This blog is all about helping others. While mostly it is centered around self-care, there are other ways beyond mental state of providing ourselves self-care, and whether we’re any other lady, still in a recovery process, or fully recovered from whatever has challenged us, how we look plays into how we feel. I’m not saying looks is all that matters, but it certainly can impact us beyond what we realize. There is a fine line between a healthy relationship with self-appearance and an unhealthy one, but one way nearly every female feels like they have themselves together is with a perfect Manicure. 

Starting with this post, I am going to share the years of experience I have in ‘the industry’. For those whom don’t know, I started in the makeup industry as the youngest person every hired for the Clinique brand, and after my first go-round at college, I got my cosmetology license. For the next decade I worked in some of the top salons as well as doing hair and makeup for photo shoots, and have had worked published in magazines.  All that being said, I know a few things about the girly ways of the world!

Today I’m going to share with you the start to finish process I use on my own nails when I give myself a manicure. It’s not as relaxing as a day at a spa, but having my nails look like perfection goes a long way in self-care for me, and maybe it will also help you too. I will warn you, since this post is a how-to, it will be longer than my normal posts, but you want to end up with beautiful hands right?!

How to give yourself a Manicure (with pictures!)

Tools & Important Notes Before Starting

 Always have all your tools and items you’ll need for each step nearby and ready to use, so you don’t risk having to get back up and go messing with anything during the process. My personal favorites to use are as follows:

  • Crystal (glass) nail file, I use the OPI brand, but any decent one will do.
  • Cuticle pusher, I use a metal one with a square, flat head on one end and a pointed head on the other end.
  • Nippers, you can buy these anywhere, and I typically replace mine every couple of months from places like Target for a few dollars.
  • A square block buffing block, I typically prefer the higher grit of a 240+, the higher the gentler, and you really are going for as gentle as possible.
Tools
  • Base Coat
  • Top Coat
  • Nail Lacquer, all of the above I use Morgan Taylor. I also like OPI. I’m very picky about my applicator brush (see below) so I tend to stick to these brands.
  • OPTIONAL: a Ph-balancing agent to help neutralize the nail-bed and provide a longer-lasting and chip-free manicure.
Morgan Taylor Base Coat, Top Coat, Lacquer, and a Ph-Balancer

Step 1 – Clean hands and prep nails

Remove any old polish, then wash your hands with soap and warm water. Always start with clean hands and fingernails.  Make sure to thoroughly dry them as you will inhibit the ability of the polish to properly stay-put if you don’t!

Step 2 – Remove cuticles

If you’ve not cared for your hands consistently, you will have a build-up of cuticles. Be patient in that case because it will take multiple manicures to get to a place where your cuticles are mostly cleared and you are just cleaning them up. Depending on the state of your cuticles, you’ll either be gently pushing them back and helping them lift-up from the nail bed slightly, or simply freeing the new growth and clipping the dead skin. 

Step 3 – File & buff nails

If you’re nails are too long, then you’ll need to clip them first. If clipping, I suggest using a very sharp set of toenail clippers and they will allow you to insert the entire nail into the clipper, rather than having to do it in multiple cuts. If they are the right length, you’ll need to decide what shape to do for your hands. Some women prefer a specific shape, but if you don’t have the hardest nails, or your nails are prone to breaking or ripping, then I suggest using the shape of your nail bed as the guideline. By shaping your nail to be the same or close shape as the base of your nail where the cuticle is, it creates a stronger base and helps prevent nails from breaking. 

Most people will have some form a squoval nail bed, which means that their nails will be slightly square with rounded-off corners (much like mine). Not only does this look very natural, but it also doesn’t catch on anything, and the end result as your nails grow out is that they will have an almost ‘acrylic’ nail look without the damage!

When filing nails, never make a saw motion with the file. You want to file in toward the center of the nail from the outside free edge, which helps to increase the strength of the nail as well. I typically clip my nails straight across, then using my file will shape them slightly to the squoval shape. There are a few ways to do this easily. You can find a dark surface and place your hand flat against it to use for support and guidance as you learn, OR you can position the file at a slight angle at the free edge and do it in the air without any support. I typically use a support surface if I’m going for a more squared off look, to help me better guide my file in the best direction.

For buffing nails, this is a very light tough we will use! As I’ve mentioned a few times, you want a very high numbered block buffer. If you don’t have a license or someone who has a license as a friend, then swing in to your closest Sally’s or other similar beauty supply place and you should be able to pick one up. I believe the white buffing block I show in my pics was about a 240 grit or higher buffer. 

Very gently, using short and light motions, sweep the buffer across the tops of your nails just until the surface turns a milky white. This is when you have removed the very top surface of the nail plate that has the oils from your body and just life in general. If you do this right and lightly enough you can do this each time to create a better surface for the polish to adhere without damaging your nails. ALWAYS err on the side of caution with damage and don’t do this step if you aren’t sure you can be gentle enough, or if you have very naturally thin nails, as we don’t want to compromise them further.

