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If external physical habits are a signifier of internal disquiet then I am fucking mad.

I am a picker. And for years I have harassed my cuticles as if all my problems are their fault.

My hands aren’t nice anyway – stumpy, fat fingers, short little nails – and all my conscious life I have sought to make them worse by picking at them. Pick, pick, pick.

My ex-boyfriend Nick used to berate me in public for it. He would hold up my hand, turn my mangled thumbs to the assembled company and say “Look! Look at what she does to herself.” It didn’t help.

I recall clearly the dinner at which my husband realised that I didn’t just occasionally poke at a hangnail, but that the torture of my cuticles was constant, real. He doesn’t like it because he feels like it is an external expression of an internal turmoil. I mean he’s right, but my retort has always been that nobody’s perfect. And I’d rather that I attacked my cuticles than drank all the time. Oh wait, hang on

In one of my wedding photos I am tearing at a piece of thumbskin with my teeth. Sometimes I have torn at the skin of my righthand thumb so comprehensively – right the way round – that my iPhone no longer recognises my thumbprint. I do hope you aren’t eating while reading this.

But towards the end of last year I was a photoshoot and having my pitiful nails done and I was moaning on about my cuticles to a manicurist – most particularly  about how when you trim your cuticles with one of those weeny finger-secateurs, the layers of skin within 48 hours dry and separate and curl up and it’s just hangnail city.

She nodded sympathetically and talked some shit about cuticle oil that I broadly ignored but then she said something that made me pay attention. “If you moisturise your cuticles after a shower just push up the cuticles a bit with your fingers as you’re doing it. That ought to keep them from growing down over the nail – then you won’t need to trim them at all.”

She also added that if your cuticles are in bad shape after years of abuse, applying cuticle oil more like 3 times a day at first – rather than 3 times a week – is what you need to get results.

Chastened, I returned home and dusted off my Sally Hansen cuticle oil and got massaging.

And it works. 

Even after 10 days in Gloucestershire, when I spend my days plunging my hands into cleaning fluid and scrabbling around in the dirt trying to locate a non-rotten leek I can use in lieu of payment for a box of six effluent-covered eggs, my hands are okay.

And it’s more than just having nice hands and nails, more than not having to automatically hide my thumbs behind the rest of my fingers whenever I meet anyone who makes me feel a bit self-conscious – (this doesn’t happen often though) – it’s about overcoming the internal mad-machine that ordered me to pick. It’s about regarding anxiety and paranoia with as much contempt as I regard the empty calories of a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

I found my Sally Hansen cuticle oil to be perfectly high-functioning as long as it is applied often enough, but a short consultation with Madeleine Spencer, the beauty editor of InStyle revealed that she also rates Dadi Oil and anything by Margaret Dabbs.

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