You Asked It

Oh! You Pretty Things

Advice on sparse brows, boring makeup, and not screwing up your nail polish.

How do I paint my nails with my nondominant hand in such a way that my manicure doesn’t look like it was done by a drunk preschooler? —Jacqui S., Chicago, IL

Are you talking about keeping the skin around your nails paint-free, or doing complex freehand nail art on your right hand with your impossible-to-draw-with left one? Either way, the most surefire—and most annoying!— answer is practice, practice, practice! It’s the only way to figure out which little tricks will (eventually) (sort of) work for you. Like, you might be someone who needs to anchor your nondominant pinky on the side of one knee to keep your hand steady. Or you might find that painting at a table works, or turning the to-be-painted hand around so that the nails are pointing toward your face. Or maybe you need a better light? Or a magnifying glass? There are lots of things you can do to feel more in control, but you won’t know what works for you until you test out a bunch of different tactics. So get to experimenting!

Stylistically, you could paint the nails on each hand differently. Say you want a French manicure: Paint all of the nails on your nondominant hand as perfectly as you can with your dominant one. Then, paint the nails on your dominant side your main solid color and do the tip of just ONE of them French-style. I’m willing to bet that you’ll be swamped with compliments about your awesome asymmetrical manicure—and your admirers won’t even KNOW that your genius was actually designed to avoid more-complicated artistry.

Now that I’ve covered the more labor-intensive and skill-based answers to your question, here are a ton of cheats I was pretending didn’t exist!!! Not everything in life has to be hard, you guys—and especially not matters of nail polish. First, we’ll talk BASIC TECHNIQUES for keeping polish off your knuckles, then we’ll get into NAIL ART MADNESS:

Preventing General Screw-Ups

  • This product blocks off the skin around your nail so that you don’t end up with paint everywhere, then peels off easily when you’re done.

  • I’ve also heard rumors that Elmer’s Glue works just as well (and costs way less). Paint it on with a fine brush or a Q-tip, allow it to dry, do your nails as messily as you always do, then peel off the glue once the polish sets.
  • Vaseline will keep paint off your skin, too (if you’ve dyed your hair at home and used it to protect your scalp, you understand this to be true). But! Be careful that you don’t accidentally get any on the nail itself, or it’ll mess up your polish job. Ditto on keeping it off your nail brush. Not the best option for the super-klutzy.
  • Some people are good at using Scotch tape to create a cuticle barrier. I’m not one of those people, but maybe you are?

  • Once your top coat is dry, use a Q-tip or a lipstick brush dipped in nail polish remover to wipe away any mess-ups.

Doing Fancy Nail Art Without Ruining Everything

  • These patterned nail stickers from Sally Hansen are easy to apply, non-messy, scent-proof (meaning you can apply them anywhere—even on a plane!), and not too-too expensive: They’re $8–$10, but they come with extra stickers so you can extend the life of your mani even further by replacing up to six as they get chipped and screwy. Apply a new top coat in a week to make them last even longer. VALUE! NCLA makes nail decals that are more out-there (and more $$$).

  • Gradient glitter manicures are easy because they look better when they’re messy, as long as you clean off your skin after you’re done (see the last suggestion in the previous list), so why not wear those exclusively from now on? I kid…kind of.
  • Failing all else, remember that if you see a picture of nail art, the artist might be taking the photo with their dominant hand, so they’re showing you their best work. That is what you call “a lie by omission.” I do it all the time, like when I captured this glitter manicure I did recently:
THIS MANICURE IS A SHAM.

THIS MANICURE IS A SHAM.

Maybe my other hand looks like crap? How would you ever know? I’m sorry for betraying your trust, but, to me, showing off my (one paw of) sick nail art is worth it. So if all else fails and you’re only concerned about Instagram or whatever have you, just lie! That’s my very professional and adult advice. —Jane Marie

I have very fine, sparse eyebrows. They’re about half the normal length of an eyebrow—they start halfway across my browbone, above my pupils, and extend outward from there. I’ve tried filling them in with a pencil, but they end up looking really thick and unnatural. How do I shape and emphasize my eyebrows? —F., 17, England

I have some puzzling brows myself—they’re not only asymmetrical, but also dark in some parts and nearly bald in others. I’ve experimented a ton with evening them out—believe me, I know what it’s like to go too buck filling them in and end up looking like someone’s hirsute Uncle Frank instead of the well-arched demigoddess you know you can be! The good news is, now you can benefit from all I’ve learned in the process.

The first thing I’m going to tell you will most likely contradict every impulse you have about your babybrows: Before you start coloring them in, consider getting the hairs you DO have plucked, waxed, or threaded into the shape most closely resembling the one of your dreams. I know, F.—right now, you’re probably like, “I come to you asking for MORE brow action, and you tell me to get rid of what little I do have? Get away from me.” But dropping $8 or so on a professional depilation will give you a solid template to work from as you work toward your fantasy brows. Even if it feels counterproductive to lose a few hairs in the process, many if not most estheticians know what they’re doing, and this step will make your brows easier to deal with in the end.

Now it’s time to color your eyebrows in a little. For ghost-brows like yours, penciling in a more pronounced shape is usually gonna look harsh: I’d recommend a powder- or gel-based brow product instead. When you’re selecting a color, don’t try to match your hair color or go darker—pick a powder that’s a shade lighter than your natural hair. If your eyebrows are the palest of them all, you’ve still got options—plenty of companies, like Anastasia (what I use, for the most part) and e.l.f. (my second-favorite, and I would tell you how crazy-little it costs, but you might think I’m kidding), make kits suitable for even the most flaxen-haired among us.

