Perfecting Your At-Home Mani & Pedi

by Jessica Pigza

I said it before but there’s just something about having my nails manicured and painted that makes me feel so put together. Not saying that I always have my nails done but when I do I can’t help but look at them and smile. Sometimes it’s the little things that can have the most impact. With that said, current situations have forced many of us to work on perfecting our at-home nail skills. I know many of us are at a loss not being able to drop into our favorite nail salons and treat ourselves to a little mani/pedi. It’s one of the many things we miss. Or those of us who had to try and figure out how to get our gel and acrylic nails off without professional help, it’s also been a struggle. But as time goes on and uncertainty still lingering, I’ve been working on perfecting my at-home mani/pedi for two reasons, I can’t always get into a salon and I believe self-care is important now more than ever. Below are a few things I’ve learned and some tools that have helped make it a little easier.

Tools of the Trade

If you’ve ever had your nails done your nail tech uses a variety of tools to achieve the perfect nails and while you don’t need to have them all in your at-home arsenal, it’s not a bad idea to have a few tools of the trade to help you perfect your DIY nails.

1. Coarse and Fine Nail Files

It’s helpful to have both types of nail files on hand and more often than not a single nail file will have a coarser side for heavy shaping and filing and the other side will be of a finer grit (220 grit) for fine-tuning and removing any rough nail edges left behind. Also if you have gel or acrylic nails you’ll use an even coarser grit (100/180 grit) to help grind them down for removal which I’ll talk more about later.

Barefoot Scientist Smooth Sailing Professional Dual-Grit Emery Boards

2. Cuticle Pusher and Nipper

When getting your nails ready for polish it’s important to push back your cuticles from your nail bed to create a nice, smooth surface. Using a cuticle pusher like this one by Tweezerman will help push back your cuticles as well as scrap off what is left on the nail bed. It’s not recommended that you cut your cuticles however if you have a piece that’s sticking up or already breaking away you can easily trim that away with a cuticle nipper.

Tweezerman Cuticle Pusher

Tweezerman Rockhard Stainless Steel Cuticle Nipper

3. Toenail Clippers vs. Fingernail Clippers

I know nail clippers are a pretty obvious tool but when cutting my nails I like to use toenail clippers for both my fingernails and toenails. I like doing this for two reasons, the toenail clippers are bigger and therefore give me a bit more leverage when cutting plus I just like using the larger size when cutting my fingernails. I use the Revlon Toenail Clippers and they have been my go-to clippers for years.

Revlon Toenail Clippers

4. Nail Polish Corrector Pen

Nobody is perfect and even the professionals can get nail color outside the lines which is why it’s a good idea to have a nail corrector pen like this one from OPI. After you’ve done all your polish coats plus topcoat, you can go back with this little tool and remove any polish that didn’t make it to your nail.

OPI Nail Polish Remover Pen

5. Nail Buffer

A nail buffer will help you smooth out any slight ridges or imperfection in your nail bed and allow for a smooth finished look.

Flowery 4-Way Nail Buffer

6. Exfoliation Tools

Whether you use a scrub or a pumice stone exfoliating your hands and feet will help get rid of dead skin cells and keep your skin looking fresh. Since the skin on your feet is a little tougher you can exfoliate 3-4 times and week while you should only exfoliate your hands once or twice a week.

Zenda Naturals Pumice Stone for Feet

Dr. Teal’s Pink Himalayan Salt Scrub

Application Tips

1. Shake Your Nail Polish

Before applying your nail polish, shake it up to evenly mix up the polish contents. Some may say it’s better to roll your polish but it won’t properly mix up your polish and you’ll be left with a streaky finish so shake, shake, shake!

2. Wash Hands and Get Rid of Excess Oils

Now that you’ve cut, trimmed, and filed your nails it’s time to wash them again before you paint them to get rid of any debris or excess oils your nails may have produced. If you want to take it a step further, you can apply some rubbing alcohol with a clean paper towel to ensure no residue is left behind that will keep you from a flawless polish.

