beauty on a budget: a 5-step mani in 5 minutes {that will last at least 5 days}

Since I started designing at the flower shop, my poor hands have taken a beating! Regular manicures are no longer a luxury, but a necessity to keep my nails from looking like a car mechanic’s. A good coat of color can cover a multitude of sins.

I don’t know what is about “professional” manicures, but they seem to start peeling off as soon as I make it home from the salon! I’m lucky if I can get three days out of a salon manicure, and that requires guarding my fingertips with my life and avoiding any activity that requires the use of my hands. Not exactly practical.

One weekend afternoon, I set out for the nail salon and decided to detour to the drugstore instead. For around $50 (about the cost of a single salon mani/pedi after tipping) I built my own little nail kit and I’ve been DIY’ing ever since. The entire manicure takes less than five minutes, and lasts at least 5-7 days.

STEP 1: Gently Remove Cuticles

Essie Disappearing Trick - Conditioning Cuticle Remover

One of my biggest nail care woes is dry cuticles. My hands spend half of their workdays in water doused with chemicals (powdered flower additives, bleach for cleaning vases and buckets, etc.) and the other half being washed to remove said chemicals. The results aren’t pretty, and my already-sensitive and dry skin is almost cracking by the end of the day.

I start every manicure with Essie’s Disappearing Trick ($8). It’s the best, most effective, and most conditioning cuticle remover I’ve found. I put a generous amount on each nail bed and rub it in a little with the soft-tipped applicator. I let it work its magic for about a minute, then gently push my cuticles back with an orange stick. I never, ever trim my cuticles. It freaks me out and — while I’m no expert — I feel like gentle remover plus gentle pressure is all you need to get the job done.

STEP 2: Clean & Shape

image via beautylish

Once I’ve tamed my cuticles, I get to work carefully shaping my nails with a medium file (I love Sally Hansen’s Everyday Strength Medium Nail Boards). I’m a squoval kinda girl. After getting the shape just right, I buff the top surface of my nails gently to remove stains with a fine grain buffing block. Then I wash my hands and scrub my nails with moisturizing soap and a nail brush. {Tip: if your nails are stained or yellow after removing dark polish, brush them with a nail brush or toothbrush and some whitening toothpaste!}

Step 3: Condition Cuticles

Essie Disappearing Trick - Deep-Conditioning Cuticle Oil
Next, I apply a couple of drops of Essie’s Smooth Trick Deep Conditioning Cuticle Oil ($8) to each nail bed and rub it in. Think mini-massage for each fingertip.
A good cuticle oil can be a lifesaver for thirsty cuticles. This one absorbs quickly and does exactly what it says it does — deep conditions. {Tip: To keep my cuticles conditioned between manicures, I keep a Sally Hansen Maximum Growth Cuticle Pen in my handbag and try to remember to use it every day}.

Step 4: Paint

Essie Olé Caliente
I’ve tried a lot of polish brands, but I always go back to Essie. The quality is great, and the colors selection is uhh-mazing. Even better: Essie, once a salon-only brand, is now available in many of your neighborhood drug stores! At $8 a bottle, it may seem like a splurge; but when you break down your cost per use and factor in the lasting power, it’s worth every penny.
The color du jour: Olé Caliente.
Start with a thin base coat (I like All in One Base) and after it dries, paint on two thin coats of your color.

Step 5: Top it Off

Essie Good to Go Rapid Dry Top Coat
Waiting for your nails to dry is always the worst part of any manicure. And skipping out on the top coat is tempting. Kill two birds with one stone with Good to Go, a rapid dry top coat that sets your color to a strong glassy shine in about 30 seconds. The best part: you don’t have to wait for your color to dry before applying.
You’re done! You can go about your business sans panic of chipping or peeling. And if you do chip, you have the color to repair it in a pinch.
Use the money you saved to buy a cute cocktail ring to highlight your pretty fingers.

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  1. 3.13.12
    Heather said:

    I bought a bottle of Essie polish on a lark a while ago and was pleasantly surprised with it’s quality! It’s my new go-to brand, for sure.

  2. 3.12.12
    Casey said:

    I’ve always admired manicured nails, but never been able to keep it up myself! Does your manicure really last 5 days, even with all the hard work you do? Also, how do you keep your nails from feeling dry after polishing? The other reason I don’t pain mine a lot is I feel like it strips them, so I can’t imagine doing it all the time. Do you have a remedy for this?

    • 3.12.12

      It really does last 5 days! I can hardly believe it myself ;-)

      You’re totally right, keeping nails polished can start to wreak havoc on them after a while. I’m lucky to have really strong nails, but they still dry out after a while. I think keeping your hands moisturized with a good hand cream (I love Ahava) and using cuticle oil regularly really helps. I usually change polish on the weekends, so sometimes I try to let my nails “breathe” for a while after removing the polish.

  3. 3.11.12
    smcwrites said:

    Beautiful! And great tips :) I took my first year of cosmetology in high school since I had the space for an elective and this is more or less what they taught us for manicures, it was a great class to take because being able to give yourself (or a friend) a free mani or pedi is a great treat <3

  4. 3.11.12

    I worked at a florist for five years and although I loved my job, the greatest part about leaving was that my hands would look normal again!

    • 3.12.12

      Isn’t it awful?! People always tell me to use gloves, but I can’t stand working in them.

  5. 3.9.12
    shannon said:

    This is awesome. I have been trying to save money and not get manicures anymore, but instead doing them myself. I love your tips and product suggestions. I love Essie. I will be sure to try this.

    • 3.10.12

      The first couple of times you try to do it yourself, it’s probably going to look like a kindergartner painted your nails. But practice makes perfect, and before you know it, you’ll be a pro — even on your left hand! ;-)

  6. 3.9.12
    Kimberly said:

    Great information! I never knew my preferred nail shape is called squoval. My favorite Essie color of the moment is Sugar Daddy.

    • 3.10.12

      Oohhhh, I like that one, too! Need to pick up a bottle — along with the Tart Deco Brooke suggested up there!

  7. 3.9.12
    Rebecca said:

    I totally hear you. I keep my nails painted all the time, it helps cover all the stains under my nails from working with the flowers. (I feel like I’m spamming your page, commenting every time you talk about your shop, but I’m just so excited to find another florist on WordPress!)

    • 3.10.12

      You’d think that florists would have beautiful, delicate fingers. But no, we look like we spend our days digging in dirt and fighting street cats. And I love all your comments! So fun to have another florist to chat with :)

  8. 3.9.12
    Brooke said:

    Love this! I just picked up Essie’s Tart Deco and love it — but I need to follow your steps and pick up a few other Essie products to make my mani last.

    • 3.10.12

      Brooke, what a great color! I’m adding this to my weekend shopping list :)

  9. 3.9.12
    Andie said:

    Thanks for this! I am soooo stopping at Target on the way home and picking this stuff up! I am rough on my hands too- as a new mother, I’m constantly washing my hands which equals horrible cuticles! :)