Many brow-powder palettes include an applicator, but if you’re using one that doesn’t, take any angled eyeliner or brow brush, lightly coat the end with product, and sketch a soft outline along the the top and bottom of each eyebrow. Then, blend the product into any wispy spots between those lines.

Now it’s time to extend that shape inward to fill in the blank spots above your inner eyes. Follow the shape of your extant brow as you brush an extended line onto the bald-y part (and I bet it’s not actually bald—you’ve probably got some translucent hairs there to help guide you during this step) until you reach the point right above the tear duct. In most cases, that’s the thickest part of the brow, so broaden your strokes a little bit here. I know I just did a whole lot of explaining that might sound hard to follow, so here’s a handy guide to illustrate what I mean:

Diagram by Auraure.

Diagram by Auraure.

ZA-ZOW. Now there’s an eyebrow!! (Don’t I sound like an earnest grandpa paying you a nice compliment? It’s a new makeup-advice persona I’m trying out.)

If you don’t fux with this level of freshman-art-class-style technique, remember how I mentioned gel earlier? A tinted one, like this Benefit goop, is the easiest possible way to make your brows look more pronounced without having to do anything more than lazily swipe at your face a little. It’ll add color to your brows, plus it has fibers in it that are basically tiny fake hairs. These will disguise your patchy spots and even out the rest of your eyebrow. Just brush the gel on with the mascara wand–type applicator these almost always come with, et za-zow (said less energetically this time, as befitting this more laid-back, but still effective, strategy).

To make your brows stand out even more, finish them off by drawing a thin line of shimmery pink highlighter (this can be whatever pearly eye shadow you happen to have lying around or an actual luminizing liquid) RIGHT under each one. If you use a light hand here, no one will be able to tell that your naturally angelic glow has been augmented with product.

That’s all she wrote! Who’s the Uncle Frank NOW? (I have no idea, since I made him up. Do you like how I generously gave you two whole new fake relatives? It’s just how I do! You’re welcome, and ZA-ZOW!) —Amy Rose

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17 Comments

  • kendallakwia March 26th, 2014 1:08 AM

    I happen to have very red cheeks (not due to rosacea, just rosy) and they are like my 5th most complemented feature. I used to hate it, but now I embrace it. Sometimes what you see as your flaws are what other people love about you <3

  • Berries March 26th, 2014 7:13 AM

    Oh dear, the combination of pastels and gold. THEY MAKE ME HAPPY. I will try these at home.

  • erikastrada March 26th, 2014 12:31 PM

    Instead of preventing nail polish on my skin, I mastered the art of the clean up: fill the cap of the nail polish remover bottle with the acetone, dip a small paintbrush or makeup brush in it and carefully clean up around the nail. Then I dab the brush on a paper towel to remove color before dipping in the acetone again. Works every time, just make sure to use hand lotion once your nails are dry since acetone is very drying!

  • Flossy Mae March 26th, 2014 1:37 PM

    My own nail varnish trick: paint your right hand first (or left hand, if you are left handed). Basically, start off with your less confident hand painting your confident hand and then you won’t have to wait a year and a half for them to dry, you can get just get straight on with painting your less confident hand with your confident hand, as hopefully your confident hand will be steadier and easier!x

  • the_smartorialist March 26th, 2014 3:58 PM

    That just totally changed my opinion on coloured mascara and possibly my life.
    I might be the only Brit rookie currently seeking it online, but eh this is helpful anyway: http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/fashion-blog/2012/sep/04/beauty-coloured-mascara-anita-bhagwandas

  • emayhaha March 26th, 2014 4:37 PM

    The girl from Chicago asked a great question! Thanks will do!

    http://theexcerptofebonni.blogspot.com

  • 3LL3NH March 26th, 2014 11:35 PM

    Hey,
    I loved this article, makeup routine question especially- wanted to point out though that in that one there was a typo of “face” to “fact”.

  • Berries March 27th, 2014 9:34 AM

    It is also a good idea to put vaseline or something like that around your nails when you are putting on nailpolish.

  • lydiamerida March 27th, 2014 9:31 PM

    Agh great advice as usual :)

    http://cat-witch.tumblr.com
    http://1394-3120.tumblr.com

  • takethreestepsback March 28th, 2014 1:00 AM

    My success with nail polish is due to Q tips but also toothpicks!

    Toothpicks are terrific for pushing down individual bits of glitter that have edges sticking up and for removing any dark polish right in the crevices around your nails. Best of luck with your nail polish! Practise away my friends! :)

    http://isablahh.blogspot.com.au/

  • tortu12 March 28th, 2014 2:56 AM

    Ahh! I love physician’s formula!

  • painting_the_roses_pink March 28th, 2014 5:52 PM

    HEY A TIP FOR SPARSE EYEBROWS!!

    (Idunno if anyone else has mentioned this) But, if you’d like to actually **grow** fuller brows, try using coconut oil! My friend used to have very thin very sparse eyebrows and she started using coconut oil on them and now they’re awesome and full and lovely!

    I sound like an infomercial but idk its always something to try out.

    http://aroseofadiffrentcolor.tumblr.com/

  • Mia Wallace March 28th, 2014 6:08 PM

    Another nail polish tip:
    Start by painting the nails on your dominant hand! That way, it ‘s much easier to paint with your non-dominant hand because you don’t have to worry about bumping it into something and ruining your polish.

  • razmactaz March 28th, 2014 11:37 PM

    Ooh, lovely nails! What color of nail polish is that? And I must check out the brow gel!

  • pansycakes March 31st, 2014 11:55 AM

    my eyebrows will forever be my curse, not because of the shape but because of the colour ! gingerproblems<3