Prev Next

Because I’m Not the Only Person Here Who Knows a Thing or Four

By Amalah

Before we get to this week’s questions, I have a small public service announcement:

There’s a rumor flying around via email and message boards that Bloomingdale’s is getting ready to launch their own line of cosmetics, and is temporarily offering the entire line at for $1 apiece. Different versions of the “promo” may also offer different specials on shipping if you purchase enough makeup (usually requiring a $25 or $35 purchase).
It’s been forwarded to me about a dozen times already, and while I was initially confused as to why the sale is happening at a website OTHER than Bloomie’s, I didn’t really think about it too much. Then I noticed that actually has a disclaimer on their homepage, clearly stating that they are in no way affiliated with Bloomingdale’s or any other department store (scroll to the bottom of the page).


A search for ‘ELF’ or ‘eyeslipsface’ at Bloomingdale’s website results in the following:

Some of our customers have received emails regarding the website. We want you to know that Bloomingdale’s and Bloomingdale’s by Mail are in no way affiliated with or the e.l.f product line, nor with any email regarding the website or product line, and we do not sell e.l.f. products.

Sorry folks, but it’s a scam. e.l.f. is a perfectly respectable and legitimate cosmetics line, so I really doubt the emails and forum postings originated from the company itself (most likely they came from someone trying to abuse their ‘Refer A Friend’ program by tacking their referral ID on the end of the link). Here’s the rub, though: e.l.f cosmetics are ALWAYS priced at $1 each, and are widely available at grocery stores, drugstores and major retailers like Target.

In other words, this ain’t high-end makeup at fire-sale prices. This is cheap makeup at regular cheap prices. The stuff could very well be an awesome bargain (I know Daily Candy once featured it), but unfortunately the people buying $35 worth of it because they think it’s from Bloomingdale’s are getting tricked, and that needs to stop. Tell your friends, and for the love of God, stop forwarding that email.

Who knew the cosmetics industry could be fraught with such CONSPIRACY and INTRIGUE? Dun dun DUUUUN.
And now we return to your regularly-scheduled Smackdown already in progress’

Today’s column features the Internet debut of the Wednesday Advice Smackdown AlphaFoxyMamas, whom I have recruited to help me tackle questions outside my realm of expertise. And’it’s a really small realm, so I’m very glad to have y’all here. This week I went through the question queue in search of the questions I’ve been ignoring for weeks. Or even months, because I just had no idea how to answer them. Then I sent out bat signals to my plucky volunteers and asked for their two cents.

In most cases? I got a whole DOLLAR back.

I’ll be using our panelists sparingly for most Smackdowns (I don’t want to call too often and look needy or anything, omg), but this week? I’m shutting my trap and letting the real experts run the show.

(Oh, and I apologize in advance for how obscenely long today’s column is. Y’all are as talky as I am! Either that or my old editing skills are a little rusty.)

Dear Amalah,

You have taught me many things. The wonders of the foundation brush, the beauty that is the Coach bag, and secrets to beautiful hair. Now I’m hoping that you can teach me something else. My question is, what’s the deal with Proactiv?

I’ve seen the TV commercials and P. Diddy and Jessica Simpson seem pretty convincing. Does it work as well as they say it does? How harsh is it? How mosturizing is it? Will I have to use it forever? Does it have SPF (very
important for a fair skinned gal living in sunny New Orleans).

I’m a little afraid of the idea of a “system” but if it works, I’ll go for it. I’ve been having skin trouble for the past two years. I get lots of pimples, sometimes there’s the red angry ones, but most of the time, they’re whiteheads and blackheads. I’ve also got huge pores on my nose and the corners of my nose. I have combination skin (leans to the oily side of the spectrum most of the time, but it can get dry during the winter) that can be a little sensitive. I know it’s a tall order but I would appreciate your input before I buy. So, tell me all-knowing Amalah, should I follow Vanessa Williams’ advice and dial the 1-800 number, or should I keep looking?

Thanks so much,

I too have been tempted by the Power That Is The Proactiv Infomercial, but have actually never used the stuff. Nor do I personally know anyone who has. And yet’I feel like I’ve heard that it really does work, but where is that impression coming from? Did the infomercial impress me that much? Has QVC gone subliminal? Are they broadcasting ads into my dreams?
I don’t know. So I asked the AlphaFoxyMamas. Here are their responses:


I’ve used it intermittently (mostly the oil-control cream, which is kind of a mattifier, but stronger stuff), but my sister has been using it since she was 12 (she’s 16 now). Despite the claims according to the company, it DOES cause redness, itchiness and some flaking, especially with sensitive skin. But it goes away with regular use. However, if you stop using it, your skin will likely re-flare up with whatever problems you were having (which is what happened to my sister) (and Britney Spears! ‘ Amalah), so continual use is almost necessary for continual results, at least until whatever is causing the skin imbalance goes away.

