I went from getting my nails done at the salon every two weeks to doing my manicure at home. I look forward to the “me time” I spend on Sunday afternoons doing my nails while binge-watching a favorite TV show. For inspiration I’ll watch Youtube tutorials on nail design and I follow nail technicians on Instagram. When I have extra time, I’ll apply nail decals, or do little designs. Depending on the time of the year, what I’m doing, or where I’m going, I have specific colors I use that correlate with the occasion. Here are my tried-and-true manicure steps, along with my go-to colors and brands that never fail me.
Step 1: Remove Current Nail Polish
Choose the correct nail polish remover for the polish you’re wearing. For gel-based, use an acetone remover; for non-gel based, use a non-acetone remover. I prefer polish remover pads because they’re less messy.
Tip: If you’re removing a gel manicure (where an LED or UV light was used) there are several more steps you’ll need to take. You can read about them here, and then continue onto step 2.
Step 7: Make The Polish Last
Using an alcohol prep pad, press and hold onto each nail for 10 seconds to get rid of any oils or emollients which can cause the polish to peel. You can also use a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol, but be sure to rinse your hands afterwards without soap. This will remove any cotton particles that may have stuck to your nail.
Step 8: Mix The Polish
Rub your bottle between your palms for about 60 seconds—don’t shake. Shaking can cause it to bubble once it‘s applied.
Step 9: Apply In Thin Layers
Begin with a base coat. This will prevent chipping and also helps to prevent staining if you’re using a darker color. Afterwards apply a drop of drying oil onto each nail and do the same for the other hand.
Apply a thin coat of color. Be sure to get down to the cuticle and on the sides of each nail. If you get any polish on your skin, use a cuticle stick to eliminate it while it’s still wet. Follow by applying a drop of drying oil and repeat on your other hand. Repeat this step by applying a second coat of color and drying oil.
Finish with a gel top coat followed by another application of drying oil. Even if you’re using a non-gel polish, applying a gel top coat will make your manicure last longer and offer it a protective and high gloss shield.
Tip: As soon as I’m done polishing one hand I’ll apply drying oil and then polish the other.
Step 10: Clean Up Any Mistakes
Clean up any mistakes with a nail polish remover pen. A Q-Tip dipped in nail polish remover will also do the trick. Make certain your nails are 100% dry or you risk the cotton particles becoming attached to your polish. This is why I suggest using the pen rather than doing it the old fashioned way.
Step 11: Apply Hand Cream + Cuticle Oil
1. Day At The Beach |Island In The Sun Gel Lab Pro, Deborah Lippmann - For a beach day I go for vivid colors. I noticed this past summer I stuck with a lot of coral hues. I love how they stand out when I have a great tan. This bright color packs in a ton of vitamins (biotin, keratin, Aucoumea, rice protein, evening primrose, and green tea extract), which help to strengthen my nails while I’m wearing it.
2. Date Night | Blues and Greens, OPI - For a date night which usually involves going out to dinner, a show, or a concert--I prefer adventurous, fun colors. I’ve been a fan of OPI polishes for years now. These lacquers last a long time and they’re chip-resistant.
3. Spring Pastel | Coming up Roses, Butter London - After a long winter I break out the pink polish and anticipate the sunny summer to come. My springtime favorites consist of pastel tones—mint green, pale yellow, and of course a soft pink. Coming up Roses is chip-resistant, fade-resistant, and nourishes my nails with bamboo extract. It gives a gel-like finish and shine that can last up to 10 days, and it’s also vegan, gluten-free, and cruelty-free.
4. Glitter | Galaxy, Starrily - I love love love glitter polish. Sometimes I’ll apply a sheer beige color and follow up with a twinkling top coat. Or I’ll use a funky bright color and then apply the glitter polish. This polish has over 50 different types of glitter varying in sizes. I love how these polishes don’t contain toxic chemicals and that they are vegan and cruelty-free.
5. Signature Color | My First Nail Polish; La Petite Robe Noire Nail Laquer, Guerlain - My everyday hue is a sweet shade of pink. I prefer this lacquer by Guerlain for so many reasons. It comes in a cute perfume bottle, it’s the pink color I adore, and it has an added shimmer. Another unique aspect of this polish is that it’s scented! After I apply this ultra-glossy finish, I get a floral fruity scent.
6. Winter Blues | Night Flight, Nars - During the winter months when I used to live on the East Coast it would get dark around 4pm. This moody Night Flight polish reminds me of the gloomy and cold winter sky. The varnish is long lasting with a high-gloss finish.
7. Job Interview | Volume III, NCLA - When I used to go on job interviews, I needed more of a conservative color. I didn’t want the person who was interviewing me to be distracted by a freshly painted manicure; I wanted them to be focusing on what I was saying. This Peach Nude Shimmer is the ideal understated polish, and it’s made in California. It‘s also vegan and cruelty-free.
8. The Holidays | Prune Metal - Laque Couture Holiday Look 2018, YSL - Around the Holidays everywhere I look I see red nails. I want to stay in the festive season but have a varnish that’s not the typical red. This Prune Metal hue is the ideal shade and also has a glimmer in it. It’s a limited edition, and PS: I just purchased it! I love how it’s made with rose oil to help strengthen my nails, and it dries so fast.
