Ask Us: “How Can I Get an Amazing At-Home Manicure?”

at home manicure tips
Photo: IMaxTree
Today’s question is from Shana via Twitter, who asks: “I need at-home manicure tips! I’ve never been able to paint my nails properly, and I need to learn. What’s a basic manicure routine that I can do every week?”
An excellent question! Painting your own nails isn’t just about trying out the best nail polish colors—although that’s definitely an advantage. Being able to give yourself an amazing at-home manicure is also a way to care for yourself; spending those twenty minutes, once a week, on your hands and nails is an investment in your mental well-being that cannot be overstated.
It’s also a great way to help break yourself of any bad nail habits you might have—after all, when you spend all that time making sure your nails look ***flawless, you’re far less likely to ruin your mani by biting or picking at them.
So here are our best at-home manicure tips for the nail novice. Read on; amazing nails are within your grasp!
Step one: Clean and prep.
Begin as you mean to go on: by completely removing all old nail polish, grit and grime from your nails. Use non-acetone polish remover on a cotton square to remove existing varnish, clean gently under the whites of your nails with an orange stick, then soak your nails for a few minutes in warm water to make sure they’re really nice and clean.
Once completely dry, gently smooth their surfaces with a very fine-grain nail buffer; we love side #3 on the Deborah Lippmann Smooth Operator Buffer File ($12, Miss Pop Nails, our favorite manicure guru, has warned us never to use the “shine” option—many people apply too much pressure, and that can weaken and damage nails.
oval nail shape
Photo: IMaxTree
Step two: File and shape.
If your next instinct is to hack away at your nails with a metal nail clipper, check yourself. Nail clippers are actually really terrible—they bend (and therefore weaken) even the strongest nails, and if the blades aren’t sharp enough, they can score the surface. No thanks.
Instead, use a medium grain file in one direction only (front to back, rather than side to side like a saw) to shorten the nail, then switch to a finer file to shape. The shape you choose is up to you, but a slightly oval shape (pictured above) is best. The rounded tip elongates fingers, and also breaks far less easily than square or stiletto-shaped nails.
People have strong opinions on cutting cuticles; we at Daily Makeover fall into the “Don’t do it!” camp. After soaking and filing, gently push your cuticles down with an orange stick and moisturize them well.
Wipe each nail down with polish remover to make sure they’re totally free of dust, moisturizer and oils, and you’re ready to paint!
Step three: Base coat.
NEVER underestimate the importance of a base coat. Not only does this oft-overlooked manicure step prevent staining, it also helps prevent chipping, peeling and breaking—ensuring your at-home manicure (and your nails) stay beautiful and strong. Apply a single coat and allow it to dry completely; nail polish is completely dry when you can touch it to your lips and it no longer feels tacky, sticky or cold.
perfect red nails
Photo: IMaxTree
Step four: Color!
Painting your nails can be hard, but we have some tricks to make it easier.
First, make sure that your polish is in good shape. If the bottle has been sitting in your closet for five years, if it’s bubbly, sticky or gunky—throw it out right away. We find that sheer, jelly-like polishes like Essie’s Mademoiselle ($8.50, are the easiest to work with.
Second, paint with your “wrong” hand first, bracing your elbow on the table for extra stability.
Third, paint the thumbs on each hand last. This way, you can use your thumbnail to wipe away any polish that “floods”your cuticle—it’s finer and way more gentle than an orange stick.
Finally, remember that practice makes perfect. If you mess up, or you can’t paint your “wrong” hand without dousing your fingertips in polish—don’t worry. It takes time to develop these skills, but develop them you will with patience and practice.
Step five: Dry.
A fun nail-drying hack: when your nails are around three-quarters dry (so they feel tacky when you touch them to your lips, not wet), spray them with cooking spray and wait two minutes. Voila! Dry nails. Just make sure you wipe them down with a cotton square soaked in Windex afterwards to remove the oil from your manicure.
Step six: Clean up.
Even the most expert at-home manicurist makes mistakes, so now is the time to clean them up! Dip a cotton swab in nail polish remover to clean up any polish you’ve accidentally gotten on your fingers—use a remover-dipped orange stick for smaller areas.
If you have bitten fingers or cuticles and nail polish remover hurts, soak your hands in warm water for about five minutes, then push the dried polish off your skin with either your fingers or an orange stick. Your fingers will be clean and your nails will look perfect—without pain.
perfect burgundy nails
Photo: ImaxTree
Step seven: Top coat.
Like the base coat, this is a crucial step that many people skip—and they shouldn’t. Not only does a top coat make your nails super-shiny, it also protects your polish from chipping and stops your nails from breaking. Applying a single coat of an amazing product, like Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Top Coat ($4.94, once your color is dry will seal, set and perfect your manicure.
Congratulations! You now have perfect nails. If this takes you a long time at first, don’t despair—you’ll be able to get your at home manicure down to around 20 minutes with practice. Although we have to say, there’s something quite nice about luxuriating for an hour on the weekend and doing our nails in a leisurely fashion.
If you have a pressing beauty question, don’t be shy! Drop us a line in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook—our editors are here and happy to help!

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