I’ve never used it myself, am blessed with perfect skin (uh yeah – moving on) but do know a few folks that have. So what I can say is that it seems to work, but the caveat is — it is very strong. I would recommend using it only once a day to start, at night and then sticking with a skin care regime for sensitive skin in the morning.

I have never used Proactiv; however, both my best friend in the whole world (who I am currently IMing) and my boyfriend have used it.

Best friend’s honest opinion: During the first three or four weeks it worked great, but then my skin went from so-so to terrible. It was overly drying.

Boyfriend has been using it for about a year, and I don’t see a difference in his skin at all. He still has what I would call “problem” skin, but it’s not as bad as it was before we started dating. I think Proactiv is easy (especially for the men-type) because TV tells them it’s good and they don’t have to go to a store and actually purchase it…or even think about what they need to do for their skin.

Personally, I never trust anything that you buy off of TV, though I do want a freaking ab slider like no one’s business (oh hellllls yeah, me too ‘ Amalah)

And finally, Mary, who is our resident pharmacist smart-type person:
Proactiv generally consists of a regimen of three products, two of which contain the active ingredient, benzoyl peroxide 2.5% (BP). Many over the counter products also contain BP (for example, Clearasil Ultra Strength Tinted acne cream, Oxy-10). They may contain a higher concentration (5%-10% perhaps). Although a lot of people think that more is better, not necessarily the case here…if your skin is sensitive the higher strengths can cause irriation.

The medical approach to treating acne is to attack several of the factors involved in producing acne: sebum (oil) production, abnormal skin shedding, bacteria, and inflammation. BP is an topical antibiotic and is considered a good first line therapy of mild inflammatory acne (kind of Stage 2 acne). Irritation is a major side effect. BP can be combined with other topical antibiotics, if necessary.

Stage 1 acne is non inflammatory (just pimples) and is probably best treated with topical retinoid (retin A or adapalene) to prevent progression to Stage 2. None of these is available without prescription.

Obviously more severe inflammatory acne should recieve a stepped up approach involving different drugs and combinations.
There isn’t any evidence that the BP in Proactiv has any better efficacy than other BP containing products. Don’t believe everything (anything) you hear coming out of the mouth of a celebrity spokesperson.

(Hmm, hardly a ringing endorsement in the bunch, and my combination skin just yelped in terror at the words “overly drying.” I think I’ll stick with my much-gentler-yet-still-pretty-darn-effective Philosophy line-up. — Amalah)

Hi, Amy!

Love your blog and your advice smackdown! My question is about flat irons. I live in Philadelphia where, woe is me, the constant humidity collides with my hair and my hair looses the battle (frizzy nightmare pretty much EVERY DAY in this climate). When I go in for my routine trims, my hairstylist always pulls out the Flat Iron when she’s done drying which, when applied, makes my hair all wonderfully sleek and it STAYS THAT WAY through a humid Philadelphia day. On my last visit, I finally asked her what iron she was using and held up the Chi Ceramic Flat Iron and insisted it was the best on the market. I have seen it work on my hair in the salon so I know it’s great’.and then I looked at the price! Please hold me.

I’ve heard many things about flat irons in that you should use ceramic as the cheaper imitations will burn the hair, etc. The Chi, while expensive, seems to be the best choice because, after all, it IS my hair! ‘and when I ask myself the question, “Would I pay over $150 to look this good every day?” And’.well’hell yeah, I guess.

I may be way behind on the times here, but do you have any recommendations or have any comments about flat irons?


Considering my own hair needs absolutely ZERO help in the straight department, I don’t know nothing about no flat irons. I mean, I’ve heard the same general wisdom you have ‘ ceramic instead of metal, the Chi is the Mercedes Benz of flat irons, etc. ‘ but I don’t have any unique or first-hand experience to tell you about.

Luckily, we have a LOT of curly-haired readers out there, and they all had a LOT to say about flat irons. So I asked them: To Chi or Not To Chi?

(Oh God, I’m so sorry.)


My hairdresser swears that as long as it’s ceramic and has adjustable heat settings, there’s nothing wrong with a good old Conair. Having said that, thick, curly hair almost always becomes scarily frizzy and burnt-looking if it’s flat-ironed without being blow-dried STRAIGHT first. And it must be completely dry. COMPLETELY. If your hair feels cool to the touch, it’s still got some moisture in it and will protest mightily when the flat iron strikes. With frizz.

So, I don’t think the brand of flat iron makes a difference as much as the whole ironing technique.

