Our nails are one of the few opportunities we have to create a positive first impression. We can show people that we’re creative, fashionable, stylish and zany all with the swipe of our nail polish.
But getting the swipe right, well that’s a whole different ball game. Which is why we’ve developed an easy and practical step-by-step guide to DIYing the perfect manicure.
Step 1. Clean slate
To begin, you’ll want your nails to be a fresh canvas. To do that, you’re going to need to remove any existing nail polish. If you’re worried about the effects of acetone, just pick up a non-acetone remover from your local supermarket.
Use a cotton wool ball dipped in nail polish remover to gently (you don’t want to push too hard against your nails in case you damage them) rub the nail polish off. If you’re keen to try a new strategy, check out this five-minute tutorial on removing stubborn nail polish.
Step 2. Choose a shape
Before you start hacking away at your nails, you’ll need to have an idea of what you want your nails to look like.
There are five common shapes to choose from:
Ovals are the traditional nail shape, with the top curved in, surprise surprise, the shape of an oval.
A squoval is a newer hybrid, combining an oval and a square. It’s squarer than an oval and rounder than a square. This is probably the most stylish shape at the moment.
A square is the shape common in acrylic applications and is squared off at the top.
The round shape is pointer than an oval but along similar lines.
And almond looks slightly like, er, well vampire nails. Think Fergie and Rihanna style of nails. Hot, but you could poke an eye out with those suckers.
Step 3. Clip, clip, clip
Once you’ve chosen your nail shape, you can trim your nails to the desired length. Make sure you cut in one horizontal line, not sideways or into the nail. For the best look, trim all nails to be the same length.
Yes, it’s super annoying when you’ve broken a nail and all your other nails look fabulous, but think of your nails as a team. If one team member breaks, the rest sacrifice their wants and needs to help out. Trim them all to be the same length and you’ll get a far better end result, no matter how long they are.
Step 4. File away
Okay, now it’s time for your nail file to earn its keep. It’s worthwhile investing in a glass nail file if you can, as it makes filing a lot easier and faster. They are also believed to be kinder on your nails.
If you don’t have access to a glass nail file, an emery board is fine also. They’re actually quite flexible and don’t harm your nails. Stay away from the metal filing boards as it’s easier to damage your nails using these and sometimes the metal is too much for thin and brittle nails.
Hold your nail file at the very end, between your thumb and your pointer finger. It might feel a little odd at first, but this will actually give you greater control over the filing process.
Using gentle strokes in the one direction (never back and forth, you can damage your nail if you do it this way), you can start filing your nails into the desired shape. I suggest evening out the top of the nail first by running your nail file along the top in a horizontal motion. Then once you’re happy with the length and how straight it is, you can shape the edges.
A good tip for the edges is to hold your nail file at an angle and file the edges at this angle. Keep going over the area (adjusting the angle to suit which shape you want) until it’s in the shape you want.
Hint: If you have nails that split easily, file them before you remove your nail polish. This will help to protect your nails during filing.
Step 5. Create charming cuticles
We don’t think too much about our cuticles, but the reality is that these little guys are what protect your nails from infections and other nasties.
Which is why you’ll want to take good care of them. You can do this by applying some hand cream (or hair conditioner is another good one) onto your nail beds and cuticles. Then, soak your nails in warm water for around three to four minutes.
Once they have softened, you can gently push your cuticles back. At some nail salons they will cut your cuticles for you, but I recommend just pushing them back at home to ensure you don’t risk an infection.
You can either use a cuticle pusher wrapped in a cotton wool ball, or a soft hand towel and manually push your cuticles back by hand.
Step 6. Buff and go
The last step before you start painting your nails is to buff out any sharp edges and ridges. A good buffer should have a variety of different ‘sides’ and levels of buffing. They’ll often have a number associated to them too, like 1. File 2. Smooth, 3. Buff and 4. Polish.
Let the numbers guide you on which ones to use first. If they don’t have numbers, just feel the board. The roughest board besides your file will be for smoothing out rough edges. The next roughest will be for smoothing the top of your nails. The buffer is the softest and the polish (optional) is the one that feels slightly slick to the touch.
Use a side-by-side motion and stick to one buff a month to avoid damaging your nails.
Step 7. Pour out the paint
There are three things you need to know about applying the perfect polish: base coat, polish and topcoat.
Voila – done. Just kidding, but that is pretty much the essential formula for the ideal polish.
By applying a base coat you will increase the life of your manicure and also protect your nails. You can buy something like OPI Nail Envy, which helps to strengthen weak nails as well.
The perfect number of applications for your color is two to three. Any more than this and it will get ‘gluggy’ and thick. Experts advise swiping polish into the middle of your nail first and then filling in the outside. I’ve also seen some nail technicians dab a blob on the top of your nail and then slide it down.
The best idea is to try all different methods and then find one that works for you. One of the key elements of a perfect manicure is that it isn’t a one trick pony. Girls with perfect manicures have either paid for them or have put in a heck of a lot of hours practicing.
So practice whenever you can remember to take your time. Don’t rush and enjoy the process.
Your topcoat should be applied about two minutes after your last coat of polish. Make sure you paint to the edge of the nail to protect against chipping.
Step 8. Seal the polish
This step is often skipped, but it’s actually the most important step of all. You can spend an hour painstakingly preparing and painting your nails, but if you don’t allow the polish to dry and end up smudging it on the way out the door … well, we’ve all felt how frustrating that can be.
So don’t take the chance and instead seal your nail polish. You can do this by either using a product (they often come in spray forms or ‘drips’) to seal your polish. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way and soak your nails in ice cold water (literally, there should be ice in the water) for three minutes.
The drip and soak are the most effective methods, but feel free to choose the one that suits your time frame and preference.
Step 9. Cheat your way to perfection
And if you’re one of those girls that struggles to color inside the lines, don’t panic. There are ways to fake perfection.
Wait for your nail polish to dry and then grab a cuticle stick. Wrap the end in a cotton wool bud dipped in nail polish remover, then carefully ‘wipe out’ any polish that has landed on your skin. You can also touch up the edges to make your manicure look cleaner.
A girlfriend of mine told me that she used to apply the polish before bed, without caring whether it was messy or not. Then (being careful not to get any polish on her sheets), she’d go to sleep. In the morning when she woke up, she could peel off the polish around the nails and apparently the end result was an Oscar-worthy manicure.
I’m still a bit doubtful as to the effectiveness of this, but if you’re feeling up the challenge why not give it a go?
And remember, even a perfect manicure is useless without the attitude to match. So keep smiling, keep your head high and your standards higher.