Give Yourself the Perfect At-Home Manicure
Leaning back in a chair as professionals chatter about their love life and file your nails is always a good time, but the weekly trip to the salon adds up. If you’re saving your scratch for that bag you’ve been lusting over, the vacation of a lifetime, concert tickets, or simply for rent, there’s good news—with a few essentials you can assemble an at-home manicure kit and keep your nails strong and styling on your own. Here are the steps, nail care tips, and basic nail tools you’ll need to create a salon-worthy mani in the comfort of your own home.
You can do your nails yourself with a little practice and a few basic tools. Before you begin, find a spot to work where you have good light and a flat, even surface upon which to work. Waiting for polish to dry is literally like watching paint dry, so you may want to make sure you have a good show on the TV or a book to read on your tablet (clicking rather than actually turning pages to avoid accidental smears) to help you kill time between coats.
Remove Nail Polish
Lift old polish from nails with nail polish-removing towelettes. One towelette should work for all 10 nails. The traditional bottle of remover and cotton ball method is OK, but we love this no-spill concept for removing polish on the run. Always use a non-acetone nail polish remover to keep nails from chipping and becoming frail.
Clip Your Nails
Make sure your hands are dry and cut your nails to your desired length with a sharp nail clipper. The nail contains layers of protein and nail clippers won’t split the layers of the nail like filing, so cut to size and file to shape. Don’t cut past the white line at the tip of your finger because doing so could expose the bed to infection. Cut within the lines.
File Your Nails
After clipping, use a nail file to shape the edges of the nail. Only file in one direction: sawing the nail will create ridges, chipping and breaking. You can find files in many materials—glass, cushioned, ceramic—and any of them will do the job, but avoid metal files which can split nails.
Buff Your Nails
Smooth out any small ridges in your nail and prep them for painting by buffing lightly with a foam block buffer or stick-style buffer. Move lightly across the tops of the nails, but don’t grind. You don’t want to take off too much of the top layer of your nail, just smooth them a bit.
Clean Your Nails
Wash your hands to remove the chemicals from the nail polish remover. While you’re scrubbing, break out a soft-bristle nail brush and pump a pea-sized amount of antibacterial soap onto the bristles. Thoroughly scrub under each nail to dislodge any filing residue or dirt, then rinse.
Soak Your Nails
Submerge nails in a small bowl filled with warm soapy water for 5 to 10 minutes. Soaking your hands softens the cuticles and preps your nails for shaping. However, many nail technicians recommend skipping this step if you have very dry skin or thin, brittle nails.
Apply Cuticle Oil
Further soften the cuticles with a dab of cuticle oil. Place a drop of oil on your cuticles and give each nail a mini massage. Softening your cuticles with oil will make it easier for your to shape them.
Push Back Your Cuticles or Apply a Cuticle Remover
Use a cuticle pusher to shape your cuticles. This makes your nail appear longer and will give your finished fingers a clean, polished appearance. You should always push, not cut, your cuticles; the cuticle is the first line of defense against nail infection—it’s too important to hack at. If you choose to use a cuticle remover instead, add a bit of gel to the cuticle area to help remove the dead skin that surrounds the nail. After 60 seconds wash your hands to slough off the dead skin. Keep the gel away from live skin tissue—we’re trying to shed dead skin cells, not kill live ones. Gel with caution.
Pamper your palms with a buttery hand lotion or cream. Then use a clean cloth and a bit of rubbing alcohol or polish remover to remove the oils from your nails so the polish will adhere to the nail. Toss your favorite hand cream in your bag so it’s always handy. A good moisturizer is not just a manicure essential, but an everyday must have.
Apply a Base Coat to Your Nails
Start the nail painting process with a base coat. This clear polish protects the nail from yellowing and keeps nail polish from chipping or slipping. Just as primer smoothes over your pores for flawless foundation, a base coat fills in the ridges in your nails, making the surface of your nails positively paintable.
Polish Your Nails
Apply two coats of your favorite nail polish. Brush the polish on your nail in three strokes, the first two on the outsides of your nail and the third in the middle. For summer we embrace bright and bolds like neon nails and leather-like lacquer, but if you desire the demure try pretty pink or a scandalously sheer shade. Polish tip: Add a few drops of nail polish remover to sticky lacquers to squeeze a few more uses out of favorite polishes.
Apply a Topcoat to Your Nails
This step ensures that gorgeous color will stay all week. Play with different finishes like matte topcoats or use a glossy topcoat for shiny nails. Pick your fave finish and apply a coat using the same technique you used to apply your colored polish.
Clean Up Any Messes
Uncap your favorite nail polish remover pen or use a small nail art or artist’s brush dipped in polish remover and run it around the outside of the nail to remove any polish mishaps.
Professional looking manicure at home—nailed it!