Manicure sins and secrets: How to paint your nails perfectly at home

Chipped polish, puckering, streaking, pooling around the edges. We’ve all committed the cardinal sins of painting your nails at home. Here are a few really simple tips to help you reform your bad nail polish habits and get a professional look without the professional price tag.

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Sin #1 Soaking your nails

Now, this isn’t a sin in itself, but nails have layers. Soaking them in water for an extended period of time can separate the layers and make them peel or split. It’s a good thing to properly clean your nails in soapy water and get rid of dirt and oils on the nail surface. The trouble comes in when you paint your nails almost immediately afterwards.

Nails soften and expand in warm water. If you apply polish to your nails while they are still soft it will chip as they shrink back to their normal size. Give them 5 to 10 minutes to shrink back to normal before applying polish.

What is the secret?
Clean your nails in warm water, push back the cuticles and remove any dead skin residue on the surface. Dip your hands in cold water to cool the temperature of your hands and nails. Nail polish applies better when it is cold and when the surface it is applied to is also cool. There is a reason some girls keep their best polishes in the fridge. Let them dry completely before applying polish.

Sin #2 Not tidying up the cuticles and nail bed

manicure sins_remove polish
A good manicure starts with a good cleanup operation. You have to take all the old polish off your nails and start fresh. Some swear by pure acetone to remove nail polish because it is quick and clean while others think that this is entirely too drying for the nails and cuticles. It’s up to you but make sure that you remove old nail polish from all the nooks and crannies on your nails so that you get a perfectly smooth application.

I know, you just want to get the old polish off and slap the new stuff on but if you want it to last you’ll need to put in a bit of manual labour. We often blame a polish for chipping when it’s really our bad preparation. Overgrown cuticles can cause hangnails if you tear or chew them. Unless you are a professional, it’s probably best not to cut them yourself. Most of us do it wrong and tear them anyway. If you don’t know how to use a cuticle nipper properly, don’t do it.

What is the secret?
It’s important to gently push your cuticles back while they are still warm. You then need to take a scraper or orange stick and scrape away the dead cuticle residue around the edges of the nail. It looks like there is nothing there but once you start scraping lots of dead skin cells will come off. This is the stuff that makes your polish lift or apply unevenly.

Sin #3 Applying oils to the nail before painting

manicure sins_oils
There are two schools of thought on this one. Some people want to moisturise the nail before applying polish, and while it can help to keep the tip more flexible and prevent breakages, polish does not stick to oil very well.

Here’s my nail oil recipe
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon castor oil
contents of 2 vitamin E capsules
contents of 2 evening primrose oil capsules
Just keep it in a small bottle and use it 2 or three times a day especially after you’ve had your hands in water.

The secret(s)?
If you struggle with dry, brittle nails you should definitely soak them in warm oils like olive or castor at night before bed. You can then massage the oil into the nail bed and wear cotton gloves to help seal in the moisture overnight.

When you go to paint your nails, take a cue tip and remove any surface oil with nail polish remover or acetone. This allows the oil to stay on the cuticles but not on the nail itself.

It’s a much better idea to apply all the oils to soften and nourish the cuticles after your polish has dried completely.

Sin #4 Over filing and buffing

We all know that we shouldn’t “saw” at our nails with a file. It separates the nail fibres and makes them jagged which makes them split. Buffing can be another problem area. Many of us completely over buff the nail until it’s too thin, especially at the tip. Buffing is meant to smooth nail ridges and rough or irregular areas.
Nail File, Teenitor Gel Nail File Set Professional Nail Buffer File Block Natural Manicure File Nail Polisher Washable Double Sided Emery Boards Grit 100/150/180/220/240/280/1000/4000 Buffer – £6.99

What are the secrets?
File your nail in one direction working from the outside edges towards the middle. Try a glass file instead of a nail clipper to remove a lot of nail at a time then switch to a much gentler emery board to tidy up the edges.

If you want to buff your nails, don’t use the roughest side, that’s for filing the edges of the nail. Use the very fine side of the block and gently remove as little of the nail as possible. You don’t want to thin your nails and make the brittle.

Professional Glass Nail File With Case – £7.79

Sin #5 Not using a proper base and top coat

manicure sins_basecoat
You should always apply a thin base coat and a good top coat to seal your polish and add shine. The base coat gives your nail polish something to hang on to. It also prevents darker colours from staining your nails. The top coat adds shine and also prevents chipping and fading.

