Nail It: The Guide to DIY Manicures

Manicures are expensive, and you have to watch them like a hawk to make sure they sterilize their equipment properly so that you don’t contract some nasty infection or fungus. Gross! That’s not very relaxing. I’ve perfected my manicure to the point where I feel I do it better than salons and honestly prefer to do it myself.

You can go online and read magazines for tons of tutorials. Each will give you the same basic principles, with a few differences here are there. Some even give conflicting information! So here’s how to navigate through all those articles and determine for yourself which steps you need to do and which you can skip.

Part 1: First, remove any old nail polish with acetone. Obvious, yes. Not so obvious, though, is to stick to a regular old acetone. It’s recommended to steer clear of version with vitamin E or any other kind of oily substance. This can leave a residue on your nail and prevent your polish from adhering well.

Part 2: Now that you’ve done that, soak your fingers (or toes!) in some soapy warm water. Leave them in there for several minutes, to get your cuticles nice and soft. Then use a cuticle pusher to push back your cuticles. A cuticle pusher can be wood, metal, or plastic. They’re often called orange sticks, and, no, we aren’t quite sure why that is. Gently push your cuticle, the thin layer of skin that grows from your nail bed down the top of your nail. You don’t want to cut them, because this breaks the safety barrier between infectious bacteria and you skin. If you get a cut, bacteria can travel in there and cause some pretty nasty problems. Best if you avoid that.

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Part 3: If you want to shorten your nails, cut them now. Don’t shove your whole nail in the nail cutter and cut it off in one go. This will weaken the edges of the nail. Slide one of the edges of your nail in the nail trimmer. Only put about a third of your nail in the trimmer. Press down and cut. Then move the trimmer further across the nail. Cut again. Do this until you’ve cut a whole strip of the nail off. This allows you to slowly cut the end of the nail off by following the curvature of the nail and not fighting it. It will cause the least breakage and weakening.

Part 4: Now it’s time to file the nail. If you just cut them, grab a medium grit file to even everything out. Then move on to a fine grit file. If you didn’t cut your nails at all, just start with a fine grit file. The finer the grit, the less you will weaken the edge of the nail. Glass files are the best for this. Also, do not saw back and forth, as this will also weaken the nail. File in one direction along the whole edge of the nail. You can file it in any shape that you want. You may have read that the go-to shape is the squoval. It’s in between a square and an oval. It’s the most flattering shape.

5 nail shapes

Part 5: Time to buff your nail. There are lots of buffers out there. Get one with a least two buffing surfaces (some have several!). Buffers are like very, very fine nail files, but you run them over the entire surface of your nail, not the edge. This finely evens out the surface of your nail, getting rid of any bumps or ridges. As you progress through the finer and finer buffing surfaces, your nail will get shinier. This shine means you’ve smoothed the surface, which is a prime surface for polish to adhere as long as possible!

Part 6: Grab a base coat. Base coats not only create a protective layer between your nail and your polish, so that you can avoid getting yellow or stained nails, but they often contain treatment in them as well, such as hydrators, strengtheners, or brighteners. A base coat also creates a prime surface onto which nail polish can stick. FYI, your nail polish base coat, color, and top coat, need not all be the same brand. If you like a particular brand and want to do this, awesome, but no fear if you’re mixing and matching! Paint on one thin coat. Let it dry for at least 2 minutes.

Note: When painting you nail, first run the brush along the edge of your nail. It will make you manicure last longer. Then paint you nail using as few strokes as possible. Optimally, no more than three strokes. The more strokes you do, the more opportunity air bubbles have to pop up in your polish. Another way to avoid polish bubbles? Don’t shake your polishes. Roll them in between your hands. This mixes it, without creating air bubbles.

Part 7: Now, finally, grab your color. Do one thin coat (remember, do the edge of the nail first, then three stokes MAX). Let each coat dry at least two minutes. I say, the longer you can let each coat dry, the better. But we also have lives to lead, so no need to wait forever!

Part 8: Time for the top coat. You have a few choices here. The simplest way to put it is either mega shine or quick drying. Quickly drying formulas will have you compromise a bit of the shine. It’s inherent in the formula. Quick drying formulas also have more of a reputation for chipping more easily. However, if you know you’re too impatient to sit there all day having your polish dry, then maybe you’re willing to forego a super shiny manicure, for one that will allow you to head out the door. Do one thin coat.

Let your nails sit for no less than 45 minutes so that they can dry.

Part 9: If you’re using drying drops or a spray, the instructions will usually say to wait one minute, and then apply it to the nails. These will help your nails dry, but still be super careful with them for the next half hour or so. Just like quick drying top coats, these sprays/drops can dullen the shine of your polish and increase the possibility of chipping. Just an FYI.

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You may have also read that you can put your polish in ice water to help it solidify and dry faster. You can do this, but there is a risk of your nail polish chipping. You see, when you soaked you nails in warm water, your nail beds expanded a bit. Putting them in cold water (even if you didn’t originally soak them in warm water) will cause the nail bed to contract. This movement of the nail bed can compromise the integrity of your polish job. If you really need to get out of the house, or don’t have drying drops, then go ahead. Just be forewarned.

Part 10: To keep your manicure up, massage cuticle oil or cream into your nails regularly. Also reapply a top coat every three days or so (Wash and dry your hands before, then apply the topcoat).

It’s a process, but trust me, it’ll become habit very easily. It’ll save you time, money, and the headache of worrying about infection. Ta da!

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