Liz (a different one, hee):
Wow…right up my alley on this one. I’ve tried several different kinds (never the super-expensive ones because, well, I’m not shelling out $150 for a flat iron that does the same job as $30 one). I was so excited to try one that came out last year with glass plates in it that was supposed to also add a ton of shine to your hair. Well…I rushed right out and bought one and used it as soon as I could and OMG it felt like it was ripping my hair out! From what I see now, not many places still sell those, so I’d definitely go with one that has ceramic plates. The first one I had was a Conair that they don’t make anymore. I replaced it with another Conair that was okay, but the two sides attached in the middle and my hair kept getting caught in the hinge thingy. Also, if I sprayed any kind of heat protection stuff (which I highly recommend, like VO5 Miracle or Herbal Essences Dangerously Straight finishing spray) you would have to wait for it to completely dry before using the flat iron or get your hand burned with steam. It also only had a “high”, “low” and “off” settings.

I finally went with the one I plan on using until it dies! The Remington Wet 2 Straight. It’s got a digital LCD display with settings 1-30 (1 for completely dry, fine hair all the way up to 30 for wet, thick hair). It’s got holes for the steam and you can use it on wet hair. It also hinges at the end, so hair doesn’t get stuck in it and get pulled. Not to mention the handy dandy “open/closed” switch that will keep it closed when not in use. It also has an automatic shut off, so you won’t burn down your house and that’s always nice. So, in closing, I’d recommend a flat iron with ceramic plates, multiple settings, an automatic shut off, with the hinge part on the end and not in the middle. One that can do wet(ish) hair is good too.

Darcey, who I hit up for help TWICE this week, like give the poor girl a medal:
to chi or not to chi I love my Chi Turbo. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I’ve used everything from the cheap-o Target options to the mid-level Hot Tools, and my Chi Turbo. Only the irons in the Chi line don’t give me the tugging feeling on my hair that the other “ceramic” ones do. Most of the lower-priced models are only ceramic-coated, and don’t provide even heating, which means part of your hair gets straightened enough and the other doesn’t, requiring an extra pass and possible “scorchage” (my own term). So my advice? Do what I do, find a reputable Chi-dealer on eBay and buy yours for about $100. You won’t regret it!

There is no reason to spend $150 on a flat iron. I mean, unless you have that kind of money lying around and it makes you happy, I guess.

You DO want something ceramic, ionic, etc. Don’t go buying the Conair $7 jobby at Walmart, for crying out loud. But there are MANY options inbetween that and the top-of-the-line Chi. (Also good, in the Chi price-range, is Bio-Ionic. But really both brands are overpriced unless you find a great deal somewhere. Check eBay.)

I have heard marvelous things about the BaByliss line as a cheaper option.

I personally own a MaxiGlide, which is not a feminine sanitary product, despite how it sounds. I pink puffy heart it because it has a VERY wide plate (nearly 4″), making it ideal for those of us with mountains of curly hair to detangle and beat into submission. I would heartily recommend it to anyone with VERY LONG hair, but it is NOT suitable for women with short hair, and it’s overkill unless your hair is VERY curly. It also has adjustable heat, which is quite lovely and helps to keep you from frying your hair.

Here’s the big secret about flat irons: The solution you use on your hair before styling is actually MUCH more important than the iron itself. The Maxius iron comes with some cheapass thermal styling somethingorother. Utter crap. Use a quality thermal protectant specifically designed for flat-ironing; I like KMS Flat-Out or Goldwell Straightening Balm.

Ahhh…flat irons. Talk about my own personal Jesus. Haha.

A few years ago, when I was a reality television whore and I watched some sort of random Real World reunion show of some flavor on MTV I noticed that Melissa Howard had the best, most wonderful hair I had ever seen. It was so flat and straight and shiny. And I had also seen her with some SERIOUSLY curly hair. I happened to also read her blog regularly so I emailed her a question asking her how in the hell she managed that. Well she not only answered the question but she posted the answer on her website. There were two secrets. The first was a Hairart International Flat Iron. Best hundred bucks I’ve EVER spent. The second was a really understanding friend to help you out because the best flat ironing job is one that someone else does for you.

Here is the link to her answer…
I have tried some less expensive flat irons and honestly? They aren’t that bad. My back up flat iron is from Sally’s Beauty Supply ad I spent about fifty bucks on it. It’s a Curlmaster Professional with ceramic plates. I think the ceramic plates are the key.

There are a couple of websites that offer really good deals on flat irons.

What NOT to try? Do NOT think to yourself, “Self? Flat smooth hair is REALLY nice but imagine nice smooth hair with BODY!

And BOUNCE! This contraption with a round brush that spins precariously close to my face sounds like a FABULOUS idea…let’s try that !!”

I also have kind of a weakness for infomercials and so I’m currently trying to justify purchasing this. I LOVE LOVE LOVE my HAI iron but the concept of this one seems like more of what I need. And it would be less than I spent on the HAI iron but it’s called the “MaxiGlide” and that just bugs me like its a bastardized love child of a maxi pad and a tube of Astroglide…so we’ll see.
But I think that just as important as the right iron is the right product. Styling products are KEY when it comes to good flat ironing. First of all? John Frieda’s Frizz-Ease? Crap. Purely amateur hour. Not entirely true, if you have a minor amount of frizz which needs to be put in its place like a mildly unruly child then its probably what you need. But I can put that stuff in my hair and hear John Frieda laughing all the way to the bank.

