Follow these ten do-it-yourself steps for the perfect manicure.1. Pick a pretty shape
The most flattering nail shape mimics that arc of your cuticle bed. it it's round or oval, don't make your nails square or pointed. It's different for feet: Keep toenails square or slightly rounded to prevent painful ingrowns.
2. File this way
Move smoothly in one direction. Sawing back and forth shreds the multiple layers of protein or keratin that make up the nail, leading to peeling and breakage.
3. Wipe nails clean
Mix two parts rubbing alcohol to one part water and swipe it on nails to prep for polish in lieu of polish remover. (Some remover formulas leave behind a residue that prevents polish from adhereing.)
4. Lay a good foundation
A base coat makes color go on more smoothly and last longer, and it helps prevent staining if you're using a dark shade. If your nails are weak or have ridges, opt for a base that doubles as a treatment, like Duri Rejuvacote ($10, Walmart), with strengthening gelatin and keratin protein.
5. Brush in two directions
Apply the polish vertically and up the nail to the free edge (the very end of the nail) first. Then paint horizontally right along the tip to seal the color where it's most prone to chipping.
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6. Layer wisely
While the standard is two coats of color, the first one counts more. Go a little bit heavier to lay down the color, then apply the second coat very lightly. (Applying two thick layers can lead to smudges.) Finish with a top coat, which seals in color and adds extra sheen. One to try: Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coast ($8, Sally Beauty).
7. Oil up
Swipe on cuticle oil. It makes the top layer of your nails slick and can help minimize nicks as your manicure dries. Apply five minutes after top coat. We like: CND SolarOil ($11, salons). Post-mani, apply oil daily: It keeps nails flexible, which helps prevent chips and breaks.
8. Be patient
Waiting for polish to dry is tedious, but don't rely on dryers alone; they only set the top coat. With air-drying, you'll be mobile in about 15 minutes, but wait an hour or two before you dig into your purse or put on socks.
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9. Make it last
A good mani should last about a week, but applying a clear coat every two or three days post-polish can help extend its longevity. Use a clear nail strengthener, like Sally Hansen Maximum Strength ($6, drugstores); a fast-drying top coat won't adhere well to polish that's already dry.
10. Take it off
Soak cotton balls or pads in remover, then press one onto each finger. Once each nail is covered, go back and start to wipe. Polish will come off more easily.
What's your secret to the perfect manicure? Let me know in the comments!
--by Melanie Rud