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Nail Polish

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The application of nail polish.

When applying nail polish, first open a bottle of wine and pour yourself a glass. For one Researcher, nail varnish application almost always takes place of an evening when they have nothing to do - thus avoiding smudging - so a little tipple along the way is always welcome. Don't have too much though or you could end up with a seriously dodgy set of nails. Also, go to the loo now so there is no danger of snagging the finished result on your knickers/jeans/tights etc.

Now you're suitably prepared, you can start the routine:

  • Clean and dry your nails, removing any grease or left-over nail polish.

  • If you hate the smell of nail polish (but love the result) then open the windows now. This is especially important if you are sharing a place with people who hate it even more than you.

  • Apply a base coat and allow to dry. If you don't use a base coat and go directly to a dark colour you can end up looking like a terminal nicotine addict with horrid stained nails when you take it off again. Not a clear polish, but a proper base coat.

  • Select a pot of coloured polish, and roll it between your hands to warm it up. Don't shake it, as this can make it bubbly.

  • Apply two coats of colour, or as many as you need to get the desired effect, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.

  • Apply a top coat. This stops the polish chipping at the tips for longer. A high quality polish will dry quickly and set all the layers underneath, as well as adding shine.

  • Finally, do nothing for at least five minutes - longer if you can manage it. Finish your glass of wine and sit back to admire your handiwork.

  • If you're short of time, or you didn't follow earlier advice by going to the loo, 'dry' your nails in warm water as the solvent evaporates quicker in water than in air.

Applying a coat of nail polish is deceptively simple. But there are a number of tricks to help you care for your nails and achieve stunning results:

  • Try to use a few large strokes rather than many small strokes, for a more even look.

  • Leave the sides and cuticle clear so the skin/nail can breathe, and also to make the nail look longer. Just a small gap will do.

  • If you find it difficult to avoid getting nail polish on the cuticle, try this tip: start each stroke a little way above the cuticle, then move backwards a bit, before moving forwards towards the end of the nail.


People (especially men) who are shy of their painted status might want to stick to painting their toes, which they can then reveal in the presence of open-minded folk and keep covered during travel through less accepting environments.

Essential pieces of equipment for nail polish lovers are open-toe shoes or sandals. If you want to look really co-ordinated, try wearing sandals or an ankle bracelet in a complementary colour.


The simplest way to remove nail polish is to use a cotton wool ball and wet it in nail polish remover. You can also buy a ready-soaked box of removal pads. Leave the cotton wool ball resting on the nail for a while to soak in a bit before wiping firmly along the nail, cuticle to tip. This helps a lot at getting it off quicker, especially if it is being removed fairly soon.

Most remover is based on acetone and most people hate its smell. Some removers include perfume, though, which can make things a little more bearable, or you could paint your nails with the windows wide open. Acetone is quite a harsh chemical, so it's possible to get non-acetone based remover from the Body Shop, amongst other places. Supposedly these should be gentler on the nails and skin. One researcher shared these experiences:

I got some nail polish remover wipes from there ages ago, but they didn't work so well, it took ages to get the polish off, and they also left my hands really oily - greasy and icky.

I got some removal pads recently to try to find out again if they were still annoying, and fared a lot better. The smell was almost pleasant, and the pads were better as they were smaller, so although they probably were as saturated with remover as the last time I tried there wasn't so much to go on me, and one pad was enough for all my nails.

Untouched, most polishes last until they've gradually worn off with the nail which for some polishes can take weeks. One fun thing to do is to paint your toenails and watch them grow over a week as the lower edge of the polish moves forward with the advancing growth of the nail. Never scrape the polish off as this is bad for nails, and makes them prone to flaking.


Some polishes have 'glitter' - tiny fragments suspended in the polish that twinkle in the light. They are nice to look at, but are a real pain to get off, because the glitter bits don't dissolve in acetone. This kind of polish chips more easily too. But don't let that put you off!

I have spent a fair amount of time (and money!) trying to find the perfect sparkly stuff. My favourite is Liz Collinge's hologram glitter because you always get a good amount of sparkle on each nail, unlike some of the others where you can get clumps of sparkle on some nails and none on others. Also it has a really good effect in the light.

Have you tried using striped polish? One Researcher did this back in the 1970s. It was cool then, but would it still be cool now? Still, with the way fashions go in circles, it can only be a matter of time.


Some people have just a few favourite colours, while others have massive collections of all the colours under the sun - a hundred or more. Goths, of course, stick to black, or perhaps a very dark purple at a pinch. Here's what a few Researchers said about their favourite colours:

'Lush lilac' - lovehearts nailvarnish proving a cool Christmas present, for a lovehearts obsessive...

I have a new favourite colour now, it is a sort of silver - very cool. Have also braved a sort of browny-beige colour called Oyster which is really lovely for work.

My current favourites are a Ruby and Millie silver-coloured one and a Liz Collinge violet one.

My daughter has a shade that is silver but when it is exposed to direct sunlight, it changes to purple. Very cool!

Different colours work for different places, too. For example, a fairly neutral colour is a good choice for work, while a vivid colour that matches with the rest of your outfit works well for going out. If you're going to be seen with a partner, try to pick a colour that won't clash with their clothes either, particularly if it's the rather distressing shade of pink that Durham Maths graduates wear!

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