In December, I had the opportunity for some extended time en femme. At most, I only get to spend a day and a night a en femme and usually my en femme time is restricted to a few hours. Having the house to ourselves for well over a week meant that I could spend far longer at a stretch fully en femme and that I even managed to have my toe nails painted for a whole week after getting my pedicure. Another little perk was that I was able to keep my finger nails in a feminine guise for much longer than usual and this has given me a chance to give you a (hopefully) meaningful and useful product review.
First, some background. When I first started dressing in public, the need to make my fingers look their best became apparent. Ugly, torn, short finger nails are always something of a ‘tell’. I started using regular nail polish. This was fine but did present me with some issues. Firstly, it is rather difficult to grow your finger nails and keep them nicely manicured if you also want to ‘pass’ in masculine form. Long nails are not acceptable in men and are probably harder to hide than shaved legs and torsos. Secondly, painting nails and letting them dry can add considerable time to an already lengthy preparation period and you simply cannot do this in advance without outing yourself. Thirdly, removing the polish is time consuming and you cannot always be certain that you have removed all the polish. Tell-tale streaks of polish on your nails or cuticles (I find cuticles seem to hold the polish better than the nails) will certainly raise a few eyebrows. Finally, it is hard to get a good finish. Unless you have lots of practice painting and sufficient time on your hands, it will be hard to do a decent job (for many ‘part-timers’ you simply never get enough opportunities to practice) and, as nail care is often tricky for part-timers, even with the best paint job the nails may not look their best. You certainly will battle to get a decent length nail and the edges will not be nice and smooth.
On meeting other transgender people in the flesh, I was introduced to ‘false’ nails. I had always assumed you could only get these at a salon and that they would be expensive and totally unjustifiable for a short duration wear. A visit to the salon can also be scary for someone who is not at peace with themselves as it will require a good deal of personal interaction and some intimate conversations will arise. All good if you are comfortable with such things. Less so if you are closeted. I was introduced to various brands of nails that can be found at supermarkets, pharmacies throughout South Africa and indeed online.
Broadly speaking, within this group of DIY false nails, there are two main varieties, reusable and disposable nails. The reusable nails are fairly thick and robust and can be painted, cleaned and repainted. They usually need to be applied with a liquid glue much like super glue. The disposable nails are much flimsier, less robust and cannot usually be re-used. They certainly cannot be repainted, and they are applied using a type of double sided adhesive that is either supplied as a nail shaped tab you apply yourself or is pre-applied to the nail by the manufacturer. Here is a picture of the tabs if you are unclear what I am on about.
My preference is for the disposable nails. It is true that they are more expensive in the long run, but the use of the double sided adhesive application system means that they are quick and easy to apply and to remove as well. You do not risk sticking your fingers together (a real problem with the ‘super glue’ type adhesive) and you can simply pull the nails off when you are finished. The liquid glue is far stronger, and you need a chemical solvent to dissolve it. This means that after a night of dancing in the night club, you will return home in the early hours of the morning, get undressed and then spend an hour soaking your fingers in acetone to remove the nails. Not ideal!
The disposable nails do have one or two drawbacks. They are soft and prone to being damaged, so you need to be careful. No opening of beer or soda cans! Also, the adhesive used is less strong and they can be prone to falling off if you do not apply them correctly (you see a strength can become a weakness and vice versa). Finally, you are limited by the colour choices of the manufacturer and/or the retailer’s buyers.
However, as long as you can bat your eyelids at a friendly waiter (or other gentleman) you can almost certainly get your drinks opened (if not bought) for you. Secondly, by carefully applying the nails and carrying some emergency supplies with you (more on both later) you can wear them with confidence. Finally, there is usually (even in South Africa) a fairly good range of colours, lengths and styles available. You can usually find (in the same shop, across different brands) two or three different shades of red, two or three shades of pink, two shades of blue, a few bright/neon colours, black, French polish (two tone pink and white) as well as a range of ‘specials’ (nails with various patterns, gold or other metallic overlays, seasonal designs etc). You can usually get the nails in short, medium or long lengths. I prefer the short to medium and find that even the medium can feel a bit too long. The manufacturer supplies around 24 to 30 nails per pack and I have found that this means I can get one or two applications of perfectly sized nails and one application of less than ideally sized (but still wearable and not ugly or uncomfortable) nails per pack. My finger nails are on the small side and I always have a few of the larger sizes left over. So even those of you with large hands and finger should manage to find nails that will work for you.
‘So, how do we apply these things’, I here you all shout. Well, it really isn’t that complicated. I always make sure that I do my nails as the very last thing I need to do before going out. I make sure I am dressed, makeup is done, my handbag is selected and that I have packed all the necessities in the bag, my shoes are on, my accessories are all in place and my hair is styled. Like I say do your nails last. Make sure your hands are clean and dry and that your nails are clean and trimmed. Select the ten nails you want to use. Choose the right size for each nail (I literally try the nail on the finger to get the best fit) and lay them out in order. If in doubt about which size is best. go with the smaller one. It will fit better, feel better and look better. A nail that is slightly too small will always look better than a nail that is too big. Then take the emery board/paper (usually supplied with the nails) and buff the nails. Buff the ends and the upper surface of the nails. Make sure you don’t remove too much nail as this will weaken them. All that you are looking to do here is to smooth them out and give the nails a good surface to which to adhere. Next take the wet wipe (also supplied with the nails) and use it to clean the surface of each nail. This wet wipe has an alcohol-based cleanser and removes oils and other dirt that will impede the adhesive. Then one at a time, starting with the pinkies and working towards the thumbs remove the tape from the nail and press it onto the finger. Be sure to position it well and then press it firmly and hold it in place for 10 seconds. When I get to my first index finger (the last four nails) I remove the tape from all four remaining nails (being sure to not touch the adhesive) as I find it easier to perform this task without longer than usual nails interfering with my dexterity: even the ‘short’ nails are longer than I am used to usually wearing my nails). I then finish off pressing the nails firmly in place and hey presto! You are done. I avoid washing my hands for at least 10 minutes as water interferes with the adhesive.