I now use Pureology’s Super Straight Relaxing Serum on my towel-dried hair, blow dry (just dry, not straighten with a brush while drying), apply the Pureology again, and flat iron. It REALLY works. The Frizz Ease Straightening Spray that you can find just about anywhere will make your hair cry. It turns it all into crisp crackly straw and it is all so very bad.

My hair is uncontrolable when it’s curly, super frizzy and very thick. The first flat iron I bought was a metal one, and it didn’t work worth crap. The next one I bought was a cheap ceramic one (we’re talking $20-$30), which I bought from Walmart. It’s a Revlon, I believe. I’ve had it for a good four years now, and it still works perfectly. The flat irons with the smaller decks work better than the large ones, and buying one with a rounded edge makes it so you can curl your hair at the end without getting a weird kink.

I think a common mistake people make when flat ironing their hair is that they try to straighten too much hair at once. You don’t want to grab big handfuls when you’re straightening your hair. A less than pinkie-sized bunch is optimal. If you have your stylist straighten your hair you’ll notice she only does a small amount of hair at a time.

I’ve been using an iron and straightening my hair for 15+ years. And also leaving little scars along my hairline in the process.


A few things: it totally depends on the person’s hair type. Thick, hard to straighten hair? (Coarse & dry, too) Get the Chi. Spend the cash. (The Chi plates are ceramic through and through).

In between hair– not fine, not thick, kind of wavy — you can go with the ceramic *coated plate* flat irons (Revlon and Conair both have great products for around $20-$30). They take three years or so to wear out. And if you don’t use it everyday, even better.

Ceramic is the new black. No one uses metal anymore.

Tips, straight from the hands of my amazingly wonderful hair stylist: It all starts with how you dry your hair. Apply a straightening product (I’m a HUGE fan of John Freida’s Relaxing Creme it’s only $6, hello bargain), and let air fry for a bit. Then run a blow dryer through it (with that litte flat nozzle attachment- it focuses the heat), just to get it *almost* dry. THEN take your big round brush and “straighten” it as much as you can with the blow dryer. I use the quotes because it’s hard.

The go forth with your iron. Do it in sections — a banana clip helps — I do my bangs first, left side, right side, and then back.

Then I use a teeny bit of styling wax to tame frizzies.

I’ve inserted flickr links so you can see my type of curl and what the finished product looks like.

In case I haven’t mentioned it — I’ve got a fro. A white fro. A gray white fro. So, I was introduced — skeptically — to the straightening iron three years ago. It took me awhile to even give it a chance, but I finally did. And then I was in love. But I wasn’t going to pay what the stylist did for hers. I figured out a tip based on the fact that I have a fro: buy the straightening iron intended for black women’s hair. The brand that’s always in gold — gold curling irons, too. You know what I mean? Black and gold. Turn it on the highest setting, and it works like a charm. On my fro, on friends’ fros. On regular old white hair — turn it down a bit.

I’ve never fried my hair, and the straightening is super fast. Start as close to the root as possible and pull it slowly to the end.


I used to work for THE Hair Product Distributor to a major family haircut chain. Since I had this lovely job (can you say glorified secretary? Or new grad grunt?) I got a LOT of hair product/appliance perks. I’ve tried nearly every kind of straightener and ever

kind of straightening product.

While I was working for this job I tested all the new straightening products. What I can tell you is this:

‘ If you have naturally curly hair — #1 PUHLEEEASE just wear it curly. It’s beautiful — really it is. I recommend straightening no more than a few times a week. For the sake of the health of your hair — you and your hairstylist will thank me later.

‘ If you do straighten a lot use a deep conditioning treatment once a week.

‘ Ceramic irons are better, it’s true. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use it on the highest setting. I know you think your hair is the coarsest (is that a word?) and most unruly. You will fry your hair at this setting and the split ends will be the least of your worries. Can you smell that?? It’s your hair burning. (Mmmm, barbeque! — Amalah)

‘ Use straightening products. I recommend serums for thicker coarser hair and creams for finer hair types. I like the Matrix Sleek Look line for their creams — I sometimes will use it straight out of the shower when I wear it curly too. It promotes beautiful shine with little to no frizz. Plus — it smells great.

‘ Try to use a heat protectant spray — really any brand will do. I know I used to work for a hair product company, but the biggest thing I learned was when it comes to salon products — they’re all good and they’re usually on the same level, quality wise.

Ok – that’s all I got. Curly if you can, always ceramic, product and more product.

