How to give yourself a manicure at home: Tips from nail pros

The days of relaxing in your favorite nail salon are a distant memory — at least for the duration of the coronavirus quarantine. So it’s time to take matters into your own hands. With a little advice from the experts — and one of our favorite nail kits — you can easily master the art of the at-home manicure.

Here are all the steps, tools and pro tips you’ll need for perfect nails.

Step 1: Get into the zone

Whether you’re a dip-dye diehard, gel guru or classic polish gal, the key to achieving a salon-worthy manicure is preparation.

It’s important to pick a work station that you can make into “your own little home-spa oasis,” says Leah Yari, co-founder of clean beauty brand Côte. Her fellow founder Mary Lennon recommends a spot with natural light. “A comfortable table in your most well-lit, well-ventilated spot is best,” she says. “Usually, this is a kitchen or dining room table. You want to make sure that you have enough room to spread out your items, making them easy to see and reach.”

Step 2: Pre-polish prep

Begin by removing old color. Lennon and Yari advise using a non-acetone polish remover, followed by a quick wipe of rubbing alcohol to ensure nail plates are clean and pristine. (Or follow these steps to remove a gel manicure.)

Now it’s time to get filing. “You only want to file in one direction,” advises celebrity nail artist Miss Pop, who’s tended to the talons of Gwen Stefani and MJ Rodriguez, and designed nails for Prabal Gurung and Moschino runway shows. “If you file back and forth, you’re creating little tears in your nails and that can lead to peeling, flaking and breaking.”

While you can pick any nail shape (from square to stiletto), Miss Pop favors oval or round, because “they mirror the fingertip and give you a soft look that enhances and elongates the finger.”

Lastly, run a buffer across each nail, until it feels noticeably smoother.

Several all-in-one kits make these pre-polish steps a snap. Côte’s classic-set kit, for example, is a great starting point for newbies. It’s stocked with basic essentials, including the brand’s “Strengthening Base + Top Traveler” clear formula, a nail file, clippers, nippers, a pusher and three non-acetone remover pads.

Cote classic set

Classic set, $42 at Côte

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Or try buzzy beauty brand Olive & June’s Tool Box Kit — which comes with a clever wide-grip “Poppy” handle (that fits over any polish bottle). The seven-piece kit also includes a nail-polish remover pot, a clean-up brush for easy touch-ups, a flat-edge nail clipper, a dual-grit nail file, a buffer cube for shaping and smoothing and a nourishing cuticle serum with cactus flower.

Olive & June The Tool Box kit
Olive & June

The Tool Box Kit, $42 at Olive & June

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Step 3: Cue the cuticles

To cut or not to cut? Ah, the age-old cuticle question.

“You don’t want to cut your cuticles because you could wind up cutting yourself, and it leaves you open to infection,” warns Miss Pop. She recommends simply pushing back the pesky skin near the nail bed. “After I take a hot shower and my skin is soft and supple, I use another nail and gently push back around the bottom ‘U’ of my cuticle. This pushes them back beautifully.”

Miss Pop also recommends using nail nippers (not peeling) for hangnails to avoid further tearing, which could leave hands with open cuts. No bueno.

To set your cuticles up for success, try Deborah Lippmann’s Cuticle Lab Nail Treatment Set. The four-piece assortment includes a step-by-step guide, cuticle oil, a cuticle remover, The Cure Ultra Nourishing Cuticle Repair Cream and a pusher.

Deborah Lippman's Cuticle Lab Nail Set

Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Lab Nail Treatment Set, $45 at Sephora

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Step 4: Polish time

Before you pile on the polish, don’t forget to apply a clear base coat. “Even though color is the fun part, the base coat is important if you want your color to last,” explains Côte’s Lennon, noting a thin coat will suffice.

Now onto the main event! Regardless of your polish preference (gel, dip or classic lacquer), finding the right stroke is crucial for nailing your at-home manicure.

“Start with one swipe down the middle, then follow up with swipes to the sides to spread the polish,” says Yari. When it’s time to paint the dreaded non-dominant hand, try “anchoring your hand against something like a table to give yourself more control of where the brush goes,” she advises. A good rule of thumb is to wait at least 5 minutes between coats, which “really does wonders for helping the overall drying process and avoiding pressure dings later,” says Lennon.

Step 5: Seal the deal

Finish with a shiny top coat to seal in your handiwork. Or to mix things up with a trendy flat look, Lennon and Yari suggest adding a matte finish into your mani mix.

Now, check your nails. Baby, how you feeling? We hope good as … you know.