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Could A Manicure Save My Nails from A Lifetime of Me Chewing on Them?

And would a nail salon aimed at men make me feel like it was a more manly pursuit than the place down the street from my apartment?

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do (and continue to do) in my 35 years on this mortal plane has been kicking nicotine. From the day my college girlfriend broke up with me when I was 20 until only a couple of years ago, I smoked cigarettes — my preferred brand being Camel Lights — which eventually gave way to a Juul, which subsequently gave way to nothing when I finally (hopefully) kicked the vape around New Year’s.

A close second, though, has been biting my nails. I’ve nervously chewed on my fingers just about every day since I was 10. The thing is, unlike the lifespan-shortening physical damage smoking was causing me, biting my nails was never going to unnaturally raise my blood pressure, make me so wheezy I couldn’t climb a hill or mark me as undateable in the eyes of a large swath of humans with every whiff of my smelly clothes.

Still, it’s not like nail-biting doesn’t come with its own set of negative side effects. For starters, I’m pretty sure that, considering I’ve been going at it for close to 25 years, my fingernails are a wreck. The nail beds seem shorter than other people’s — same with the actual nail itself. As a result, I don’t have any lunulae, i.e., the white moon-shaped area at the base of the nail. Not to mention, my thumbs are weird shape — too round and stumpy — and I’m convinced biting my nails for so long has something to do with it.

Honestly, I’m mortified by their appearance — both the nails themselves and my fingers more largely). So much so that I used to hide them from people who I was concerned might judge them (people I was dating, friends, co-workers, etc.).

I’ve attempted to quit biting them multiple times. At first, I tried the nail polish that’s supposed to taste bad; unfortunately, it didn’t taste bad enough. In later years, I’d go cold turkey from time to time. But the fact that your nails continue to grow, and thus, need to be trimmed, always meant that I’d backslide into my addiction a few days or weeks later, usually when clippers weren’t around.

But then, magically, a few months ago, it was over. I’m not sure if I just figured out the final piece of the quitting puzzle, or if it’s part of a more holistic maturation process now that I’m finally getting my shit together (personally, professionally and financially), but it seems to be no more.

The problem is, they still look a little worse for wear. Plus, I obviously have no idea what proper, or even basic nail care entails. Case in point: I didn’t even know what a cuticle was until this year. Basically, if I ever wanted them to look “normal,” I was convinced I’d need to bring in a professional.

What I needed, in my estimation, was a nail salon.

The Problem: My fingernails look like shit.

The Potential Cure-All: A manicure, with the hope that with a little TLC and a lot of buffing, trimming and cuticle cutting, I might one day soon have perfectly groomed nails — or at least as perfectly groomed as my mangled nail beds will allow. There’s just one, sizable problem: As far as I can tell, nail salons are run like the Soup Nazi’s place in Seinfeld, in that they have a lingo and a rhythm of movement that’s entirely foreign to me. And when I’m anywhere unfamiliar, by nature, I’m super uncomfortable. Not to mention that more or less everyone in nail salon is female, which adds an inevitable amount of anxiety.

Thankfully, in our modern age, the powers-that-be are aware that it’s not necessarily a lack of desire for well-kept nails that’s keeping men out of salons; it’s that, like me, we have trepidation about looking like idiots once we’re therein. And so, there are new businesses out there aiming to rebrand nail care as the manliest of manly man things to up the comfortability level (if in the most stereotypical way possible). Take Hammer & Nails (GREAT name, btw), one of a number of dude-centric nail salons that offer the same manicures and pedicures you’d find at a “regular” salon, only minus the nail polish and plus interior decor that looks like something out of a frat bro’s fever dream of what it means to be a real adult man.

The restroom artwork at Hammer & Nails

You certainly pay for all that testosterone: Forty dollars to cut and shape your nails, a cuticle trim and a hand massage, to be exact. (At the nail salon down the street that’ll probably run you anywhere from $18 to $30.)

So would paying a little bit more for a guy-friendly experience be worth it, or did I just need to get over my anxiety at a more traditional nail salon? I decided to try both and, hopefully, wind up with perfectly manicured nails in the process.

The Patron Saint of Guys Getting Their Nails Done: The late great Bernie Mac, who when he was alive used to get a manicure and pedicure every week.

The “Guy’s Guy” Experience: Ironically, going to a “man’s” nail salon comes with its own kind of anxiety. It would’ve been one thing if the owners had simply designed the inside to look like more of a unisex operation, or marketed more toward guys in an effort to balance out the clientele. But this place has veered hard in the opposite direction, replacing the pinks and whites of your average nail salon with a color palette and design flourishes aimed to beat you over the head with its masculinity. And so, yeah, I was anxious walking in here, too, because in my eyes, only guys who are seriously insecure about not looking too feminine would want a place this butch.

Naturally, after checking in for my appointment, the first thing they offered me was a glass of booze. A cliché, sure, but that’s not even the half of it: At Hammer & Nails, they set you up with headphones and a tablet to control a big-screen TV hanging precariously from the ceiling in front of your chair. The channel choices were limited; after clicking around, I was able to determine that there was only one channel, and it was set to sports.

The scene inside via

The manicure — my first, ever — was pretty nice, though. My tech was relaxed and fun to talk to. After I explained that I used to bite my nails and that this was the first manicure I’d ever gotten, she was kind enough to explain everything she was doing, while she was doing it. I really liked how my nails looked afterward, too. She didn’t cut them down to the nail bed but instead left my nails with just enough edge, and squared off, so that it looked more like a guy’s manicure.

The “Lady” Manicure: I might have been happy with the results at Hammer & Nails, but I was also annoyed that it cost so much for the privilege. Thus, once all the polish wore off a few weeks later, I tried a regular nail salon in my neighborhood. I did notice one immediate difference: As much fun as I had clowning on the the look-and-feel of Hammer & Nails, at least you could breathe comfortably inside. This second salon reeked with fumes so thick from the polishes and gels being painted on around me that, for a second, I thought I might puke. I assumed, though, this was just the (low) price of doing business here, so I soldiered on.

One week later, still looks… decent?

There wasn’t much difference between this second manicure and the first, other than the silence (and smell, of course). My tech cut and filed my nails, trimmed my cuticles and buffed everything to a nice shine. Looking at the final result, however, there were some things that I liked way less than the manicure I got at the other place. I noticed, for example, that she cut practically down to the wick; also this time, my nails ended up much rounder along the edges than they did the first time. But the whole affair was $15 cheaper, so maybe you get what you pay for? Or maybe I should just drink the booze at Hammer & Nails if I go again so it feels like I’m getting money’s worth.

The Most Confounding Object at a Nail Salon: Whatever the hell this thing is:

The Result: I definitely liked my manicure better at Hammer & Nails, and frankly, it was more fun to goof on than it was uncomfortable. (That is, it’s hilarious how much of an over-the-top stereotype it is, but also, like, it was easy to get over — much easier than the price, which again, is probably the most insulting part of all the by-the-numbers manliness.) That said, I only went to the most convenient traditional place — i.e., the one closest to my apartment — so I can’t exactly say it’s representative of what I’d get somewhere else. I mere Yelp search and car ride might yield a very different experience next time around. 

What is for certain, though, is that there’s no denying that both experiences served their ultimate purpose of making me feel better about my fingernails. Whether the cutting and filing was perfect or not, it didn’t really matter; what mattered was that I was proud of how they looked and enjoyed showing them off (as opposed to hiding them like in the past). And it’s that pride in appearance, that’s ultimately going to keep me from ever wanting to go back to the dark days of my nail-biting past.

Jeff’s Rating: 9/10