Nail polish in public
September 8, 2016 4:01 PM   Subscribe

Are there any indoor public places where it would be acceptable to paint my nails?

I really enjoy painting my nails - I find it calming and fun. The smell of nail polish gives my wife migraines.

We recently moved from Los Angeles to the Midwest. In LA, I would do my nails outside (in our yard when we were on the first floor, on our balcony at our most recent apartment). This worked well - it almost never rained and was usually a comfortable temperature at some point during the day (or early morning or evening). Now that we are in the Midwest, that's not feasible due to rain / sticky heat / snow / cold.

I would never use nail polish (or remover) in a small enclosed public space like a coffee shop. I obviously don't need to paint my nails, but I do really enjoy it. My wife is sensitive enough to the odor that just going into a different room and turning on a fan isn't sufficient - and again, it's not just that she dislikes the smell, it's that it's a migraine trigger for her.

One idea I had is to use my building's stairwell, which is separated by a door from the hallway. There is space to stay out of the way, but I'm concerned about the smell. It's definitely not ideal though, and maybe not even acceptable. I can't think of other places that would work.

Other info:
- I don't care if people think I'm strange, but I don't want to disrupt anyone with the smell.
- Ideally I would be able to sit down, relax, and take my time.
- I am aware that water based polishes without an odor exist, or that I could go to a salon for a manicure. Right now I'm trying to figure out if doing my nails myself with regular polish is feasible.

Any ideas?
posted by insectosaurus to Grab Bag (48 answers total)
Best idea for DIY polish is at home, early, when your wife is out for the day and you can air the place out afterwards. Sorry, the smell is just such a common trigger for people.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:13 PM on September 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

why don't you only paint your nails when your wife isn't home?
posted by foxonisland at 4:13 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

It it possible for you to do it at home when you know your wife won't be home for a while? Like, if you did it just after she left for work, and she returned many hours later, would that be sufficient to remove the migraine trigger for her?
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:14 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Public indoor spaces are not appropriate for this, as I'm sure you realize. And, enclosed stairwells aren't really an option as your wife isn't the only one who gets health issues triggered by the fumes (migraines and asthma come immediately to mind).

However, I love to paint my nails as well and if a friend wanted to set up a nail painting date at my house, I'd be into it. Maybe see if you have friends who would be willing to host during the months when you can't be comfortably outside on your balcony/yard/roof?
posted by quince at 4:14 PM on September 8, 2016 [26 favorites]

Is there a covered entry way? Alternatively, if you drive, a parked car is great for painting nails.
posted by stormygrey at 4:14 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you're in a town with a nice hotel, one where people hold weddings, you could try their public ladies' restroom - often nicer ones will have a lounge area inside the bathroom but outside of where the stalls are, where you can sit (and there's usually also a mirrored counter area for just that sort of thing).
posted by Mchelly at 4:15 PM on September 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, I wanted to add, you'll get used to your weather at some point. There will be a lot of times you can comfortably paint your nails outside.
posted by stormygrey at 4:18 PM on September 8, 2016

The food court at the mall, no?
posted by praemunire at 4:22 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Please not a food court: inappropriate both from the personal-grooming-in-a-dining setting angle as well as being surrounded by people who don't want to smell the polish while they're trying to eat (and some of them will also be migraine sufferers). Sorry.

But malls have other possibilities: in a non-food-court seating area, perhaps?
posted by easily confused at 4:30 PM on September 8, 2016 [16 favorites]

An out of the way bench - somewhere well away from food tables - at a mall, is as good a solution as I can think of. You can't do it near people eating, and you can't do it in places that people have no choice about entering, like where they work or live.

Do you enjoy manicures? If someone else doing your nails would work for you then you have lots of options.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:36 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Please don't do smelly personal grooming on a mall bench. People sometimes need the benches -- for a rest of weary joints, to nurse, to attend to an emergency call, etc -- it's not reasonable to be sitting there stinking the place up.

Is a secluded spot in a park during nice weather out of the question?
posted by kmennie at 4:52 PM on September 8, 2016 [17 favorites]

I mean it's feasible, I guess... For sure people will think you're strange - and note that that's not only about people having unpleasant thoughts about you, it may actually disturb them, they may be bothered by it.

Witness the upset expressed in response to this question about merely baring feet at the office. People have firm ideas about what kinds of activities should happen where, and, about other people's feet.

(You're not allowed to do anything along those lines even in the change room at the pool I sometimes go to - the expectation is, minimal shower only. You can *almost* dry your hair and apply bare-bones makeup and ideally will be out in under 6 minutes, if possible. Maybe you'd have a shot in a more relaxed gym environment, but as with anywhere you'd go, odds of someone being bothered by the smell are high.)

The nail-painting party is your best bet.

