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A perfectly polished set of nails goes a long way to making a woman look beautifully groomed, but the cost of salon manicures really adds up over the course of a year! If you want to save time and money on manicures, you’ll need our essential steps for a DIY manicure at home—for a fraction of the cost!
Step 1: Gather your tools. Be sure to have the following ready to go:
Step 2: Remove any previously applied nail polish. An acetone-based nail-polish remover is a bit more harsh than non-acetone removers, but they get the job done faster. Despite claims to the contrary, even acetone-free polish removers will have a drying effect on the nails and cuticles. Because of this, it’s important to minimize contact with any nail-polish remover for the well-being of your nails and cuticles (don't soak your nails in it unless you are removing a gel-based polish).
Step 3: Shape nails. Clip the nails, if necessary, then gently file them into shape. A slightly rounded nail shape or square-rounded edge is generally the best way to go. Avoid metal or extremely coarse nail files to prevent splintering. Instead, choose a gently abrasive emery board or crystal nail file. Smooth the tops and sides of the nails with a slightly abrasive buffer to ensure an even surface, but don't forget, if you buff the nails too smooth, the polish won't adhere as well and can literally slip right off. We like the nail buffers from Revlon, Tweezerman, and Ulta’s store brand.
Step 4: Soak away. Ahh … the relaxing part. Place your hands in a bowl of warm (not too hot) water and add a bit of your gentle face cleanser to the water. Soaking the cuticle before trimming is crucial, but over-soaking actually damages skin and nails, so limit this step to three minutes or less.
Step 5: Apply callous/cuticle remover. When cutting away the thickened skin around the nail, applying a bit of cuticle remover will be a big help! One of our all-time favorites is Be Natural Cuticle Eliminator. Despite the name, it's powerful stuff, so don't let it sit on the cuticle area for more than a few seconds.
Step 6: Remove excess cuticle and callouses around the nail. Using a cuticle pushing tool, gently push the cuticle back away from the nail, but don't push it too far because it can damage nail growth or fray the cuticles. Be careful NOT to pull, lift, tear, rip, force, or cut into the cuticle in any way. Do NOT clip into the cuticle; merely nip off the free edge with a pair of metal cuticle nippers. It's better to under-do this step than to overdo it because the cuticle helps protect the nail bed from bacteria and damage. Now’s the time to also remove hangnails around the sides of the nail, but again, be careful not to cut into the nail itself or to cut into the skin too deeply.
Step 7: Moisturize. Massage a rich cream or silky oil into the cuticles and all over the hands to hydrate and replenish skin. Try Paula's Choice brush-on Cuticle & Nail Treatment for a spa-like finish, or massage Paula's Choice Clinical Ultra-Rich Soothing Body Butter over hands and nails.
Step 8: Prep for polish.Moisturizing ingredients left on the nail will prevent polish from adhering properly. Using a cotton swab or pad, apply nail-polish remover over the nail's surface to remove any residue. Although it helps to avoid getting remover on the cuticle because you want to keep that area moisturized, don't worry if you do because you're going to apply moisturizer on your nails again once the polish is dry.
Step 9: Paint nails in layers. If you have weak or brittle nails, use a base coat of ridge-filling nail polish to shore up the nail. A base coat also protects nails from staining (especially important if you prefer red nail polish) and prevents chipping. Next, apply your color polish in layers, allowing each layer to dry between coats. Two coats of color polish, followed by a top coat to add gloss should do the trick. If you're new at painting nails, use a lighter shade of polish; any mistakes will be less noticeable!
Tip: Take a few minutes to touch up your manicure every other day with a single layer of top coat. This can make all the difference in keeping up that “from the salon” appearance and durability.
Check for and clean up any mistakes—and you're almost done! It takes time for nails to fully dry, so be patient. A fan helps, but don’t use heat (like from your blow dryer) or the polish will chip and peel. Also, don’t put your nails too close to the fan or you’ll end up with bubbles in your polish.
Step 10: Reapply moisturizer!Keeping your hands and the nail area healthy requires moisturizer. You can't have great nails and hands without this essential item.
You can definitely get a brilliant manicure doing it yourself, if you have the right tools lined up and you use the right techniques. Of course, there's nothing wrong with getting a professional manicure for special occasions or just to be pampered, but knowing how to do it yourself can save you a lot of time and money! Get more information on manicures, including gel manicures, here.
The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! Learn more at Shop Paula's Choice.
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:
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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.
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