As with most hair products, the more you pay, the better equipment (and better result) you’re going to get. Ceramic is probably better; it gets hotter than the metal, and as such you don’t have to pull it through as many times, etc., saving yourself some damage in the process. But in my opinion, preparing your hair properly before you straight-iron will affect the outcome as much or more than the ceramic vs. metal bit. Even if you have a $150 salon quality iron, you’re still not going to get the desired effect if you just start pulling it through your dry, already-styled hair. These things aren’t meant to take you from Annie curls to Aniston straight in two minutes flat’it definitely takes work to get the right effect. Unlike a curling-iron, they aren’t really meant to be used alone.

First, wash your hair and condition as normal. (If you don’t condition, you really should’ especially before flat-ironing your hair. No matter how expensive your equipment is, in the end, straightening isn’t the kindest thing to do to your locks.) Put in some light-hold styling product, preferably something that is meant to give your hair some shine. Pull out your hair dryer. In layered sections, use a paddle brush or a large, round brush to dry your hair as straight as possible. (**This is actually the most important part of the entire process, especially for people with coarse, thick, or very curly hair.) Make sure it’s not damp but don’t over-dry it.

Once your hair is dry, you’ll take it into sections again to use the flat-iron. I personally separate the longest layer at the bottom, piling up the rest on top of my head and clipping it down to get it out of the way. You don’t want too much hair in the sections or you won’t be able to get it as straight as you want it. Then take 1-2′ pieces, start nearest the scalp, and slowly pull the heated iron down the hair. If you get steam, don’t worry ‘ that’s just the excess moisture escaping from your freshly-dried hair. You are NOT burning your hair if this happens. Actually, it’s the fact that your hair is still moist on the inside of the shaft that is allowing you to get that ultra-straight result’ and have it stay straight.

Continue through the rest of your hair, pulling down pieces from the top as needed. Once you’ve done your whole head, brush it through and touch up any kinks. Then put a few drops of shine serum into your hands, rub together, and run over your hair to tame any flyaways. Don’t use too much, especially you girls with curls, or you could see more kinks emerge.

My final piece of advice on this’ if you flat iron your hair, you’re probably good to go without a wash for at least 2-3 days. As mentioned above, straightening isn’t easy on the hair’ and straight hair that’s totally crispy and dead? Looks pretty trashy. (Why is everybody looking at me like that? ‘ Amalah)

Dear Wise and Wonderful Amalah,

I know you are an *expert* on all things beauty product related so I hope you can help me on this. I am a proud mama of a super busy 1 year old who is always on the go. I also work full time out of the house, so my spare time is at a minimum these days. One thing I miss about my pregnancy was the amazing affect it had on my nails. They were strong and generally awesome. These days between my crazy schedule and post pregnancy changes they have become brittle and wimpy. I have never had particularly strong nails, but now it is just sad. I don’t generally paint my nails out of fear my little one will ingest the peelings, and my lack of time for up keep. I just want to make them a little less wimpy, with out allot of work.

I hope you oh wise one can help this new mama.

My own nails are DISGUSTING. I cannot even tell you how awful they are. I bite, I pick, they peel, they break. (Actually, they are so brittle it’s more like they SHATTER.) Like Emily’s, they were awesome when I was pregnant, but I swear by the time I snapped the carseat into the car on the way home I’d broken them all off again.

Luckily, three AlphaFoxyMamas mentioned having fabulous, self-managed nails, and all three spilled their secrets.

Back before I was pregnant/breastfeeding I took a daily supplement to help have stronger nails (and thicker hair). It’s called MSM (methylsulfonymethane) and it really did seem to work for me. The brand I took was expensive, but I see that there are other brands that are much cheaper. (I think the brand I used was like $70 a month!)

My number #1 secret for stronger, healthy, longer nails is…..take basic care of them. That includes keeping a base coat and a clear coat on at all times. At least in the beginning. That way, they are protected enough to grow out on their own. Eventually, they will be stronger without as much daily care. Nails take about 6 months to grow an entire cycle. So this can take a while.
On to buffers/files. I think the buffers can be hard on your nails. I prefer use a soft 4-sided buffer on the bed of my nails. I use a coarser file on the tips of my nails. I prefer to buy a two sided one. I use the coarser side to get rid of the length, and the medium side to shape the nail.

Keeping your nails shaped correctly will also aid in them growing better. The shape you choose is up to your preference. The pointy shape will forever make me think of my Grandma’s nails. This is not a good thing. I prefer a short, squared shape. (this is not a picture of my nails, fyi.) (and can I just tell you that google has too many disgusting pictures of nails. Do not google “nails” again. DO NOT!)

I also use a cuticle oil every few days. Just brush a little on before you leave the house in the morning and you’re set. I like Solar Oil. It will last for years and smells yummy. Any oil will work. Just make sure to use it a few times a week.
Nail polish brands work differently on different nails. A brand that works great for one person, wouldn’t work so great on someone else. It has to do with the oils in your nail bed. Or something like that. That being said, after years and years of trying high end brands and drug store brands, this is what works best for me:

Base coat: Sally Hansen (cheap, I know!) Ultimate Shield Base Coat
Top Coat: Sally Hansen Super Shiny Top Coat
NLL87.jpg Colors: OPI! They always have the best colors for every season. Plus, I find they don’t chip as easily. And the colors have awesome names like Malaga Wine (my personal fave for fall/winter) and Senorita Rose-alita (the perfect summer toenail polish).

