Nail polish for Tigers

Nail Varnish for Tigers

Being a treatise on the application and wearing of nail varnish for tigers and the males of other species


A while back I suggested that I might write an account of this subject. It has taken me a while to get around to it because the subject is deeper than it might seem at first sight and I have been experimenting with methods and products.

It is important to state at the outset that I am not an expert either in cosmetics in general or in nail varnish in particular. This text deals with my own experiences and may contain errors and controversial statements. If you should decide to follow my example, you do so at your own risk.


If you are the happy-go-lucky type you may decide simply to go ahead, splash on some nail varnish and be done with it. Good luck to you. The more thoughtful will realize that there are issues to think about even before you first set brush to nail. I can only give an outline of these here. For brevity, they are placed under two headings, Health and Animal welfare.


Nail products (like all modern cosmetics) are complex mixtures and compounds of chemicals, many of them quite powerful in their effects. The human body being what it is in all its marvellous conditions and variations, no matter what substance we are talking about, someone somewhere in the world will have bad reactions to it. Most people wear nail varnish without suffering any problems but occasional allergies and side-effects do occur, so be careful.

There is a lot of competition in the cosmetics business and manufacturers work hard to stay ahead of their rivals. One way to do this is to market a product that produces good results. A product that works well is not necessarily a product that is good for you. Many makes of nail varnish contain some rather nasty chemicals that are at least toxic and may cause cancer. More and more products are becoming available that do not use these chemicals but alternatives thought to be safer. If you concerned about health issues, this is something you should check before applying the stuff to your nails.

I am not a chemist or a biologist so I cannot discuss this issue knowledgeably. It’s up to you to do the reasrch. As a clue, start by looking up toluene sulfonamide and formaldehyde.

Animal welfare

While Britain and the EU are slowly moving away from animal research in such areas as cosmetics, testing and experimentation on animals still continue in many parts of the world. Personally, I am disgusted that animals should be made to suffer for me to paint my nails and I take care to use products that are not animal tested.

This is not easy. It is often very hard to find out whether a manufacturer tests on animals. (It’s no good asking retailers like Boots and Superdrug as they simply don’t know and, for my money, don’t care.) Even if a manufacturer claims not to test their products on animals, their ingredients might have been so tested somewhere along the road.

If you are concerned about this, then you are probably already clued-in and know how to go about finding out what you want to know. If not, well, you are at the beginning of a long and complicated journey.

Why wear nail varnish?

If you are reading this, I expect you have either worn nail varnish or thought about doing so. Either way, you probably have some idea as to why you would want to do this. Remember, I am talking to males, not to females. Females know why they use make-up and it is only males who tend to be confused about such things.

I don’t know why you wear (or are thinking of wearing) nail varnish. I only know why I do. First of all, I like it. Naked nails are, well, ordinary and a little boring. Painted nails are colourful. I like looking at my painted nails. Also, it’s fun to do.

Will your nail varnish attract attention? Yes, definitely. I have had a few people approach me and ask about it but most reactions are confined to people nudging another and pointing out that I have varnished nails. I even had someone take a photograph of me in a restaurant. They thought I didn’t notice but of course I did though I pretended I didn’t. I am amused by this. In fact, it’s one of the things that keeps me redoing my nails each week. If you are the shy type, then you may not like the attention.

How to apply nail varnish

There are three methods of applying nail varnish. (Actually, there are more but I can just about squeeze them into three categories.) These are 1. Quick and Simple, 2. Extra Care and 3. The Full Works. I will describe each in turn.

Quick and Simple

This is the method that most people try when they first get the idea of painting their nails. It consists of three stages: 1. buy nail varnish, 2. paint your nails and 3. admire the result.

Of course, you should clean your hands and nails first. If this is the first time you are putting on varnish you will probably get away with washing your hands with soap and water, rinsing them well and drying them carefully with a clean towel. If you already have old varnish on or wish to remove the new varnish later, then you will need a varnish remover. I say more about that in the next section, Extra Care.

Is there anything wrong with this method? Not really. If it works for you then why bother with anything else? It’s probably the method of choice for anyone who wants to wear nail varnish for one evening or over the weekend and remove it afterwards.

