While a good manicure is a nice treat every now and again, it can get pricey—not to mention it’s hard to swing by the nail shop when your calendar’s full.
Here are six easy steps to getting your mani just right, from the comfort of your own home .
First, choose a shape and length, based on both what’s most practical (if you’re a hands on cook or you do a lot of housework, you might want to skip the long nails) and what you think looks best. For a square shape, file straight across the tips of your nails, also squaring out the sides. For a rounder shape, file a bit more gently, following the natural shape of your nail until the edges are smooth. Then, apply a buffer across all nails. To make the job easier, try an all-in-one buffer, like Honeybee Garden’s ($6), which has a file, shaper, buffer, and polisher on its four sides.
The key to a fabulous manicure isn’t just healthy nails, but also hands, which includes your cuticles. After you’ve filed and buffed, wash your hands thoroughly, dry, then apply a cuticle cream, massaging it into your nails and hands. We like Burt’s Bees sweet smelling Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream ($6), which moisturizes and softens with Vitamin E and sunflower oil.
Applying a ridge filling base coat, like Zoya’s Get Even ($8) evens out your nail beds’ natural bumps, resulting in a cleaner, sleeker manicure. Make sure to let it dry for a few minutes before applying your first coat of color.
This is where the first time manicurist can get nervous, because achieving a professional looking nail job requires patience, and a steady hand. But take a deep breath, and don’t worry about coloring outside the lines—we’ll get to that in Step 6. For now, just focus on applying in smooth, even strokes. Apply one coat on each hand, then do a second for richer color.
Remember, nail polish needs a substantial amount of time to dry so you don’t get bubbles, smudges, or the imprint of your sheets when it’s time for bed. If, like most of us, you don’t have at least half an hour to dry naturally, you’re in luck: there are some great quick-dry top coats out there, like Essie’s Good to Go ($8).
6. Clean Up
When your hands look more like a kid’s art project than a manicure, Sally Hansen’s No More Mistakes ($5) is the amateur manicurist’s savior. Use the pen to clean up anything that got outside of the lines. And don’t worry: anything you miss, once the polish has dried completely, just wash your hands and scrub any spots on your hands that have excess polish with soap and warm water.