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Monday, November 7, 2011

Polishing Your Own Nails - Manicure Tips and Tricks


Well, I'm probably the least qualified person to give advice on polishing your own nails, but I've been asked several times and when a friend asked me yesterday, I decided to do it.

That's not entirely true. I've been polishing my own nails for 30 + years, so I guess that, in itself, gives me some knowledge about it. Thing is, I have zero business giving advice on "taking care of your nails" which is entirely different.  So whatever I have to say about how I take care of my own nails needs to be taken with that in mind. I've never had a professional manicure. Because I never saw any point in it, since I think I'm pretty good at the polishing part, and mainly because I HATE nail files. With a passion. You know that nails on a chalkboard feeling? Well I get that times ten when I file my nails. Or when I hear anyone else file theirs. Just another of my many quirks.

Okay, keeping in mind that everyone's nails are different, with different problems and different needs,  let's get started.

Cuticle cream. I rarely use it. I'm not saying that it's bad, just that I either don't need it or, most likely, I'm too lazy.  I don't seem to have a problem with my cuticles, so as my momma would have said, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." My only tip here is IF you use it, use it after your mani because if you try to polish your nails after just having applied cuticle cream, the oils will affect your polish job.

Nail Filing. As I said, I HATE filing my nails. But recently, I've started wearing my nails slightly squared off, so I have one of those 4 in 1 files (never an emery board) that I use, with gritted teeth. I have no basis for this next statement, but it seems to me that the more I file my nails or mess with them, the weaker they get. My nails have always been pretty strong though.  Your mileage may vary.

Base Coats. I consider a good base coat an essential part of a manicure. I am still trying out several different base coats because for over 20 years, I didn't use them. My nails always look stained, whether or not they are. They've never been white. Which is probably the main reason I really got into nail polish as a child. But certainly they looked better when I tried going without nail polish for a whole year one time. Still not white, but better. Especially when I use reds or blues. Plus I've noticed that my manicure lasts longer when I start with a good base coat.  So far, I've been very happy with Cult Nails Get-It-On and the OPI Natural Nail Base Coat is okay. Wasn't impressed with a few others I've tried.

Top Coats. Unless you're using a matte finish or suede finish nail polish, a top coat is always a good idea. It prolongs your manicure and gives it a high gloss shine. My favorites are Cult Nails Wicked Fast, Seche Vite (although it does cause shrinkage with some brands of nail polish, but for those it doesn't, it's my favorite) Orly Sec-n-Dry, Borghese Presto and Sally Hansen Insta-Dry Top Coat.

Wrapping Your Tips.  This is something I always do if I plan on wearing my manicure for more than a day. I don't do it if I'm just swatching. There are probably many different how-tos out there on how to do this properly. Google is your friend! But I will tell you how I do it later in this post.  I've done it for years and never knew other people did it or what it was called until very recently.

Well that's about all I can think of right now. So on to how I do my manicures.

I start by removing all old polish with pure acetone. I use cotton rounds or Viva paper towels. (Note: if you use paper towels, they must be cloth-like, hence the reference to Viva - the others are just a mess.) I do prefer the Viva paper towels because there's no lint or stray fibers to gom up the works.

Then I wash my hands and do whatever I need to do before the wet-nails-phase of the project such as gather all my supplies, use the bathroom, open a fresh soda, etc.  If I plan on waiting to polish them, I might use hand cream, but never right before because of the oils.

I am sure there are "tools" for this next step, but I use my own nails to quickly give the cuticles a good push back toward my finger so I can get the most coverage. I hate that "growing out" look and as fast as my nails grow, I need all the extra nail surface I can get. I never push too hard, because I don't want to damage them.

Next, I give the nails a swipe with acetone just in case I've gotten anything oily on them and then I apply my base coat to all eight fingers, purposely leaving the thumbs bare because I use my thumb nails to wipe off any stray polish on the sides of my nails if I make a boo-boo. (I keep a paper towel handy to wipe it on so it doesn't dry on my thumb nail.) And I let that dry for a few minutes. Most of them dry very quickly.

I was trying to see one of the new colors a while back and ended up watching a little video which featured the Chanel manicurist. And since then, I've seen a few more and what strikes me is that I do my nails "upside-down" from most people.  Which could explain why I can do my own nails in just a couple of minutes and would NEVER be able to do anyone else's nails. I paint away from myself. So no need to "angle" either hand into the right position. I tried doing like the videos (even Maria at Cult Nails angles her hands and paints toward herself) and it looked like I'd dipped each finger into the bottle up to the first knuckle.

