The At-Home Mani (on the cheap!)

November 2, 2014

I love a good manicure and pedicure and I love the nail salon near our house in Newton, Massachusetts. It’s always nice to treat yourself to these often not only because  of the stress relief and beauty benefits but because you don’t want things like overgrown cuticles (which keep your nails healthy and prevent infection), callasuses, and in grown nails out of control. That said, time and financial reasons don’t always allow for us to do these regularly but with a little work you can do your own manicure at home. It might take a little practice if you’re just starting out but be patient and take your time. The more you do it, the better you will get-trust me.

Step 1: Soak hands. Soak both hands in a little bit of warm, soapy water for a few minutes. This gets your cuticles ready for grooming.

Step 2: Removing cuticles. Apply a cuticle remover (see link below for options from Sally Hansen) rub in to cuticles for a few seconds. Next, take a push back tool (this will be one of the most expensive items you will purchase in this post) and push back your cuticles. You have two types of cuticles, the ones you want to get rid of (the thin later right on your nail that you can hardly see) and the thicker part that you either leave or trim back in the next step.

Step 3: Trimming cuticles. This is up to you on how much you want to do here as you may not feel comfortable trimming your cuticles and hang nails. If you do feel comfortable, you want to purchase cuticle scissors and I suggest not purchasing cheap ones and go with some by Revlon. You will have these forever and they really make a difference. Cheaper ones are dull which makes it more difficult to snip and get a clean line. Make sure these are clean before you use and gently trim your outer cuticles, hang nails and excess skin. My fiance could tell you this is one of my favorite tools- I’m often snipping away at random hang nails as any excess drives me crazy. Remember to clean your metal and stainless steel tools with soap and really hot water you are done with everything. Repeat Step 2 and 3 on the other side once completed.

Step 4: Oil up. Next rub some nail oil into your nails and cuticles. If you don’t have any at home you can use olive,  coconut or grape seed oil instead. You just need a few drops, so go easy.

Step 5: Filing nails. Your shape is up to you but I usually do something  in the squoval (combination of square and oval) range so they are not super severe either way. You don’t need an expensive or heavy-duty nail file (unless you have artificial nails) so your best bet is to get the cheap, tan cardboard kind that are sold in the drug store. These are gentler on your nails than other files. If you don’t want to use these make sure you pick a file that says its specific for natural nails or else you will file down your nails until there is nothing very easily.

Step 6: Buffing nails. This is your choice as the shinier the nail, the harder it is for nail polish to adhere to the natural nail but I enjoy doing this because it gets ride of ridges and smooths out the nail bed. I use buffers that are four-sided and have numbers on each side so you know which step to do in which order.

Step 6: Exfoliation (optional). This is not necessary but its nice step that adds a little luxury to your standard manicure. Don’t have an exfoliating rub? No problem. Mix 2 tablespoons of either sugar or salt with a little bit of oil (again your choice) and rub over your hands, wrists and lower arms. Rinse under warm water and pat dry.

Step 7: Moisturize. You can use any lotion you like. Make sure you rub into nails and into cuticles. After, take a cotton round and wipe nails off with nail polish remove (preferably acetone free since acetone can dry our your nails and skin).

Step 8: Prep. This is not mandatory but its a nice step and if you are using a dark or bright color you should make sure to include this into your manicure regimen. If not, when you go to remove your color days or a week later your nails will be stained and most likely a dark pink. Choose your base coat by your need: trying to grow your nails? Choose a growth treatment. Weak nail problems? Choose a formula with strength. When all else fails just choose clear since something is better than nothing. Often times this is where my manicure will end since just having groomed nails and cuticles is good enough for me. If I have the extra time and patience I will continue on to the steps below for color.

Step 9: Color. Choose your color. I love dark and bright colors on short nails and soft pinks  on nails with a little length. How many coats is up to you but the standard is two coats. Your application should be as follows: one stroke down the middle of the nail, and then one stock on each side. Nervous? Go lightly on the polish for the first coat since it sets the base for your color. You can always apply more color if needed.  Remove any excess polish that got on your skin with orange sticks from the drugstore (I LOVE these things). If you don’t get it perfect that’s ok. Remember that polish doesn’t stay on the skin for long, so it should come off in your shower or when you wash your hands.

My favorites colors? Essie’s Ballet Slippers, Mademoiselle, Vanity Fairest and Figi. I know, I know. All light pinks – notice a trend?

Step 10: Top coat. Any basic clear does the job but if you want the creme of the crop choose Seche Vite. It dries your nails quickly and deposits a glass-like shine. This is a must-have and really ups your manicure at home. Also, one bottle lasts forever.

Step 11: Wait! After all that work, wait it out at least a good 15 minutes. Watch tv, work on the computer (slowly) or just relax. A trick my mother (a former hairdresser who had to take manicure classes during beauty school) taught me to check if your nails are dry is to take your thumb and lightly rub it against the skin under your nose, above your lip. If the nail is ready and dry, there will be no stickiness and the nail will feel like glass against the skin. If it doesn’t, you need to wait a bit more.

Some of my favorite manicure must have tools:

Revlon Cuticle Nippers


Cuticle Pusher


Orange Sticks


Seche Vite




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