En español | Thanks to our new routine of wearing sweats and zero makeup while ripping open Amazon delivery boxes and repeatedly washing our hands, our once-groomed nails and brows have become unrecognizable. Those of us used to being pampered by sweet salon pros who snip, paint and prune away our extra bits are now on our own, along with everyone else. Here are 10 easy tricks that'll get you by.
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1. Fill more; tweeze less
Once you reach 50, every hair counts as eyebrow “tails” vanish or droop, fronts recede, and what's left turns skimpy, coarse, wiry or gray. Getting pluck-happy has always been a danger, but never more so than during home isolation, when boredom and tweezers beckon. To avoid mistakes, resist shaping brows until you see actual long dark stubble (enough to grab) or random stray hairs. Skip the magnifying mirror and work in natural light near a window — not in your dim bathroom. Most important, apply brow makeup before picking up a tweezer. We always pluck too much when working on a bare brow. Don't try to change your brows’ shape; instead, work on building it up.
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2. Groomed brows make a cosmetics-free face look fresh
Even if you skip all other makeup routines, do your brows. Whether yours are skimpy and barely there or raggedy and overgrown, start grooming by applying brow pencil, to define the basic shape, and brow powder (or eye shadow), to fill in any gaps. Keep the arch about two-thirds of the way out for an extended modern look. Once you apply makeup, go in and carefully tweeze stubble above and below the basic shape. (Restrict this to as few pulls as possible.) Choose brow makeup in cool, ashy shades of brown, taupe or charcoal, rather than warm hues with a red or yellow base, as these look much more natural, whatever your hair color.
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3. Trim long, wiry brow hairs
Hey, guys, this is for you, too. Crazy hairs that boing and curl and disrupt the shape of the brows make a mature face look messy and tired. Who needs that? Brush all brow hairs up with a makeup spoolie (a mascara wand–style brush, without mascara) or an old clean toothbrush. Then use a small scissors (like one for nails, nose hairs or embroidery) to trim tips of hairs that extend above the top line of the brow. To keep trimmed-but-still-coarse-and-wiry hairs in place, simply brush your brows upward with a tiny dab of hair gel or a gel made specifically for brows. A tinted gel can even help blend white and gray hairs in with darker ones, for a more even-colored look.
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4. Keep nails a practical length and shape
Going for a shorter nail length makes tapping on screens, opening packages and doing household chores simpler. And you won't have to worry about breaking one every time you pull on your jeans or do laundry. Aim for a lightly rounded shape or a hybrid squoval (not a square, which looks dated now), and keep the length even for all 10 nails. Grab an emery board and smooth edges left by the clipper (see tip No. 6); don't saw back and forth — just file in one direction. Let your hands sit in warm water and push cuticles back using a warm cloth; skip clipping your cuticles since you risk infection if you do. You might even consider buffing instead of polish which leaves nails with a healthy pinkish glow for a super low-key nail strategy.
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5. Use a small, round bladed clipper
This is another unisex tip: The curved shape of the clipper mirrors the shape of your nail beds and is the right size for trimming fingernails and your eight small toes (a larger straight-blade clipper is really only for the big toes). Men should leave a little sliver of white at the top, where the nail joins the skin, for protection and aesthetics.
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6. Remove your old gel nail polish safely
Going salon-free means nail beds will also be showing regrowth at the U-shaped base. To remove salon gel, buff an emory board over each nail to gently skim off the top layer. Then place a wet cotton ball saturated with acetone polish remover over each nail. Wrap each fingertip in a piece of aluminum foil to enclose the cotton and keep it securely in place. Wait 15 minutes while the gel softens, then remove the foil and cotton (you'll see a gummy residue of gel polish slide off each nail). Use a cuticle pusher to remove any excess. When all polish is gone, massage each nail with cuticle oil or olive oil.
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7. Ditch the acrylic talons
Long nails are impractical now and might even be a health hazard. Like false lashes and hair extensions, long fake nails (along with the glue and buffing, electric drills and chemicals that make them possible) now seem to belong to another time. Artificial nails can harbor germs, too, thanks to the gap between the fakes and authentic nails as nails grow out. Salon removal is always preferable, but you can do it yourself. First, trim your nails to a shorter length, and then soak your fingertips in acetone remover for around 30 minutes, until they're very soft. The ease of removal varies, but use a cuticle pusher or orange stick to scrape the acrylic shell off. Next, gently buff and massage each nail with oil. Leave polish off for a few weeks, to allow your nails to recover.
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8. Moisturize hands daily
Our dry, thinner-skinned hands have been doused with creams and sunscreen for years. Now, with stepped-up washings and hand sanitizer always within reach, they're more parched. This can result in red and irritated hands, making veins and brown spots the least of our concerns. For everyday protection and repair, a basic cream with a classic humectant like glycerin will rehydrate hands, but fancier varieties loaded with botanical oils and nut butters can make the experience more spalike than medicinal. I keep low-cost unscented versions, such as Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream ($4, target.com) and Vaseline Clinical Care Extremely Dry Skin Rescue Hand and Body Lotion ($4, target.com), for daily use at every sink — so my husband can use it, too! I also place a lush scented one, like Juara Coconut Illipe Hand & Nail Balm ($28, amazon.com) or L’ Occitane Amande Hand Cream ($12, sephora.com), bedside for sweet dreams. You should massage cream on hands and fingers for at least 20 seconds.
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9. Do a no-frills pedicure
We may not have the same vision (or physical flexibility) at 50-plus that we did at 25, but an at-home pedicure is still doable. Remove all leftover polish and soak your feet in the tub to soften skin. Add bath salts or a few slices of lemon to elevate the experience, and use a pumice stone on tough soles and calluses. Towel-dry, clip and/or file toenails, and push the cuticles back; then massage toes, feet, calves and legs with body lotion, working from bottom to top, toward the heart. Swipe each nail with a Q-tip dipped in polish remover to remove any lotion residue. Prep your toes with toe separators, or weave a twisted paper towel between them, to prevent smudges, and apply a thin layer of base coat on each nail, followed by two thin coats of polish (allow five minutes to dry between each coat). Or, if you're in a rush, try a one-step quick-dry polish, like Essie Expressie or Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Nail Color.
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10. Choose polish colors strategically
Sandals, slides and flip-flops have nudged socks, Uggs and sneakers aside as self-isolation footwear. They make us feel spring-y. And who can't help feeling upbeat with a daily peek at polished toes? If you're shopping online for new colors, remember that nudes and pastels are low-maintenance choices. They don't reveal chips or regrowth easily, so a pedicure can last a month. Bright pink or a classic cherry red makes a positive statement and diverts attention away from any not-so-pretty foot issues, like corns, bunions and hammertoes. Blue is the Pantone color of 2020 as well as the hue of hope and peace, so why not choose any shade from turquoise to baby blue as a reminder to stay calm and carry on? That's what I'm doing.