Here’s a fun fact about me: I nearly always have my nails done. It’s a routine that developed in high school to rid me of my nasty habit of biting my nails when I was younger. To quit nail biting for good, I started routinely getting my nails done. In high school, I had fake nails. In college, I got regular manicures. In recent years, it’s been shellac/gel manis. This process has certainly nixed my bad habit and yet also developed a rather spendy new one! So a few years ago, I decided I needed to figure out a way to do my nails myself and have them STAY done (no chips, please!) for at least a week!
DISCLAIMER before I continue walking through my (foolproof and pretty darn amazing if I do say so myself) DIY manicure process:
NONE of the products I’m recommending here are safer beauty items. In fact, I looked at the ingredients of the cuticle softener while shooting these pics and about lost it. It’s bad. 100% toxic. Don’t even want to look it up on the EWG site. But alas, this process works. In fact, it works incredibly well. And that’s likely because it’s packed full of toxic ingredients. The same ingredients you get when you go to your standard nail salon. Are there safer options on the market and safer, more non-toxic nail salons beginning to emerge? Yes! And I love that! But when I decided to become more aware and passionate about safer beauty, I also wanted to remain true to living a balanced lifestyle. For me, that means I’m extremely cautious about the products I’m using on an everyday basis. And then, once a week, I bust out this toxic little nail care routine and have flawless nails until the following week. Perhaps I’ll switch to a safer nail routine in the future, but for now… this works. It works well. And I can’t quit it.
Let me walk you through the products/steps!
Take off old nail polish OR just swipe naked nails with 100% pure acetone remover. Make sure it’s acetone and not a ‘softening’, ‘moisutirizng’, or any other formula. Pure acetone is what salons use, works the best, and instantly removes polish. Yes, it’s harsh… but the other formulas that promise to be more gentle require you to use more and scrub harder so you end up doing more damage to your nails than you do with quick swipes of acetone. And as I mentioned with using it even on naked nails, I believe there’s something about using it that wipes away any oils on your nails so your polish really sticks to them.
(I like to cut and file my nails now…before I remove cuticles, but you do you. I’ll explain tools more in the next section)
Then, grab your toxic cuticle remover. This is the same brand many nail salons use, comes in a ginormous bottle, and lasts forever. You can also use it in the shower to scrub your dry heels with a pumice stone! Also fun fact: I don’t know what it is, but this product dissolves self tanner right away! If I ever have blotches on my hands from self-tanning, I just use a little of this stuff and it instantly takes it off. Again, I said this stuff is not good for my skin or my health. But I mean, goodness… it’s handy. In the sink, drizzle the formula over your cuticles and see it instantly begin to soften dead skin. Next, grab your tools….
As I mentioned above, I think it’s best to cut and file your nails before you trim your cuticles. But once that’s done and your cuticle remover is still wet, take a cuticle pusher and push dead skin up and away from your nail beds. Then take cuticle trimmers to trim away the excess. I linked above a pair of cuticle trimmers I’ve used and liked in the past, but to be honest… here’s my little secret to getting your hands on the best ones. Go to your trusted nail salon and ask to buy a pair of theirs! They likely get them through a direct beauty supply source and they’re sharp and cheap! I got the best pair I’ve ever had (that have stayed sharp) this way and they only charged me $5 for them! It’s worth a shot, because I honestly think they’re the best!
I really take my time with cutting my nails, filing them, and cutting my cuticles. I truly treat it as if I was in a nail salon getting a manicure! This way, I can make sure it’s done exactly how I want it and I can be extra careful while using these sharp tools. It’s worth it to really get in there and get everything clean so that you’re not painting on top of poorly groomed nails. If your nail beds are a mess, your nail polish/manicure won’t last as long!
Before you paint, make sure you wash your hands well to get excess dead skin and leftover cuticle remover off! However, DON’T wash with soap! It can leave a film and not allow the polish to adhere. Just give your nails a good scrub and use a paper towel to dry so you don’t get bath or hand towel fuzz on your nails.
It’s painting time! Here are the specific products and number of coats I do…
This is laying the foundation to your nails! This acts as a strengthener to your nails and it truly does work! In fact, I’ve used just this for a week after having gel/shellac that destroy my nails and this stuff really does help bring them back! It dries really quickly and I believe protects your nails from all the coats you’ll apply next. It soaks in, rather than being a true glossy coat of polish. Because of this, you don’t need a ton. Apply one thin coat.
Ladies, THIS is the secret ingredient/product! This stuff is magical. It’s basically like less thick version of the gel base you get with shellac nails, but doesn’t need a UV lamp to set AND it doesn’t damage your nails like UV gel does. It truly keeps your nail polish color on for 7+ days. You read that right! This makes your polish last a week! It’s amazing. Apply one adequate, but not too thick coat to each nail and allow to almost dry, but not completely.
Essie works best, in my opinion.
