Hands On: Fig + Yarrow Nail & Cuticle Salve

You’ve heard the sad (but true) cliche, of course: You start playing guitar to meet girls and you end up talking about your nails with middle-aged men. If you haven’t heard it, it’s about time you did. It might not have been so for Robert Johnson or Jimi Hendrix, but for most of us it’s a hard-learned truth, and a truth we’ve been loathe to address at the Fretboard Journal, until now, in this here installment of “Hands On,” when we take a somewhat more literal interpretation of this column’s name to discuss Fig + Yarrow’s Nail & Cuticle Salve, “a highly nourishing blend of herbs, oils & botanical essences for strength, health & beauty of nails.”


I rarely use picks. I’m pretty much strictly a fingers guy, whether I’m pickin’, pluckin’, or strummin’. I’m generally not overly concerned about my nails. I tend to them with an emery board and over the years they seem to have grown accustomed to the wear and tear of my guitar playing. Sure, I’ve dabbled in clear polishes and the like for reinforcement, but I’ve never gone in too deep, indulging in nylon tips or eating a shitload of jello. However, when the weather turned unseasonably cold and dry here in Seattle not too long ago, the aforementioned wear and tear started taking a greater toll – there was fraying, I’m afraid, and even a chip – so I found myself down in Pioneer Square, at E. Smith Mercantile, perusing a dizzying array of nail treatments, pondering the relative merits of the clear base layers and top coats, when I espied Fig + Yarrow’s wee tub of goo…

I’ve got a soft spot for anything that calls itself a salve. Sure, it’s no unguent in terms of a lexical mouthful, but perhaps for that very reason, the mere word “salve” is somehow reassuring to me, and it comes from a company that calls itself an apothecary, which is like, magic or something. The ingredients list is daunting, to be sure, but intriguing, covering everything from beeswax to tea tree oil, with oatstraw, nettle, myrrh and cannabis sativa seed oil in between. So I twisted open the tester and massaged a bit of this waxy-oily substance into a nail and… well, I didn’t necessarily think that it had done me much good, but it seemed like considerably less of a pain in the ass than the polishes I’d been considering, so I got it.

I used the salve sporadically over a month or so, dipping in and massaging a bit into the nails on my right hand two or three times a week, when it occurred to me. It’s a fairly oily substance, meaning an ever so slightly messy process. The results have been encouraging – the brittleness, fraying and chipping have ended, and there’s an admittedly weird smoothness to my nail surface. Also, I haven’t bothered to use any on the nails of my left hand and they now appear noticeably duller and dryer, even though the weather has returned to its wet and mild norm. Of course, that return to normal weather could be part of why my nails have been doing better, as well, but, for the moment, at least, I’ll keep using the goo. Pardon the pun, but when it comes to nail care, it’s the balm.