Get a Salon-Quality Manicure at Home With These Expert Tips

Give yourself a manicure at home that looks professionally done with this go-to guide for expert-approved tools, polish, and tips.

Between balancing your work responsibilities and squeezing in your regular workouts, getting a weekly manicure isn't always in the cards. Maybe your usual manicurist is booked up, or you're simply not interested in shelling out $$$ for your weekly refresh (totally get it).

Luckily, you don't need to haul yourself to the salon to get a salon-quality manicure (one that lasts a week or more) at home — all you need is 30 minutes and a few nail grooming essentials. Here, learn the best way to get a flawless DIY manicure at home, including how to soften cuticles, how to apply your polish like a pro, and how to lock in your nail color for days.

Step-By-Step Guide to Getting the Best Manicure at Home

1. Prep Your Nails

The secret to a salon-caliber at-home manicure? A good base. Spending time on the prep steps will make your mani look professionally done.

Remove any existing polish with an acetone-based polish remover, such as Zoya Remove+ Nail Polish Remover (Buy It, $12, ulta.com), says Julie Kandalec, a manicurist in New York City. Non-acetone removers can work, but some also emulsify polish into the cuticles, which can be difficult to remove, she adds.

Next comes shaping. "Shaping your nails is all about the 90/10 rule: 90 percent of your shape comes from your nail clipper and 10 percent from filing," says Sarah Gibson Tuttle, founder and CEO of Olive & June. First, use flat-edge clippers to cut your nail into your desired shape, then smooth out the edges with your file, moving from corner to center, says Kandalec.

Apply cuticle remover, such as Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover (Buy It, $22, sephora.com), which is an exfoliating treatment to loosen dead skin around the nails. Gently push the cuticle back with a cuticle pusher. Wipe away excess product and buff with a padded buffer. This will remove any excess cuticle left behind and smooth the nail plate before polish, says Kandalac.

Finally, swipe the entire nail with 91 percent isopropyl alcohol to remove excess oils, ensuring it's clean of all product and ready for polish.

2. Pick Your Polish

Picking the right nail polish is not only based on personal preference, but it's an important decision based on your lifestyle as well. While some prefer bright, bold colors over classic, rich hues, there's also the consideration of fast-drying polishes or gel polishes for those who are always on the go and don't have much time to let polish dry. Picking the right polish is essential to perfecting an at-home manicure. Below, find the best colored, fast-drying, and vegan polishes:

Best Colored Nail Polish

OPI_Yellow_Nail_Polish
Ulta

A household name in nail care and colors, OPI Nail Polish stands out for its bold hues and cheeky polish names. This is especially true for the brand's array of colorful choices such as Don't Tell a Sol (a warm yellow), Cactus What You Preach (a light blue), and A Great Fig World (a deep purple).

Buy It: Don't Tell a Sol, $11.49, opi.com; Cactus What You Preach, $11, opi.com; A Great Fig World, $6.24, opi.com

Best Quick-Drying Nail Polish

Essie_Expressie_Air_Dry
Target

Expressie, the quick-dry polish line from Essie, is formulated to be used without (!!) a base or topcoat (although using one may extend the length of wear). The layers dry in about one minute, making it the perfect polish for when you don't have time for a full-fledged at-home manicure. There are 40 fun shades to choose from; try slate blue Air Dry or deep nude Cold Brew Crew.

Buy It: Air Dry, $10, target.com; Cold Brew Crew, $10, target.com

Best Clean Nail Polish

Talon_Purple_Nail_Polish
Talon

If you're looking for a vegan formula for your at-home manicure, but have found the options...lacking, give Talon Nail Polish a shot. You'd never know the rich, high-pigment shades — see: earthy green Aspen or pure black Jonnie — were formulated without the top 10 toxic ingredients found in many nail polishes, such as parabens, phthalates, animal ingredients, and formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin, which are thought to be not so great for your health.

Buy It: Aspen, $14, shoptalon.com; Jonnie, $14, shoptalon.com

Best High-End Nail Polish

Jinsoon_red_Nail_Polish
Revolve

Compared to the countless nail salons dotting New York City, JINsoon's establishments stand out for their chic designs, long-lasting polish, and famous citrus tea. Can't make it to one of their city-wide destinations? No problem. Buy a polish on their site or at one of their national retailers and bring the experience home. Depending on your ~vibe~, go for a colorful confetti polish (that also conceals any chips!) such as Dotty, or a classic deep red such as Coquette.