Why doesn’t everyone use this method, then? There are two reasons. Firstly, nail varnish will stain your nails. The darker the colour, the more noticeable the stains will be. They show up as brown patches on your nails and will not wash out. If you wear nail varnish continually, this may not matter but if you wear it for special occasions only and take it off again afterwards, perhaps when you go to work, then staining may be of concern.

Then there is chipping. All varnishes chip but varnish applied straight onto the nail is even more likely to chip. On the other hand, biology and lifestyle also contribute to chipping, biology because different varnishes work better for some people than others and lifestyle because the rougher you are on your hands, the more likely you are to chip your varnish.

What can I do if my varnish chips? You can patch it up. The result will not be as good as when you applied it to start with but it will pass muster if you are in a hurry. First paint the area that has lost varnish, let it dry and then paint the whole nail.

How to do it

Having cleaned your hands, spread a towel or other cloth on the table. This is to catch any spills. Have a clock or watch handy so that you can time yourself.

Shake the varnish bottle vigorously. A lot of people, including experts, tell you not to do this. They think it puts bubbles into the varnish which will spoil the varnish. I don’t believe this. Bubbles come from another source, which I will explain later. If you are right-handed, painting the right hand is going to be more difficult than painting the left hand (and vice versa for left-handers). I can only tell you how I do it.

I put my right hand so it rests comfortably but solidly on the towel. I take the brush and wipe the top (not the bottom) of it on the bottle as it comes out. I put my left wrist on the edge of the table to steady it and paint the nails by rolling my hand and flexing my fingers. Unless you are skillful or have exceptionally steady hands, you will need to be very careful and proceed slowly. Paint a stripe from the cuticle to the edge of the nail down the middle. Then paint either side, being careful to paint to the edges without getting varnish on the skin. Difficult? Impossible! You will make mistakes. Don’t worry about this at the moment.

Depending on the varnish you are using, you may see areas where the colour is less dense than others. Don’t worry about this, either. Your job at this stage is to put an even coat of varnish over the nail.

Experts often tell you not to recharge the brush but to paint the whole nail with one brush-dip. I doubt whether most women can follow this advice and men even less as we have big nails. Don’t worry about recharging the brush.

The other piece of advice is: don’t take too long over it. Modern varnishes are designed to dry quickly (more about drying later) and if you dawdle, the pain already on the nail will start to stiffen and by working it further you will make an uneven finish. Quick but careful is your motto here.

Having painted the five nails of you right hand, stop and let the varnish dry. If you try to paint the other hand straightaway. you will knock, scrap or scratch the wet varnish on your right hand. This is where the clock or watch comes in. Sit still and do nothing until the varnish dries.

How long should you wait? That’s very difficult to say as it depends on so many unknown factors such as the composition of the varnish, the warmth and humidity of the air around you. I will say what I do. I paint one hand and wait 10 minutes; then I paint the other hand and wait 10 minutes again. You may find you need more or less time for the reasons given.

Once the varnish on the left hand is dry you can put a second coat (if needed) on the right hand and then on the left hand, waiting 10 minutes each time. The more coats you put on, the longer it takes to dry because the new coat moistens the old one.

Why is it so important to wait? This is where the famous bubbles come in. If you put on another coat too soon, the first coat is still drying. It dries by exuding the solvent as a gas. If you paint another layer too soon, the gas from the underneath layer can become trapped, forming bubbles. These look as if you have painted over sand or salt grains. They are tiny but they spoil the finish.

A note on drying

Modern nail varnish dries quickly in the sense that the surface soon ceases to be tacky to the touch. However, it takes at least an hour or even more for the varnish to become dry right through. In the meantime it remains soft and all too easy to damage by even a light tap against a solid object. Until you start painting your nails, you do not realize how often you bump and scrape your fingers. Knock your finger against the tap while making tea, and the varnish will ruck up like a mat. Once the varnish is “dry”, you need to take extreme care until it is hard.

Are there ways to speed up the process? There are three I have seen promoted. The first is to put your varnished nail under the cold water tap. I haven’t tried it so I cannot say whether it works. I am sceptical.

The others involve dryers, mechanical or chemical. You can buy a mechanical dryer for as little as £10 at Argos or you can spend upwards of £60 on a “professional” one. These are boxes into which you put your hand and which blow air onto your nails. They may also have an ultra-violet light that is said to harden nail polish. In my view, the main advantage of these dryers is that they encourage you to keep your hand still while the varnish dries. If you just sit there you may start to fidget and end up knocking your nails against something.

