Making a polished presentation

Date Published: 
June, 2006
Original Author: 
Darla A. Tripoli
Funeral Service Consultants
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, June 2006

The appearance of the hands is an important part of the overall visual presentation of the deceased. At the visitation, family members and friends will generally hold, clasp or pat the hands of their loved one. Seeing their loved one's hands holding a rosary, a cherished photo or some other memento, or wearing a ring with sentimental value can be comforting for family members.

Beautiful, well groomed fingernails are an important part of the overall look. Many women (and some men) take pride in the appearance of their hands, especially their nails. People who spent a significant amount of time and money properly caring for their fingernails would not want to be viewed with their hands looking anything but their best.

Recently I had a colleague ask me if there really is a difference between doing a professional manicure and simply polishing the nails. The photos I was able to show him proved that yes, there is a big difference, and today's consumers are sophisticated enough to notice when the nails have not been professionally done.

Funeral directors who are responsible for the final appearance of the deceased are expected to provide professional cosmetology work. People will notice if the hands are not properly "finished," and family members may have specific requests for how their loved one's nails should look.

The family may simply request a particular nail lacquer color, or may expect you to handle something as complex as camouflaging a fungus condition or removing artificial nails. Are you prepared to handle such requests professionally?

A good embalmer always must have a fingernail care kit which should include at least the following items:

•    nail scissors and clippers,
•    polish remover,
•    emery boards of various textures,
•    a cleaning implement,
•    cuticle remover,
•    Birchwood manicure sticks,
•    liquid ridge fillers,
•    buffing wands,
•    a few neutral lacquer colors,
•    individual finger separators (to prevent smudges in your polish work) and
•    a professional quality shiny top coat.

The first step in preparing the nails is cleaning them, since people will notice dirty nails—and they'll talk about them. No matter how impeccable your facilities and service, presenting for viewing a body with dirty fingernails sends a bad message about the care you provide.

Start by lightly spraying under the free edge of each fingernail with a bottle filled with a bleach and water solution. This will help loosen dirt and debris, which can then be removed with a professional cleaning implement.

Next, check the nail plate. Are the nails stained yellow from nicotine or old fingernail polish? A good quality nail polish remover or the bleach solution can generally lighten this discoloration.

After the nails are clean and free of stains, dirt and old polish, analyze the shape. There are generally four basic fingernail shapes: round, square, pointed and oval. Shape accordingly using an emery board with a fine grit. Emery boards are great for smoothing ragged nails.

If the cuticles are thick and overgrown—a common occurrence in the elderly—use a cuticle remover. If ridges are present on the nail plate, a ridge filler or buffer generally will hide or remove them. At this point, the nails of men or of women who will not be getting a coat of polish can be buffed to a shine.

When color is called for
During the arrangement process, the funeral director should inform the family that a professional manicure will be included in the preparation of their loved one, ask for any specific requests and record them. The family may simply request a color or shade of polish, or may bring in a specific bottle of polish they want you to use. It is important to make sure the family's wishes are clear.

Before applying color to the cleaned and shaped nails, make sure you have removed all traces of old polish. Use foam finger separators to keep the finders spread apart as you work. This is especially helpful when dealing with arthritic fingers.

First, apply ridge filler to the nail plates and allow it to dry before applying nail color. To prevent smudges, the separators should be left in place until the lacquer is dry. Apply two coats of lacquer. Do not apply thick coats, since this will prevent the lacquer from drying and two thin coats generally work fine.

After the color has dried, apply a shiny top coat for a professional and finished appearance. You can reapply a shiny top coat the day of the viewing or service to freshen up the manicure.

With proper training and practice, you will be able to provide this important but sometimes overlooked service that communicates to the family that even the smallest of details has not been overlooked.