I make an utter mess of my nails while I am painting them, yet there is a method to my madness. Some people, probably aliens from a more ambidextrous planet, are able to paint theirs perfectly with few to no mistakes. For the rest of us, we have to find a work-around. The following are some helpful tips and tools to getting a decent-looking manicure in the comfort of your own home.
While prep work will definitely add time to the process, it is incredibly important to the outcome. First, moisturize the shit out of your hands with some super heavy duty, possibly even greasy, lotion. Something like Eucerin or a store brand knock-off of same works really well.
This works well and is usually on sale for around $2.99. A little bit goes a long way, so a small bottle will last ages. When moisturizing, focus on the area around your nail and your cuticles. Really slather that stuff on and let it sit for about ten minutes doing its magic.
Once you’ve sufficiently lubed up, break out an orange stick. No, not a stick that is orange, one of these:
They are little wooden tools, usually sold in packs of two at the drugstore. With orange stick in hand, clean any nasty grime out from under your nails and gently push back your cuticles. GENTLY! If your cuticles are unwieldy, this step may need to be done repeatedly over the course of a few days in order to get them out of the way. Never, NEVER cut, or let anyone else cut, your cuticles. This can cause all kinds of nasty pain and other unsavory things. Be nice to them, push them back nicely. Nobody should be in pain from cuticle care. If your cuticles are overgrown, it will make it difficult to get a clean line across the bottom of the nail, so it is worth it to be patient with them for the greater manicure good.
Once you have cleaned under the nails and pushed back the cuticles, you need to get your nails good and clean. Using a non-acetone remover and a cotton ball or pad, wipe all of your nails really well. A clean nail helps the polish adhere better to prevent chipping. Once you’ve gone over them with the polish remover, wash your hands with soap and water. I cannot skip this step since I almost always end up wiping my eye or putting my finger in my mouth only to have the polish remover remains burn the crap out of my eyeball or make my mouth taste like poison.
The final step in prep is going to sound weird to some. Using either the greasy lotion from above, petroleum jelly, or lip balm, rub it on the skin around your nails. All the way around, good and plenty, being careful not to get any on the nail itself.
I find it easiest to use lip balm because it allows for more control over where it goes. Slather it on. Trust me.
Painting the Nail
A good base coat does two main things: it helps the polish adhere to avoid chipping, and it provides a barrier between the color and your nail, which helps prevent staining. I like to use the Seche Clear Base coat.
It dries quickly and I get no chipping when I use it. Sally Beauty Supply stores carry it and it is on sale pretty regularly. Head2toebeauty.com has it cheap, but be forewarned—that website is dangerous on the pocketbook if you like nail polish. If you like China Glaze, this is the spot to get it. Most bottles are under $4.
The following charts by Laquerized are excellent guides for how to properly apply nail polish.
Yes, this is absolutely the proper way to apply polish, and an excellent starting point. That being said, if you can get your nails to look this clean, you are one of the aforementioned aliens. I am here to let you know that this is rarely possible, and virtually impossible when trying to paint your dominant hand’s nails. This is why you prepped your nails with lots of lip balm. Sure, follow this guide, but don’t worry about staying inside the lines. starting with the base coat, paint the nail as steady as you can, but don’t worry about getting polish on your finger. Once it dries, the lip balm will allow you to easily and painlessly peel it right off the skin around your fingers.
For example, this is what my finger looks like with a coat of base right now—
I’m not sure if my shitty picture allows you to see how much greasiness surrounds my nail or how poorly the base coat is applied, but no fear, the next one will be more obvious. One thing to be mindful of — while we aren’t going for perfection at this point, try to make the polish isn’t pooling or thick around where the nail meets the skin.
As you can see, it looks like an uncoordinated child painted that. Don’t worry, it gets better, I promise.
Apply your top coat, preferably a quick dry version, since who has time to sit around for an hour while your polish dries? Again, I recommend the Seche brand, Seche Vite Top Coat, but there is another, called Out the Door, that I have been quite pleased with. It is also available at the above mentioned stores and sites.
After your polish has dried completely— one weird way to tell is to touch your tongue to your nail; if it still as a polishy taste, not dry yet— pull your orange stick back out for clean up. Gently push the skin close to your nail down to try to create a break between the polish on your nail and that on your finger. Use the orange stick to push the polish off your finger. It should come right off if you gobbed on enough lip balm, but if you are having problem spots, the orange stick will help with the removal.
Ta da! Hopefully this Intro to Nail Painting made sense. If anyone needs clarification on any of the steps, or further information, please feel free in the comments. PoM has some amazing nail posts cooking, so this is only the beginning, folks. Pretty nails everywhere!!
A Few Good Tools
Here are a few things that are inexpensive and handy to have on hand when doing at home manicures:
This pencil makes the white (though let’s be honest, more like off-white with random dirt stuck under it) part of your nail WHITE. For best results, lick it first. Gross, yes. Effective, yes. Worth it.
These nail buffers are awesome for when you don’t feel like polishing your nails but want them to look pretty anyway. They really do make them super shiny.
Happy polishing, everyone!