Here are some tips and tricks that have been compiled for your reading pleasure.
There is one thing that will help almost more than anything else, and that is practice. Everyone’s nails are a slightly different shape, their cuticles grow differently, our chemistry is not the same. No one can tell you more accurately how to perfect your manicure than you, 100 manicures from now. So enjoy the process and know that after the fails there will be a fabulous success.
How do you apply the polish without making a huge mess?
As weird as this sounds, you want to paint your nail leaving a small gap between the paint and your cuticle. This is particularly true with gels.
Once I’ve polished, how do I clean up the edges?
Even with the above technique, you’re likely to end up with a spot or two that need to be touched up. There are also a lot of techniques that are just messy, even for the neatest painter. Some people use the tip of another nail to scrape up the extra from cuticles. Others use a q-tip dipped in remover. The most recommended (and in my personal experience, easiest to control and most effective) method uses a small, natural bristled brush and acetone. You can add a dash of acetone to the bottle’s lid, dip the brush in the acetone and blot slightly on a cotton swab or paper towel (too much acetone will run and can ruin your paint) and then sweep along your cuticle line to clean up the edge. You can also slide the bristles slightly underneath the cuticle to collect any polish that pooled there. Acetone can be very drying, so be sure to use cuticle oil afterwards to moisturize.
My cuticles are a mess! What can I do to fix them?
As I mentioned above, cuticle oil can make a huge difference. How much you need depends on how dry they are, but I frequently use mine multiple times a day in the dry winter. A lot of people swear by Essie’s apricot cuticle oil. Any moisturizing oil will do (coconut etc.) but be sure to remove the oil from your nails before painting to ensure that the paint gets a good seal with your nail. You can do that by wiping the nail with a small amount of remover just before applying your base coat.
You can also use a cuticle removing gel or cream to help remove any excess cuticle before painting. The most recommended remover is Sally Hansen’s Instant Cuticle Remover. There are tools that you can use to cut/trim cuticles, but I would never recommend them to someone unless they were very familiar with which portions of the cuticle are live tissue and which are dead skin. Incorrectly cut cuticles can lead to nasty infections. It is safe to use an orange stick to gently push back on the cuticle after softening them with either remover or a bit of warm water (just be careful not to soak too long. Wet nails (even within an hour or two of a hot shower) won’t bond to nail polish as securely as dry ones).
I’ve broken a nail! Is there anything I can do to fix it?
If you’re lucky and you’ve just split the nail instead of chipping whole chunks out, then I have good news for you! There are two ways to fix it. One is to make a patch with a tea bag. Start by cutting a tiny piece of fabric from the tea bag (you want enough to cover the entire tear but it is not necessary to cover the whole nail), apply a drop of nail glue to the bag (super glue will work if you’re in a real bind), then press over the tear. Allow the glue to dry completely. Gently buff or file the top of the tea bag until it is smooth and flush with your nail. From here you can cover the patch with polish, be sure to use a base coat to help camouflage the patch. The other solution is to buy a kit like the Orly Rescue kit. It contains a glue, a small container of powder and a small sander. The steps are similar to the tea bag trick, basically building a small acrylic patch over the tear. The instructions in the kit indicate that you should cover the entire nail in the glue/powder mixture in order to fully camouflage the patch.
There is of course one other option. You can cut the nail (and the rest to match if necessary), mourn the loss and then paint them with something particularly pretty to help you move on.
Even though I used a base, my polish still stained my nails. What do I do now?
You can either cover it up with more polish (YAY MORE POLISH!!!) or you can scrub your nails with a whitening mixture (or whitening toothpaste) to attempt to remove the yellow stain. Try lightly buffing your nails with a mix of a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide mixed with 2.5 tablespoons of baking soda. After a minute or two, rinse in warm water.
My nails are always breaking. I hate how short they are. Should I get acrylics to soothe my pain?
Sadly no. Acrylics will only damage your nails further. Instead of the quick fix of acrylics, try taking Biotin or another nail strengthening supplement and using a strengthening base coat until your natural nails can grow long on their own. It may take 6-10 weeks, but they’ll get there.
Okay, how much Biotin should I take?
The answer to this ranges. Since I’m weirdly afraid of offering dosing advice to a stranger, I would say that if you are truly concerned (or nursing/pregnant), ask your doctor. Otherwise, I believe that most people take between 25-35 mcg a day.
What is the difference between regular and gel polish?
My unscientific answer is that gel polish has to be cured by a light (either UV or LED). The gel polish creates a much stiffer and firmer bond. Many people who have a problem with polish chipping find that gel lasts vastly longer for them. There are also people who use gel polish to help their nails grow (because you change your polish less frequently it can help keep your nails from being damaged by acetone/remover). Gel polish must be soaked in acetone to be removed, making it an excellent backdrop for nail art as any mistake can be removed with non-acetone polish without disturbing the base color.
People also make a “gelly sandwich” (different from jelly sandwich) by using a gel base coat, a few colored coats of regular nail polish which has to fully dry before finishing it with a gel top coat. This enables you to use regular nail polish with the benefits of the gel system. This comes in handy because gel polishes are expensive, and is especially helpful if you have a large collection of non-gel nail polish already.
So then what is a jelly sandwich?
A Jelly Sandwich is a nail art technique where a glitter nail polish is layered between two coats of a sheer colored nail polish, creating the effect that the glitter is floating in the layers of polish.
What is the best base coat? Top Coat? Nail polish?
Let me start out with the caveat that everyone’s body chemistry is different. What works for one person may not work for you, so some trial and error is required to find your best match. Every polish has a slightly different brush and handle too, some prefer a wider brush, others like shorter, thinner ones. Buy a few different brands and try them out to decide which brand/brush is your favorite :) That being said, here are a few crowd favorites.
Best base coats:
A good base coat will prevent the oils from your nails from loosening the polish from the surface of your nail. A lot of base coats also have additives to strengthen your nails. A good layer of base coat will also prevent (although not totally guaranteed) your nails from staining.
Best quick dry top coats:
Quick dry top coats will blow your mind. You want a top coat that will dry all the layers of polish underneath, so your whole manicure will be dry in less than 30 minutes. You can also use a quick dry top coat to dry your polish before using tape for nail art (most recommend waiting at least 20-30 minutes and removing some of the tape's tackiness on your clothes or palm of your hand to prevent peeling the layer underneath the tape when removed).
Best Polish Brands:
Here is where things get pretty individual. There aren’t a lot of brands that people really dislike, although there are certain colors that can be more troublesome than others. (Here’s looking at you Mint Candy Apple) Like I said before, buy a few different ones and try them out for yourself.
Nicole by O.P.I - also called NOPI
Essie - They have a very wide variety of colors, but some of their formulas can be tricky.
Zoya - They have sales occasionally so it’s worth following them on Instagram or liking them on Facebook.Sally Hansen
Special thanks to Football.Becs for typing all this!