Easy At-Home Manicure

Skip the salon! Follow these simple steps for nails that look as polished as a professional manicure

With these step-by-step instructions, you can give yourself a flawless professional-looking manicure at a fraction of the cost!

  1. Create a pretty shape. Start with clean, dry nails. (If you’re wearing polish, wipe nails with polish remover first.) Clip to desired length, then file into even shapes with an emery board. Use long, smooth strokes, working in one direction to prevent weakening and splitting.
  2. Smooth tops of nails. Sand away ridges and any surface stains with a buffing block, using a gentle side-to-side motion. Start with the rougher side, then follow with the finer side.
  3. Soften cuticles. Apply a dab of cuticle oil, then push back gently with the flat end of an orange stick. Remove debris from the underside of nails with the stick’s pointed end. Carefully trim any hangnails with cuticle scissors (try this after showering, when nails are soft and skin is moist). Apply hand cream to cuticles until completely absorbed.
  4. Prep nails for color. Wipe off cream and any oily residue with polish remover to help color adhere evenly. Brush on a base coat to protect nails from discoloring and to provide a smooth surface for the color. Let dry for one minute.
  5. Paint on polish. Use three strokes: one down the middle, followed by one along each side. Make thin coats, which don’t trap air bubbles as thick ones can (and take less time to dry). Repeat. Correct mistakes with a cotton-wrapped orange stick dipped in polish remover. Finish with topcoat.
  6. Let nails dry completely. Aim for at least 15 minutes, or hold your nails under a fan. Avoid fast-dry sprays, which can make the polish more prone to chips and nicks.
  7. Maintain your manicure. Add a new layer of topcoat every other day to revive sheen and help prevent chips and dings. A good manicure should last a week.

BONUS: Put together a manincure tool kit

Keep your nails in tip-top condition with these must-haves:

  • Nail clippers: Trim nails in small snips. A blunt cut across the entire nail can cause cracking.
  • Nail files: Emery boards are cheap and come in many grades.
  • Orange sticks: Cutting cuticles can cause infection. Push them back instead.
  • Buffing block: Get more mileage from this rectangular tool by cutting it into smaller pieces.
  • Cotton pads: Cotton balls can leave fuzz, ruining your manicure.
  • Polish remover: For brittle nails, use acetone-free formulas. Save removers with acetone for dark, hard-to-budge polishes only.
  • Cuticle oil or hand cream: Massage a drop into the nail bed to seal in moisture and prevent hangnails.
  • Base coat and topcoat: These two polishes help maintain and protect your nails and prolong your manicure.
  • Nail polish: If the polish has separated, roll—don’t shake—the bottle between your hands.