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Achieving Salon-Quality Nails in Eight Easy Steps

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

Maybe your usual nail technician is fully booked, or you’re simply not interested in spending a lot of money for your weekly refresh (totally understand). Fortunately, you don’t need to go to the salon to get a fantastic manicure.

In fact, it’s simple to achieve a salon-quality manicure (one that lasts for a week or more) at home — all you need is 30 minutes and a few essential tools for grooming your nails. Here, discover the best method to achieve a flawless DIY manicure, including how to make your cuticles softer, how to apply your nail polish like a professional, and how to make your color last for days.

Step 1: Remove Your Previous Polish

Eliminate old polish by using a nail polish remover and either a paper towel or cotton pad (both provide more friction than a tissue and won’t tear like cotton balls can). Always opt for a non-acetone polish remover, which is less drying than regular formulas.

Step 2: Shape Your Nails

For better control over the shape, file your nails when they’re dry. Avoid using overly abrasive files, including metal ones, as they can cause nail peeling. Instead, choose a fine-grade emery board. The best technique is to choose a direction and stick with it, using smooth strokes. Do not file back and forth, as this is a guaranteed way to break the nail.

Step 3: Make Your Nails and Cuticles Softer

Soak your nails and cuticles in a bowl of warm water mixed with cuticle oil, olive oil, or body lotion. After a 10-minute soak, dry them off and apply cuticle cream or lotion. Gently push back the cuticles by making small circles against them using a cuticle pusher.

Step 4: Remove the Cuticles

The safest way to remove cuticles at home is to gently rub them with a warm, damp washcloth, using a circular motion to get rid of dead cuticle skin (that white membrane). While many salons cut cuticles for a quick and clean appearance, it’s safer to just push them back. The cuticle actually creates a protective barrier between the nail and the skin, preventing irritants from entering the skin.

Step 5: Apply Your Base Coat

Wash off any oil or lotion with soap and water, and make sure your nails are completely dry. There is no need to rub them with polish remover again (as they often do at salons), as this can actually excessively dry out the nails.

Once your nails are dry and free of lotion, it’s time to apply a base coat. If you usually skip this step, you’re not alone — but it’s crucial.

A foundation layer keeps polish in place so it endures for a longer duration, and it also prevents deep lacquers from coloring your nails. (Desire a multitasker? You can obtain a nail-fortifying foundation layer or a nail groove filling foundation layer.)

Step 6: Apply Your Shine Like an Expert

Apply nail enamel in the same manner as professional manicurists do at salons: using three strokes, from the base to the tip. Begin by going up the middle of the nail, then proceed to each side. To ensure thin layers, dip the brush into the polish once for each nail and wipe off any excess before applying. Allow two minutes between each coat, including the base and top coats, to speed up the overall drying time.

Step 7: Don’t Forget the Protective Layer

Complete your manicure with a protective top coat. Using a top coat can help maintain the health of your nails by preventing moisture loss and minimizing breakage. The best top coats offer a stronger and longer-lasting shield compared to fast-drying options. However, if you’re short on time, choose the fast-drying alternative to avoid any potential damage to your nails.

To extend the lifespan of your polish, apply a quick-dry top coat every other day. Alternatively, use a silicone-based spray or drying oil to prevent chips and nicks.

Step 8: Perform Touch-Ups When Necessary

Fix any nail polish mistakes only after your nails are completely dry (applying polish on wet nails almost always leads to smudging). Use a cotton swab soaked in polish remover or try a specialized pen designed for this purpose. If you have a smudge, gently remove it by applying a small amount of polish remover. Once dry, only polish the affected area and then cover the entire nail with a top coat.

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