What else do I need to know my at home manicure?
May 7, 2015 2:36 PM   Subscribe

So the current nail tech FPP on the blue, and my comment inside have me wondering what other tips and tricks there are for at home hand care.

I've watched several youtube tutorials over the years, but I haven't found one that really shows me what I don't know (particularly with filing). I do an ok job, and am getting better at it with more practice. My main struggle is with shaping my nails and not having the board just totally chew up the ends of my fingernails into a ragged mess. Also when my nails peel it's almost always one or both of my index fingers. This is a health related problem, but any tips for it would be appreciated. I just try to trim the nail as soon as I notice a peel forming.

My basic routine follows:
Moisturize the cuticles. I do this regularly (twice a day) with a tiny paintbrush and thick goopy Eucerin Healing lotion. I do not "preventatively" cut my cuticles, but I use a trimmer for hangnails.
Clean. Trying not to have skin oil or lotion on my nails when I paint them. I figure this helps the polish stick.
Base coat (if you have a brand you love, please tell me why)
One coat of polish (I am partial to Essie polish, which is why I haven't bought any in Months. it's expensive. Like, a bottle costs about what I spend on groceries for a week)
One coat of matte top coat
Second coat of polish
Coat of clear "quick dry" top coat
Sit still and be patient for an hour so I don't smudge the thing. Podcasts are good for this.

So. What tools/products do you use? What tips can you offer?

(I did win the easy care feet lottery, but feel free to add pedicure tips here. My heels are getting drier as I age.)
posted by bilabial to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've taken my nails from being absolute shit to actually looking pretty great (I think) over the last few years.

Here are things that have absolutely changed my fingernail life, in no particular order since they all have contributed equally:

Burt's Bees lemon butter cuticle cream. I guarantee you I use hand lotion (Aveeno) more regularly than anyone you know (I have a weird texture tic), but still my cuticles were crusty. That cuticle cream is legit an amazing miracle worker.

Glass nail files. I got a set of these figuring it would just be a frivolous luxury purchase, but oh my god there was an actual, palpable difference. I have used in my life regular cheap emery boards, those foam files they use at nail shops, metal files, and even those graded grit foam blocks. Those all left my nails looking ragged. The glass files are worth it.

Seche Vite top coat. It actually dries super hard super fast. I'm talking like in just a couple minutes. Every other fast dry top coat is a lie compared to this stuff. (A complaint I've heard/read is that it causes tip shrinkage (lol), which I assume means that it can retract polish from the edges, but I don't think I've ever had that happen to me.)

I also have horrible, weak, flaky nails. I started taking prenatal vitamins several months ago just for the nail strengthening benefits. It worked. Now I take a folic acid supplement every morning and my nails have never been stronger in my life.

Things that I haven't noticed make a lick of difference:

Quality of nail polish. I've had crappy manicures from $8 bottles of polish. I've had excellent manicures from 33ยข bottles of polish. I have about 40 different polishes and it's one of those things that doesn't appear to have much predictability unfortunately. So unless I'm going after a very specific color or want to support an indie brand, I just buy what's cheapest and on clearance at the drug store.

Things that are generally good practice:

-pushing back your (moisturized) cuticles regularly and gently, just with your fingers. In my experience, tools are generally too rough.
-washing your hands and nails thoroughly with soap and water after you use polish remover and file them but before putting polish on.
-using thin coats of polish in the bead at the base painting method.
-patience and practice. It's unbelievable how much better I've gotten at applying my own nail polish in just the last few years.
posted by phunniemee at 3:09 PM on May 7, 2015 [15 favorites]

Oh and one more tip. I have a lot more luck when I start by painting my dominant hand first. I'm right handed, so logically it feels like I should start by painting my left nails first. But then when you go to paint your right nails, you have the combo of using your non-dominant hand and being careful not to smudge your nails, so you suck extra bad. Paint the nails on your right hand first, then switch off to your left.
posted by phunniemee at 3:11 PM on May 7, 2015 [11 favorites]

You spend $8.50 USD per week on groceries?

