The new black

I have been trying to grow my nails for as long as I can remember but, unlike most things I've been doing with equal persistence - breathing, drinking, wondering why Coronation Street doesn't have a black family - I still haven't mastered it. I don't bite them, but still they refuse to grow. My excessive nail-varnish habit is little more than a desperate attempt to distract myself and the world at large from the fact that I can never have the nails I want because the damned things just don't grow. Since DIY fake nails are cheap and nasty and the salon variety expensive and nasty, I'm pretty much lumbered with what I've got.

The trend for nail "art", which started in black hair salons and is now well and truly mainstream, brought me temporary relief, but diamanté-encrusted palm trees just don't rock my knockers any more. So this time I'm staying clear of urban myths ("eat raw jelly" being my favourite) and going to the professionals for advice instead.

The most important thing, according to nail expert Marian Newman, is to have a good set of tools: "A nail file, to file any snags or rough bits before they get bitten off or get worse, a three-way buffer to stimulate nail growth and improve the appearance of the nail, and a good clear topcoat or pretty colour to protect and strengthen the nail," are the essentials.

The rest (nail oil, cuticle cream, a life) is up to you. Gentle filing (once a week) will keep the nail layers intact (rather like trimming hair regularly to remove split ends), while buffing (with all three sides of the buffer) should be done once a month - any more will thin the nail plate, although you can buff gently with the final side more often, as this increases the blood supply to the area and stimulates growth.

The most common mistake made by those trying to grow their nails is filing down the side of the nail. This weakens the nail and causes it to split at the sides. The nail needs to grow straight for a short way and then be curved to form the desired shape.

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