It seems to be a common myth that a long-lasting perfect manicure is impossible. I’ve seen women shell out time and time again for salon manicures only to return home and get a chip two days later. Some have resorted to drastic means to get a long-wearing manicure; they get shellac, gel nails, or even acrylic nails. But let’s take a look back at regular old nail polish. It’s cheaper, comes in many colors, and it can actually last you quite a while if you get a proper manicure.
Why shell out your rent or grocery money on expensive salons when I can tell you they way to get a perfect at-home manicure that will actually last you for more than a week? Just follow the steps below and not only will you be saving money, you’ll actually get the manicure you want!
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Take a look at the picture above. Would you believe me if I said that I painted these nails over a week ago? They are by no means 100% by now; the free edge (the very edge of the nail) is no longer covered in polish, and my nail growth is unseemly. However, the polish on the actual nails hasn’t chipped hardly at all! I could rock these nails for another few days if I wanted to, but I’m ready for a color change! What’s my secret for this manicure that has lasted me quite a while? My nail care/ perfect manicure routine!
If you are hesitant about giving yourself a manicure at home (I get it, you doubt you could give yourself the perfect manicure on your own), I’ll offer you some nifty tricks to get your nails salon quality even if you’ve never painted your nails yourself.
What You’ll Need for the Perfect Manicure
- Nail polish remover
- Cotton balls/pads
- Cuticle oil
- Cuticle remover
- Orange wood stick (or your own nail)
- Gentle soap
- Nail clippers
- Glass/crystal nail file
- Pedicure Brush/stiff toothbrush
- Base coat
- Nail polish
- Quick-drying top coat
- (Optional) Small detail brush
Step 1: Remove Old Polish
If you have any color remaining on your nails, go ahead and remove it. I, personally, use a 100% acetone polish remover most days. To protect my skin and cuticles, I slather on cuticle oil all around my nail bed before I remove my old polish. This isn’t necessary for non-acetone removers, but I do it anyway as well just for that extra moisture protection.
Soak a cotton ball with your polish remover and then press and hold it on the nail for about 10-15 seconds. (Since this could potentially be a messy process, I like to use acetone from a pump dispenser like this.) If you are using non-acetone remover, it will take longer.
Once you’ve let the remover sit on the old polish, push down on the cotton ball firmly and push all the way to the end of the nail. Most of the polish should now have been taken off. Repeat this process as necessary to remove all polish from all the fingers. If you would like to, you can use the friction of the cotton ball to help, but be warned that too much friction with an acetone based remover will remove the protective layer of cuticle oil and dry out the skin around your nail.
Step 2: Fix Up the Cuticles
First of all, you see the picture of the cuticle cutter to the right?
There’s a reason why they aren’t included in the “What You Need” section. But, Lindi! The women at the salon use these all the time! I know, and they shouldn’t. Here’s why.
Let’s look at the anatomy of the nail real quick. The largest part of the nail is the nail plate. As you get closer to your knuckle, you’ll see (or maybe you won’t) what appears to be dried skin stuck to the nail plate by your skin. Then you will see the end of your skin where your nail comes from. It may be raised up a little. Usually, this is what the nail salon employees cut with cuticle removers. This is called the proximal fold of the eponychium (ep-on-ick-ee-um). This is actually living tissue whose job is to keep out harmful bacteria! Now you know why they usually hurt and bleed and then form hangnails when they are cut. You should never cut these! The cuticle is the dry flaky skin that is stuck to the nail plate that you may not even see! This is what we are going to fix up.
On to Cuticle Business
Ok, I’m off my soapbox. To remove the cuticles gently and not harm the eponychium, I use Sally Hansen’s Cuticle Remover Gel. It basically eats away at the dead skin so that they are safely (and painlessly) removed. Apply the gel and allow to sit for 30 seconds. Then, grab your orange wood stick – I actually just use a nail on my other hand – and gently push the cuticles off of the nail plate so that you have a clean canvas to work with…so to speak. Don’t be alarmed if you actually see stuff coming off of your nails. That’s just the sneaky cuticle that you maybe didn’t see. Once you’ve done this for all of your nails, quickly wash your hands with a gentle soap to remove the excess cuticle remover and dead cuticle. Dry well and then take a break for about 20 minutes.
You’ll notice that I don’t soak my nails in water like they do at the nail salons. This is a major key to getting the perfect manicure that lasts forever. When you soak your nails, the nail plate expands. At the salon, the manicurists never wait for the nail plate to fully dry out (it takes up to 24 hours!). Even if the nails appear dry, after soaking, the nail plate is still expanded with the excess moisture. The manicurists then paint on top of that, so when the nail plate fully dries the next day, your polish is super brittle because now the nail plate is smaller with polish that had dried on the larger surface. This is why your polish chips within 2 days.