The best way IMO to start with a clean nail 'canvas' is to use nail polish remover right before you apply new polish, even if your nails aren't currently polished. Just a quick swipe over each nail will remove oil/lotion residues and help the new polish adhere much better.
posted by telegraph at 3:24 PM on May 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Alle Connell, who used to write for xovain, has amazing nails and some great recommendations in her articles. This article, for one example.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:29 PM on May 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Amazon has top coat refill kits and the nice 2-oz. size of Restore that's more cost-effective than the smaller bottle.

You can also put Seche Restore into your old nail polishes to perk them back up again, so it's totally worth the purchase price.
posted by phunniemee at 3:41 PM on May 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am crazy for Zoya. I love the colors and the textures, and I find that it lasts longer than most other brands I've used (and I used Chanel for many years). I use the full program -- the polish remover, which is also a nail cleanser (so that, if I wash my hands after removing the polish, I will swipe more polish remover over my nails before painting them), the base coat (Anchor), color, and top coat (Armor), plus the fast drying drops. I recently have gotten in the peculiar habit of painting my nails at like 10 pm which is past my bedtime, so I go to bed as soon as humanly possible after painting them, and with this regimen I have yet to have a problem with sheet marks on my nails in the morning, which I think is miraculous.
posted by janey47 at 3:48 PM on May 7, 2015

Seconding glass nail files. So much better than cheapie files. Also, I've recently been dipping my hands in ice water post polish. (A minute per hand, twice.) Not pleasant exactly, but it really firms up the polish and cuts way down on smudges.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 3:49 PM on May 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

You didn't mention cuticle remover, which I find to be essential. If I don't use it approximately once a week, the polish doesn't adhere well enough to the nail and sort of peels off from the cuticle end. I like the Sally Hansen Instant cuticle remover - the one that's a blue gel. I apply to my nails, wait a minute, then use an orangewood stick to push back and remove cuticle. Make sure you know the difference between the eponychium and cuticle. The eponychium is living tissue and shouldn't be cut or removed (just gently pushed back) cuticle can removed (and should be if you want the polish to adhere well to the nail plate).
posted by insectosaurus at 4:03 PM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

My routine is:
1) File with a non-metal file. I buy only the very finest grit files. They're the long, double sided gritty paper kind with foam and plastic between the 2 sides (not the foam cubes). Dump those horrid brick-red colored emery boards if that's what you use. They shred natural nails. Get the smoothest, finest files and they'll give you good results even if it takes a bit longer to file down length. I like a rounded square shape. They are stronger this way and look tidy.

2) I remove old polish with pure acetone. I buy mine at Sally Beauty Supply and it's labeled for removing acrylic nails. It's the only thing that will wipe off glitter polish easily, so I stick with it. It also leaves my nails totally clean and oil-free, which is critical for good polish adherence. If you use a formulation that has moisturizers, give your nails a sweep with rubbing alcohol after you've finished removing the polish. That will remove any residue. Any residue will prevent optimal polish adherence.

3) After trying soooo many nail polishes from bargain basement to super-luxury brands, I've dropped all of them in favor of CND Vinylux. They have a great color range and it's the most long-wearing nail polish I've found, period. The only thing that's more long-wearing is an in-salon gel manicure that uses UV lights to cure. I buy this polish through Amazon for $6-7 a bottle. Worth every penny. My manicure lasts twice as long, easily. I skip their topcoat and use Seche Vite or Sally Hansen's Quick-Dry (in the red bottle). Put the top coats on while the polish is still a bit wet, and with Seche Vite, the instructions say to put a thick glob on. I don't use a base coat with the Vinylux, none needed. 2-3 coats polish and then a coat of top coat.

4) When actually polishing the nails with both color and topcoat, I brush along the outer edge of the nail in addition to the nail surface - wrapping the nail. It helps the polish to be more durable and less prone to chipping. Also, fewer thin coats (with dry time inbetween) is always superior to heavy coats, except for in the case of Seche Vite, where the product has been designed to be heavily applied.

5) I have easy cuticles. I don't really have to push them back too much and I don't cut them at all. I moisturize them every day with a heavier cream, but never right before polishing. If you have cuticles that strongly adhere to the nail and you need to remove the thin bit that interferes with polishing, Sally Hansen's removing gel is the product that gets the most raves. Whatever you do at the cuticle end, be very gentle. You can damage the nail easily there and it takes forever to grow out that damaged portion.
posted by quince at 4:27 PM on May 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Nthing glass nail files, you can get them cheap on ebay or Amazon. They last for ever and don't tear my nails.