The chemical method consists of drops or a spray which are said to penetrate the varnish and dry it in about 10 minutes. There are also “quick-dry” top coats (more about top coats later) which do the same. These do work but they only dry the surface. The varnish remains soft.


This method works perfectly well as long as you accept the limitations. It has the merits of simplicity and ease. There are plenty of makes easily available in the shops.

What brands do you recommend? I can only tell you which ones I have tried. I always use black which influences my choice somewhat. I have tried NYC and Gosh, both sold at Superdrug. On a good day, you will get away with one coat of Gosh “Nero” but it’s best to put on two to make sure. NYC definitely need two coats if not three. Both manufacturers claim that they do not test on animals. I am not sure of the composition.

My favourite in this category is “Raven” by Manic Panic which you can buy in the UK from stores selling cosmetic etc for the Goth community. Manic Panic “Raven” covers in a single coat, giving a deep, impenetrable, glossy black and dries fairly quickly. It is not tested on animals and is free from the nasty chemicals that you should avoid. It does tend to chip after a couple of days, which brings us on to the next method.

Extra Care

If you find your varnish chips quite soon and you want to avoid brown stains on your nails, consider moving to this method. We shall discuss cleaning and preparing nails, applying base coat and, of course, applying colour.


I assume that by now you will have been painting your nails. You therefore need a nail varnish remover to take off the old polish. Even if you have not used varnish for a while, it’s quite a good idea to clean your nails with this stuff as it removes all the grease. There are several sorts. The main division is between liquid and pads. In turn, liquids can contain acetone or be acetone-free. If you use liquid and have health concerns, use the acetone-free version. You can buy it from shops like Boots and Superdrug.

If you use liquid, you will need cotton wipes. These should be lint-free. Finding them is very difficult. Many makes advertised as lint-free simply aren’t. If you use these, your hands will end up looking like little furry animals. That might be fun occasionally, I suppose, but the fun tends to wear thin after a bit.

All the pads I have tried have been genuinely lint free. Using them is much less messy than using liquid in my experience. You can get acetone-free ones too. I use Quickies (sold by Superdrug) and find them excellent.

Quickies come in a plastic box. When new, the pads are protected by a foil seal. Once you break this, the pads start drying out even if you carefully close the box. In between uses, I keep the box in one of those resealable plastic bags used for keeping food in the fridge. This slows the drying rate.

To remove varnish from your nails, rub them with a Quickies pad, replacing it as often as necessary. What could be easier? Well, in fact, you do have to take care. It is very easy to leave traces of varnish in corners and under the nail. After cleaning, you need to take a good hard look at your nails to make sure every trace of varnish (including any transparent base coat) has been removed. I always keep the used pads beside me until I have finished filing my nails in case Il discover remaining traces at this stage.

After removing the varnish, wash your hands thoroughly and dry them. Your nails should look clean and matt. Now you can file them. I also have a thing called a “nail stone” that I bought from Muji. It’s like a small sharpening stone but with a very fine grain and is useful for tidying up your nails after filing.

Applying base coat

It’s time for the first innovation: you are now going to apply base coat. The purpose of base coat is to protect your nails from staining and to help the varnish adhere to them. In theory, this will make your varnish last longer before it starts to chip. How will it does this depends on those famous many factors.

There is an enormous range of base coats available. Manufacturers often supply several. It can be a headache working out which one to use. There are ordinary ones that claim no qualities beyond those I stated above. Then there are vitaminized ones, nail stregtheners, ridge fillers, chip resistant ones and so on. I suggest you use an ordinary one to start with and try others if and when you perceive a need to do so.

Base coat is either transparent or slightly tinted. The colour does not show up in use. As far as I know, this colour is merely decorative and is neither a side-effect of the ingredients or included for any purpose. Ignore it other than to enjoy it if you like it.

Apply base coat as you would the colour varnish. Most base coats dry quite quickly but you should still allow them plenty of time to do so otherwise you risk bubbles later. Once it is dry, apply the colour varnish. As I have written at length about that, I will not repeat myself. Base coat won’t make any difference to colour coverage though it might make the actual painting a little easier as you have a good surface to pain on.

