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Nail Polish How-To: A Beginner’s Guide To The Perfect Manicure

Learn how to get the perfect manicure with these 10 easy steps.

Smooth, glossy nails made simple

Let’s face it:  Professional manicures are a great, convenient luxury. Of course, regular manicures can quickly add up.
Luckily, at-home manicures can be just as great and convenient for a fraction of the cost. Not only can you remain in the comfort of your home, but you’ll save money. Did you know an average bottle of nail polish has enough for 30+ manicures?
Of course, if you’re new to DIY manicures, it may seem completely overwhelming.
Have no fear! You’re only 10 steps away from the perfect manicure.

1. Remove your nail polish. Try to avoid 100% pure acetone polish removers because they will strip the moisture from your nails and skin. They are normally used to dissolve acrylic and gel from the nails and are not ideal for regular use. Instead, opt for a remover that has some added moisturizing agents. My favorite polish remover is by far Beauty Secrets Professional Nourishing Nail Polish Remover. It contains:

  • Wheat Protein, which is made up of both proteins and amino acids. The amino acids are absorbed by the nails, promoting strength and growth, while the proteins coat the nail and seal the amino acids in. Wheat Protein is also great for the hair and skin!
  • Vitamin E, which protects the nails from free radicals. Unfortunately, Vitamin E molecules are too large to penetrate the nail plate. The trick to making Vitamin E beneficial is to use it in conjunction with Jojoba oil. Jojoba oil has very tiny molecules that can penetrate the nail plate, expand the layers of the nail, and pull in the Vitamin E molecules. This especially helps those with brittle and peeling nails, leaving the nails soft, yet durable.

It is also dirt cheap. A 32oz bottle is less than $6! Another great polish remover is Zoya Remove+, but it is pricey at $25 for 32oz.  Luckily, it’s easy to recreate. Just add a small amount of glycerin (about a tablespoon per 8oz) to your pure acetone. The glycerin will help your nails and cuticles retain moisture and will condition them as well.

2. File your nails. First, trim your nails to the desired length and then shape them. Check out this great guide to determine what shape might be best for your nails.  Glass and crystal files are the best for shaping your nails.  Glass files will never wear out, are washable, and best prevent nail peeling and splitting. The best method to shaping is to file in one direction. Sawing back and forth across the free edge will cause peeling, no matter what type of file you use. If you find yourself filing for a considerable amount of time, trim a bit more. Chances are you’re attempting to remove length and not adjusting the shape.

3. Buff your nails. I actually considered skipping this step because over buffing is so, so terrible for the nails. The quickest way to thin, weak nails is to buff away too much of the nail. Gentle buffing is quite beneficial, though. It will remove ridges and will thin any peeling edges that would otherwise cause your polish to lift. If you are using a 3-way buffer, skip the final “shine” step because this will prevent the polish from having anything to adhere to. A little texture is actually a good thing.

4. Care for your cuticles. There are several cuticle treatments on the market, and which one you decide to use is personal preference. The key to cuticle care is to be gentle. Aggressive treatment may damage the nail bed and may even cause infection. My preferred method of cuticle care is to soak my nails in warm water and then gently push the cuticles back. For hangnails, I trim them with caution. You may also want to wash your hands and clean underneath your nails with a nailbrush at this point.

5. Clean your nails. Cleaning the nails will remove oil from the nail plate giving the polish a better surface to cling to. You can simply use rubbing alcohol or vinegar, but my favorite nail cleanser is Barielle Restorative Nail Serum. It not only cleanses the nail but strengthens it with Nonycosine-E.

6. Apply a base coat. A base coat will help your polish adhere, will prevent polish staining, and some will even treat the nail.  My base of choice is Barielle Hydrating Ridge Filler under a coat of American Classics Gelous. Of course, your mileage may vary. A great way to find out which base coat will work best for you is to apply a different base to each finger and see which performs best throughout the week.

7. Apply a polish. You can breeze through the rest of the steps, but this is one step that deserves your full attention and a bit of extra time. Apply your polish in thin, careful coats. This will extend the wear of your polish, prevent bubbling, and  improve dry time. To avoid getting polish on your cuticles, start polishing further up the nail and then push the polish further down toward the cuticle.

8. Apply a top coat. If you are using a normal top coat, wait for your final coat of polish to dry and then proceed. If you are using a quick drying top coat, you do not need to wait. Just apply the top coat directly to the wet polish. I prefer quick drying top coats not only for the drying speed, but they also smooth out the polish leaving it very smooth and glossy. My favorite top coat is Seche Vite, which will dry your nails to touch in 5 minutes and from top coat to base coat in less than 30 minutes. This is perfect for those of us who hate sitting around waiting for polish to dry.

9. Cleanup. If you have gotten any polish on your cuticles or have an uneven polish line at your cuticle, cleaning up may be necessary. The polish will come off of your cuticles throughout day with normal hand washing, but if you want to rid yourself of the eyesore immediatley, here’s how:

  1. Grab some acetone remover and a small angled or filbert synthetic art brush
  2. Soak your art brush in polish remover and carefully work around your cuticle, evening out the polish line and cleaning the skin.
  3. Be careful not to oversaturate the brush or acetone will flood your nail and remove too much polish.

Alternatively, there are several polish remover pens that also do a great cleanup job.

10. Apply hand cream and cuticle oil/cream. This is another personal preference. Experiment and see what works best for you.

With this guide and a bit of practice, you will achieve the perfect manicure in 30 minutes or less.

Have more questions? Check out MakeupTalk’s Nail Talk forum.