Nailing It

It’s supposed to last for TWO weeks.

[Insert grating whisper not unlike the one used by older Jewish women when speaking of a bad disease] Have you tried it?

It’s REALLY hard.

It dries immediately.

My best friend’s uncle’s second wife’s niece’s hair colorist’s cousin did it and LOVED it.

You have to use special stuff to get it off.

You’ll never look at your hands the same way.

I can’t wait to do it.

These comments might refer to any number of sordid goings-on. A hallucinogenic drug binge, perhaps, or some sort of Kama Sutra-like sexual escapade that should not be attempted by anyone who isn’t double-jointed or in the Swedish porn industry. What they do refer to, however, is the far less gasp-inducing but much-heralded gel manicure.

Ah, the gel manicure – or in some salons, the Shellac manicure – has been all the rage in these parts for the past few months. I dare you to find a manicure venue whose walls are not adorned with an advertisement for this procedure. When you are unable to do that, you will note that without fail, the ad features the long, thin, flawless fingers of a woman who doesn’t have kids, doesn’t work and doesn’t have any common sense when it comes to choosing a nail polish color. Furthermore, the woman seems to have an obsessive-compulsive need to caress pearls. As we all keep a stash of pearls and other rare gems at our desks, this makes total sense.

If you’ve ever had a standard manicure, you know that you’re lucky to make it in your front door with all ten nails in tact. On the other hand (no pun intended), the gel manicure is supposed to last up to two weeks without chippage, justifying its cost, which is three to four times what a standard manicure costs. It has been billed, if you will, as the cure to the common ‘cure.

Now, I’m a product whore, as you know, but I have some ground rules. I try to avoid eateries whose menus feature photos of the food (with some notable exceptions). I don’t patronize “barns,” “marts,” stores with symbols in their names, or stores whose names use ‘n’ instead of “and.” I also stay away from products with annoyingly spelled names. “Shellac” should have been no exception.

Duped by the perfect-nailed lady in all the ads, I figured it was a great way to ensure well-groomed hands for the duration of our 10-day trip to Italy in May. What woman hasn’t dreamed of a manicure that lasts for two weeks?! It was fabulous! Before we left, I did a test run with Kiki in tow. We both chose what looked, in its little silver pot, like an appealing dark bronze. What it looked like after being applied was, quite simply, hideous orange. The Shellac goes on dry, so we were able to marvel immediately at what we’d just done. I was embarrassed just sitting on the subway, but I told myself the ads were most likely bullshit and there was no way in hell the polish would last for two weeks. It did.

Fine. So we’d made a bad call with the bronze. But the procedure itself seemed to be all it was cracked up to be. Providing I went in with the knowledge that all colors appeared darker in the pot than on the hand, why not do it again the right way? For my second round of Shellac, I opted for a more natural, pinky white shade and then boarded the plane to Italy. Within a day, the so-called unchippable polish did in fact begin to chip.

Frick on an Italian stick. Where am I going to find a cheap Korean nail place in the middle of Florence? Where are the damn Medicis when you needed them?

The sad reality was that I was NOT going to find a cheap Korean nail place. And I was determined not to pick at the chips this time. I stopped in at Kiko, a Milan-based make-up store, and purchased a color that looked similar to the chipping Shellac. Back at the hotel, I did some patching and thought I’d be okay. But each day, the chips got bigger, and finally, I could no longer control myself. Like Aron Ralston, the unfortunate climber and hiker who resorted to cutting his own arm off to escape from a canyon, I had no choice but to resort to peeling off the Shellac remnants. It was tragic, but maybe I’d get a book deal out of it.

It's hard to see, but they are disgusting.

Back on American soil, my nails were a disaster. Once so hard I could barely bite them without breaking a tooth (a genetic trait I got from the Hungarians – thanks, Grandma Hannah!), they were now paper thin and disturbingly soft. In fact, my left pinky is folding as I type. At first I assumed this was due to the fact that I’d picked, rather than safely soaked, the Shellac off. I’m sure that didn’t help, but after consulting with many others, it seems that damaged nails are a common side effect of the gel manicure.

Fuck you, obsessive-compulsive, pearl-caressing lady with perfect but ugly-colored nails. You are dead to me.

About a week later, my sister-in-law, who lives across the river in New Jersey, proudly showed me her shiny new gel manicure. She was so hopeful and so excited, as I had been a few weeks earlier, that I did not have the heart to tell her what might lie in store. I hoped it would be different for her. Sadly, it was not.

I know there is a valuable lesson here. I’m not sure what it is, but I know it’s there.

This post is dedicated to my SIL, Christine. May the former beauty, strength and glory of our average fingernails be restored one day soon.

See also “Tales From the Tundra: Another Nail in the Coffin.”

Nailing It