Like Quince I am a fan of the CND Vinylux range. I garden, DIY, paint etc and this stuff really does last. I use their top coat as it actually gets harder as the week goes on with exposure to naturally occurring UV. So basically it cures like a gel nail, without harmful UV lights or nasty chemicals & cleans off with normal nail polish remover.

Oh and the trick to all the fancy manicures you see on the internet, is when you are done, dip a fine stiffish brush in some nail polish remover and carefully wipe around the edges of your nails and cuticles to clean them up. That & a pointy q-tip for the really bad areas. I just slap on polish now and clean up afterwards so much easier.
posted by wwax at 5:18 PM on May 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Definitely seconding wrapping your tips, using acetone for removal instead of faffing round with non-acetone stuff (I mix in a bit of glycerin and water because my skin's lizard-dry), and using restorers to keep your polishes usable. Like you've noticed, polish can be pricey, but there's no need to throw it out if it's old or goopy or dry if you have restorer on hand.

Seche Restore is lovely, and definitely necessary if you use Seche Vite since that stuff evaporates into stiffness the minute your back is turned. It does contain tolune, though, so if your other polishes are tolune-free (Essie is) you may want to use a tolune-free thinner. Not out of safety concerns or anything, but just so that you're matching like to like and it mixes better. I keep Restore around for Seche Vite and certain older polishes, and a bottle of thinner from Sally's for most of the rest.

I prefer the Sally's top coat in the red bottle to Seche Vite for everyday use, as far as top coats go. I work slow, and SV works best with still just-slightly-wet polish. For base coat I like Orly Bonder or CND Stickey, since Revlon discontinued the best base ever.

Keep with your multicoat technique, I've read other people recommend it on MUA's nail board -- it's really helpful with shiny, metallic polishes that are a streaky mess otherwise.

And cleanup! The "take a shower and peel polish off skin" after technique totally works, but so does "get a cheap brush dipped with a bit of remover and go around the edges." It makes it look like someone who knows what they're doing painted my dominant hand.
posted by rewil at 5:21 PM on May 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

I also have horrible, weak, flaky nails. I started taking prenatal vitamins several months ago just for the nail strengthening benefits. It worked. Now I take a folic acid supplement every morning and my nails have never been stronger in my life.

So is it the extra folic acid that does the trick? I already take a (non-prenatal) vitamin every day.
posted by shiny blue object at 5:28 PM on May 7, 2015

There is a trick for a more flawless application of colour that I saw on YouTube and have used ever since.

I HATE seeing pictures on social media of messy polish application (I'm a beauty blogger) so I really take care to apply it neatly.

Take your brush loaded with colour and place it on the nail about a third of the way down the nail bed. Then push the brush up towards the cuticle and once you almost reach the skin, drag it back down to the tip. Leave a thin border of unpainted nail all around so that you do not get polish on the skin. If you do, have a hot shower and gently scrape/peel it off. But really keep it off the cuticle at the top. This to me is the worst nail offense.
posted by Youremyworld at 6:35 PM on May 7, 2015

I actually prefer Loreal Extraordinaire Gel-Lacque for basecoat and topcoat. (This is sold as a set for about $10.) The topcoat in particular lasts much longer for me than the Secha Vite ever did. It also dries quickly.

My routine goes like this:
File nails
Remove old polish
Moisturize nails and cuticles for 5-10 minutes (with whatever moisturizer is within reach at the time.)
Push back cuticles gently with metal cuticle pusher thingy.
Check for rough edges, file again if necessary.
Go over nails with alcohol swab thingy to remove any leftover moisturizer.
Nail color

Nail polish: I buy it all. I have great luck with wet n wild megalast colors, sinful colors, Studio M (which is the Meijer dept store brand so midwest specific), revlon, sally hansen extreme wear, china glaze, and kb shimmer. Price range is about $1-$9. I've got about 125 bottles of polish and I'd guess about 80% of them cost $1-$3.50.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 6:46 PM on May 7, 2015

Best answer: Cleaned up cuticles are key IME.

