Before Instagram, which has become a breeding ground for extravagant nail selfies, short, neat and “shellaced” was the sensible and appropriate nail look for women over 40. However, growing nails long is proving a cost-effective way to look chic and youthful at a time when every penny counts, says nail guru and author of Nailed it, Marian Newman. “I’m seeing women in their 50s and 60s who are wearing their nails long again – the lockdowns enforced a period of self-care that has continued,” she explains.
The truth is that as we age our hands cop most of the damage. Perennially exposed to ageing UV light and often neglected, age spots and wrinkles are a given. I’m the first to admit that I rarely remember to smear SPF on to my hands despite them being riddled with sun damage and displaying a texture not dissimilar to puff pastry, as my teenage daughter has often joked.
There are a few treatments that can help. For dryness, the collagen-inducing hyaluronic acid injection, Profhilo, helps to plump up thin skin on hands, and it’s possible to get some improvement in the tone of the skin with diligent creaming. But, growing your nails is quicker and cheaper to action.
What do a set of long talons do for the state of one’s hands? It’s simple. Long nails are a signal of youth. “Healthy, strong nails in a flattering shape give the illusion of slim, youthful fingers,” explains celebrity manicurist Michelle Class, not to mention glossy, well-manicured nails are a shiny distraction from wrinkles and age spots. Except, once perimenopause sets in, with depleting oestrogen levels and dryness ensuing, it’s harder to retain a decent length without your nails breaking.
The secret, says Class, isn’t sexy or new. “As we age, and particularly in menopause, it’s key to treat nailcare like we do skincare with regular maintenance, starting with a proper manicure once a month,” she says. At home, moisturising cuticles daily with a cuticle oil or cream will reap the most rewards. “If your cuticles are split and dry the nail will follow suit,” she continues. While pushing back the cuticle with a cuticle stick will train the nail bed to lengthen – meaning your nails will appear long even when they’re short.
Investing in a professional manicure at the beginning of the autumn season will set the tone and make maintenance easier. “When you have your nails filed into a flattering shape, you can follow suit at home, filing every couple of weeks using a soft emery board that won’t cause damage,’’ says Class. While typically an almond shape is thought to be favourable to square, Class says to never follow trends when it comes to nail shape. “Always choose a shape that suits your fingers and then you can be more daring with polish shade and nail design.”
To give life back to brittle nails, she suggests taking supplements to help promote healthy nail growth and keep the nails flexible. Then, begin to extend your nightly skincare routine on to your hands and nails. “Use an exfoliator and give your hands a nice scrub to reveal brighter, smoother skin, then massage the excess from your face cream into your cuticles.” For day, Class stresses that slathering on a high SPF cream (throughout winter) is the secret to maintaining youthful-looking hands. See below for our six best products for encouraging your nails to grow.
Six nailcare heroes
Clockwise from top left: Decléor Rosemary Handwash Scrub, £30 (decleor.co.uk); Ruby Hammer Nail Kit, £22 (cultbeauty.co.uk); Solgar Skin Hair and Nails, £13.50 (boots.com); CND SolarOil Care Pen, £11.95 (lookfantastic.co.uk); Chanel Les Vernis in 949 Denude, £25 (chanel.com); Margaret Dabbs Pure Overnight Hand Mask, £30 (margaretdabbs.co.uk)
Read last week's article: What really happens to your skin during the menopause