I will mention one thing here, though: what to do about nail varnish that goes over the edge of the nail onto the skin. There are several things you can do about it, including nothing.

A lot of people try to remove the excess with cotton buds. This is a bad idea because more likely than not you will rub the nail as well and spoil you work. An alternative is to use a nail varnish remover pad twisted around a toothpick. This gives greater control there the risk of contact with the nail remains. Some shops sell “correcting pens”. As the name suggests, these resemble pends with felt tips. You use the tip to remove splashes. I have never used one so I can’t say how effective they. Users say that the tip soon becomes saturated with varnish which reduces their efficiency.

If you are of a masochistic tendencey, you can try removing the splashes once they are dry by rubbing them with a nail file or scraping them with a blade. Neither method is particularly effective and they are likely to cause soreness. What do I do? I use the last method listed above: I do nothing. That isn’t as silly as it sounds. The thing is that varnish doesn’t stick to skin very well and very soon comes off. You can encourage this desirable outcome by frequently washing your hands. Remember also, that other people, unless they happen to be make-up artists or nail varnish fanatics don’t notice the blemishes on your nails as acutely as you do. Especially if you are a man (or a tiger): they will be so shocked to see you are wearing varnish at all to notice any little imperfections!


The Extra Care method (using a base coat) helps prolong your nail varnish and protect your nails from staining. Your varnish will still chip eventually and you can correct this by patching. The method may suit people who want a good result but without spending too much time achieving it and who don’t mind occasionally patching up chipped nails.

What base coat should I use? Information on this topic is often partisan and confusing. I suggest you go to Surperdrug or Boots and buy a base coat that looks good according to the blurb on the packet. You can try several until you find one you like. I have tried several, including “Natural Base Coat” by O.P.I. and “Anchor” by Zoya, and at the moment am using a nail strengthening base in the Miss Nail Bar series sold at Superdrug, bought when I suffered a nail-peeling incident (see below). It’s quite difficult to work out the separate effects of the different layers unless you test them over a long period changing only one item at a time.

After using nail varnish for a while you may find that your nails peel. What happens is that layers of nail start peeling off from the top. In my experience (and it is only my experience so take it with caution), peeling (also called “weak nails” in the trade) is caused by cleaning, not by the varnish itself. If you use an acetone based nail varnish remover, this can dry out your nails and cause them to peel. (Peeling can also be caused by diet or illnesses so you may consider seeing a doctor if the condition persists.)

There are two ways to tackle peeling nails. The most important, in my view, is to stop using acetone based nail polish remover. I have not had the slightest trouble since I moved to Quickies. The second thing you can do is to use a nail strengthening base coat or pre-base coat. (A pre-base coat, as its name suggests, is a coat you put on before putting on the base coat as usual.) All being well, these two actions will remedy the problem. As with all health problems, if peeling persists, you should consult your doctor.

The Full Works

If the above methods work reasonably well, what need is there to try even more complicated methods? I often ask myself that exact question, especially when I am applying The Full Works to my nails and thinking of all the other things I could be doing with the time!

The answer, I suppose, is that some of us want things to be perfect and we strive to achieve this perfection despite knowing that we can never reach it. Then there is all that wonderful publicity put out by cosmetic companies telling you that in return for spending just as few more pounds here and there, you too can have fingers like Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell. Actually, I am not sure I want fingers like Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell but you get my drift, I am sure.

So what, exactly, is The Full Works? Basically, it is the above Extra Care plus a few more stages. For example, are your nails uneven? Most people’s are. There are ridges running along your nails, more noticeable in some people than others, and these might interfere with that lovely Rolls Royce smooth sheen that you wish to achieve. Or maybe there are dents or scratches that show through an otherwise brilliant finish? In that case you might consider using a ridge-filler. This is a base coat or pre-base coat that contains finely ground quartz crystals. When you paint this stuff on your nails, the heavier quartz sinks and fills the holes and hollows, evening out the surface. I cannot say more than that as I have never tried it. If you do, let me know how you get on. I would be interested.

Personally, I reserve my interest for the other end of the process, the top coat. A top coat is a transparent varnish which is applied after the colour and its job is to harden and protect the varnish and lengthen its life.

