Is Nail Polish A Real Addiction?

"Nail Polish Addict"

There are literally dozens of blogs out there authored by self-proclaimed nail polish addicts, but relatively little in the way of actually discussing the psychology behind this obsession. I first alluded to my addiction to nail polish in a previous posting on drugs and addiction, but is nail polish addiction even a real thing? Could I just be passionate about it instead?

For me, even though I don’t own hundreds or even dozen’s of polishes, the obsession has led me to lose sleep, spend money I don’t have, and time I could have spent better. I know enough to know that it’s not really about owing the polishes, since I often don’t actually buy most of the polishes I want, it’s more about the process of searching, the occupation of my mind with nothing else but polish. There is probably a rush of dopamine going on in my brain right now just from talking about it.

According to Dr. Gabor Maté, author of  In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, addiction is any relapsing behaviour that satisfies a short-term craving and persists despite its long-term negative consequences. The question is, who is in charge? Me or the polish?

As a teenager, I used to paint my nails almost every single day. I had a couple bottles of cheap Wet ‘n Wild nail polish, and a few more expensive Hard Candy polishes, the ones that come with the little rubber rings. When I got home from school, I’d sit at my desk and do a new manicure. My favourite was always metallic navy blue with silver sparkles as a topcoat.

I used to bite my nails as a child. I’d bite them so bad that on a few occasions I’d actually peel the whole top layer off, which always took a few painful months to grow back.  For me, nail biting was a way to relieve stress and anxiety. When I began painting my nails in high school, I found it was a successful way to stop biting them, and I often picked at the polish instead, knowing that I would redo the manicure later that day anyway. It was like a nervous tick, always fussing with my nails. I’ve seen my mother and my aunt do the same thing too, always nervously fiddling with their fingertips.

I think I simply exchanged obsessively biting and peeling my nails for extreme manicures. When I did a manicure, I would cut all traces of my cuticles off. I’d push them back way too far and use a little pair of manicure scissors to cut them right off. I drew blood pretty much everyday, and the skin was always red and inflamed. I did this for years, and I don’t think I stopped cutting my cuticles off until I was in my early 20s.

I know there is something about my current obsession with nail polish that harkens back to those days. Scouring the Internet for new colours, making lists, comparing swatches, searching for the perfect dupe. I haven’t obsessed like this in a very long time, but it all started up again when I was in Montreal this summer, escaping the messy aftermath of telling my mother, sister, and brother, that her husband, our father, had sexually abused me as a child. I was really depressed in Montreal but I’d always cheer up when I was scouring the city for the latest OPI collection, though I didn’t actually buy a single bottle while I was there.

When I am searching for colours I like, it is as though I am in a trance state, not unlike that which I’ve experienced with bulimic binge eating. Same goes for nail polish – nothing else exists while I’m trying to achieve the perfect application or when I’m scouring the Internet for new colours.

Here’s where it got heavy for me recently. When I realized there was a limited edition mint green that I missed out on – OPI’s Damone Roberts 1968 – I could feel the obsession escalate. I could only find two bottles for sale on Ebay for $50 apiece, and neither seller shipped to Canada. I searched high and low for acceptable dupes, with none to be found in my neighbourhood. I actually experienced two nights of insomnia since discovering this polish that I could not possess!

I took it to a whole other level when I decided I would dupe it on my own, DIY-style. I bought three bottles of OPI that I couldn’t afford and got to work mixing. After testing on a palate, I found the winning recipe – half Alpine Snow, half Greenwich Village, with a splash of Jade Is The New Black. That was yesterday afternoon into evening, and I was fine-tuning it even more today since I had access to natural daylight.  Although I am very happy with the finished product, the truth is I really didn’t need it and I’m not sure I’ll even wear it more than once. I just spent $30 just to make a mint green nail polish, and I’m supposed to be on a budget right now! But the immense sense of relief that came over me when I perfected my homemade dupe was what made the anxiety go away, not actually possessing the colour. You’d think I’d put in on right away, but so far I’ve just been admiring my handiwork in the bottle.

On top of that, I just ordered another $30 worth of nail polish online, and it’s not lost on me that two of the colours I ordered are a navy blue and a silver sparkle topcoat. So who’s in charge here? Me or the polish? Methinks it might be the polish.

~ “She goes from one addiction to another. All are ways for her to not feel her feelings.” – Ellen Burstyn

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2 Comments on “Is Nail Polish A Real Addiction?”

  1. Marc sattler says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. So what to do to stop this addiction/ habit? I have a few myself…. I’m curious, do you want to stop?

    Marc

    • Courtenay says:

      Well, I might not be the right person to ask about how to stop an addiction, but I can tell you about some of my experiences. I’ve had success with ayahuasca in vastly reducing the amount of anxiety in my life and by extension, the amount of weed I feel compelled to smoke. I used to smoke at least once a day, and now it’s very rare, and only when I am extremely stressed. I guess the short answer is get to the bottom of what the addiction is helping you escape from and deal with the situation. Easier said than done, I know. And sometimes when the addiction is everyday “normal” behaviour, it’s the most difficult to see it’s purpose in helping you cope.

      For example, I used to think I was bulimic because of hatred for my body, but after getting over that for the most part, I could see that it was only when I was extremely stressed that I felt compelled to be bulimic. I noticed that when it came to my disordered eating habits, weekly counselling was helpful in understanding my compulsions, but shaking things up and changing my life circumstances are what made the most difference. For me this meant going abroad for a year to Shanghai where I completed part of my business degree. My disordered eating didn’t disappear over night, but it was drastically reduced almost overnight just from a change of scenery.

      As for stopping this nail polish addiction, yes I’d like to. And yet somehow I find ways to excuse it because it’s a relatively acceptable addiction to have. I’d really rather I not be spending money on stuff I don’t need.

      Why do you think you chose the addictions you have?


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