3. Use the Two Minute Rule

Allow nails to dry for two minutes between each coat to ensure that you won’t smudge your previous polish coat or even strip it away.

4. Don’t Skip Base or Top Coats

One of the reasons your nail tech is able to get your polish to last longer is because they start with a base coat. Not only will this help keep darker colors from staining your nail it will also help keep the polish on your nail and help fill in any imperfections before applying your polish. Then once your color coats are done, follow up with a top coat to help seal everything in. This will also extend the life of your color.

OPI Natural Nail Base Coat

Essie Good To Go Topcoat

5. Skip the Soak

Okay so this was news to me because I really do enjoy the soaking of my feet and hands when I get my nails done but soaking your nails will actually cause your nails to swell. Painting your nails when they are swollen can lead to cracking once your nails contract back especially if you’re using regular nail polish. However soaking your nails is good for pushing your cuticles back so what’s a girl to do? I never have the patience or time to really give myself a full mani/pedi in one sitting so I typically break it down into two parts. I remove my polish at night right before my shower and while in the shower use my pumice stone. Once out of the shower I clip my nails and push back my cuticle. Then the next day I will do the pretty stuff and add the polish thereby skipping the immediate soak and making my polish last longer.

6. Dry Nails Faster

It feels like it takes forever for nail polish to dry and I don’t know about you but I have a hard time giving my nail the required time and but I also hate messing them up within the first hour. Luckily there are a few products that can help speed up the drying process. One is a quick-drying topcoat by Seche. Another is these flash dry drops by Orly. Just a few drops of this product will help speed things up and lessen the chance of smudges.

Seche Dry Fast Top Coat

Orly Flash Dry Drops

7. Add Thinner to thick polish

If your favorite nail polish is looking thick add some specially designed nail polish thinner like OPI’s Nail Lacquer Thinner, to help make your thick polish more spreadable. Adding just a drop or two then shaking it up will help extend the life of your polish. Just be sure to use a product made for this. Nail polish remover has additional oils and additives that if added to your polish will ruin it.

OPI Nail Lacquer Thinner

7. Don’t Be Afraid of Design

There are so many different tutorials online that can help you take your nail designs and nail art up a notch. Using simple things you may even have at home or budget-friendly nail art kits like this one from Vaga, you can create some fun and easy designs. I have this kit and started off small by doing some tiny hearts on my daughter’s nails and she loved them! I’m excited to play around with them a little more and see what else I can create.

Vaga Nail Design Tool Kit

8. Dab your Glitter

When applying any type of glitter to your nails whether you’re doing them all or just adding an accent you must dab on the polish. If you swipe it on like you would your base color you’ll end up with very little sparkle. By dabbing it on you’ll be able to control the amount of glitter you want to use and you’ll be able to achieve a more uniform look. You can also use a makeup sponge to achieve this look but I like using the brush already in the bottle.

9. Thin Layers

Apply your polish using thin layers starting from the middle and working your way down and out. This will allow for buildable color and less chance of streaking or clumping than if you went with heavy layers. Also, once you have the polish down, especially the first coat, don’t play with it too much. If it’s not as dark as you want, just add another coat, some polishes may require up to three coats. By not putting your polish on too thick will also allow for quicker drying time.

10. Practice Makes Perfect

Remember, your mani/pedi may not look perfect the first time or even the first few times especially when you’re getting used to painting your dominant hand with your less dominant hand. Don’t be discouraged! It takes practice and patience. And remember light colors can be hard to work and dark colors may require more cleanup if you get it outside of your nail so if you’re just starting, maybe opt for a color in the middle and then branch out from there. With practice and the right tools you’ll soon be showing off a rainbow of colors you did yourself!

Polish Options

1. Nail Lacquer

When doing your nails at home there are SO many color options to choose from. I know not all polishes are created equal, some stain more than others, some don’t last long at all and some can really dry out your nails. Does that mean good nail polish has to cost a fortune? No, it doesn’t. Personally, OPI, Essie, and Revlon are my go-to brands but that’s truly just the tip of the iceberg. What nail polishes are your favorite? Please share in the comments below! For my at-home manicure, I decided to go with Chinchilly by Essie and use Queen of Beauty by Sinful Colors over it on my ring finger creating an accent nail.

