Tips, tools & the best products for your home manicure kit.
I’ve taken my manicures into my own hands for years — I shared my DIY manicure tips in this post back in 2014 — so I’m really good at painting my nails, but it wasn’t until I watched this video that my DIY manis started to last up to two weeks.
(And guys, I’m real rough on my hands at work, so this is a true achievement.)
A good DIY manicure starts way before you paint on the polish. Let’s break down the prep steps, one by one:
- I start by removing any hangnails with cuticle trimmers. I used to have a bad habit of biting/tearing them off with my teeth, which at minimum, leads to irritation and inflammation, and at worst, can cause infection; keeping a pair of cuticle trimmers in my kit helped me stop, and improved the health of my cuticles so that I get fewer hangnails. This deluxe manicure kit has all the tools you need for $20.
- Next, I trim my nails if necessary with sharp nail clippers, and shape them with a medium-grit nail file. (I stockpile nail files at Sally Beauty; they have every grit/size you can imagine and lots of them are less than $1.)
- Then I apply this instant cuticle remover gel ($7 at Ulta) to all my cuticles and let it sit for a few minutes before using a warm washcloth to gently massage/push them back. If I’ve neglected my nails for a while, I’ll use a wood orange stick (you can buy 100 on Amazon for $7) to scrape off any cuticles that are stuck to my nails, but if I’m consistent with my nail care, the washcloth method works like a charm. I wash my hands thoroughly after this step with warm water and hand soap.
- Finally, I wipe down all my nails with a cotton swab dipped in acetone to remove any remaining product or natural oils so the polish has a clean and dry surface to adhere to.
This is the fun part! And the secret to a long-lasting DIY manicure is using the right products, from base to top coat. This means splurging on good quality and dropping a little cash up front to stock your kit, but if you consider you’d pay $15-20 for a similar professional service, your kit will pay for itself in a few home manicures and last through lots and lots of mani/pedis.
- My favorite base coats are this ridge-filling primer and this rubberized bonder base coat. The first fills ridges and lays down a smooth foundation for your manicure, and the second dries with a sticky finish that grips to polish to help it last. I do a thin coat of each base, letting each coat dry completely before moving on to the next step.
- Next, I do two thin coats of color, leaving a tiny gap between the polish and my cuticle and cleaning up as a go, as shown in the video. OPI and Essie are my go-to brands for great color, and OPI is my top pick for longest wear. Again, let each coat dry completely as you go through the steps to prevent nicking/smudging/bubbling in the polish.
- If I’m in a rush, I use this quick-dry topcoat to finish things off; the formula penetrates down to the base coat and sets my manicure to a glassy, chip-free finish in about about a minute. Lately I’m digging this ‘instant gel effect’ top coat from the same brand that doesn’t dry quite as quickly, but gives my polish the plumped-up, high shine, glossy finish of a gel manicure.
If I want my manicure to last more than a week, I have to do a little work to keep it looking fresh. I touch up any chips throughout the week with teeny dabs of polish and seal it/smooth it out with a fresh coat of the gel effect top coat. Dark shades usually need more touch ups than nudes and light colors (which is why I typically prefer the latter, with the exception of rich autumn shades that I just can’t resist this time of year). If I don’t have any chips to repair, I still go in with a quick coat of top coat every 4-5 days.
I also try to use a deeply nourishing hand cream a few times a day to keep my cuticles hydrated; I love this hemp hand protector, Goe oil, and every hand cream/intense lotion from the brand Farmhouse Fresh.