Erm. It may be you're not talking about toenails. Sorry. Nail painting party, still.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:53 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would say on a bench at the mall outside one of the already smelly stores. Toenails would be weird anywhere.
posted by ktkt at 4:57 PM on September 8, 2016

You really can't do it in any place where you might trigger someone other than your wife. Seriously. Even if it seems relatively open, like a mall. The suggestion of a ladies' room is also a bad one—if someone who has health problems triggered by things like nail polish, it's too late not to be triggered if they've walked in the door and smelled it.
posted by not that girl at 5:01 PM on September 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

It's never polite to groom in public, with the exception of long-distance train journeys or flights where you can duck down behind a seat back and everyone else can pretend not to notice you. And even then, you have to restrict it to actions that aren't too gross/private - no teeth flossing or nail cutting, for example, and definitely no use of products with a high likelihood of bothering people.

If you don't have a usable balcony, AND your stairwell gets very little traffic, I guess that would be okay, but I have to nth others' suggestion that you do this at home while your wife isn't there.
posted by tel3path at 5:03 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Get a decent sized real hepa filter Air Purifier for your house.
posted by jbenben at 5:10 PM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do you own a car your wife doesn't also use regularly? Find a nice quiet place to park, push the seat back, open the windows and go nuts. You could sit in the passenger seat with your feet on the dash if you were so inclined as well.
posted by cgg at 5:12 PM on September 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

You could do this at the lounge in the locker room of my gym. But that is pretty gym
posted by mercredi at 5:15 PM on September 8, 2016

I have seen people (mostly teenage girls) doing this on park benches, but I have no idea if that is considered a fine use of a public space or a gross imposition. It obviously didn't bother me, but as you can see people have strong feelings about feet.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:41 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

How friendly are your neighbours? Explaining the situation may get you a spot at someone's kitchen table. You could bring muffins or coffee sometimes as a thank you. Maybe you could trade dog walking/cat visiting for nail polishing privileges.
posted by BoscosMom at 5:47 PM on September 8, 2016

What about finding a nail salon near you, making some friends, and seeing if you could pay a small amount to do your own nails in the waiting area? That's one indoor spot where no one will mind the smell, guaranteed.
posted by cogitron at 5:47 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

A gazebo at a park. A bench outside a nail salon in the mall.
posted by tippy at 5:59 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

To clarify, I'm talking hands only - no feet. And I completely understand that it's not okay to use nail polish anywhere people would be involuntarily subjected to the smell - that's why I'm asking this question. Our stairwell is low traffic enough and ventilated enough that it seemed like a possibility, but on further thought I don't want to risk triggering a migraine (or asthma attack, etc) in a neighbor.

I have a good outdoor spot to use in decent weather. It's not covered, however, so it doesn't work if it's raining and I don't think it will work in freezing weather.

Some good ideas here though - a friend's house, a car, at the gym (maybe - we are planning to join one but I don't know if it will have an appropriate spot), and finding a nail salon that will let me hang out are all potentially workable. And I'm open to more suggestions, of course!
posted by insectosaurus at 5:59 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think the locker room at the gym, while fine from a personal-grooming-is-cool-here standpoint, is not so great from a you-might-trigger-a-migraine-in-someone aspect. My gym (which, granted, is in Oakland, where awareness of scent sensitivity is high) doesn't allow highly scented products (perfume, etc) to be used in the locker room for basically this reason.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:22 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

This would be acceptable in my gym's locker room.

My husband really dislikes this smell too, but he is satisfied if I close myself up in the bathroom and run the vent.
posted by samthemander at 6:26 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Totally the food court at the mall. I have no idea why that specific place seems fine, but I'm not the only peraon apparently.
posted by so fucking future at 6:27 PM on September 8, 2016

My solutions would tend to be low-occupied public spaces - the gazebo in the city park, if it's a low-traffic day and nobody much is around, or at the end of the day at work, when I've stayed late and nobody much is around, the work cafeteria is closed so I can sit at those tables - but I could also imagine a safety in anonymity. Go to the university quad where there are hordes of ditzy undergrad everywhere, and there will definitely be people doing things more questionable than painting their nails.
posted by aimedwander at 6:33 PM on September 8, 2016

An empty parking garage? If people use it there still might be migraine risk though.
posted by azalea_chant at 6:34 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Find a friend who doesn't mind if you paint at their house while you visit.
posted by cecic at 6:50 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I guess others will weigh in if I'm an outlier, but in any public place I'd be worried about accidentally dripping nail polish or worse, knocking over the bottle and spilling it; you could very well ruin the finish of the surface, or at the least create sucky work for someone else to clean up.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:02 PM on September 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

If I had to do it somewhere, I'd probably lay down a blanket in the park and do it there. In a corner of the park, where it would be hard for me to bother anyone, and anyone sensitive to the smell had plenty of park to flee to.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:13 PM on September 8, 2016

Now that we are in the Midwest, that's not feasible due to rain / sticky heat / snow / cold.

Oh, haha. Well, when it's cold out, I would probably just do it outside anyway, and feel even more OK with it since people don't really hang around outside much in the winter anyway.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:14 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Book a foot massage or pedicure at a nail salon and do your own fingernails during (warn/ask/tip well.)

Outdoors should be fine except on the most extreme days.