Step 3: Trim/Shape Your Nails
Now is the step that you can get a little adventurous with how your nail looks. Look at your length. If you like your length, then leave it how it is. If it is too long to your liking, go ahead and use the nail clippers to trim it down. However, if your nails are dry or brittle, you may want to skip clipping them with clippers and just file them down. This will prevent breaking, cracking, or tearing if your nails are too weak to handle the pressure of the clippers.
Now is the fun part! We get to play around with nail shape! The rule of thumb is that nails look the most flattering when the free edge mirrors the shape of the eponychium. If the skin around your nails appears to be more square, then a squoval shape would flatter you. If the skin around your nails forms an oval, oval shaped nails would flatter you. However, don’t be restricted by this old rule. If you want to rock stiletto nails, go for it. If you want to try a new nail shape, don’t let old antics get in your way. Just like hair, nails grow back!
Always file in one direction. Here’s another key to a perfect manicure. Many times, the manicurists at the salons will file rapidly in both directions when they file the nails. While this is faster than going in one direction, it damages the nail by tugging and forming small rips that can develop into larger problems. I always file from the edge of the nail where it protrudes from the eponychium all the way to the tip of the free edge.
Finally, use the pedicure brush or stiff toothbrush to brush the underside of your nails to remove any dirt or “scragglies” from the underside of the nail.
*Tip! Using a glass/crystal nail file minimizes this sort of damage as well. It has a finer grit for a smoother finish. This also minimizes the “scragglies” of filed away nail that cling to the edge of the nail.
Step 4: Base Coat
Always use a base coat if you want a long-lasting manicure! This product will make the perfect layer for the polish to adhere to. I also always run an acetone-dampened cotton ball over just the nail plate to remove any oils and debris so that the base coat adheres well. This way, you know your polish has the best chance of sticking around a while! Apply your base coat as directed, but you shouldn’t need more than one coat.
*Tip! To make sure your manicure lasts, also coat the free edge of your nail with the base coat.
Step 5: 2 Coats of Polish
Once the base coat dries, apply the first layer of your nail polish. I always go for thinner layers of polish so that they dry completely in between both coats. Don’t worry if this layer is a tad streaky; that’s why we go in with a second coat.
Some beauty gurus say that the proper way to paint your nail is to put a dot of polish in the middle of the nail, push it down with the brush almost to the fold of the eponychium, all the way down the middle to the free edge and then one swipe each to both sides of the nail. I feel that while this way gives you a thin coat, it’s not always applicable to those who have really long nails. I advocate painting your nails however you feel comfortable as long as you don’t glob on the paint.
Let this dry for a minimum of 10 minutes. This ensures that the first layer is dry so that it won’t form bubbles or pockets of moisture when you go to paint the second layer.
Then paint your final layer of polish. I tend to have this layer be a little thicker to completely cover the flaws of the first coat and to give a nice, opaque layer of polish. When you are done, let this dry for a minimum of 30 minutes. I like to do this so that I know my polish is pretty dry before I put my top coat on. If you hit your hands against things like I do, you may want to do this as well. There’s nothing worse than just finishing your manicure, bumping your hand against something, and winding up with a dented, smudged, or ruined manicure!
This is also the step in which you could do some nail art if you wanted!
*Tip! If you feel that your hands are too shaky to paint your hand or your non-dominant hand with, rest your pinky on the table as you paint. This will steady your painting hand so that you don’t get polish everywhere.
*Tip! If you feel that even resting your pinky on the table still has your non-dominant hand shaking, try rolling the finger of the nail you are painting so that only your dominant hand is moving. This can take some getting used to, but the results are worth it!
*Tip! If you happen to get polish on your skin or it looks a little messy, use a small detail brush dipped in acetone to instantly clean up your manicure!
*Tip! To make sure your manicure lasts, be sure to wrap the polish (both layers) around the free edge of the nail just like the base coat!
Step 6: Top Coat
I always use a quick dry top coat. Not only do they dry quickly, they also help dry the polish underneath it! Most of the time, you’ll only use one coat, but if you want a gel or shellac looking finish, you can layer up to 2 coats of top coat for a super shiny finish!
I always wait about another 30 minutes before doing something I know I’ll be using my hands or fingers for. Also, for more nourishment, feel free to apply cuticle oil to the skin around the nails once you are done painting.
*Tip! To make sure your manicure lasts, also coat the free edge of your nail with top coat!
And there you have it! Just follow a few simple steps for the perfect manicure that lasts a long time! I’m also planning a video of this process as well, so I’ll embed that into this post once it is done filming!
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