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#BlackGirlTragic: I am ashy. Tip to toe. The reigning Queen of Elephant Skin. Dry winter skin has my hands looking like I’m half eagle; I need a manicure so badly. In short, it’s not a good look.

But true confession? Mani-pedis are one of the areas in my beauty routine where I am consistently thrifty with both my time and money, and where do-it-yourself consistently does my body good.

And while I love a great polish, I’ve learned that daily little acts of kindness to oneself are a major part of maintaining great, camera-ready natural nails. So I’ve turned it into a major part of my self-care routine. Let’s dive in:

Sweet and Soft

I’m not trying to be out here looking like the walking dead. I do hand-to-hand combat with the cold by making my own sugar, exfoliating scrub. I prefer sugar over salt, after Dr. Shirley Madhere, a New York City holistic plastic surgeon (yes, that’s a real thing), revealed that “ordinary sugar contains lactic acid and lipids that are the closest to our skin’s own composition,” and which are also extremely fast acting for fighting dryness.

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It’s easy to mix your own scrub at home. I like to mix the following:

1 cup coarse sugar
½ cup coconut oil or olive oil (add an essential oil, like rose or lavender, if you want to get fancy)

Mix the ingredients together in a bowl until you get a goopy consistency, being careful to add the oil slowly so that the sugar retains the grainy texture essential to exfoliation.

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During your shower or bath time, rub your hands thoroughly and gently with the mixture for 60 seconds; don’t forget the webbing in between your fingers and toes, which shows telltale signs of dryness. Let the oils and the sugar sit on your skin for another minute at least to maximize the hydration.

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Don’t Make Me Cut You

On the manicure tip, I lose my mind when my cuticles peel down and stick up like dried-out flower petals around my nail beds. Trim your cuticles too short, or clip them multiple times instead of cutting them off in one motion, and it causes this kind of peeling effect.

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Personally, I’m a fan of pushing back cuticles over cutting, but you’ve got to be conscientious to make it work.

Bathing is the optimal situation for cuticle maintenance. Cuticles softened by water make it easy to push them down with your thumbnails. Don’t worry if the cuticles pile up at the base of your nails like mini snowbanks; they’ll dry down flat and neat after absorbing the moisture from the bath.

To seal the deal, brush on a little cuticle remover and cuticle oil once you’re done with your soak. In fact, the smart money move is using cuticle remover and cuticle oil on the daily. I splurge on Butter London, but Sally Hansen also does wonders to help extend your manicure for up to two weeks.

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Nice and Smooth

When it comes to hand lotion, I apply it three times a day. The more you put on, the merrier your melanin gets. That said, we all live a touch screen life on our phones and computers, so lotion that’s deeply hydrating but nongreasy is a must. Zandra Lemon Tea Tree Hand and Body Lotion with liquid jojoba wax is a winner. Another personal fave? Super Goop Forever Young Hand Cream, which is highly emollient, absorbs quickly and has a high SPF (sun protection factor).

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Get on the Good Foot! 

What’s going on inside my shoes is scandalous as hell! Friction from running, yoga and spinning class can quickly cause dry skin and callouses to build up. If I don’t stay on top of it, it’s heavy lifting to get my feet looking human again (and not like the hooves on one of those blue characters in the movie Avatar).

Burt’s Bees Foot Cream more than does the job to soothe parched feet. I slather it on my toes when I work out with socks and sneakers on—though obviously not before a barefoot yoga class. It saves me (and my marriage) from wearing foot cream and unsexy socks to bed.

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Foot file or a pumice stone? I use both. Pumice stones work best to remove calluses on wet skin; foot files are most effective when skin is dry. I prefer the file because it’s more sanitary; skin sloughs off straight into the wastebasket, with no residue left on the nonporous file, which rises clean. Pumice stones, while convenient in the tub or shower, hold dead skin and debris, which can breed bacteria.

Ironically, scrubbing your feet with stones or files can stimulate calluses as well. I told you, it’s a fight—so, four times a year, I go nuclear in the war on ashiness, using the Baby Foot Exfoliant Foot Peel to completely resurface my feet. These cellophane booties are filled with a clear, slimy goodness, derived from bladderwrack mushroom, burdock root and meadowsweet flower, among 14 other herbal ingredients.

Give your feet a quick soak, slip the booties on for an hour—I use mine while I pay bills or catch up on Black-ish—and then lightly towel off the residue. Nothing happens right way, except your feet feel fresher and more moisturized. But three to five days later, get ready for dead skin walking, and do not make any barefoot plans! Sheets of dead skin will shed from your feet in chunks and swaths, and you’ll want to keep your socks and shoes on for two to three days during the shedding process that will bring your feet back to life.

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With my routine on lock, polish becomes a perk, not a necessity. A little regular attention ensures that my hands and feet are polished enough. And that’s how I take my nails from #BlackGirlTragic to #BlackGirlMagic!