How to Give Yourself a Manicure at Home
Manicures (and pedicures, for that matter) are one of those "little luxuries" that many of us skimp on for a variety of reasons. Some people simply don't have the time, some people don't like to spend the money — me, I personally don't enjoy having strangers fondle my feet for 45 minutes.
Fortunately, mani-pedis can be easily accomplished at home, so there's no reason to go without a professionally polished set of fingers — here's how to save money and time with a little DIY. (See Also: 10 Budget Beauty Products You Can Make at Home)
What You'll Need
At a bare minimum, you will need the following items:
- Nail clippers
- Nail file
- Cuticle trimmers
- Nail brush (for cleaning)
- Nail buffer or polish
- Moisturizing lotion
Any additional items, like stickers or adhesive crystals, are encouraged (but not covered in this guide).
Step 1: Clean Your Nails
The first and most obvious step for getting great-looking nails is to clean them. This means removing old polish with nail polish remover and cleaning behind your nails with a nail brush and soap.
Step 2: Treat Your Cuticles
Other than getting an even coat of paint on your nails, one of the trickiest parts of performing a professional manicure is working with your cuticles. If you are prone to hangnails, you can minimize cuticle problems by carrying a good pair of cuticle trimmers (I like the ones by Tweezerman) with you at all times. I keep a pair in my desk at work, because I get hangnails every five seconds or so. As soon as one appears, I nip it in the bud.
Never tug at or bite your hangnails — that's a great way to rip your skin and cause an infection.
If your cuticles are in bad shape, you can use a cuticle dissolver to help soften dead and damaged skin for removal. If you have more time (like, overnight), a gentle product like Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream will help you scrape away dead cuticles in the morning — no trimming required.
Step 3: Shape Your Nails
There are lots of people who believe that nails should only ever be filed, never clipped. Whatever. You can use whatever tools you like to keep your nails at their optimal length. And don't think that taking care of your nails means that you have to grow them to extreme lengths — short nails look fine and can be easier to manage, especially if you have an active lifestyle.
Step 4: Scrub Your Skin Smooth
This is an optional step, depending on what shape your hands are in. A cheap homemade scrub can be pulled together using a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of olive oil. Soak your hands for five minutes in warm water, then smooth the skin with a pumice stone or some scrub. Rinse well and dry.
If you have seriously dry hands, consider a pair of spa gel gloves for an overnight treatment.
Step 5: Buff or Polish
There's no rule that says that you have to wear nail polish, although colors are so varied and fun that it can be hard to resist. Regardless of whether you choose to use colored nail polish or not, you should start with a base of clear polish. It gives you a smoother surface to work with, and keeps highly pigmented polishes from staining your nails.
First Coat: Clear Polish
Clear nail polish comes in a variety of formulas now — you can get polish that moisturizes your nails, helps your nails grow longer, thickens your nails, and more. Clear polish is a smart, simple way to give nails a classy appearance, and it's easier than working with colored polish (because if you paint it on a little crooked, no one will notice).
Second Coat: Colored Polish
Nail polish comes in such a variety of colors these days that it can be easy to amass a giant collection of hues. However, the frugally minded will pick five or six colors that are fun, but also flattering. Your skin tone may clash with many standard colors (I can't wear red nail polish, myself), so try to figure out your best colors before buying.
O.P.I. nail polish is widely available and has a giant color selection. If you prefer your polishes with a little less in the way of toxic chemicals, many women swear by Butter London polishes (although they aren't cheap, at about $14 a pop). If you want something that dries a bit faster, look into Sally Hansen Insta-Dri nail polish. Easily found at most drug stores, they have a decent color selection, and because the polish is so thick, sometimes one coat will be enough. It doesn't REALLY dry instantly, of course, but it dries much faster than conventional polish.
The art of painting your nails without slopping polish all over your hands is a delicate one. Here's a tutorial to help you learn how (skip to 1:20 to get to the good part).
Top Coat: More Clear Polish
If you want to keep your color from chipping, you'll need a good clear top coat. The top coat is the key to a lasting manicure, and it's the thing that nobody seems to make time for (I know; I'm lazy, so I rarely put one on). But it will make the difference between a manicure that looks good for a week, and a manicure that looks good for a day.
Alternative to Polish — Buffing
Buffing is a cheap, natural way to add shine to your nails. Basically, you begin by using a fine-grained file to smooth out the ridges on your nail — rather like sanding a rough board. Buffing boards come with four different textures — starting with the roughest, you sand the entire surface of your nail, and then repeat using the slightly smoother board surface. By the time you are done, you will have shiny, pretty nails, but beware — buffing is, in fact, removing part of the surface of your nails. Buff too often, and you can actually buff right through your nail. So buff infrequently, and with great care.
Step 6: Moisturize Your Skin
Many nail salons have a tendency to moisturize your skin mid-mani. That's well and good, but I find it easier to wield the nail polish brush if my hands aren't slippery.
One of the best ways to ensure a flawless manicure is to do it at night, before bed. Once your nails are reasonably dry, you can moisturize your hands with some high quality lotion, and fall asleep with your hands in a highly awkward position (lying flat atop your covers). By the time you start tossing and turning, your nails should be fairly dry.