Monica Sengupta, 28, is a nail artist who lives with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). On her YouTube channel and blog, “The Rite of Aging … Early: Navigating Rheumatoid Arthritis Through Beauty and Nail Art,” Monica talks about everyday life with RA, offers RA-centric beauty lessons, and shows off her spectacular nail designs.
Monica shared with HealthCentral via telephone interview about becoming a beauty blogger, the nail designs that work best for someone with RA (get ready to learn about the “dotticure”), and the makeup looks she relies on whether she’s going out or staying in.
HealthCentral: Monica, how did you come to be diagnosed with RA? And how did nail art come into it?
Monica Sengupta: I was diagnosed while I was in college. I remember being a sophomore and feeling very tired and in pain, but I thought I was just sleep-deprived and stressed. But then, that summer, I woke up one morning and couldn’t get out of bed. Thankfully, we had a family friend who was a rheumatologist, who quickly diagnosed me and got me on medication right away.
My interest in nail art came after college. I had a job as a veterinarian technician; my dream was to become a vet, and it’s still what I want to do. But at a certain point I was put on medical leave from work. With my RA, I just couldn’t keep up.
It was an unfortunate time — I was stuck at home and in bed a lot. But when I was feeling down, I would look at nail-art blogs and they would make me happier. Eventually I thought: Why not give it a try? Nail art isn’t always arthritis-friendly, but it felt possible because nails are a small canvas. And I could do it from home.
HC: When did you get interested in makeup and the whole beauty thing?
MS: After I was diagnosed with RA, I was put on a lot of medications very quickly — methotrexate, steroids, biologics, pain medications — and I had a lot of side effects. I was nauseous; I was tired; my skin lost a lot of its color; my eyelashes fell out; my hair thinned. I remember looking in the mirror one day and thinking: I look as ill as I feel, and I don’t like that.
I actually didn’t disclose that I had RA to people outside my family for almost two-and-a-half years. I didn’t want to look like I was ill. So there was that transition, especially around skincare, and playing with makeup transitioned from there as well.
Over time I began thinking it might be cool to share what I know with other people with RA and show them that it’s possible to have nice nails and skin and still do makeup even when we’re in a lot of pain or tired.
HC: What can a woman with RA do to make her nails look great?
MS: I don’t always have the patience, energy, or dexterity to do my nails. But when I do, I’ve figured out ways to bring down the need for perfection. Because certain kinds of precise patterns are just not going to happen.
One of my favorite types of nail art is the “dotticure.” Basically, you just paint dots on your nails — you can just dip the end of a bobby pin into the polish and touch it to the nail to make a dot. You can do one dot or as many as you want, and what’s nice is that it’s very abstract. You don’t even have to have a pattern.
Another thing I like to do is called dry brushing. First you paint the nails a base color. Then you prepare a “dry” brush with very little nail color — you can wipe off extra polish on the side of the bottle — then swipe it across the nail in different directions. You get this kind of cool, abstract look.
I use a lot of water decals as well. You know those temporary tattoos where you put the design in water and then it comes off the white backing when you press it on your skin? Water decals are basically those, but for nails. I like the ones on Born Pretty. Twinkled T sells the decals as well, and you can also get them on Amazon.
HC: Do you have any advice for women with RA who don’t want to spend a lot of money on beauty products?
MS: You can wrap layers of tape around the barrel of a nail-polish brush or makeup brush you already have, so you don’t have to grasp something small. I do this when I’m feeling symptomatic.
I also like to use my fingers a lot to apply eye shadow and blend it out. I especially use my ring finger because it exerts the least pressure. I feel like I don’t need as much dexterity when I put the makeup on this way, if that makes sense.
HC: Do you have any advice on the best makeup for parties?
MS: Well, it takes a lot of energy to socialize, especially if you have chronic-illness fatigue, flares and pain. Sometimes I’d rather spend time on my makeup and not go out, or I’d rather socialize and not spend time on my makeup. Maybe one day if we’re lucky we can do both, but a lot of people with RA have to decide one way or the other.
For people who do have the energy to put on makeup for parties, I recommend eye shadow that has a bit of shimmer or glitter. I think a little bit of shimmer is good, especially on the eyelids. If you’re older, the way it captures the light can actually lessen the look of wrinkles. I’m a fan of the 24-hour eye shadow Infallible from L’Oréal Paris. I don’t know what’s in it, but I apply it with my fingers and it stays.