Please, not the food court! An extremely fumey personal grooming activity in an indoor space designated for eating? I can't understand that.
posted by kapers at 7:43 PM on September 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I'm completely baffled by the people suggesting a mall at all, let alone the FOOD COURT. wtf NO

I really think your car is the best possible option IF you can air it out afterwards to your wife's satisfaction.
posted by MsMolly at 7:49 PM on September 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Also really any day that it's not actively raining on you or cold enough that you need gloves you CAN do your nails outside. It'll just take you a little while to get used to the weather.
posted by MsMolly at 7:52 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Dear god, please don't do this.

Nail polish fumes can trigger a migraine of 7 to 10 days duration in people who are susceptible (and there are a lot more of us than you think!)
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 8:03 PM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have a pretty sensitive sense of smell, and the idea that the smell of polish is going to come oppressively through the overwhelming reek of cheap fast food from more than a table or so away strikes me as pretty darned unlikely. They're big spaces. Just don't sit right next to anyone.

And I don't consider grooming activities in public objectionable unless you are shedding/spraying bits of yourself about, which is gross. That would mean no nail-trimming during the process, though, so that might not work for you.
posted by praemunire at 8:07 PM on September 8, 2016

jbenben: "Get a decent sized real hepa filter Air Purifier for your house."

The smell from nail polish will not be mitigated by a particulate filter.
posted by Mitheral at 10:00 PM on September 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

It's a migraine trigger for me too except in this case I don't get to say "honey can you please do it outside?" Even worse, I don't expect migraine triggers in places like stairwells so it really ruins my day when it's sprung on me.

Basically the only places you can do this in public are places were it would already be OK with your wife right there by your side. So outside when it's windy pretty much.
posted by shelleycat at 10:41 PM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Agree with Mitheral that HEPA filtration will not help (the nail polish smell is from airborne solvent molecules, too small to be trapped by a particle filter), but a filter containing activated charcoal/carbon may do the job.
posted by firesine at 1:04 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

None of the proposed options sound even remotely appealing to me. But I make a bit of a production of painting my nails with base coats and top coats and tidying up with a clean brush and nail polish remover and so on. And that's before I've tried to pack all these things and take them and me back home.

It sounds as if you may enjoy the ritual/me time aspect? Find another nail and hand related ritual. A 'no polish' manicure that you can do inside in your home. Take your time over all the steps. Use a nice oil and creams and give yourself a hand massage. No or at least probably inoffensive smells and your polish free hands will look great and be ready for polish whenever you have got a chance to apply it outside.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:00 AM on September 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

I think your car (windows open, probably) is probably the easiest thing for this - park somewhere with few passerby (a garage might be a good place in bad weather).

But yeah, also, nail polish party! Can you make friends with a nail-polish-friendly neighbor?

Finally - the smell does dissipate quickly, can you just paint when she's out and then vent the apartment really well for a while? Obviously you don't want to mess around with triggers, but I can't imagine that an hour or two of airing-out leaves any perceptible level of smell.

I also recommend you experiment with nail polish brands, as some have the "nail polish smell" far worse than others. Personally, I'm pretty happy with Julep and Zoya - both still smell, but so much less than others (I assume that's because they're free of certain ingredients like formaldehyde).
posted by R a c h e l at 7:13 AM on September 9, 2016

I really don't think it's appropriate anywhere and I certainly don't think a gym locker room is acceptable at all. The smell is going to bother people, and as said can trigger health issues in some people. It's not something you HAVE to do, so don't impose it on other people.
Your car is the only place I think is ok, and that's if your wife isn't going to be subjected to it after, and if you're ok with the risk of spilling it.
posted by shesbenevolent at 7:24 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a half-answer to your question, but have you tried something like Piggy Paint which is very much unlike most nail polishes, and has nearly no smell, and is formulated differently?
posted by rachaelfaith at 7:47 AM on September 9, 2016

If you take your stairs all the way up to the top, is there an alcove up there that leads to the roof that nobody ever goes to? Might have less potential traffic than the downstairs.
posted by CathyG at 9:01 AM on September 9, 2016

Along the lines of a no-polish manicure that koahiatamadl mentions above, nail buffing can be relaxing and ritualistic and makes nails pretty shiny (though obviously it doesn't give them color so that might not fit your needs.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:47 AM on September 9, 2016

Because I have a tween daughter I am aware of the existence of nail art stickers. Some of the Japanese ones we've been gifted have been quite cute/amusing; some of them look like real polish.

Could you do that to scratch the nail-decor itch, and take up watercolours or something to scratch the painting itch? Grown-ups' colouring books?

(Apparently fake nails are so much of a thing now that I -- grossly overdue to cut my nails at present -- was complimented this weekend on my 'great-looking artificial nails.' Ha! So it's not like non-painted decorated nails are rare or weird nowadays. The stickers strike me as less silly and loads less nail-damaging than gluing on plastic nails.)
posted by kmennie at 8:58 AM on September 11, 2016

I'm going to echo the other people who say not in any enclosed public spaces. I get headaches from nail polish and I'm not even particularly sensitive.

I like koahiatamadl's idea of a no-polish manicure, which you could alternate with trips to a salon.
posted by daybeforetheday at 12:25 AM on October 2, 2016

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