect half-moons, once threatened to cover my fingertips in cayenne powder unless I stopped.
Perhaps as a subconscious reaction to this, I replaced nail biting with cuticle picking in my adult years, and it's something I still struggle with today. I tend to do it when I'm anxious or bored, and it's particularly bad in the car (where anxiety and boredom combine!).
Until recently, my only solution to cuticle picking was to keep my nails as short as possible and cover them in polish to detract from any redness. This became an exhausting amount of maintenance for a perfectionist like myself who can't bare to see chips in her manicure. And the stench of nail polish in the apartment every few days was starting to drive my boyfriend crazy.
So about two months ago I decided to take the same approach to my nails that I've been taking to my skin: Instead of covering up any imperfections with makeup, I focus on nurturing my natural state so that I don't need any makeup at all.
I began by picking up some cuticle eliminator by Butter London. It works pretty well! You spread the solution along your cuticles with a tiny brush, wait a couple minutes, then push your cuticles back while rubbing off any dead skin with a tissue. It doesn't "eliminate" them like the name implies — it really just trims off any overgrowth and flakiness. I try to use this once every couple weeks.
My next tactic is using Butter London's cuticle oil to heal and soften the torn skin around my nails. I brush it on while I'm watching a movie or just before going to bed — the key is to let it soak in for as long as possible before washing your hands. I try to use this at least once a week.
Sometimes after a rough bout of cuticle abuse, I need an ever greater course of action, so I've taken to keeping a tin of Burt's Bees Cuticle Cream in my nightstand. I'll slather it over my cuticles as I'm getting into bed and hope that it absorbs faster than I can unconsciously spread it all over my sheets (so far so good). I've found that this stuff not only heals and softens my cuticles — it also strengthens my nails, which have a tendency to peel and break.
Keeping my nails filed (like Mom's perfect half-moons) and getting in the habit of moisturizing my hands after washing them have also been crucial to maintaining the health of my nails.
It may sound like a lot, but this feels like so much less work than repeatedly applying and removing lacquer every few days, which is pretty hard on your nails. In just two months, my nails have grown stronger than they've ever been, and I'm positive that it's partially due to the fact that they're finally NAKED after all these years.
And, as it turns out, healthy naked nails look a heck of a lot nicer than chipped painted nails.
So I'm fully on board the all-natural train and feeling pretty good about it, despite occasionally coveting another girl's vibrant manicure. I'm not going to swear off polish for the rest of my life — can you imagine?? — but at the very least, I now know that my nails appreciate a nice long break every now and then.