Painting Your Nails: The Basics

As you may have noticed, I’m a huge fan of nail polish. I’ve been doing my own nails for a long, long time now and actually have never had a professional manicure. Most women have a working knowledge of nail polish, either from trial and error or tips they pick up here and there. I thought I might as well give a little overview on how I do my nails in case anyone finds it helpful. Alot of this will be just common sense but it wouldn’t be much of a guide if I just assumed everyone knew everything!

Step 1: Make sure your polish isn’t old. You may be thinking, “With all those chemicals, how can it possibly go bad?” The answer is… I don’t have a clue. It just does. If your polish is old it will become thick and gunky, making it much harder to get a smooth surface. There’s no set amount of time that a polish will last, you just need something with a formula that is easy to work with. If your favorite polish has become thick or sticky, don’t trash it just yet – there are drops and methods you can use to revive it. Zoya has a product for that and I’m sure alot of other brands do as well. If all else fails, google it and see what you can find out. If it can’t be saved, you might want to hold on to it and find out if Zoya is doing their nail polish exchange this year (I think it’s usually for Earth Day). The point is, start with a smooth polish of a good consistency and you will save yourself some trouble.

Step 2: Start with clean, dry nails. Remove as much of your old polish as possible. A stray fleck of glitter here and there isn’t a huge deal, but you want your nails to be as polish free as possible before a new manicure. Be sure that you save your hand lotion until after your nails are done too, you don’t want oils on your nails. If needed you can just swipe a cotton ball with polish remover over them one more time just to make sure they are nice and clean. I generally wash my hands as soon as I use nail polish remover, but that’s just because I’m a little compulsive about certain things and polish remover isn’t exactly healthy.

Step 3: Cut and file your nails to the shape you like. Be sure not to trim your nails too closely, because not only does that hurt, it’s not very good for your nails. Try to make neat, careful cuts without leaving your nails ragged. If your nail clippers aren’t leaving straight, sharp cuts you might need to get a new pair. I cut my nails straight across because I like the rounded square shape. When you start to file, try to go in one direction instead of a sawing motion. Once a week or so, I use a four sided nail buffer on the surface of my nails. This will make your nails really smooth and even shiny enough to skip polish all together if you wanted to. Start with side 1 (they are usually color coded) and lightly go over each nail, then move to side 2, and so on. Just don’t use the buffer too often, you don’t want to weaken your nails.

Step 4: Base coats aren’t a necessity, but they are nice to use. Once you have the shape of your nails the way you want and the surface ready, apply your base in a thin, even coat. A base coat can help prevent polish from staining your nails, and some of them are formulated to strengthen your nails or to help them grow. I use Qtica Natural Nail Growth Stimulator as my base coat, simply because I got it as a gift with purchase. My nails grow quickly anyway, so I can’t say whether or not it really helps them grow faster, but it is a nice base. You may be thinking that any clear polish will work for both base and top coat, but that’s usually not the case unless it specifies that. Base coats are generally a bit tackier to help the polish stick, and top coats are usually more glossy. It really depends on the brand though, just read the directions.

It’s pretty safe to say at this point that you are probably not a robot or a cyborg (are those the same thing?). Being that you’re human, your hands are probably not 100% steady. Therefore, you are going to need a desk, a table, a book, or some other flat surface. Do not try to paint your nails with one hand out in the air, or even with your hand on your knee or lap. Flat, stable surface, and a lamp is super helpful as well.

Step 5: Once your base coat is dry you can move on to the polish. Do not shake your polish, or hit the bottom of it on the palm of your hand to mix it – that will only cause bubbles. Instead, hold it between your palms and roll the bottle back and forth. When you’re ready to start painting, be careful not to get too much polish on the brush. Start at the cuticle and make careful strokes to the end of your nail, the key here being to cover the nail in as few strokes as possible for a nice finish. (Most sites will tell you to do it in three, one down the center and one for each side, but it always takes me more than that). Paint your nails with a thin coat and don’t worry if it isn’t completely opaque. It’s better to use two, or even three thin coats than one thick one, but you must let the polish dry between coats. Don’t worry too much about making your first coat perfect, just make sure that you get the nail totally covered. Tilt your hand back and forth and make sure you didn’t miss any spots on the sides. Once the first coat is dry, do your second coat and be as neat and careful as possible.

Step 6: When your polish is completely dry, you can choose to apply a topcoat. It’s not absolutely necessary, of course. The purpose of a topcoat is to help protect your nails from chips, make them look glossy, and they can also help smooth out some imperfections in the polish. You can also get topcoats with glitter if you want to spice up some boring colors. I’m currently using Qtica Extending Topcoat. Try not to apply your topcoat too thick, otherwise it might make your polish chip worse. It’s also helpful to try and ‘float’ your topcoat over the nail – basically meaning, don’t press down too hard or you risk wiping off some of the polish you’ve just applied. Now let all of that dry thoroughly before doing any tasks that are hard on your nails. When you think it’s dry, give it a little longer, just to be sure. There are also speed dry topcoats or polish drying drops that can help with that, or you can try dipping your nails in cold water for a minute or two (after it has set a few minutes first).

Since we’ve already established that you’re human, there’s a good chance that you’ve made a few mistakes and got some polish on your skin like my picture above. There are a few different solutions for that. If you are painting your nails at night, you can just leave it and there’s a good chance it will come off in the shower the next morning. Hand lotion or a hand scrub may also help, but again make sure the polish is totally dry first. (If you’re using matte polish, skip the lotion). If you need your nails cleaned up in a hurry you can either use a polish remover pen, or wrap a bit of a cotton ball around a toothpick, dip it in remover and you can clean up the edges very precisely. Another method is to just leave a slight edge when you’re polishing your nails, and not go all the way to the cuticle or sides, but to me that looks like they are growing out, and I don’t like to do it. Lastly, if you’re taking pictures of your manicure to post online, remember that you can always just photoshop your mistakes away and no one will be the wiser! In reality people probably aren’t scrutinizing your nails that carefully, so don’t freak out over a small mistake or two. Have fun!


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