Updated April 3, 2020: People constantly compliment me on my nails, and when I reveal that I do them myself, they always ask how it’s possible to get a manicure that looks professional and last so long from home.
Due to current affairs, I am updating this post with new techniques and new product links. I’m sure many of you are long overdue for a manicure at this point! Since we can’t leave our houses, maybe you’d like to try giving yourself a manicure at home. After all, we have nothing but time right now! All of the products I have linked can be ordered online – many from Ulta or Amazon.
Ever since I was young, I have always loved nail polish and painting my nails. In college I got into the habit of painting them once per week. I have stuck with this routine, and over the years discovered the best products and developed the perfect method for getting a professional-looking and long-lasting manicure at home. I rarely get my nails professionally done at a salon; mostly because I never like the way they come out, and always end up thinking I do a better job myself! Side note: I do get my toes done professionally – a pedicure is the kind of pampering that just can’t be achieved at home! I use mostly Essie and OPI products, and in fact most salons stock the colors that I own, so it’s always easy to match my toes to my fingers when I go for a pedicure. Essie has been my favorite lately! I’ve been loving all of their new collections. Both Essie and OPI products can be found at Ulta, CVS, and Amazon. I have linked the specific products I mention below where available.
I always set up for my at-home manicures with a paper towel at my kitchen table. It’s necessary to have a flat, sturdy surface and good lighting.
Keep scrolling for a step-by-step guide to my weekly manicure!
Step 1: Remove old polish
I always use 100% acetone nail polish remover to remove my old polish (it simply works the best). Pictured above is a product from CVS (found here or Target’s version here) that has a built-in brush and is my favorite tool! You stick one finger in at a time, and it removes the polish quickly and neatly. It works so much better than a cotton ball – no polish left in sight!
Funny personal story about how I discovered this product – one day I was running low on nail polish remover, so I asked Jay to pick me up some while he was running errands. I wanted a regular bottle, but he came home with this, and said it was the only 100% acetone one they had at the store. I was skeptical that this would do a good job at all, but quickly proven wrong. (Thanks Jay!)
Step 2: File and smooth nails; Clean up cuticles
I use a regular nail file to file down the length of my nails. I keep them relatively short; pretty much in line with the skin. Because I do them once a week, I rarely pick up a nail clipper. Update: After filing, I soak my nails for a few minutes in warm soapy water (hand soap works great). I use a metal cuticle pusher (the exact one I use can be found here) to gently push back my cuticles and a cuticle nipper (my favorite one here and here) for any dead skin removal. Finally, I use a filing block with multiple sides (similar here) to smooth my entire nail bed and prepare for painting.
By the way, how adorable is this case I keep all of my products in?! This was a birthday gift from my best friends. PBTeen does not make these anymore, but Amazon has some great options. I love this one, because it has a place for polishes too.
Step 3: Base coat
I am a firm believer that a good base coat is the key to a lasting manicure! My favorite is Essie Grow Stronger Base Coat. It is pictured all the way to the left, and although it looks pink in the bottle, it goes on clear. This product not only prevents chipping, it also pumps nutrients into my nails, and fills in any ridges on uneven surfaces, allowing the color to go on smoothly.
Step 4: Color
I apply two coats of the color of my choosing. Pictured is Essie Nail Polish in “Penny Talk” from their metallic collection. This specific color can be found here. I have also come to love Essie’s Gel Couture collection. This collection requires no base coat, two or three coats of color, and then this specific top coat. It lasts just as long as their regular polishes on me, and comes off with regular nail polish remover. I love the rounded shape of the brushes in that collection.
In between coats, I use a desk fan (the exact one I use here) to make sure each coat dries well. I have found recently that if I don’t do this, sometimes they will dry will small bubbles in them.
Step 5: Top coat
My all-time favorite top coat for the shiniest of manicures is Essie Gel Setter Top Coat. It’s the best. My nails always last at least a week (probably longer if I wanted) and they always stay shiny too, looking like I just left the salon. I apply one coat of this on top of the color.
Step 6: Clean up
I clean up any minor mistakes with a wooden manicure stick or Q-Tip dipped in nail polish remover and then let them dry for a few minutes.
Step 7: Drying drops
I apply two drops of Essie Quick-E Drying Drops to each nail. This really speeds up the drying process!
Step 8: Oil
I wait an hour after applying the drying drops, and then apply Essie Instant Dry Oil for extra drying protection. After this, I usually let them dry at least another half hour.
By the way, pictured below is where I store my nail polish collection! (It’s actually an over the door shoe organizer.) Hey, no one can say I don’t use all of that nail polish!
Photos taken by Jay Brodeur and Alicia DeAngelis.