What are the secrets?
Always buy to best top and base coat that you can afford. You can buy cheap and cheerful colour polish but a good base and top coat will make them last.

Always apply a single layer of base coat under your polish. Do not flood the cuticle or sides of the nail. Seal the free edge (tip) of the nail as well. It is best to keep this layer thin.

Do yourself a favour, buy a fast drying top coat. It just saves you an awful lot of smudge fixing. Your top coat should also be applied in thin layers. One is usually enough if you cap the free edge and avoid the cuticles.

OPI Natural Top Coat and Base Coat Nail Polish Treatment Duo – £11.85

Sin #6 Applying thick layers of colour

Thick layers of nail polish will not dry properly and will crease, smudge and chip. Thick polish also tends to collect on the sides of the nail and flood the cuticle. This looks messy and takes a whole lot of work to tidy up.

What are the secrets?
Paint in thin layers and wait for each one to dry. If you apply thick layers one after another they won’t dry properly and will just smudge. Give each layer at least 3 to 5 minutes to dry completely.

Sin #7 Using old, thickened nail polish

manicure sins_gloopOld, thick nail polish will not dry properly and will smudge. It also goes on gloopy and will pool and look untidy. Store nail polish in a cool, dark place out of direct sunlight. You should also never let the bottle sit open for longer than necessary.

The secret?
If it is just thick you can possibly use polish thinner (NOT REMOVER) to revive it. It is a temporary fix though and may still chip. If it has separated it could just be that it has been sitting in the same position for too long and needs a good shake.

Orly Laquer Thinner / Nail Polish Thinner 2 fl oz

You also have to accept that at some point your favourite nail colour has just gone past it’s best and you need to replace it.

Sin #8 Too much polish on the brush

manicure sins_toomuchpolis
We’ve all done it! You shake the bottle like a mad woman, pull that brush out and start painting! You’re doing fine and then PLOP! A great big blob of polish just gloops onto your nail and there’s nowhere to go but down the sides of the nail, onto your skin and just about everywhere else.

What is the secret?
Hold the bottle upright between your hands and roll it vigorously instead of shaking it in all directions and getting polish all the way to the cap.

Give the polish a moment to settle and then pull the brush out. Wipe both sides on the rim and grab a drop of polish on one side of the brush only. This should be enough for one coat.

Sin #9 Flooding the cuticle

This is another very common one. It’s so easy to paint too close to the cuticle and get polish on top and underneath it. It always looks untidy and it’s just another place where your polish can lift.

What is the secret?

manicure sins_step1
Leave a little gap between the cuticle and the polish. Place the brush about 3mm from the cuticle, push towards it just a little, still leaving a gap where you can see the nail bed and the stroke down to the free edge.

manicure sins_step2

Paint a stroke on either side leaving a small gap on the edges of the nail.

manicure sins_step3

You never want to touch skin.

manicure sins_step4

If you get it wrong, use a small slanted brush dipped in remover to get rid of the messy bits. Don’t put too much remover on the brush or it will get all over the polish. Just use a little and clean the polish off the brush before going back in.

Sin #10 Not using a stable surface with proper light

manicure sins_table

I love painting my nails on the couch in front of the TV and when I do, it shows. The polish gets everywhere and it’s never as even as I’d like. Inevitably, I take it all off in the morning and do it properly.

What are the secrets?
Sit at a table with a good light source so you can see what you are doing.

Place your arm on the table and stabilise your elbow so that your hand won’t shake.

I put my fingers on the edge of the table so I can roll each finger to apply polish evenly in three strokes.

Paint your dominant hand first working from the pinky to the thumb. You are a lot less inclined to smudge your dominant hand when you paint the other one.

Remember to cap the free edge! If your nails are very short this can be a pain. Try not to press your fingers onto the surface, just rest them lightly so that the skin doesn’t “bulge” around the nail.

If you struggle to keep the paint off your fingers, use liquid latex around the edges of the nail. You can just peel it off after.

AIMEILI Liquid Latex Peel Off Tape Cuticle Guard Polish Barrier Skin Protector for Nail Art White Odorless 15 ML – £5.19

Do you have any tips of your own?

Happy painting!



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