Top coats are advertised as having different properties so that choosing one is almost as confusing a process as choosing a base coat. There are top coats, for example, that claim to stop your varnish becomeing discoloured as a result of exposure to the sun. Personally, I have never known this to happen but then, I do use black. Some top coats are quick drying and some are slow drying and need to be supplemented by yet another product, one that dries nail varnish.

So, should I use a top coat? My answer is that it’s up to you but I personally think it’s a good idea. A good one will protect your varnish to a certain extent and that can only be a good thing as it reduces the need to patch.

Top coats vary in their properties. One thing to remember is that every new layer you add to your nails moistens the ones below and lengthens the drying time. This applies to top coats. It is very galling to add a top coat to a perfect set of nails and then, just when you thought it was dry, knock your nails against something and spoil all your work. This has happened to me when I used a top coat that turned out to be very slow drying. I therefore advise only using quick-drying top coats. You can also use drying agents which you drip or spray onto your nails but I think a quick-drying top coat is best as long as it is in all other respects a good product.

One trick is to wait an hour or so for your nails to dry completely before applying the top coat. It will then dry a lot faster. You can also reapply top coat on other days to keep up the protection. Use it too after you have patched your nails.


The Full Works is not so much a method as a combination of the Extra Care method with any of a number of optional additions. Which you select depends on your preferences and interests. While such things as ridge-fillers help provide a good finish, they are probably necessary only if you are looking for a modelling job. A good top coat, on the other hand, is very useful. I wouldn’t think of not using one. The only disadvantage that I can see is that top coats are designed to give a glossy finish which may not be what you want if you are a Grunge, Punk or EMO. I’m not sure about Goths. Gothdom seems to have both elegant and scruffy wings so if you are a Goth, it’s up to you to decide whether you want a glossy finish. In any case, nail varnish itself is usally glossy anyway. I suppose you could try roughing up the surface with very fine flour paper after it has dried if you want a matt finish. I don’t know how successful that would be.

As for makes, for a while I used Seche Vite (pronounced “seshay veet” despite the lack of an accent). This is a top coat and drying agent combined. You drip it onto wet nails and it spreads and permeates the layers and dries them, hardening the surface. It seems to work well but it can only be bought by mail in the UK, as far as I am aware. I have also used proprietary brands that are sold alongside base coat and varnish. I recently tried the quick-drying top coat in the Bo’chel range sold by Superdrug. It seems quite good but I don’t know anything about it, for example what chemicals it contains or whether it is tested on animals. It is relativley new and there is little information available.

I should also mention that cosmetics firms are increasingly marketing combined base coat/top coat products. The idea is that you start and finish with the same stuff. The only one I have tried so far is that by Gosh and I found it terribly slow drying so I doubt whether I’ll use it again.

Final Notes

Makes and Brands

When venturing into a new field such as nail care, it is tempting to seek reassurance by choosing a trustworthy manufacturer and using all of its products. If you like a particular range, there is no reason why you should not do this. On the other hand, just because Acme Cosmetics produces a brilliant nail varnish, it doesn’t necessarily follow that their base coat and top coat are equally brilliant. A company may produce a first class top coat and duff colour or base coat. The only answer is to experiment and find out what works for you.

The only advice I would give on this score is to chnage only one thing (base coat, colour, top coat) at a time because otherwise it is hard to know what is causing the improvement or deterioration.


There is plenty of advice out there. The Web is full of it; the women’s (and sometimes men’s) magazines are full of it; and newspapers have beauty columns full of it. Some is good, some is bad and all of it is contradictory. Should you take any notice of advice? Yes, of course you should, as it might save you from expensive mistakes but treat all advice (including mine) with caution. The best advice is your own experience.

Gurus and Experts

There are plenty of self-styled experts handing down advice. You find them in the above named journals and on TV and radio. Some are described as “international” and as “giving advice to X” where X is the name of some celebrity or list of celebrities. The fact that you give advice to celebrities (or anyone else) doesn’t necessarily mean that they take it or that it is good advice. Be sceptical of people whose only claim to fame is that they give advice. Remember too that there is money to be made from promoting specific brands so be suspicious of anyone who “advises” use of a specific brand or narrow range of brands.

My advice, for what it’s worth is, Heed all advice but make up your own mind.

Your Comments

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