Everything you need for a salon-like manicure at home
You can still pamper your hands by following this pro advice.
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If you’re used to seeing a super-shiny gel or regular polish when you look at your nails, you may wonder how you can spruce up your fingertips despite salon closures. You’re in luck! Though it may not be the full-on pampering experience of getting them professionally done, you can clean up your hands and nails with an at-home manicure.
We consulted Betina Goldstein, a Los Angeles-based nail artist whose manicures have appeared in Calvin Klein and Adidas campaigns as well as in Vogue and Glamour editorial features (and her Instagram video tutorials are mesmerizing). With her advice, we’re confident you’ll walk away with soft hands and stylish nails.
Step 1: Remove old nail polish
If you still have polish left over from an old manicure, you’ll want to remove that first—but skip the acetone. “Acetone dehydrates your nails making them split, crack, and weaken,” Goldstein says. “An oil-based nail polish remover will keep your nails and surrounding skin hydrated while removing polish.”
Goldstein recommends the Karma Organic Spa Lavender Nail Polish Remover, which uses soybean oil to dissolve old polish. Put the remover on a cotton ball and swipe it over your nail until all of the polish is gone.
Step 2: Prep your nails
As your nails grow out, you may notice overgrowth of your cuticle, a translucent, thin layer of skin that often creeps up over the light part at the base of your fingernail. Cleaning up the cuticles can dramatically improve the appearance of your nails—and may also keep you from picking at them and causing damage to the skin and nailbed.
For this step, use a cuticle softener, or a liquid solution that moisturizes and softens the cuticles for easier removal. You can purchase one, try a DIY recipe, or soak your fingers in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes to achieve similar results.
Once your cuticles are softened, gently push them back off your nail using a cuticle pusher or another fingernail. You’ll know if the cuticles aren’t soft enough if you have to scrape. If that’s the case, keep soaking them or consider leaving the cuticle alone, as it’s more important that you don’t irritate your nails and skin.
After pushing them back, you may have loose dead skin or hangnails that you want to clean up. You can use cuticle nippers to carefully snip them away, but be sparing with this and go slow. Remember: This process shouldn’t hurt and, if it does, stop.
If you want to purchase tools, try the Supernail Cuticle Softener and Remover, which cleans and conditions your nails and skin. Then pick up a tool set like this one from Blue Orchid, which includes cuticle nippers and a double-ended tool with a rounded end to nudge the cuticles a flat end for cleaning beneath the nail tips.
- Get the Supernail Cuticle Softener and Remover on Walmart for $3.15
- Get the Blue Orchids Cuticle Trimmer with Cuticle Pusher on Amazon for $9.99
Step 3: Clean up and shape your nails
Once your cuticles are pushed back, you can buff away any residual skin and smooth the entire surface of your nails using a nail buffer. Goldstein recommends one from Orly that’s the perfect shape and texture to go over your cuticles and also buff around the sides or top of your nail without damaging it.
Next, you want to shape your nails. If they’re longer than you want them to be, take a nail clipper and, starting from the corners of your nail, clip inward until you meet in the middle. Starting at the corners gives you more control over the shape—if you start in the middle, the whole tip may break off, creating a shape or too-short length you didn’t intend.
Once the tips are trimmed (or if you didn’t need that step), file and shape your nails round, square, or somewhere in between. To keep it simple, start from the sides of your nail, lightly tracing around the corners to remove rough spots that could cause snags in your clothes or scratches on your skin, and go light around the very tip of your nail.
Goldstein recommends the Flowery nail files with grit values of 180 on one side and 240 on the other (the file gets finer as the grit value increases). Use the finer texture for shaping and the coarser one to take off some length, if you prefer the control of filing over clipping.
Step 4: Exfoliate your hands
This next part will have you feeling most like you’re in a salon. For extra-soft hands, use a physical exfoliant to remove any dead skin. In a pinch, a good stand-in is your face scrub (if you have one), or you can make your own body exfoliant at home by mixing a gritty ingredient like sugar into a creamy base, like coconut oil. If you’re in the market for one, Goldstein recommends the Herbivore Coco Rose Coconut Oil Body Polish, which uses sugar to exfoliate and coconut and Moroccan rose oil to hydrate.
No matter what you choose, Goldstein says to massage it on the hands, nails, and cuticle area to soften and remove any loose dead skin. (You can massage it around for 20 seconds while singing your favorite hand-washing song—or more or less, whatever you prefer.) Rinse and dry your hands well.
Step 5: Finish up with oil and lotion
You always want to follow up exfoliation with a great moisturizer to replenish the skin barrier that protects against harmful bacteria, fungus, and other microorganisms. Make your hands happy using a face moisturizer, hand cream, body oil or, really, any emollient product that claims to hydrate the skin. Massage the product into your hands and nails.
Step 6: Polish your nails
Though not required for the pampering experience, a fresh coat of color can make your hands pop. If you plan to paint your nails after lotioning, first swipe each nail with nail polish remover or alcohol so the moisturizer or oil does not interfere with your polish. The easiest (read: most foolproof) option to add some shine to your nails is to apply a coat or two of clear nail polish and let it dry.
For a color polish, apply a layer of clear base-coat nail polish followed by one to three coats (depending on the polish’s opacity and your preference) of your shade, letting each layer dry for at least a three minutes in between. If you do one hand at a time, the polish is likely dry enough for a second coat on the alternate hand. Swipe color down the center of each nail first, then make passes over the sides. Finish with another coat of clear polish to seal in your mani and add shine.
To make sure your polish is fully dry, touch your nail slightly, either with the pad of your finger or with another fingernail, and if it feels tacky, it needs more time. Best policy for avoiding smudges: Leave yourself an hour or so after your manicure before you need to return to your regularly scheduled life! You can also clean up any smudges on the skin with a cotton swap dipped in polish remover.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.