Exactly How to Get a Salon-Quality Manicure at Home
Even when sheltering-in-place, self-isolating, and social distancing are not the norm, getting a weekly manicure isn't always in the cards, be it because of a budget or busy schedule. But with just a few tools, expert tips, and a little patience, you can achieve a salon-quality manicure at home. Here's how:
Step-By-Step Guide to Getting the Best Manicure at Home
1. Prep your nails.
The secret to a salon-caliber manicure at home? A good base. Spending time on the prep steps will make your mani look professionally done.
Remove polish with an acetone-based polish remover, like Zoya Remove+ Nail Polish Remover (Buy It, $10, 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. (See also: How to Safely Remove Gel Nails at Home.)
Next, comes shaping. "Shaping your nails is all about the 90/10 rule: 90 percent of your shape comes from your nail clipper; 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, $20, 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, ensure it's clean of all product and ready for polish.
2. Pick your polish.
Best Nail Polish for Beginners
Olive & June nail polishes have taken over Instagram. Their weekly series, "Mani Bootcamp," will turn even the most novice of polishers into pro-level at-home manicure devotees. The sheers—like faint pink CCT—and neutrals—like taupe RP or cool white-gray ECC—are great hues for when you're just learning to do a manicure at home. (Speaking of starer shades, this sheer nail polish makes getting a French manicure at home a no brainer.)
Best Colored Nail Polish
A household name in nail care and colors, OPI Nail Polish stands out for its bold hues and cheeky polish names. And this is especially true for the brand's newest Mexico City Collection, which includes an array of colorful choices like Don't Tell a Sol (a warm yellow), Mi Casa Es Blue Casa (a denim blue), and Telenovela Me About It (a hot pink).
Best Quick-Drying Nail Polish
The newest polish line from Essie, Expressie, is a quick-dry nail polish 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 manicure at home. And with 40 fun shades to choose from, there's sure to be shade for everyone. Not sure which is for you? Try slate blue Air Dry or deep nude Cold Brew Crew.
Best Clean Nail Polish
If you're looking for a vegan formula but have found the options...lacking, give Talon Nail Polish a shot. You'd never know the bright, high-pigment shades—see: periwinkle blue Marjorie or bubblegum pink Barbie—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. (Related: The Best Clean Nail Polish Brands)
Best High-End Nail Polish
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, brew a cup of tea (psst...floral ice tea is the perfect summer sip), and bring the experience home. Depending on your ~vibe~, go for a colorful confetti polish (that also conceals any chips!) like Shake It or a classic deep red like Coquette.
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—plus purchasing a LED light (Buy It, $60, urbanoutfitters.com). Here, 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 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? Then 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-three strokes. Repeat on each nail. 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. (Related: High-Performance Nail Polish for Strong, Healthy Nails.)
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 polish, she says. Quick-dry top coats like 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.
4. Fix 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. (Wait, how long does nail polish actually last?)
To keep the pigments from separating, shake the bottle more frequently—even while doing your manicure at home. "I apply one coat to five fingers, then cap and re-shake," she adds. Finally, 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.
5. Make your manicure at home last.
Okay, you spent all this time filing, buffing, and polishing, so you want your nail polish to last more than, uh, one day before chipping. 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. (Related: 6 Secrets to Make Your Manicure Last Longer.)
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 help. It will protect your nails from the water and also the harsh ingredients in your cleaners, she explains. As much as possible, avoid submerging your mani—like 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. (See also: How to Make Your Bubble Bath the Most Relaxing.)