Buy It: Dotty, $18, jinsoon.com; Coquette, $18, jinsoon.com

3. Perfect Your Technique.

Thin, even coats of polish are the key to a good manicure at home, says Gibson Tuttle. "This will help them dry faster and more completely to prevent future peeling and chipping," she explains. Gel nails more your style? Totally get it (after all, the zero dry-time and long-lasting shine are major wins). Buuuut a gel manicure at home involves an entirely different process which includes purchasing a gel UV LED nail light (Buy It, $18.99, amazon.com). Here, find tips on mastering a regular manicure at home.

Don't skip on base coat. Even though you can't see the effect, a layer of base coat during an at-home manicure helps polish grip the nail and apply more smoothly, says Kandalec.

Get comfortable. This applies to both where you sit (think: flat surface for painting, duh) as well as how you hold the polish. "Polish bottles are designed for professionals to paint with their dominant hand," explains Gibson Tuttle. But when you do a manicure at home, you're forced to use your dominant and non-dominant hand, which can be a challenging and uncomfy endeavor for many mani DIY-ers. Sound familiar? Gibson Tuttle suggests using Olive & June's The Poppy (Buy It, $16, oliveandjune.com). "This patented polishing tool goes on top of any polish bottle and allows you to get comfortable with painting with both your dominant and non-dominant hands on the very first try."

Paint your dominant hand first. This is going to be the hardest hand to do, so you might as well get it out of the way without worrying about smudging polish on your other hand, says Kandalec.

Limit the number of swipes. Begin with a thin center swipe of polish, then swipe on either side, says Gibson Tuttle. You should be able to cover the average nail plate in two to three strokes. Let dry for at least two minutes before applying your second thin coat of polish. If you need a third thin coat for full-color coverage, go for it.

Avoid streaky polish. Some polish colors can look really streaky when brushed on, but there are things you can try to smooth it out. First, make sure your polish is new and not too thick. "My rule of thumb is, if you can hear the ball in the bottle move easily when you shake it, it's good to go and will produce way fewer streaks," says Kandalec. To keep the pigments from separating, shake the bottle more frequently — even while doing your manicure at home.

Also, watch your pressure as you paint. Lightly hold the brush parallel to the nail so that the bristles don't dig into the color — it should be as if the brush is floating right above the nail, rather than pressing onto it, according to Kandalec. Then — and this is important — allow the polish to self-level. Running the brush over a nail after polish has been applied causes streaks that will be impossible to fix, she adds. Let the polish do the hard work for you.

Steer clear of cuticles. Don't try to cover your entire nail the first few times you paint. Just get close to the cuticle until you get fully comfy with painting. A clean line with a tiny bit of space between the polish and the cuticle looks way better than polish on your cuticles, says Gibson Tuttle. (FWIW, you should also avoid cutting your cuticles and instead keep 'em hydrated with cuticle oil.)

Top it off. Seal your nails with a top coat to maximize shine and protect your at-home manicure, she says. Quick-dry top coats such as Seche Vite (Buy It, $9, target.com) dry in five minutes flat, but your mani will be more prone to chipping, explains Kandalec. Longer-lasting topcoats are more durable but may take up to 30 minutes to dry.

Clean it up. The tell-tale signs of a mediocre DIY manicure are polish all over your cuticles and an uneven application at the edge. Once your nail polish is fully dry, dip a small brush in nail polish remover to fix any smudges or uneven lines, says Gibson Tuttle.

5. Make Your Manicure at Home Last

Gibson's number one tip: Reapply a thin layer of topcoat every two to three days. "This will act as a layer of defense against everything your hands are interacting with and really extend the life of your mani," she explains.

The enemy of a fresh mani is water. Soaking or washing your hands before painting your nails will make your polish chip faster because your nail absorbs the water and doesn't dry for an hour or two after, says Kandalec. (It can also lead to peeling or splitting nails.) Wearing gloves while cleaning and doing dishes can protect your nails from the water and also the harsh ingredients in your cleaners, she explains. As much as possible, avoid submerging your mani — such as in your weekly bath — you can still take one (hello, self-care!) just try to keep your hands above water by say, holding a glass of wine.

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