Five Finger Discount

The social benefits of a three-way.

By James Whittall
MenEssentials President

Five Finger Discount

You know you're not taking enough care of your fingernails when someone tells you your dog has a better manicure.

You also know the honeymoon's pretty much over when that someone happens to be your wife. And she comments on your nails during a rare tender moment when her mind should be on more important things (namely, you) and the kids are actually asleep at a decent hour and not up all night staring goggle-eyed at those damned music videos while they polish off my two last bars of Häagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche ice cream.

But I digress.

I've never doted on my fingers. I use them for one of three all-purpose activities: scratching, typing, and giving the bird to that idiot in the brown pickup who keeps cutting me off every time his lane isn't moving fast enough. Jackass.

Anyhoo, you don't need fancy nails for such simple finger fare. In fact, shredded cuticles seem to improve the overall male scratching experience. So why fix what ain't broke?

Because, as my wife so indelicately put it, "you aren't touching me with those things." Pointe finale, as they say in French.

Setting aside any romantic spontaneity that may have inadvertently seeped into our evening, she proceeded to treat me to my first ever five finger discount — a speedy home manicure that'll save you tons of time, wads of cash, and plenty of emergency visits to your friendly neighborhood nailcare expert.

Interested? MenEssentials wannabe web sites will sell you a fancy manicure kit for about $60 to $100. Or you can pick up the following for a total investment of $25 or less (sometimes much less), and get equal or superior results.

  • Nail scissors or nail clippers
  • Emery board
  • Three-way nail buffer
  • Bottle of decent cuticle oil
  • One cotton ball

Step One: Keep Trim

Start your manicure by trimming your nails with the scissors or clippers. As a general grooming rule, nails shouldn't be more than one-eighth of an inch or 3.175 millimeters in length.

Trim only the tips of your nails and not the sides, or you risk hangnail hell. When you're done, your nails should be flat-topped.

Step Two: A Little Three-Way Action

Use the emery board to round the corners of your nails and file them down to a comfortable length. Then switch to the three-way nail buffer.

Estheticians use buffers to smooth away nail ridges and irregularities. A three-way buffer is a sturdy, rectangular block of foam that has been coated with one polishing surface and two grades of abrasive: typically, fine grit 240 and very fine grit 400. Each surface is marked and color-coded for easy identification. Buffers also come in four-way (three abrasive surfaces) and six-way (five abrasive surfaces) models.

You can find these handy little grooming tools at any Wal-Mart or drugstore for three dollars or less. I've actually seen scam artists shilling them at shopping mall island booths for as much as $25, so be warned that hucksters abound.

Use the fine grit 240 surface to buff across the nail from side to side with gentle, even strokes. Leave the deepest of the ridges or you'll buff away the entire nail. Next, gently buff with the fine grit 400 surface for a soft, matte luster. Again, buff from side to side and don't use too much muscle. A few gentle but rapid strokes with the polishing surface, at the end, will create an attractive glossy finish.

Don't buff your nails more than once a week or you'll wear them down to the soft fleshy stuff underneath. The mere thought is enough to give me the willies.

Step Three: Fun with Oil

The cuticle is the outermost layer of skin that protrudes a short way above the nail surface. It is attached to the nail. When the nail grows, the cuticle often becomes distended, at which point it dries and shreds.

Damaged cuticles should never be removed. Cuticles are barriers that keep bacteria from entering the body between the nails and skin. They should also not be allowed to overgrow, since this retards nail growth.

Instead, cuticles should be "pushed back." To do this, apply a few drops of cuticle oil along the crescent-shaped edge at the bottom of each nail, where the cuticle and nail connect. Let the oil sit for a minute or two to soften the cuticle. Then use a cotton ball to firmly push the cuticle back, in the direction of your uppermost finger joint. Snip away any errant pieces of dead skin with your nail clipper, and you're done.

You can push back your cuticles every day, between weekly trimming and buffing. That should keep your home manicure in excellent repair from day to day — and your social agenda on track during those in-between hours.

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