My Manicure, Myself

A friend of mine likes to tell the story of how, while working as an assistant at The New York Review of Books, he met the writer Janet Malcolm. Like all great anecdotes, it can be appreciated only by a particular audience, to the extent that it is appreciated at all. It goes like this: Malcolm walked into the office of the Review. It was late March; he was on Gchat.

“Hello, I’m Janet Malcolm,” said Janet Malcolm.

He looked up.

“Yes,” he said. My friend stood up from behind his desk. Malcolm removed her scarf, folded it, and placed it carefully in her bag.

He reckons they stood staring at one another like this for some time.

And that’s his story of meeting Janet Malcolm. It seems likely that his helplessness inspired genuine pity. He was at a loss. It is possible she realized, even before he did, that he had in fact played his entire hand. She moved on long before he might have been able to redeem himself. (He does not remember any details about the scarf.)

It’s a funny joke. Not funny ha-ha certainly, but a warm and fuzzy story that perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to meet a niche “celebrity” one admires in New York. It’s heartening to know that despite not being a physically imposing or impatient person, Janet Malcolm cannot help but be at all times Janet Malcolm: a natural-born reporter who feels no need to fill the air. A real cool customer she is!

Since I do not have the credentials nor personality to support quite so freestanding a personality as an American celebrity, I have done what I could to approximate it by adopting the logical shortcut: a unique, but ultimately flattering, uniform that offsets somewhat less controllable mannerisms. I occupy myself, however superficially at times, as best as I know how. Which is to say not very well, as I’ve not yet settled on a clothing style that suits either my environment or my body, nor am I known for having a particularly measured social presence.

What I have found, though, are some props that have carried me through time and space: my Blackberry, brown leather Chloé bag, black turtlenecks in the winter, high-waisted Acne jeans, a silver Bedat & Co. watch from my friend Helena’s mother, a dogged refusal to move out of Manhattan, an improvisational verbal patter, and…my nails—which I change constantly, usually in the first gesture toward whatever facet of my persona most needs highlighting.

Manicured nails are not unlike tattoos, albeit temporary. They’re either tasteful, tacky, or innocuous. My mother, more often than not, hates my manicure. People labor over their application, or they don’t. You really never know who’s going to sport them! I had a roommate in Chinatown who starched her jeans, wore high-waisted, pleated-linen shorts all summer, did the dishes with gloves, and started every day with a cup of coffee and a to-do list written in cursive. No curveballs here! Or so I thought. Instead of an engagement ring, she got a tattoo of her fiancé’s initials on her upper arm “for fun.” She didn’t do her nails for fear of “chemicals.” (One imagines Janet Malcolm does not do her nails because it is a waste of time.)

Like my most heavily tattooed friend, I believe nails are addictive. I’ve gotten more and more elaborate variations—from shellac to gel to gel tips to gel tips with art—from more and more skilled technicians at an ever increasing cost. A quick perusal of Instagram from the last six months reveals my varying degrees of employment, reading habits, and special events. Working as a glorified secretary for an aging society woman, I tended toward short, square nails of the “bridesmaid” variety, in the dull, matte coral pink of the Williamsburg bridge or pretty Ballet Slippers. I opted for hot pink the month an old n+1 editor of mine emailed me that much-coveted PDF of Eve’s Hollywood (the coat was fresh when a friend left a copy of Spy magazine at my house after a party); I reread Jane Bowles’ Two Serious Ladies while wearing the red polish that is modeled on the cover. I celebrated quitting said job last month by donning the longest gel tips in gray. I called it my “pavement” look, since I’ll do nothing but walk the streets of New York from now on! When my friend Rachel lent me a gown with large, golden, little-girl puffy sleeves for a ball, I took pictures and carefully matched the shade.

Of course, it’s impossible to look at these photos and not think of the women who—while I perfected my “manicure resting face”—entertained me. There was Sarah, the part-time astrologist from Long Island, who fired me after insisting I get my birth chart done because she “can’t trust a double Gemini.” Melissa, from the 24-hour nail salon near my old freelance cubicle at Departures, who talked mostly about how her large dog and even larger boyfriend no longer fit in her apartment, gave me my first ever gel tips. I found out later she was removing them illegally, but who can forget the time she convinced me to get “tan mom nails”: square extensions the color of a sepia latte. Or Michelle, from next door to my favorite deli on the Lower East Side, who would fit me in between appointments (as long as I came in having removed the last polish myself), giving me a quick coat for $5 a pop, which I changed every three days in 2013.

