Your DIY Manicure Guide

With many businesses closed, including nail salons, the DIY manicure is having a moment. Here’s my quick and dirty guide to a low-maintenance home mani that will carry you through until you’re reunited with your favorite nail tech!

Where To Get Nail Supplies

Personally, I’m trying to cut way back on my online shopping during the coronavirus outbreak. But if you don’t already have them on hand, you can probably get your basic manicure supplies as part of your grocery shopping or delivery. Your local supermarket probably — and Target definitely — has emery boards, nail polish remover/acetone, cuticle sticks and cotton pads that you can order or get in-store (mask up and shop safely or tip your delivery driver generously!).

I know some people have been ordering home dip kits to use while nail spas are closed. Personally, I wouldn’t. I have the Red Carpet Color Dip kit, and in my experience, it’s a lot more trouble than it’s worth, especially as you’re learning to use it. There’s a bit of a learning curve, and on my nails at least, the manicure starts to pop off after a few days, so I don’t personally get any more wear out of it than I would from a regular old nail polish mani, even though it takes three times as long to do.

Remove Acrylic and Gel Nails

I don’t do acrylic nails, but in my experience, gel is relatively easy to remove at home by soaking it off with acetone, and I’m told you can use the same technique to remove acrylic. You can just pour acetone in a bowl and soak until they’re soft, but it’s a long time to hold your hands in a weird position, so I like the foil method (also great for removing chunky glitter polish):

  1. Cut 10 squares of aluminum foil, about 3 inches on each side.
  2. Saturate cotton pads in acetone. (I usually cut mine down to save waste. I have short nails, so I can usually use a quarter of a cotton square per nail.)
  3. File away the top layers of gel with an emery board. (If you’re wearing acrylic nails, you also need to clip the acrylic short. Again, acrylic is not my area of expertise. Here’s a more detailed article about removing acrylic specifically.)
  4. If you want, apply petroleum jelly or another barrier cream on the skin around your cuticles to keep from drying them out (especially since your hands are probably raw from being washed so much).
  5. One finger at a time, place an acetone-soaked piece of cotton pad on top, then wrap your fingertip tightly in aluminum foil. The foil holds the acetone against the nail.
  6. Wait about a half hour, then use the cotton pad to wipe away the now-softened material on your nail. You may also need to use a cuticle stick to gently pry it up. BE SO SO SO SO GENTLE. File away any remaining gel with an emery board while it’s still soft.

I like to finish by washing my hands with a gentle moisturizing wash and then rubbing cuticle oil into my nails. And then usually give my nails a break for a day or two, being sure to keep moisturizing my nail plates with a natural oil every day.

Super Simple DIY Manicure

Your home manicure doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s the very easy version I do.

I start by shaping my dry nails with an emery board. I rinse them quickly to remove the dust, then dry them thoroughly and, if I’m really going for it, I’ll come in with the buffer to smooth the edges and any rough spots on my nail plates.

Next up is a thorough hand scrub. When Bath & Body Works has its sale, I usually stock up on their sugar scrubs to keep on hand largely for this purpose. You can also easily make your own scrub by mixing sugar (or salt, but sugar has glycolic acid, which is good for your skin) with a small amount of oil. Use a generous amount and gently massage until the sugar dissolves, focusing on rough spots, cuticles and the skin around your nails, then rinse under warm water.

I follow my scrub with a nice hand cream, focusing on the palms and backs of my hands since I’m going to wipe my nails clean in a minute.

If you want, you can now gently push back your cuticles with a cuticle stick. This is a non-essential step, but it does make your nails appear a little bigger and make it a bit easier to paint them (no little bits of cuticle for the polish to catch. I don’t soak my nails, even though it’s done in a lot of nail salons. Your polish will last longer if you apply it to nails that are fully dry. I also find that scrubbing my hands regularly, with special attention to the nails, helps keep my cuticles moisturized and less in need of special attention.

After that, each nail gets a quick wipe with non-acetone nail polish remover, and then it’s time to paint.

Tips For Painting Your Own Nails

If you don’t usually paint your own nails, there’s a learning curve for sure. The good news is, practice makes progress. Here’s my DIY manicure advice for nail novices:

  • Start with a base coat (this can just be clear nail polish). This gives you a smooth surface for your color and helps prevent staining.
  • Start by painting your dominant hand. It’s easier to work with your non-dominant hand before your nails are wet.
  • Save your thumbs for last — as in, after all of your other nails are completely done. Wet thumbs make everything harder.
  • Use thin coats of polish. Thick coats seem like a good idea as you’re applying them, but they take forever to dry, stay gummy for a long time, and often bubble over time. Two coats is usually sufficient, but even three or four thin coats will serve you better than one thick coat.
  • In general, the higher the concentration of pigment in your nail polish, the longer it takes to dry. Polishes that are more sheer or have glitter or shimmer will tend to dry more quickly; creme pastels and deep colors tend to take more time.
  • Keep a cuticle stick handy as you paint. That way you can quickly scrape any polish off your skin or cuticle while it’s still wet. (You can also do this using your thumbnails, since you’re painting them last.)
  • To help guard against chips, wrap your nail polish along the free edge of your nail. Here’s the blog post tutorial that taught me how to “wrap the tip” almost a decade ago.
  • Use a clear topcoat. (This can be the same clear polish you used for your base coat.) This adds shine and helps protect your color.
  • Let your nails dry longer than you think they need to. I like to wait until my kids have been asleep for a while, pour a drink, and put on a TV show of which I plan to watch at least three episodes: one to paint my nails, and two to let them dry while I relax. If I use my phone while my nails are drying, I hold with one hand and swipe with the other to keep from smudging my mani. Then I put cuticle oil all over my fingertips, both to moisturize my cuticles and to protect my fresh polish.

Other tips or questions? Do you need help troubleshooting your DIY manicure? Feel free to comment below!

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