I always carry an emergency kit in my handbag. A few spare nails (I always seem to have a few spares of different sizes left over from previous packs and it is a good idea to keep them as emergency spares) and a strip of different sized nail adhesive tabs (even if my nails are pre-glued I have a few of these on hand in case nail falls off). This way even if a nail falls off and you lose it before noticing you will be able to make emergency repairs whilst out and about.
I am often complimented on how good my hands look and I attribute a lot of this to being able to have hands that look well-manicured even when they may in fact be slightly neglected. Here are a few photographs where you can (hopefully) see some examples of my nails.
In fact, some people seem to think that I have my nails done professionally. I do not. Applying the nails is quick. The entire process from start to finish will take no more than five minutes and as you get more skilled you can probably get that down to the manufacturer’s claimed ‘three-minute manicure’. Removing them is even quicker. In the case of Impress at least, the manufacturer explicitly states that the nails are not reusable, but I have managed (when being super careful) to remove the nails carefully enough that they can be worn again (using the adhesive tabs) but this does make your life more complicated and the nails do often bend and distort so badly that they need to be thrown away.
As noted above, in December, I had the opportunity to wear my nails for an extended period. I was able to apply my Impress nails on the Wednesday and I wore them for nearly four full days, removing them on the Sunday morning. The only difficulties I had was that one nail came off in the shower after two days and I had to re-apply it with one of the adhesive tabs I have on hand and after a few days my right-hand index fingernail started looking a little tacky. This is the nail I use most of the time (I am right handed) for various tasks (such as opening cans of cold-drink), but I was able to repair the damage by carefully trimming the damaged bits of nail with ordinary nail clippers and it looked fine. My spouse has also taken to wearing these nails from time to time and she has managed to get as much as 10 days wear out of them. This whilst doing all the ordinary activities of a person in the early 21st century: washing, cleaning etc.
I cannot say that I see a material difference between the two brands. They have slightly different shapes and obviously the designs and colours vary slightly, but these are hardly material. The quality is comparable, and they both look good in their own way. In an emergency I have even worn the odd Elegant Touch nail with a majority of Impress nails, but I wouldn’t advise this, you can see the difference up close. I therefore usually go with whichever brand is cheaper on any given day, or which brand happens to be available in the colours and lengths I need. When the nails are on special I will often buy multiple packs as they do seem to keep rather well, but I wouldn’t keep them on hand for more than a few months (perhaps a year at the most) as the fresher the adhesive is the better it works, and it is easier to remove the protective tape from the adhesive on the nail.
Pricing can vary widely depending on the store you visit, when the nails were imported (exchange rate fluctuations are real) and what the retailer is looking to do with their stock on hand. I have seen them retail for as little as around R60 (US$5), when on special and part of a buy one free, get one free type promotion, and as much as R190 (US$16) for a pack of ‘fancy’ nails with glitter, metallic overlays etc. I note that these prices are not that dissimilar to what the manufacturers own websites advertise the nails at. It really does pay to shop around and consider buying in bulk when you find a good deal.
I do not know for sure what material the nails are made of. They are variously described as ‘gel’, ‘artificial’, ‘false’ and ‘fake’ by the manufacturers. The nails seem, to my amateur eye, to be made of some sort of plastic. This probably raises legitimate environmental concerns for the ‘woke’ consumer. However, nail polish is certainly made from mineral oils which are hardly great for the environment and the various nail polish removers are solvents that are similarly less than ideal from an environmental point of view. I would therefore argue that once you have decided to decorate your nails you are going down a less than environmentally friendly route anyway and you need to make peace with that. I also don’t think that a few grams of plastic per person makes that much of a difference, especially as for me, as a part-timer, these are hardly being worn every week and as I make other (arguably) more meaningful choices and as I recycle as much as possible I am at peace with this.
From a cost point of view, painting your nails at home is certainly cheaper. From a cost benefit point of view, whilst the false nails are more expensive than a DIY paint job, they certainly give a far better finish. A finish comparable to one you get in a salon at about a third of the price (manicures can cost as much as R300 to R350). Nail polish is not cheap and doesn’t last forever. It can dry out and become thick and gloopy and a bottle of good, high end nail polish can cost as much as (or even more than) a pack of false nails, so the savings are not necessarily that large. Of course, if you were planning to wear the nails all the time, for weeks on end, a professional manicure is probably as expensive (you would need to redo your DIY false nails at least three to five times in the time between professional manicures) or possibly even cheaper than the DIY option. It is certainly more fun, and you feel pampered while getting it done, but for a part-timer looking for a few days wear at most, this is a good, cost effective and aesthetically pleasing option.
PS using these false nails has not damaged my nails in any way. Unlike some gel nails, they do not soften the nail underneath and even after a week of wear the nails merge none the worse for the experience.
I hope you found this review entertaining and useful. Please remember that wherever possible I review products that I have used myself for a long time. I prefer to give you honest insights from my own experience. I typically do not review products on a ‘paid for’ basis. if I do so, I will disclose the payment received in the review.