And the best advice is, don’t pick at your nails when they start to peel. Buff it out a little and cover with some clear polish. And, of course, don’t bite your nails. Ever.

(I hope you don’t want to know anything about acrylic nails. Because, I don’t know anything about them and haven’t since about 1992! And neither should anybody else!)

Jessica (who is an Actual Medical Professional, by the way):
Weak, peeling nails? BAH! Hate! I had that problem up until about three years ago when … well … it miraculously disappeared, actually. Don’t hate me. My problem now is nails that grow so fast and so strong that I have to use toenail clippers to cut them and a heavy file to shape them. No, I don’t get much sympathy from my peely/weak nailed friends. Yes, I can use my thumbnails as screwdrivers and crowbars.

Things that help weak, peeling nails:

‘ DON’T BITE. Duh. Also, don’t pick, bend, chew, or otherwise worry and torture your nails. (That includes picking off peeling polish — if it’s bonded to your nail, your nail will peel with the polish.) Again, Duh.

‘ DON’T USE FAKE NAILS. No. I hear you, but NO. The glue is bad, the fungus will come, the acrylic keeps your nails from “breathing.” They weaken and damage your natural nails & cuticles.

‘ Take a multivitamin and calcium. Take the calcium twice a day — most women need 1200 mg of calcium every day, but your body can only absorb about 600 mg at a time, so if you take it all at once, you’re wasting money.

‘ Keep your hands & nails clean & moisturized. Cleaning under your fingernails and pushing back your cuticles stimulates the cells in your nails to strengthen and grow. So does gently filing (every day or every other day — GENTLY). Using any moisturizer is great for your hands (particularly if you wash your hands a fragillion times a day, or use that horrific “hand sanitizer” stuff with any regularity [all alcohol! all drying! no waiting!]), but some of the “specially made for cuticles” stuff is thickerer and moisturizer-ier (?). I use Vaseline when mine get really dry and grumpy/cracky, or when I really want to treat myself — especially just before doing a paraffin dip. All hail Vaseline for the hands and feet! And the home paraffin dip? Simply. Hand. Orgasmic. They’re cheap, work great, really make a difference in “dry skin/nails” on your hands (and feet!), and I truly see that it helps my patients with arthritis, lupus, and other connective tissue-type pain. OMG it feels so so good!

‘ Get aggravated. Seriously! Just like cleaning and filing, drumming your fingernails on a hard (not rough) surface will also stimulate nail growth. All you bloggers out there should have *great* nails from typing every day. I have also found that just rubbing my nails against each other (palms facing each other, fingers bent, rub nails back and forth fairly quickly) not only accomplishes the same task as “drumming,” but also REALLY irritates my teenage boys! And my husband! Bonus!

‘ Be kind to your cuticles and your nails will reward you. DON’T be a picker! GENTLY push your cuticles back with a rubber or orange stick after you wash and dry and moisturize. I don’t advocate for “clipping” the cuticles off b/c it causes the nail bed skin to toughen (a.k.a. “keratinize” — basically it scars them, then you are in a vicious cycle of cutting, scarring, picking, removing, cutting, rinse, repeat… You know who you are!). Yes you may use cuticle “remover” stuff (“Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover” really does help to dissolve cuticles, particularly on tough toenail cuticles, and it’s cheap! I’m all about the cheap, particularly when it works).

‘ Give your nails a break. Don’t *always* *always* wear polish. Darker polishes will tend to yellow nails (particularly if you don’t use a base coat), although you can use the bubbly nail brightener stuff (beauty supply stores), or just gentle bleach solution to get them nice looking again. Thin base coats are good under polish and help decrease yellowing — I’ve been using the Orly rubberized basecoat Bonder with great success. I’ve never used a buffer to make my nails shiny, so if you find out anything about buffing, key me in!

‘ Use a kinder, gentler polish remover. I like the Once Removed Polish Remover & Nail Treatment System because it has some oily/moisturiz-y stuff in it. I don’t, however, suggest that you reapply nail enamel immediately like it says on the bottle — I find it makes the new polish peel off. I use it to get the old polish off, then wash and dry and moisturize, then I brush on a *very thin coat* of acetone just on my nails, THEN new polish. The acetone gets all the natural oils off the nail and makes the basecoat/bonder, well, bond better to the nail and the next coat (color). Less chipping.

That’s what I’ve got for you, Amy. I don’t know much (read “anything”) about different polishes — just get a cheap color I like and use it a few times and toss when I’m bored with it.

