Fashion & Beauty

Polish Change

March 26, 2023



By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

I BECOME irrationally happy when the weather turns warm and my hands and nails start looking unscathed and smooth again. It seems that the older I get, the more cracked and pained my fingers become in the cold. My son here in Japan turned me on to a terrifically effective hand cream you can get in the US, which I use on all kinds of dry and irritated spots. I use it in warm weather, too, though less frequently.

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

Anyway, my smooth hands and I discovered this nail-related reader question in the “Ask Val” archives . . .

“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions, Vol. 28

Q: The tips of my nails are weirdly yellow, though the nail beds are pink. I don’t smoke and am pretty healthy overall. What gives?

A: It sounds like the tips of your nails are stained. The nicotine in cigarettes can turn your nails yellow, but you say you’re not a smoker. (Smoking also causes wrinkles and an unlovely smoker’s pallor, not to mention a host of other ugly health issues.) Instead, I assume you’re dealing with the most common cause of yellowing: wearing nail polish. I’ve noticed this on my toenails after a summer of consistent polishing. To eliminate the stains, lightly buff your (unpolished) nails and soak them for five to 10 minutes in lemon juice or, if you’re more ambitious, a slushy mixture of two parts peroxide and one part baking soda. Do the soak every other day until you see an improvement. Then, use a protective base coat under your polish to prevent re-staining,  and give your nails some polish-free time every once in a while. But wait . . . are you a nonsmoker and a nonpolisher? Are you also over 60? Then the staining may be due to aging. For that (inevitable) condition, run a whitening pencil under the tips while humming “Stayin’ Alive.”

In rare instances, yellowing can be caused by an underlying medical condition. If your gut is telling you there’s more to be discovered, see a dermatologist.


My co-worker kindly pointed out that in my first draft of a recent post, I sounded judgy about a certain sartorial choice; they were right. That made me think about how quickly I can jump to judgy conclusions—and how very much I don’t like that. Ideally, I favor the you do you” style of social engagement. And now that I’m often hanging out with my granddaughter, M, I’m remembering there’s no better way to get comfortable with that than by spending time with a 4-year-old. After saving up enough cash (mysteriously acquired), she was able to buy a small wind-up dog who yaps, wags his tail, and has an uncanny but unmistakable ability to follow you around the room. M loves to name her toys (Monkey-Monkey, Pinky, Teddy, Schmooby the baby doll) but took a while to come up with a suitable name for her new puppy. I, wanting to be helpful, had a plethora of suggestions: Yappy, Waggy, Tag-Along, etc. Nothing hit the spot. Till last night when, after some cuddling and yapping and tail-wagging, M came up with what she considered to be the perfect name.

“I know! I know!” she cried, hugging the dog as his little legs and tail worked furiously against her tummy.

“Mr. Pup-Pup?” I said lamely. M eyed me suspiciously, as if I were trying to put one over on her.

“Tomato Water!” she said.


In her informative and instructive new book, Mirror Meditation: The Power of Neuroscience and Self-Reflection to Overcome Self-Criticism, Gain Confidence, and See Yourself With Compassion, Tara Well, PhD, points out that we humans are inherently programmed to scan for the problematic and the threatening as a way to ensure safety. This reminded me that, while scrutinizing our face for flaws is partly a result of unhealthy conditioning that encourages us to self-objectify, it can also be one of the ways we scan for signs of illness. Just mentioning that here as a reminder that there is always more than one side to a story, especially when it involves creatures as complex as we are. No judging.

3 thoughts on “Polish Change

  1. Ann Walsh says:

    Can you send the name of the hand cream?

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      It’s called Atrix Intensive Protection Hand Cream. Here’s the link:

  2. cynthia tilson says:

    Thank you for the hand cream recommendation. My cuticles are a mess after a cold, dry winter.

    As for projection, self-objectification and projective identification…phew! It must be hard to write about beauty while simultaneously trying to escape that trap. However, labeling those psychological gymnastics some do, as it applies to the concept of beauty in our culture, is the first step towards freeing ourselves for healthier outlets–like playing with the grandkids. Little ones don’t know that thin is in, or any of the other ways we learn to judge what we see in the mirror. As elders of the tribe, it’s up to us to discover that this truly is the best phase of life–but only if we shed the narcissism/self-judgment that keeps us trapped in the mirror.

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