Cuticles: Place your hands on a small towel like they do at a salon. Apply cuticle remover to one hand and let sit a minute. Then push back cuticles and scrape away the now dissolved dead skin on the sides of your nail with an orangewood stick or reusable pusher. Then use the towel to wipe off each nail. The rough texture of the towel wipes away the rest of the dead skin. Repeat with other hand. Snip off any hangnails or excess dead skin with cuticle nippers. I strongly suggest getting the Tweezerman brand if you can swing it. If your cuticles are really overgrown, you can trim the excess with the nippers (after you've pushed them back, some excess may be "sticking up.") You don't want to trim any healthy "live" cuticle.

Filing and shaping: Don't use the thin brown boards in a blister pack; they're too coarse. I use these, the medium 180 grit side to shape. Only file in one direction. Start from one side toward the center and then the other side towards the center. Smooth it out with a fine 400/600 file (these are usually pink, btw, if you're looking at a beauty supply.) You can also "seal" the edges by moving the fine file vertically against the edge of your nail. I tend to get snags, so I also finish it with a super-fine file, but that may be overkill

Polishes: I only paint my toenails, but I've had success with Revlon Colorstay Gel-Smooth Base Coat, the Seche Vite top coat others recommend above, and China Glaze brand polishes. China Glaze looks just as good as more expensive OPI and you can get it cheap on ebay.

Lighter colors are more forgiving than dark. When you're painting the nail, don't try to brush right up against the edges; just let the polish flow into the sides. Professional manicurists put a blob at the bottom center, brush up the center and then brush up each side, only dipping the brush once per coat (I'm sure there's a zillion youtube tutorials out there.) My strategy is to paint my toes in the evening and pick off any polish that got of my skin under running water the next morning. More fool-proof than a q-tip dipped in acetone or whatever.

Strengthener: I used Nailtiques strengthener years ago. I don't any longer, but it has permanently cured my splitting nails. There are two formulas, one regular and one extra-strength.

Other: I'm religious about applying lotion to my hands because of eczema; looks like your already doing this regularly, which is great. Apply lip balm to your cuticles in a pinch.
posted by fozzie_bear at 6:52 PM on May 7, 2015

If you want to do gel at home, and you also want to have a cool project, you can make your own UV cure lamp.

If you have to pick stickers off stuff, use the edge of an old credit/gift card to scrape.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:29 PM on May 7, 2015

I am kinda low maintenance as far as my nails are concerned so I may not be representative. What I mean is that I will file, polish, moisturise etc but I don't like to spend time on a manicure more than about once a week to ten days.

With Essie nailpolish I find that I wear no more than three coats in total, a base coat (more often than not just clear Essie polish, nothing marketed as 'base coat'), a couple of coats of coloured polish. I normally do my nails in the evening in front of the TV. They are touch dry when I go to bed but not fully hardened. I rarely wake up with significant smudges or inprints. My polish generally starts to wear off at the tips before it chips or does anything else. I work in an office environment so I guess that helps but I can normally go for a good week between doing my nails.

Also, really fine nail files. I don't have particularly weak nails but I find a lot of the files available in shops are too coarse, even if they are not for working on artificial nails. They just shred my nails. I'd much rather use a really fine file and file a bit longer, without applying pressure. Gets the job done just fine.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:23 AM on May 8, 2015

Best answer: I cover up minor mistakes (smudges, bubbles, etc) with glitter. It is harder to get off, but it adds a nice sparkle and hides everything that is wrong.
posted by NoraReed at 4:41 AM on May 9, 2015

Sometimes the cheap glass files suck, by the way. Make sure you get one that specifically has good reviews. Tried the cheap ones, went back to the expensive I-paid-how-much? OPI glass file. A good glass file should give you a smooth edge and a good amount of filing without real pressure on it.

Put a very thin coat of a neutral metallic under slightly sheer polishes. Hides visible nail line, means you can use fewer coats overall (especially since metallics go on thin), and adds a subtle depth.
posted by anaelith at 5:15 AM on May 12, 2015

I can usually do a decent job for one or two nails but then I get a little wobbly so now I just give myself time to paint a couple of nails, let it dry a bit, and do something else for a while before tackling another few nails. I think the pressure to do 10 perfect nails is half the problem; doing one or two isn't as big a deal. (It's also easier to clip a cat's nails a couple at a time.)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:32 AM on May 12, 2015

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