I would love to give you solid medical evidence that gelatin, protein, keratin, etc. work to end peeling, weak, brittle nails forever — but it’s not out there. Some medical conditions will predispose you to not having beautiful, long, strong nails including: hypothyroidism, lupus/rheumatoid arthritis and other connective tissue diseases, Reynaud’s syndrome, peripheral vascular disease (don’t smoke!), mal- and dysnutrition (ever see one of those skinny models with great *natural* nails?), and both types of diabetes, just to name a few. Taking time to relax and do a leisurely manicure/pedicure (or have it done) helps to de-stress and promote health. Just doing the basics (wash, clean nails, push cuticles, moisturize) only takes a few minutes and you only have to do it once a week or so. Getting your husband/significant other to massage your hands and cuticles? Healthy! Feels great! Leads to sex! Also healthy! Ahem.

The miracle ABOVE ALL miracles is Sally Hansen Maximum Growth. You can buy it at any drugstore, and it is heaven in a bottle. It’s a clear polish with a pink tint. You apply two coats the first day, and then one coat per day for 5 days…then you start over. I see results almost immediately – but you can see VERY OBVIOUS results by the end of the 10th day.

Thanks to all my AlphaFoxyMamas for all the great tips this week! Now I am off to hit the Sally Hansen aisle at the drugstore in a big way. And maybe to buy some Halloween candy. For…you know…the kids.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


newest oldest most voted
Notify of

It makes me very sad when answers to questions I have too (about the nails – I relish in my curly hair so I don’t need flat-iron help) are never easy.
I’m too lazy to have pretty nails.

Isabel Kallman
Isabel Kallman

Thank you AlphaFoxyMamas for your contributions. You all rock.


Okay. If you want to use benzoyl peroxide to treat and prevent pimples, you go to and get a gigantic tube of BP for $8.50. There is absolutely no reason to use Proactiv when this cheap and awesome product is in existence! It’s actually better than the expensive BP’s I’ve tried in that it doesn’t smell, and it doesn’t bleach my sheets/clothes/towels. It is great. Trust me. Thank you.

Heather Barmore
Heather Barmore

For some reason, that was one of the most informative smackdowns ever. I don’t know if it’s the addition of the AlphaFoxyMommas or what, but it was most excellent.


Amy, Thank you Thank you Thank you for getting to my nail question! Holey crap that is a lot of information, but I love it! I will see you in the Sally Hansen aisle.


I used Proactiv for a couple of years after moving east–DC’s weather did not agree with my skin after 23 years in the bay area. I used just the basic “system,” but they do have some products with salcylic acid (?) and others with SPF. While using it, I found that I didn’t get as many pimples and those that I do get go away sooner. I think it is a little drying, but most things are for me, and I just used my normal moisturizer afterwards. Once I got pregnant, I stopped using the facewash after my very zitty… Read more »

robin m
robin m

I’m starting to wonder if any readers read the comments 🙂 I feel like I say the same thing every week.
Don’t use proactiv, it’s too expensive and too drying/reddening. Go to and read the regimen and do it. My skin is so much better and I’ve had acne for 15 years.


I’m going to have to go against the group and say that I like proactive and it does a lot to stop break-outs. I use it just at night and mostly every other day (not because of sensitivity but just because I am a lazy face washer). I think it’s just one of those products that works for some people and not for others. If you’re interested I say order it, use their free 30 day trial and if you don’t like it, send it back. And remember, when you are using it, stick with it, don’t be a slacker… Read more »


This long-time nailbiter also recommends Sally Hansen products for help in getting the nails long enough so I have incentive not to bite them. The Natural Nail Growth Activator works in just a few days–amazing.


I used to have super-weak, super-peely nails and then I started using Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Creme. That stuff is AMAZING! First of all, it smells absolutely delicious. But as far as nail benefits go, it makes my nails nice and shiny and smooth and strong and non-peely and all that good stuff. It’s only $5 at the drugstore and the little container lasts forever… I bought mine almost 6 months ago and there’s still some left.

Anne Glamore

Seconding the Burt’s Bees Lemony stuff. Also jumping up and down with pleasure that dark polish is back since I wore it the whole time every one else was deciding between “Bubble Bath” and “Ballet Slippers” and my husband was afraid I was turning goth on him.


I tried the Burt’s Bees cuticle stuff too. My only problem with it was that it smelled so damn good it made my nail biting habit so much worse.
I’m gross, yes.


