Interviewing a celebrity can be a nerve-wracking experience, even for those of us that do it for a living. I never quite know how a famous person might respond to a pestering journalist like myself, but Kerry Washington's even-tempered voice is soothing enough to put those thoughts behind me. I start our audio-only Zoom call with the obligatory opening question: "How are you doing?" The answer she gives me is even more reason not to get anxious.
"I'm, like, COVID good, right?" I know exactly what she means, I tell her. It doesn't feel totally right to say we're doing well during what feels like a never-ending pandemic, but things are certainly better than they could be. We chuckle over the insanity of it all, and it starts to feel more like I'm catching up with an old acquaintance — one who always brings great beauty advice to the table.
Now would be a great time to mention why the hell I'm having a casual Wednesday afternoon chat with one of Hollywood's favorite figures: Washington is partnering with nail-care brand OPI to celebrate its 40th anniversary. And as it turns out, Washington has mostly been doing her own manicures for a majority of the pandemic. She recalls getting her nails professionally done for the Biden-Harris inauguration and a few other special occasions, but in the interim has stayed heavily focused on nail maintenance at home. "Anything for when I'm on my own that helps with self-care, that is really important," Washington says.
And yes, manicures absolutely count as self-care. "We didn't have a ton of money growing up; my mother's a retired professor, so she didn't have a lot of luxury in her life… But [she] always has her nails done," Washington moons. She remembers watching her mother return to the nail salon every week when she was little. "[It was] a ritual to have a part of her body, an extension of herself, be well taken care of, and I think it taught me something about self-care and about keeping commitments with ourselves."
Nail health is always at the top of Washington's mind, so cuticle treatments are an absolute must for any of her manicures, at home or not. "I have had eczema my whole life, so I have lots of hangnails. If my cuticles are really dry, then I'm picking," Washington says. Her favorite cuticle oil, unsurprisingly, is OPI's ProSpa, but Allure editors are also fond of Olive + June Cuticle Serum and Dr. Paw Paw Multi-Purpose Shea Butter Balm. That and a nail-strengthening base coat lay the groundwork for Washington's strong nails, which she's usually growing out.
"I like to go really, really short with them, then grow them out to a long, slightly angled oval — kind of almond," she says. But it takes more than a few good products to grow nails out without breaking or peeling, Washington reminds me. "I had a nail stylist say to me years ago to treat your nails like jewels, not tools." I can't help but laugh because she says this just as I'm cracking open a can of seltzer with my bare nails. She's better at this whole nail-care thing than I am, clearly.
Whatever the state of Washington's nails, you can bet that she's wearing some iteration of her staple shade: red. Funnily enough, OPI's metallic red Nail Lacquer shade I'm Not Really a Waitress has been a go-to of Washington's since the 1990s, when she actually was a waitress. She still uses it to this day, but it's taken on a different name entirely: I'm Really an Actress. The new name takes effect this year with OPI's big anniversary, creating a full-circle moment for Washington. "I feel like I've come into my own because I spent the late '90s and early 2000s working in restaurants while I was trying to make it as an actress," she jokes. "And now I am an actress."
Washington feels no shame, by the way, in embracing trends of the past. "The '90s are definitely back; I think it's fun to realize how many of those looks are classic," she says. "There might be a moment where suddenly everybody's like 'No frosted lips," but then five or 10 years later, everybody's like, 'You know what's really cute? A frosted lip.'"
This mentality also applies to her favorite products from that era, some of which she still uses today. "I don't use it all the time because my skin is pretty sensitive, but sometimes if I'm having [a breakout], I go back to that Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash that I used when I was a teenager." And don't get her started on the brand's Rainbath Shower Gel. "I have four of them in my shower; four different colors and scents."
Looking forward to 2021, Washington hopes to infuse more of that nostalgia into her beauty looks. In fact, there's one old-school hair trend that she's been "fantasizing" about non-stop. "I did a lot of roller sets in the '90s, and I always think it's fun to go back to roller sets with my hair," she says with audible excitement. "I haven't done a roller set in a while since I'm doing my [own] hair mostly, but I should just bite the bullet, do a roller set, sit under the dryer in my living room, and see what happens."
The day she finally does it, it's sure to become a widespread trend all over again. Because just like her favorite nail and skin-care products, everything about Washington just seems to become instantly classic.
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