Beauty Q&A: Self-Tanner, Acne, and Ugly Nails

AHHHHH this has been so fun! Every time I see an email from one of you I go “EEEEEEEE!!! YAH-YAH-YAAA-YAH!” Like this. So fun. So fun!

Before we get to the the questions I just wanted to give you all a little encouragement. You know how when you go to the mall and ask for a makeover at the Estée Lauder counter and they pile on tons of makeup so that every part of your face reminds you of a clown whore? That’s mostly because you aren’t used to it, not because you don’t look like an actual model now, which you probably do and don’t even realize. Everything stands out when we’ve never done it before, but trust me, no one else sees it that way. They all think you’re “so put together” today. When I first started doing my eyebrows I literally felt like Bert of Bert & Ernie, but you guys have seen me; that’s obvious crazy thinking, right? RIGHT? OK, so don’t be afraid to try new things. Go forth and magenta your lips with confidence. On to the queries!

I have shitty nails. Flimsy, thin, brittle. Plus they’re kind of red and gross from years of picking at them — which I’ve (mostly) stopped, but the discoloration/damage seems permanent. Is it better to paint them and make them look all pretty, or keep them short and neat and draw as little attention to them as possible?

I want to give you a project and have you report back to us in a month, pretty please? It’s going to be a little time intensive but if it works you will no longer have shitty nails and I won’t have to answer this question!

I did this after I quit getting acrylics and wanted healthy natural nails that I wouldn’t pick at or bite, and it was like getting a nails transplant, basically. OK, here’s the assignment: go buy OPI Nail Envy (a clear nail strengthener that “helps nails grow harder, longer and stronger and resist peeling, cracking and splitting”). The original formula is best, but if you prefer one of the special varieties, by all means. I want you to paint it on your nails every other day — or even every day, if you can manage it — for a month, layer upon layer. Remove it about once a week and start over. Do this and keep your fingers out of your mouth and don’t pick at them. It’s okay to use Nail Envy as a base and top coat if you want to put colored polish on too. Let us know if this works!

I have dark under-eye circles (and have since childhood), but don’t want to wear a full face of foundation all the time. What can I do?

For any kind of major covering up, I gotta go with Dermablend. I wouldn’t say this is right for slight to moderate dark circles or redness — in those cases YSL’s Touche ÉCLAT is the way to go — but the way you worded your question sounds like a little more oomph is called for. With some practice you should be able to blend this really well into your makeup-free skin, though I’d suggest trying at least a tinted moisturizer just so there are no hard edges. Be careful, though, not to choose a shade of concealer that’s TOO light or you’ll have those white halos around your eyes. I think a lot of people shoot for lighter than their skin color is, thinking the dark circles plus the light makeup will end up somewhere in the middle, but a good concealer maintains its color, so go for a shade that matches your skin.

Dear Jane, I am so pale, almost translucent. With summer approaching, I’m desperate for a little color. But UV tanning is out of the question (wrinkles, freckles, cancer) and spray tanning leaves me looking like an Oompa-Loompa (plus it smells so bad and stains my bras). What do you use? Thanks!

I love, love, love self tanner! A little something about tans before I really dive in: don’t underestimate the power of sunshine. In very small doses it can change your whole outlook, so don’t shy away from a little UV once in awhile. As for spray tans, think about the last person you saw walking down the street with a streaky, embarrassing orange spray tan. Can you think of even one? From real life that’s not Snooki? And if you can, do you think YOU actually ever ever looked like that ever after spray tanning? No, you didn’t. You probably looked great but just weren’t used to it. With a little practice, you can get a great fake tan at home these days, the kind you never notice on other people. So to answer your question I’ll tell you what I, a committed self-tanner, do twice a week, and I’ll give another option for the timid and fairest-skinned.

I use L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Airbrush Self Tanner in Medium. And I spend about half an hour every four days doing this:

-Shower and loofah everything like a crazy person
-Dry off
-Stand in the shower and don’t move my feet (the soles soak up self-tanner like crazy so I don’t move because I don’t want to step in any)
-Spray the fronts and backs of my legs fairly quickly holding the bottle about 8” away from my skin, never to the point of feeling “wet” self tanner on me
-Rub it in with my hand
-Repeat with my midsection and then arms, neck and face
-Go back over everything with a quick, light spray just to avoid streaks
-Wash my hands with soap and water and wipe off the tops of my feet with a tissue
-Walk around my living room naked for about 5 minutes
-Put pajamas on and chill

This stuff doesn’t smell too bad, and I rinse it off in the morning and I’m all good. I don’t wear white to bed or on the very next day, and I do have colored sheets because it can stain on occasion. The color is lovely and not too crazy, but if you’re a scaredy cat, try this new Fake Bake Fair, which is for light-light skin. If I only fake tanned every once in awhile, I would use Fake Bake exclusively because the color’s so pretty, but it’s a li’l ‘spensive. Follow the rather complicated and precise directions, and I promise you’ll be so happy.

Jane, perfect skin. Some people just have it. A lot of people are good at faking it. I personally do not have it, AND I don’t like to wear makeup. Is this just a pray-that-my-health-insurance-covers-dermatologist-visits situation? (It doesn’t, but I still pray. (I don’t.)) Is there any actual remedy (Sephora- or drugstore-enabled) that will work at clearing up acne? Mine is on my jawline and I can’t get rid of it. Also, not just blemish-related, but the glowing, healthy skin look is also what I want. (Boring details: Every single morning and night I wash my face with a gentle Aveeno cleanser, and then use a “natural” facial toner with no alcohol. I moisturize in the mornings and use night cream before bed. I’m 25 and still break out. What am I doing wrong!!!) Thanks!

Oh honey, we are gonna make this better. If this doesn’t help, tell us and we’ll try something else. So first off, duh, I’m not a doctor. But I am someone who has battled acne for years (I even did Accutane in high school! Ha-aay!) and I’m well into my 30s and feel like I’ve finally won. I’m gonna tell you what has worked best for me and you can try it, with very little to lose as most of this is cheap: I wash every night with Clean & Clear Foaming Facial Cleanser and go to bed with Persa-Gel 10 to spot treat any zits I have. In the morning I wipe off the Persa-Gel with a damp washcloth and moisturize with Oil of Olay for Sensitive Skin. I sleep sometimes with a gentle serum on but never a “night cream” or anything heavy. I think this might be contributing to your troubles. Try swapping for Philosophy When Hope Is Not Enough. What else? I change my pillowcase at least weekly, try really hard not to pick, and once in awhile get a good facial with extractions. And whenever I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle, I go to my regular doctor that my insurance does cover and ask for generic Minocycline. A month of this stuff can keep me pretty clear for a really long time. I hope we nailed it!

Previously: Three Easy Ways to Apply Perfect Eyeliner.

Jane Feltes produces the radio program “This American Life,” and no makeup companies pay her to say any of this. Do you have a question for Jane?

Photo via Flickr