I considered going the ProActiv route a time or two because the commercials are ARE SO ENTICING! But I think that unless you have the cystic acne that scars your skin, you’re better off taking a “zit by zit” approach. I have super oily skin and the most effective thing I’ve found is just slathering on a layer of benzoyl peroxide under my makeup. I’ve tried the Smashbox and Laura Mercier primers and they are both lovely but not strong enough for the oil slicks. And when something does rear its ugly head, I use my wonderful little extractor tool… Read more »

Julie in St. Louis
Julie in St. Louis

I haven’t heard anyone talk about Nailtiques! I can’t live without it. I’ve tried many Hansan products, but none wooed me like this. My nails were extremely thin & brittle my whole life. I used to have acrylic nails and you know how that turns out. I’ve turned all my friends onto Nailtiques as well; I should be a spokeswomen. We are believers! It’s a clear nail protein that dries in less than a minute. Use daily or every other day, depending. You can find it at Walgreens or any on-line drugstore for about $10. Start with formula 2 or… Read more »

Nina's Mom
Nina's Mom

No, no, no…don’t buy a Chi. Yes, they are fantastic and will give you the straight hair that you’ve always wanted. But there is a much cheaper way to go about it. 1. Shampoo AND condition with a product that adds extra moisturizing (I love Pantine Pro V smooth and sleek) 2. Use a leave-in conditioner (a good one and a good amount) 3. Blow dry your hair in sections w/ a flat or round brush that is metalic and has those little black bristles(the flat iron will put it back to striaght if you use the round) 4. Use… Read more »

Nina's Mom
Nina's Mom

One last things. If you are going to straighten your hair on a pretty regualar basis, only wash it ever other day. I promise, you hair does’t get that dirty. When you straighten you hair, you’re stripping it of the natural oils it needs (that’s why you use that oil product I was telling you about). And I can tell you from personal experience that as a person with very curly course hair that wears it straight and short EVERY day, I always have my best hair days the day after I strighten it.

The Muse

Amy, I feel so honored to be part of the panel (no medal necessary – just keep the questions coming)! 🙂 I know there are quite a few people that are against my Chi recommendation. Let me just say that this is what works FOR ME. As I mentioned, I’ve tried lines across the price ranges – my sister has a Hot Tools, and she loves it. However, her hair texture is much healthier than mine, and much more naturally straight (she has to TRY to make it wavy – mine is wavy/bordering on curly). My biggest issue is that… Read more »


I really enjoy your advice. I thought I would offer my two cents, since I have been in the same position as Jessica. I am a fair and sensitive skinned, I am combination with oily T-zone and dry cheeks. I tried Proactiv and it dried my skin out so bad I was flaking and my rosacea was really flaring up. I alternate between two different systems. I use Cetaphil in the summer (both the liquid cleanser and moisturizer) for normal skin. Then in November I change to Philosophy. For breakouts (which are usually hormonal or stress related), I use BP… Read more »


Re: proactiv, there is a whole thread on about how the perscription medication Accutane actually cleared up Simpson’s skin, yet she shills for Proactiv and tricks all the poor consumers into thinking that the progam fixed her skin. A lot of people on those boards seem to hate Proactiv, fyi. I would actually reccomend reading the book from the women who invented Proactiv. It walks you through the system and what causes acne, etc. They give lots of different treatment options based on your age, gender, etc and give suggestions for products that don’t come entirely from their… Read more »


I used Pro Activ for a few months and it made my skin worse. It was so dry it was flaking off – and the acne was still there. It was awful.


Re: Proactiv. I used this breifly in the past and my sister is currently using it. I will not speak to how it works (didn’t for me), but will warn you that it will STAIN your towels and pillowcases. Since most of us dry our faces with a towel, and tend to wash our face before bed, it seems that any type of cloth that makes contact with your face following the Proactiv routine will be discolored. My sister has gone to using all white towels and pillowcases. Just a nuisance. But, when you’re using a product with such a… Read more »


Finally! I can helpful with Comments, hooray! And salute to the FoxyMamas. I’ve been on ProActiv for probably 6 months at this point, and I’m cancelling. I’ve only seen minor improvements with the red zit type acne, and no improvement with blackheads, whiteheads or the cystic ance I suspect I have (hey, dermalogists aren’t covered under my insurance, bleh). The only good thing about ProActiv is they have this crazy good zip zapper which has the unfortunate smell of sulfer, but it can significantly reduce zits overnight. I’ve been using a cheapy mud mask called Queen Helene’s Mint Julep Mud… Read more »


I’m not on the panel, but in my hair-straightening experience, the PRODUCT(S) is more important than the iron. I do use a flat iron (and I dry my hair first, but I don’t blow it out) but my money’s on the products – those used before the iron to protect from the heat and those used after to protect from that vile Memphis humidity.


I’m probably too late to be of any help but I’ll comment anyway.
My husband plays classical guitar and therefore needs very strong fingernails. His teachers always recommended gelatin, and I think he took some kind of gelatin supplement.
But I just ran a search on for nails and gelatin and it seems that gelatin’s usefulness for brittle nails is largely disputed.


…I used the past tense, that he “took” gelatin supplements, because my husband doesn’t play guitar as much as he did when he was younger. If he still played a lot, I imagine he’d use the gelatin.
Yes, that wasn’t helpful either but I thought it was worth mentioning. 😛