Skip to main content

Products purchased through this post may earn us a commission.

How to Give Yourself a Flawless At-Home Manicure

A step-by-step video for perfect nails every time.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

As much as I love the occasional indulgence of a salon manicure, the professional result isn't worth the cost of regular visits for me—especially when it's so easy to master a manicure at home. The most important part of the process isn't the polish, but the prep. It takes a bit of practice, but as long as you start with clean, buffed, cut nails that the polish can glide over smoothly (and a hint of ambidexterity), it's difficult to mess up. I generally prefer to do the prep-work in the evening, while watching T.V. with G (with the exception of cutting my nails and cuticles), since it takes about thirty minutes. The next morning, I'll add polish and a top coat, which takes less than ten, followed by an hour-long walk (which is the perfect time to let them dry, and kills two birds with one stone: self-care beauty and movement!). Here's how I give myself a flawless at-home manicure:


Cutex Nail Polish Remover in 'Strength Shield'
Cotton Pads (I'm particular about using these from Muji)
Nail Clipper
Nail File
Cuticle Pusher
Cuticle Trimmer
Essie 'Gel' Top Coat
OPI in 'Lincoln After Dark'
Hand Lotion (I love the smell of Byredo's in 'Suede')
Small Paint Brush, or Pointed Q-Tips

1 (2)
TheGreat Embroidered Sweatshirt (similar version here, on sale!)

TheGreat Embroidered Sweatshirt (similar version here, on sale!)

To remove old polish, I'm very particular about the cotton pads I use. I love Muji's, which have layers that capture the acetone and don't fall apart. I only need one or two for both hands. I use an intense acetone polish remover for its effectiveness removing dark polish, but it can be very drying so I'm always sure to follow-up with lotion (more on that below!). 


I used to cut my nails into a square-oval (squoval) shape, until I realized they looked much better when I mirrored the shape of my nail bed. Because I have such round nail beds, I cut them to mirror that oval shape. I also personally think it feels dated to have long finger nails with color, so I cut them short, until I barely see any white at the tips. Once I cut, I briefly file them to smooth any rough edges.


This may not seem like the most obvious step in a nail tutorial, but it's critical for getting the cuticles soft enough to trim (and to remove the acetone). I either hop into a shower or bath, or if I'm on a time crunch, I fill the sink with soapy water and allow my hands to soak there for a few minutes.


When I posted about doing my nails on Instagram last week, the vast majority of the questions were about the cuticles. As soon as I'm out of my bath or shower (the key here is that they're soft and pliable), I use this tool to push them down, then trim them.


The final step in prepping my nails for color is buffing them until they're smooth and shiny. I really take my time here, polishing the nails until they're smooth for polish.


Before painting my nails, I add hand lotion (I love this one from Byredo), then wait for it to soak in, at least twenty minutes. I either wait to paint my nails till morning, or go back over my nails with remover to remove any oils from the lotion.


Before I do anything, I set up my station for painting: I take out my polish and top coat (and unscrew both so I don't ruin my nails trying to open the top coat). I remove the cap from my polish remover, and pour a tiny bit into the cap so that I can dip in a pointed Q-tip or thin brush (I bought mine on Amazon) to fix mistakes. 

I also make sure there's plenty of bright light at my "station," a.k.a. my bathroom counter, so I can see any imperfections as I go. (This is part of the reason I prefer to paint my nails in the morning.) 


The key, for me, is applying two very thin coats of polish. When I remove the brush from the polish, I wipe one side against the polish so that only one side of it has polish. With the polish side pointing down, I start three-quarters of the way towards the nail bed, then very slowly slide it up the middle, fanning out the brush till the point when I get right at the end. I then do a thin coat, fanning out the brush, on either side against the edges. If there are any bumps in the polish, I quickly go over the nail with the brush while its still wet, to smooth them out. All the while, I'm anchoring the painted hand against the edge of my bathroom counter. (This may be more clear after watching the video!) I do this on each hand, then repeat for a second coat. 

It's also important to use "fresh" polish. If your polish is past its prime, thinning the goops out with acetone can only help so much. My advice is to get rid of it, and plan on using the next bottle quicker. I used OPI's 'Lincoln Park After Dark' here. You may also notice that I don't use a base coat—I just find that polish doesn't glide on as nicely when I do, and doesn't make a huge difference in terms of the manicure lasting. 


Once I've added two coats of polish, I immediately go over it with a top coat. I've been using Essie's Gel Top Coat lately. 


The trick is to act like your nails are wet for the rest of the day, and be extra careful for the next hour or two after painting them. I often plan carefully around this—painting my nails on mornings I'm not on 'Sloan duty.' Whenever possible, I paint them before going on a walk, since you're just fanning your hands back and forth for an hour, which is perfect for drying. Be strategic about it! 

1 (1)

Products purchased through this post may earn us a commission.