I used to have great nails. They started breaking off, there was nothing I could do to stop them being frayed, brittle, dry and stumpy – it happened quite dramatically after the pandemic. Possibly a sign that my thyroid hormones were off, possibly a sign that I was old and not producing oestrogen in giant amounts, but I had all these checked, and for a woman who thinks Barbra Streisand is her real mother, this would not do at all.
I’d already suffered the horrors of falling hair and bald patches due to stress. I’ve already had that dream and already spent more than a mortgage on hair products. I was treated by Harley Street doctor, Dr. Sophie Shotter, and Annabel Kingsley, trichologist. I was fully dosed up with all kinds of vitamins and minerals, what works for hair should also work for nails, right? Wrong. The falling hair dreams were replaced by falling nails reality. They looked ugly. You don’t need a mirror to look at nails, you just look down and that’s how easy it is to ruin your day. The message is: you’re very unhealthy and you’re not worthy of your Barbra heritage. Barbra always said she had self-confidence but no self-esteem, surely this was about having great nails. Barbra could embrace contradiction, she said, “I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy and driven”. And that was me as well! But no embracing of extremes could be possible if I had broken stumps.
Dr Sophie says, “as oestrogen levels drop, so do the hydration levels of your nails, making them more brittle – it’s common in the perimenopause. Hypothyroidism is also a cause of dry nails, because it makes circulation sluggish” and, as we all know, the nails are the last to go – the nutrients don’t reach there, as with hair, they just fall or fail. I was already taking hair vitamins, which are also advised for nails: zinc, vitamin D, calcium and collagen. Perhaps this wasn’t an internal problem, perhaps it was external and I was just wanting a quick fix. I was saved by nail guru Leighton Denny and his products. You can get them at Marks and Spencer or at leightondenny.com. He invented the Crystal Nail File – one sold every 60 seconds – and he’s a fellow dyslexic – never read a book, probably not even the one he wrote, what’s not to love? A former forklift truck driver from Bradford, and now an MBE. Who gets an MBE for services to nails? He reads nails like a psychic, he once discovered a woman was pregnant because of her nails – she had had many rounds of IVF and got very angry that they’d failed but she got pregnant naturally and Leighton was the tester. He got a floral tribute.
He came to nails after doing courses on hair and aromatherapy and put all this knowledge into his nail products. Apparently nails get ridges as they age, like wrinkles. But, he says, that this can all be sorted out. “How many people’s nails suffered as a side effect of Covid or the Covid vaccine? But they’re getting better now”. We talk about Covid’s contribution to people’s hair falling out or its sudden inability to take colour, and how excessive washing and hand sanitising affected the nails. I used his products during lockdown because the polishes come with an extra-wide brush, and I could always apply them myself when salons were closed. During lockdown, I broke my leg and had to have surgery. Everywhere was closed and so I couldn’t remove the gel on my nails – I had to pick the polish off and my nails didn’t recover. “Oil is the best thing for dry nails”, Leighton recommends his Renovate Cuticle Oil for cuticles. The lady at the nail salon said I had to give my nails a break and let them breathe. Leighton retorts: “nails don’t have lungs. It’s all about the oil being applied. You can’t overdo it.”
My nails seemed to be bad as a result of age and abuse. I look back on the days where I enjoyed my nails and them being admired, no matter what was wrong with me. I remember going to Jessica Nails of Hollywood, it was the closest I ever got to a women power gang – all the top agents and lawyers getting their nails done on a Saturday. All mini Barbras. Yes, I’m obsessed and it’s probably not healthy. But, to me, power nails was having the world at your fingertips – literally. Leighton says, “you have to treat your nails like your hair. You go to have your split ends cut off and you think ‘oh but I don’t want to lose my length!’ yet the hair is better for it, and so are the nails. If they are in a bad condition, it is a necessary evil to file off the tips. You can’t really repair damaged tips, but you can save the nail bed and start again.”
The nails seem to take longer to grow than hair, perhaps because you’re always looking at them. Leighton advises, “no matter how short your nails are, you can always make them shine and look good. You can go for that ‘clean girl’ aesthetic”. Except that, at my heart, I’m a dirty girl. Nails being the window to the soul – strong, shaped nails say you are a strong, shaped person. When I had my surgery, they didn’t want to look at my eyes to see if they’d gone blue, they wanted to look at my nails. “The nail bed shows so much about general health and circulation.”
Since the Covid vaccine, I smell like a dog. For instance, I can smell green vegetables ten minutes past their sell-by date inside my fridge, and all water tastes of liquid metal. And while everyone’s been obsessed with post-Covid hair falling out, it’s my nails that find it harder to survive. Leighton says, “we’ve got to go back to basics. Get natural ingredients and goodness back into nails – we have to look at it as skincare for nails. Nails can be very non-committal, it’s not as dramatic as having your hair coloured or eyelashes put on, that you hate a week later because you’re sweeping the passage with them. You can do your own nails – put them on, take them off, it’s fast. It can uplift you and change your whole outfit and you look immediately groomed”. He recommends his nail facial.
“I recommend a non-acetone remover, my remover is essentially oil-based, don’t just think about going to the chemist and stripping it all off, it is like washing your face in alcohol. Then you file with a crystal file. The crystal file means you don’t get the nail splitting because it seals the tips. People shouldn’t buy a nail file because it’s a cute colour or easilyfits into their handbag . The Crystal Nail File is suitable for all nail types, bendy or brittle or strong. Remember, it’s a myth about colours affecting the nails. The nails should never come into direct contact with colour, because of the base”. Which is why I’ve been enjoying the product GET GLAZED, it’s a donut glaze but for nails – it makes them look iridescent and like moons. And if you apply it after the base coat, it’s neither light nor dark, it’s iridescent and pungent. Groomed and effortless.
“You start with the Duplex Buffer, it’s soft and gentle like a microdermabrasion. Then you put on the Renovate Nail Cream, which has been blended with an ingredient that is used in the dental industry for implants, it is used to strengthen bone.”
Hydrate, condition and treat
Renovate Cream is like the nourishing and restorative treatment part of the facial, packed with active ingredients to condition, strengthen and revive dry, damaged and flaky nails.
Seal and shine
“Use the Duplex Buffer to really work the Renovate Cream into the nail.”
“It’s best to have a break, to let all the ingredients do their magic. Then you protect the nails with the Renovate Shield, this is like the barrier cream or SPF part of your facial, which you can apply once as a base coat or twice as a treatment alone. It’s like applying scaffolding and it acts like a natural building gel.”
“You finish with the Renovate Cuticle Oil, you can never over-moisturise your nails, so use it as often as you can. You can use it when you’ve got acrylics or gel or anything on.”
The nail beds are the first place to show the body is lacking oxygen, which is why the surgeons watch the nail beds while the patient is under anaesthetic. Pink is good news, blue means not so good. Your nails speak even when you can’t. Which is all part of their charm.