And most of you know I HATE cleanup! So I went right back to what feels natural to me, which is painting away from myself with fingers pointed straight out away from my body. One swipe down the middle with the brush fanned out a bit and gently pushed all the way back to my cuticle, one swipe on either side. Done.

Now I'm ready for color! How thick I apply my first coat depends on the brand/formula/consistency/finish but generally, I apply a light coat first and let it dry for several minutes. (Which is why I always polish my nails while sitting at my computer...something to do while I wait.) I generally prefer a creme finish, so sometimes the second coat is medium to heavy if I think I will get total opacity with it. Here's where I wrap the tips. After the first thin coat is dry, I wrap the tips and even it out with the 2nd coat. (See below for photos.)  If I will clearly need 3 or more coats, I do all of them thin. Most of my favorite polishes take one thin, one medium and a final thin coat to even things out. But you will have to use your own judgement depending on what type of polish you're using. Then I repeat with my thumbs, keeping a toothpick handy in case I'm a little messy with them, which I try really hard NOT to be.

The last thing is the top coat. If I'm using Seche Vite, by the time I'm done with the second hand, the polish is tacky on the first hand and I apply Seche Vite right away. And I apply to the wrapped tips as well.  With the other top coats, I make sure the nails are at least tacky or a smidge drier. And Voila!  Done.  With the fast dry top coats they have now, it's not long before they're completely dry.

Wrapping the tips is nothing more than polishing the edge of your nail. I hate polish under the nail, so I'm very careful with this part. After the first coat is dry or nearly dry, I wipe off most of the polish on the brush and hold it at an angle matching the natural tips of my nails and "dab" it along the edges. I'm careful if there's any excess that it goes on the top and not underneath and then I follow quickly with my second coat of polish to even out any excess at the tips before it dries.  I do the same with the final topcoat. I type a LOT, so I probably don't get more than a day or so extra before tip wear sets in anyway, but it does definitely give me an extra day for sure. I don't do it as often as I used to because I change my polish nearly every day anyway.

Here's what the tips look like without wrapping. It's not noticeable from the top, but it's there.

And an "action shot" LOL!

And what the tips look like after wrapping...

I guess the only thing I haven't talked about is cutting your nails. Mine grow really fast and they're strong, so I rarely break one. How I handle this part is probably NOT how you should. But my nails are really hard and I hate those little nail scissors almost as much as a nail file. So I just use a big pair of scissors. Regular household scissors. I cut them even with the tips of my fingers and just let them grow.  Thankfully they grow pretty even and until I started squaring them off more (after they've grown out a little) I never used a nail file at all. Now, as I said earlier, I use the 4 in 1 files.

I have zero advice on ridge-fillers, vitamin supplements, peeling issues. But I am sure there is plenty of good advice on line. There are some amazing bloggers out there!

Oh, one last "tip" - removing glitter polishes. There are SO MANY people out there who swear by the foil method and that's probably the best advice. Unfortunately, I'm too lazy for that. If I used glitter polishes more, I'd probably have to suck it up and do it.  But how I handle glitter removal is the lazy-man's way...I have an old bottle of yellow creme polish I hate. When I'm ready to remove the glitter polish, I apply a quick and messy coat of that over all my nails and wait a few minutes until it "soaks in?" Then I take my Viva paper towel with acetone and slowly, with pressure, drag the whole works off of my nails. There will still be some left on the sides, but normal removal method is enough to take care of that. Once it's penetrated, it's easy.

So that's what I do. Hope there's at least one tip you can take away from this and make it a little easier.

Have a great week!


  1. I know I commented on this. I guess I didn't. So thank you for this!

  2. I have never watched any videos or read any tutorials on "how to paint your nails" mostly because I grew up doing it and figured I already knew how. LOL But this is exactly how I do mine, I also paint "away" from my body, I had no idea people painted them with their hands the other way. That seems terribly uncomfortable and awkward. LOL

  3. Great tutorial! I'm a weirdo and paint towards me, away from me and perpendicular to me depending on the nail I'm painting. LMAO.

  4. Question: what do you use for cleanup? I have a lot of trouble getting the little bits off my fingers without accidentally touching the nail itself.

    1. I am pretty lazy, so I just learned not to get any where it isn't supposed to be and I use my thumbnail as I go for the sides if polish strays (which is why I save them until last.) But occasionally if I get some in the cuticle area, a small angled eye brush dipped in acetone does the trick.


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