Chinchilly by Essie

Queen of Beauty by Sinful Colors

2. Gel Polish

In addition to your run of the mill nail polish, there are also gel nail options available. Recently Alison tried the Beetles Gel Nail Starter Kit which came complete with nail tools, UV light, and polish options. Below she is wearing Deep Burgundy color 251 from their fall color kit. This was her first time doing her own gel nails and I have to say they look amazing!

Beetles Fall Gold Glitter Gel Nail Polish Set

3. Nail Wraps/Strips

Another polish option that I recently discovered was the world of stick-on nail polish or nail wraps. I decided to try the ColorStreet brand because I had heard really good things about it. I have to say I’m impressed with its ease of application and durability. Each kit had everything I needed to apply the ‘polish’ including two strips each containing eight nails worth of color. It took me about 25 minutes to apply and I can get both hands done using only one of the strips since I keep my nails on the shorter side. For the holidays I went for a shimmery snowflake pattern with a deep blue background and I was very pleased with how they turned out. Plus the best part for an impatient person like me, no drying time needed! I’ve also heard really good things about Dashing Diva Nail Strips and Lily and Fox as a clean nail wrap option.

ColorStreet Ice to Meet You

Removal and Recovery

Now that it’s been a few weeks you might be ready for a polish change or maybe you just want to give your nails a break. Either way, it’s important to remove your color safely and do as little damage to your nails as possible. Don’t pick off your color no matter what type of nail polish options you choose. This will damage your nails! If you’re removing regular nail polish you can use just your basic nail polish remover like Sally Hansen Nail Polish Remover. Also, I recently tried Zoya Remove+ Nail Polish Remover which in addition to being vegan-friendly, packs a punch that can even remove glitter polish yet is gentle on my nails and skin. I also love its dispensing mechanism where I can push down to dispense the nail polish remover and I don’t have to worry about accidentally knocking over the bottle and spilling the remover everywhere.

Sally Hansen Nail Polish Remover Moisturizing

Zoya Remove+ Nail Polish Remover

If you’re needing something a little stronger, these nail polish removal packets came highly recommended by our very own Lauren to help remover gel polish. An important step when removing a gel polish is to first use a coarse nail file to file off the top coat so the remover will have a chance to work its way through the polish.

Nail Polish Remover Wipes Non-Toxic Cruelty-Free Soak-off Removal Pads Wrap

When it comes to removing acrylic nails there really isn’t a totally gentle way to do it but when it comes to doing the least amount of damage as well as doing it fairly quickly there’s one go-to remover choice and that’s 100% Acetone. In addition, the process of a DYI acrylic nail removal requires coarse grit nail files and cuticle oil like Essie’s Apricot Cuticle Oil. Before soaking your nails you’ll need to use the nail files to file down about 75% of your acrylic nail, then apply the cuticle oil and massage all around your nail bed. This will help lower the drying effects of the acetone. Since I’m not a professional I’ll leave the details of the rest of this process to them. Click here to view a more in-depth video from nail professional Julie Kandalec on how to safely remove your acrylic nails.

Onyx Professional 100% Pure Acetone Maximum Strength Nail Polish Remover

Essie Apricot Cuticle Oil

No matter what kind of nail polish you choose, regular, gel, or nail wrap, it’s important to know when it’s time to give your nails a break. If you’re noticing peeling, ridges and splits, discoloration, and dehydrated cuticles you may want to skip the polish and give your nails some hydrated TLC with some hand lotion like Eucerin’s Advanced Repair hand cream and this cuticle oil from OPI. If this is the case it’s recommended that you let your nails grow out completely to reveal a brand new, fresh nail which usually takes about six months.

Eucerin Advanced Repair Hand Cream

OPI Pro Spa Nail and Cuticle Oil

You’re turn! What mani/pedi tips have you learned over the last few months!