9. Sunday Brunch | Exit the Void; Opaque Periwinkle, Smith & Cult - I’m a huge fan of Smith & Cult; they have the coolest shades and their polishes last a long time. This is my go-to brunch color, and it photographs so well! (For when I’m taking pictures holding my mimosa.) It’s also vegan and gluten-free.
10. Base Coat | Base Coat Nail Polish - Choosing the optimal base coat is one of the most essential aspects of a manicure. If you pick one that isn’t a good quality your nails will chip. Base Coat polishes are one of my favorite brands. This one is formulated with garlic extract to help strengthen nails. It’s non-toxic, cruelty-free, paraben-free, and vegan. When I apply it, it extends the life of my manicure.
11. Halloween | Fade To Black Gel Lab Pro, Deborah Lippmann - I prefer dark stains in the fall, and for Halloween my go-to is Fade To Black. I like to go for a gothic look but in the past I‘ve had so many black nail polishes that chip after a day or two. Deborah Lippmann’s is the longest lasting one I’ve tried. It offers the same gloss of a gel manicure and it’s formulated with a ton of vitamins like primrose, biotin, keratin, green tea extract, and others. It also contains silk fibers which are produced by silkworms and they help to even out the polish by giving it a sleek finish.
12. & 13. Valentines Day | Pretty in Putty, and Putting on the Ritz, Ciate - For Valentines Day, I love to put on a pink shade and I‘m in love with these Ciate colors. I’ll begin by applying Pretty and Putty, and then I’ll add a coat of Putting on the Ritz for an instant sparkle. Like all Ciate polishes, they’re paraben-free, gluten-free, and vegan-friendly.
14. Friday Night Cocktails | Frida Kahlo, Republic Nail - Red is such a dominant and sultry color, but finding the ideal shade can be tricky. Some reds have an orange tint to them, or they’re not as vivid as how they look in the bottle. Frida Kahlo polish goes on smooth and is the perfect shade of red.
15. Gel Top Coat | Seche Vite Gel Effect - No matter what type of polish I use, I apply a gel top coat. Using a gel based polish seals my manicure making it last longer and also prevents my polish from cracking. This Gel Effect Top Coat gives me a shine, and I don’t need to use an LED light because it dries fast and hardens on it‘s own. It’s also vegan, paraben-free, and cruelty-free.
16. Special Effects | Neon Orange Glitter UV Polish, Moon Glow - I use Ciate Cha Cha Cha + Neon Glitter and Black Light Top Coat for when I want my nails to glow. Unfortunately it is unavailable but this cruelty-free Moon Glow polish is similar and combines the glitter, black light affect, and polish all into one.
17. Tropical Vacation | Blue House, Pai Pai - When I was in Mexico this spring I picked up this Pai Pai polish at the airport. They have the cutest packaging and I will always associate this polish with my Puerto Vallarta vacation. I’m hoping that it will be available in the states soon, but for now I’ll order more shades on their website. PS: It’s cruelty-free and vegan.
18. Autumn | Audacity Nail Polish, Jinsoon - For fall I prefer dark hues of maroon, burgundy, wine, crimson, and deep purple. This Jinsoon polish is my new autumn favorite. It goes on so smooth, it’s long lasting, and it’s cruelty-free.
19. Holographic | Magic Rainbow, Starrily - To be honest, I love holographic anything. For a fun look I’ll apply this Starrily varnish which is created with the best holographic pigment available, and the results are amazing! This ultra-bright rainbow effect polish is made in the USA, and it’s non-toxic, vegan and cruelty-free.
20. Wedding/Formal Event | A Little Lovely, Smith & Cult - I go for something a slight more understated for formal occasions while still giving my nails a glow, and this is the perfect tint. I’ve noticed that the dresses I wear are usually in the same color family of pinks and metallics so it goes with everything. It’s also vegan and gluten-free.
21. New Years Eve | Purple Rain Iconic Nail Color, Nars - When I apply this Purple Rain polish, I can hear one of my favorite Prince songs. To me this varnish screams “celebrate” making it the appropriate lacquer to ring in the New Year. It’s extended-wear enamel gives a high-gloss finish that will last well into January.
22. Summer | Take A Dip, NCLA - I was looking for NCLA’s avocado polish which was sold out, so I picked up Take A Dip instead. This pastel seafoam lacquer is the ideal shade of green, and it’s made in California. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free.
1. Rich Girl Broad Spectrum Hand cream | Deborah Lippmann
2. Ultra Precision Cuticle Trimmer | Tweezerman
3. White Truffle Hand Exfoliate | Molton Brown
4. Manicure Clean-up Pen | Sally Hansen
5. Quick Dry Conditioning Drops | Butter London
6. Non-acetone Remover Pads | LA Fresh Classic
7. So Rich Pumpkin Spice Cuticle Oil | NCLA
8. Sterile Alcohol Prep Pads | Care Touch
9. Gel Polish Remover Pads | Studio 35
10. Stainless Steel Fingernail Clippers | Tweezerman
11. Czech Glass Nail File | Bona Fide Beauty
12. Cuticle Pusher | Medihealer
13. 7-sided Nail Buffer | Diamond Cosmetics