I type this with manicure-free nails. A gesture I made recently (cough, last week) toward some financial solvency as an unemployed (freelance!) writer. I like that—unlike my clothes, my address, or my iCal—my nails always readily reflect exactly the state I’m in.

—Kaitlin Phillips

Kaitlin Phillips is a writer living—unfashionably East!—in Manhattan. She likes taking her Blackberry on long walks. She has never figured out how to put on eyeliner and feels really left out as a result. 

Photo courtesy of the author. 

The cheapest way to stop biting your nails brought to you by your old pal Sally Hansen.

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Sheer (But Colorful) Polishes Are The New Low-Maintenance Manicure

Gel manicures have had their fun—their 15 minutes, if you will. And we get it (we love them, too)—there's a lot to talk about there. And you know what else there's a lot of? Opacity. And opacity, for all its good qualities, can be a lot of work.

Which is why sheer nail polish is such a precious commodity. What, you can look polished and have it be low maintenance?! You don't say. One can only get so many manicures with that same bottle of Essie Nail Polish in Ballet Slippers before it feels tired, so opt for something bolder, something in a color you wouldn't normally expect to be so translucent. And for clarity's sake, call it something other than sheer polish. Call it something fun—like jelly polishes. (At least that's what we've started calling them to avoid any nomenclature chaos.)

"You don't have to be so precious about it," said Manicurist Geraldine Holford when trying these out the other day on our designated hand model, Catherine Smith. "A girl can just put this on and go. It's a lot less time consuming because it doesn't have to be so perfect."

And if you, too, internalized what Leandra Medine said about nail polish and rings ("I hate the way nail color looks with rings—it's too ‘accessorized'"), then these are your colors. To test the theory, they're worn here with an assortment of rings from Plan de Ville. All of which comes together just enough to feel done, but not like you thought about it too much. Because we wouldn't want that...

Catherine Smith of Plan de Ville photographed by Tom Newton.

Rings courtesy of Plan de Ville. Manicure by Geraldine Holford (The Wall Group).

In order of appearance: YSL La Laque Couture Pop Water Collection in 65 Rose Splash; American Apparel Sheer Nail Lacquer in Pacific Beach; Essie Silk Watercolor in Blush Stroke, Essie Silk Watercolor in Pen & Inky; Dior Nail Glow; Zoya Professional Lacquer in Katherine; Butter London 3-Free Nail Lacquer in PetrolYSL La Laque Couture Pop Water Collection in 64 Fuchsia Rain; Deborah Lippmann Whisper Collection in Like Dreamers Do; NARS Nail Polish in Wind Dancer; OPI Sheer Tints Color-Tinted Top Coat in I Can Teal You Like Me; OPI Sheer Tints Color-Tinted Top Coat in Be Magentale With Me.

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Your Biotin Might Not Be Working, Unfortunately

If you’re in the market for Rapunzel-length hair, then you’re surely familiar with biotin—there are biotin-infused shampoos, biotin scalp treatments, and the ever-popular biotin supplements...quite honestly, they're hard to avoid. And they're intriguing as hell, all promising substantial hair growth that's thick and healthy.

Given its ubiquity, seems like a ripe time for a definition: Biotin (also known as vitamin B7 or vitamin H) belongs to the group of B vitamins. It’s found in foods like egg yolks, salmon, and leafy greens, and it’s also produced in our bodies from intestinal bacteria. Our bodies don’t actually require much biotin to get by, but since it plays a role in cell growth, it’s billed as a way to lengthen hair and strengthen nails.

There's a catch, though—the research on the stuff is patchy at best. A few super small-scale studies have shown biotin’s positive effects on strengthening nails, but there’s basically nothing to suggest that it promotes hair growth in healthy people. It’s water-soluble, so any excess in the body is turned into waste. The exception is in people who have a biotin deficiency—a disorder marked by brittle hair and nails, among other unpleasant symptoms, wherein biotin supplements are actually really effective.

Some derms still recommend biotin, since it’s not harmful to take. It’s not really designed for people without biotin deficiency, so “there is no consensus on the dosage of biotin for hair and nail health,” says Dr. Jessica Weiser, a board-certified dermatologist for the New York Dermatology Group. “But the most commonly suggested dose is 2,500 mcg or 2.5 mg daily.”