I have mostly both Essie and OPI in my polish collection. There are absolutely some OPI colors I love and use, but I truly am more of an Essie girl because I think it lasts longer! Maybe it’s just the combination of chemicals I use with all my products but I’ve just found that Essie stays on a true week+ where as OPI is more in the 5-6 day category. This is all personal opinion, though! And some weeks you’re just prone to chips more than others! Whatever polish you do choose, make sure to ONLY apply 2 coats! Any more than that will be too heavy on top of the GELOUS and you’ll find it peels off! Because the GELOUS acts as a glue-like layer with your polish, it makes your polish a bit more thick. So, just do 2 normal coats of polish (don’t go so thin that you see streaks, don’t go as thick that you see it bubble) and leave it at that!
PAINTING TIP: Did you notice an index card in the photo with the tools? Yes, that has purpose.
I use them to precisely wipe away any spots I paint on my cuticles! You know how when you get a manicure in the salon and the manicurist uses her nails to wipe away any excess? Well, an index card does just that! I also like to use them as a protective barrier against my table as I paint. You can also use a magazine subscription card (you know, the annoying things that fly out of your magazines every month) but just beware that those are printed, and that ink can smear onto your wet nails. So if you want to be extra careful, just get a pack of index cards!
Waiting around for your nails to dry is the WORST part of painting them – yourself or in a salon. Am I right?! Well this top coat is a game changer! This fast dry top coat gives your nails an incredible shine! It also helps prevent smudges. Apply a generous amount, making sure you really coat the nail as I also believe it helps prevent chipping. Again, I use an index card to wipe away any access that gets on my cuticles as I paint. Try to avoid getting this on your cuticles as you really want to think of it as a sealant to all the coats you just did, and if you get it up on your skin, it could be less bonded to your actual nail.
NOTE: this clear formula will pick up wet polish and it will tint your bottle. If you stick with one color category for nails, you can get away with one bottle. But since I’m constantly switching things up, I have 2 bottles and use one for light colors and one for dark colors.
If you still have boo-boos and need to clean things up, use these fine tipped q-tips! They’re quite pointed so you can dip it in your acetone and really get in there to clean things up. Warning: I do not (I repeat, do not!) think you should use these things anywhere NEAR your eyes, even the larger side. That side is basically a wash for buying these, in my opinion. Either way, both sides are not good for your eyes and can truly poke and hurt you! Stick to make up brushes. Besides that, they’re super handy to clean up a mani!
ALLOW EVERYTHING TO DRY!!!
Yes, you used a fast dry top coat. Buuuuut, you just put on 5 layers of polish! So don’t get crazy. Check your phone, play on Pinterest, watch your shows…. but give yourself a good amount of time for things to set and dry. Honestly? I give my nails at least 20 minutes to dry, but I’d prefer to let them dry closer to 45 mins! Now, I know that’s a long time. But I like to paint my nails after I shower on Saturday nights. Sam is usually watching football anyways and Dallas is snoozing from a big weekend day of play… so I just take my sweet time with the entire process and allow ample drying time. That way, I don’t have to worry about fixing anything and I’m truly set with my nails until the following Saturday night!
- I really can’t swear by this system enough! Yes, it takes time… just like getting your nails done takes time! But this allows you to do it in the privacy of your own home, in your robe, on your own schedule, and saves you so. much. money!!!
- If you’re worried about having an unsteady hand, don’t worry about it! Painting nails uses muscle memory. You’ll get to be a pro in no time… it just takes practice!
- When I was a nanny, I constantly washed my hands and did dishes and this method held up. Now that I’m a dog mama, I was my hands even more! This combo of polishes lasts through each wash!
- I have naturally really weak, thin, and peeling nails. Gel manicures ruin them! But this routine keeps them as healthy as possible!
- Every girlfriend I’ve shared this secret method with has become a believer and I can honestly say that I never get my nails done in a salon anymore. I like the way I do it and I know it will last! I will only splurge on a gel mani if I A) know the manicurist is really, really good and B) Am traveling and need polish to last more than a week. Besides that, this combo makes your nails look like gel (trust me, I always get asked what ‘gel’ color they are!)
- If you want to keep your mani looking good, you have to keep your cuticles hydrated! I swear by the Beautycounter Hand Cream and using it religiously throughout the week. I also believe applying oil helps a ton! This oil is amazing and isn’t filled with synthetic fillers as so many oils are. It’s great to apply with your hand cream to beef it up, and especially nice to apply before bed. Hey! At least there are 2 non-toxic products in this blog post! 😉
And there you have it. The longest blog post ever written solely about painting your nails. HAHA! But hey, it’s a detailed process! And I believe all those little tricks are what keep it lasting!
I’ve wanted to write this post long before I even started this blog so I certainly hope y’all enjoy it and that it helps!
Also! I constantly get asked what nail polish I’m wearing, so I thought it would be fun to start including a link to my color of the week each week in my Weekly Newsletter! Go ahead and sign up HERE and you’ll get the 411 so you don’t have to hunt me down on Insta Stories to ask! 🙂
Happy Nail Painting!