Buffing

always be gentle

Step 4 – Applying the Ph-Balancer and/or Basecoat

Not everyone will have access to or want to use a Ph Balancing agent. A couple of good choices if you do choose to use one are the one I have pictured above (I think its by Young Living) and OPI has one that works well too. I’m sure other beauty stores will have something similar you can pick-up on the cheap, just look for wording to indicate that it balances the Ph on the surface of the nail to naturally dehydrate the surface. My personal choice is a higher-end one because the chemicals used are less harsh on the natural nail surface than the cheaper ones, but to each their own!

If you are using both a Ph-balancing agent and a Base coast, apply the Ph agent first using two very thin coats moving from one hand to the next and back. Allow to dry for about 30-60 seconds then put one thin layer of Base coat on your nails. 

Step 5 – The color!!

Applying nail lacquer takes some practice if you’re newer to this game. For me, I tend to take it for granted since I’m ambidextrous because switching and doing my less dominant hand is really not hard at all since I don’t have a significant difference between the two, but if you are a single-hander, you might have to practice this skill a few times to truly feel comfortable. 

Properly Polished Nails

What to know first…

There are a few important details to note about the ‘color coats’ of a manicure. Your goal is to get the perfect pearl of color on the brush that will allow you to apply in 3 strokes to the entire nail (more or less). To properly prep the brush in the color bottle, lift it in a circular motion so that the excess polish comes off the plastic connector between the top and the brush. Once you have the brush about to the opening, only wipe one side on the interior of the bottle neck, not getting it all over the exterior. Not only will this help you achieve the perfect polish quantity on the brush with some practice, but it will also prevent your polish from getting all gunky and creating issues being able to open it over time. You’ll thank you later! 

Lacquer application on my daughter

Once you’ve practiced and been able to achieve the perfect polish pearl, then you’re going to apply the polish to the middle portion of the nail, not going all the way to the back of the nail bed. You want to leave a small distance between the cuticle area and the polish. Since polish is liquid, it will settle, so with the first thing coat err on the side of lower to keep your skin clean, and you can achieve the perfect distance with your second coat.

So, coat number one has the purpose of laying down in 3 swipes (see the video) a thinner layer of color. Don’t worry about it being a little uneven in opacity, or about it being absolutely perfect with coat 1. It’s more important to get a nice layer with clean edges than anything else.

You will want to use your less dominant hand to apply to your dominant hand first. Once you get that first layer on the less dominant hand, then switch and do the less dominant one since it will be easier for you. Always start with the pinky fingers and work towards the thumbs when applying any polish or layer to your nails. You’re less likely to hit wet polish and mess them up this way.

One other thing to note on the 1st layer of color is that this is the layer you will cap the end with. If you are unaware of what that is, then you’ll want to view the video I’ve included above and notice that at the end I swipe across the tip of the nail with the remaining bit of polish. This basically applies a very thin coat of polish to the flat surface on the end of your nail, decreasing the risk of chips. ALWAYS do this on the first coat and not the 2nd!

For the 2nd coat of color you will be taking the same size pearl of color and applying it the exact same way. Start on your dominant hand pinkie working toward your thumb and then finish with your less dominant hand working toward the thumb. On the 2nd coat of color you’ll notice that the coat really creates a nice smooth finish regardless of what the first coat appeared like. Any polish worth its weight will apply a solid appearance with 2 thin coats. If you still have issues, then the issue is the polish and additional coats will only create bulk and not cure properly. I would suggest splurging on a better quality polish (which can still be affordable!)

Step 6 – Top Coat

You’re now in your home-stretch! This final coat is the easiest one, and the easiest to apply by far. Now, if you’re like basically everyone else, even with a steady hand, and strong ability to polish with both your left and your right, you probably still have a little polish to clean-up. I’m going to tell you a BIG secret I use all the time. Clear polish can help with this removal in a way you never realized! So here is how. Have your metal cuticle tool handy because that pointed end is about to be used. Apply a thin coat of the clear Top Coat just as you have the others coats. After you apply to each finger, taking care NOT to get it everywhere, you can use the pointed end of the pusher to slide it down each side of the nail or back of the nail bed to do a little minor clean up and the clear polish will typically work to help get any color off. I always just wipe it on a nearby paper towel or round cotton pad in between fingers. 

Once you get all fingers completed sit back and take a look at the cleanest manicure you’ve ever given yourself and let that polished feeling really sink in. It feels good, yeah? Well, just an FYI, polish is sort of like paint on the wall, in that a good brand will take a bit to truly cure. I try to plan my manicure around when I have the time to just chill for a bit. That means I hit the bathroom prior to polishing my nails, I get the TV ready for after, and I don’t make phone calls, type on my phone computer, and never ever do anything until they’ve had some legit cure time. 

This isn’t your mother’s manicure done in the car on the way to church on Sundays, and it won’t take you 5 minutes, but if you do it the way I explain it will last a solid week with little or most typically no chips and look pretty darn flawless! I like to do this on Sundays usually as its a great day to just relax in my house. 

Hit me up with any questions, and I hope this allows you to feel a little better about having on fleek nails this week!