While the effects on hair growth are unclear, there’s another reported side effect from taking biotin: It makes some people break out. Dr. Weiser says that could happen because of an imbalance of vitamins in your body.

"Both biotin and pantothenic acid–vitamin B5—are absorbed from the intestines via the same receptors," she explained. "When taking biotin supplements, the amount of biotin in the gut far outweighs the quantity of vitamin B5, thereby leading to a relative vitamin B5 deficiency. Pantothenic acid is thought to regulate the barrier function of the surface layer on skin and can reduce acne lesions. Therefore, a deficiency of pantothenic acid—or excess of biotin—could lead to acne flares.”

In simpler terms, you could be giving yourself a deficiency of B5 by taking an excess of biotin—and that’s what’s making your skin freak out.

Dr. Jessica J. Krant, a board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York, has heard of this happening, too. “Many reports indicate that excess ingested biotin can lead to rashes and acne breakouts,” she said. “There are no real scientific, blinded, placebo-controlled research trials to prove this, but if you start taking biotin and get worsening of your acne, the biotin may indeed be the culprit.”

Her solution? Stop taking the damn thing. “I personally have stopped directly suggesting that patients with nail or hair problems take biotin,” said Dr. Krant. “If someone asks about it, I explain that I am not against it, but that it only helps a few people in rare, specific cases.”

On the other hand, if you’re seeing improvements in your hair or nail health from biotin (hey, just because there are no scientific studies to back it up doesn’t mean it’s impossible), you don’t have to give up just yet. Dr. Weiser suggests taking vitamin B5 along with biotin, to reinstate a balance. Or you could just wait for your hair to grow—totally up to you.

—Arielle Pardes

Photographed by Tom Newton. Read about the pill for hormonal acne readers can't stop talking about.

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A Beautiful Life’s Soy Polish Remover

My experience with acrylics was admittedly short lived but so, so gratifying. I go in with short, stubby nails and leave with elegant finger extensions. I often wore them without nail polish because they were just that good. Then, I got them off, and I now know why some people never get acrylics.

“20 minutes, you dip, I sit!” my manicurist told me on a slow Sunday. So I obliged, and dipped my hands into 100-percent pure acetone for the prescribed time. After the 20 minutes, she took a coarse-grit nail file and began sanding down the plastic. “Again!” Yea sure, do whatever you want to me, just get it off. Another 20 minutes, then another. I can’t back out now, I thought as she lifted my hands from the dainty glass bowl, my nails looking like melted candlewax dropped on a surface then swirled around and rasped off. It took two hours of dipping and filing to get most of the acrylic off—and to this day, I’m still convinced there’s a tiny little bit of plastic film that will just need to grow out. (The other solution: Get new acrylics!)

Since that mildly traumatizing experience, I don’t even touch acetone anymore, but it’s not like non-acetone nail polish remover is that much better. Both are scent-offensive and leave my cuticles dry, prompting me to moisturize with balm or cuticle oil afterward. But since most of the beauty world revolves around ways to make your life easier and cut steps out of your routine, I’m here to contribute to that conversation with my favorite new alternative to acetone and non-acetone chemical polish removers.

A Beautiful Life’s Soy Polish Remover. Not only is it 3-free (that’s toluene, DBP, and formaldehyde, remember?), it’s soy-based and includes a “blend” of essential oils. To me, that just means a combo nail polish remover and cuticle oil in one. It also smells like zesty orange rind. Most importantly, it actually works at removing nail polish. Just soak a cotton pad in the remover and rub it against your nail. It may take a little elbow grease to break up the initial layer of polish, but after that, it’s smooth, slippery, cuticle-saving sailing.

—Claudia Marina

Photographed by Tom Newton. Live long and polish—read about the base coat you need to get a week-long manicure without chipping

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Matching Lips & Nails—Y/N?

A quick straw poll:

Is it ever acceptable to match your lipstick to your nail polish or vice versa? For a while there, the whole matchy-matchy scheme seemed woefully out of date, but maybe not anymore. Gem Refoufi is selling it here, hardcore.

So the question remains: Is matching your nails to your lips a bad thing? Tell us.

—Emily Ferber

OK, but now what if your fingers match your toes? More pressing questions here. Gem Refoufi (IMG) photographed by Tom Newton. 

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