How To Do An At-Home Manicure Like A Pro

Your 7-step guide to salon-worthy nails.

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Here's how to do your nails at home like a pro.
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To be able to sit back, relax, and let a professional do your manicure is peak self-care, but getting to a salon isn’t always convenient — or even feasible. Whether it’s because your fave manicurist is booked weeks out, you’re trying to save some coins, or just prefer the comfort of your couch and Netflix, knowing how to do an at-home manicure is forever-useful info.

Even if you feel like painting your nails with your non-dominant hand is a Sisyphean task, the celebrity nail artists Bustle spoke with promise it’s not — all it takes is some practice and following the proper steps. Experts revealed everything you need to know about giving yourself an at-home mani that’s sure to boost your mood and your confidence every time you catch a glimpse of your handiwork. Equipped with the right tools, tips, and tricks, doing your own manicure is easier than you may think.

Ahead, discover a seven-step guide to how to give yourself the perfect manicure at home. Once you nail it, everyone will think you just stepped out of the salon.

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1. Trim Your Nails

If you want to lose some length, celebrity nail artist Sonya Belakhlef recommends trimming your nails with nail clippers; a nail file should only be used to smooth and shape.

2. Shape & Smooth

Los Angeles-based nail artist Chelsea King likes to use a 240 grit file to perfect your nail shape and smooth out the edges. As for how to file, celebrity nail artist Elle recommends filing in one direction and avoiding the back and forth motion in order to prevent nail splitting. “When you saw, you rip the keratin layers and that causes nails to split,” she tells Bustle. Also avoid buffing on top of the nail, she adds, for the same reason.

Pro tip courtesy of Belakhlef: If you tend to have trouble getting the shape just right, file your nails before removing your old polish. “It will help you see your final shape,” she shares.

3. Care For Your Cuticles

Once your nails are trimmed and shaped, you can tackle the cuticles. King says to first push your cuticles back with a cuticle pusher. If you’re a DIY mani newbie, she recommends doing this step right after a shower when the skin is softened. “I like to use cuticle remover, and then use a pusher to gently push them back,” she explains. King adds that cuticle nippers — which you often see pros use in the salon — should only be used on hang nails. “It’s so easy to get carried away with this step, but your cuticles can come back thicker if you trim too much. It’s best to only trim what is necessary,” she says.

4. Prep Your Nail Beds

Buffing your nails can come next, but it’s not totally necessary, says King. “I don’t recommend doing this every time you do a manicure, because over time it can really thin out your nails if you aren’t careful,” she explains. “It’s only necessary if you’re applying gel polish or nail enhancements, if your nails have ridges and you want to smooth them out, or if your nails are super oily.”

Before touching any polish, Belakhlef says prepping your nail plate is the most important step if you’re determined to have your mani last. “If there’s oil left on the nail plate, your polish will lift and chip,” Belakhlef says. King agrees, noting that she likes to use alcohol or acetone with a lint-free wipe, “so you don’t get any fuzzies in your polish.” A paper towel will also get the job done. “Make sure to really get in the cuticle area and side walls of the nail so your polish will really stick,” says King. You may also want to apply a dehydrator or priming liquid.

5. Apply A Base Coat & Polish

Be sure to give your nail polish — both your base and color polish — a little shake to combine ingredients and ensure consistency, says Shelena Robinson, manager of OPI global education. When you’re painting, applying thin, even coats of base, paint, and top coat is key to a quick dry time and the best result. If you’ve got the time, Robinson says allow each coat to dry before applying the next.

Brittney Boyce, celebrity nail artist and founder of press-on brand Nails of LA, admits that painting the non-dominant hand can be tricky. Her tip? "Stabilize that hand by putting your elbow and forearm on the table. That helps keep your hand a little bit steadier.” It also helps to remember it’s totally OK if you paint outside your nails; just use a nail brush dipped in nail polish remover to clean it up, she says. King advises to clean up any mistakes immediately. “If you wait until your polish dries, it’s difficult to remove and can cause your polish to chip,” she tells Bustle.

6. Use A Top Coat

After applying one or two layers of nail polish (depending on your preferences), seal it in with one layer of top coat and you’re good to go. Nails Inc. ambassador and celebrity nail artist Lisa Logan recommends using a protective top coat that doubles as a nail strengthener, especially if you have dry or brittle nails. Whichever option you go with, this top layer adds shine and helps ensure your mani lasts longer.

Logan explains that while you should apply a top coat immediately after finishing your polish, you can also apply it days later to extend the life of your manicure. "You can continue to apply top coats every few days to lock in the polish underneath," she explains. "Make sure to carry through and cap your polish over the ends of your nail to lock it in place."

7. Moisturize

Even though your manicure is now technically finished, King says you shouldn’t skip an oft-overlooked step: adding moisture by way of a cuticle oil and hand cream. “It really makes your at-home manicure look like you got it done at a salon,” she tells Bustle. Robinson says you should apply cuticle oil to finish up your mani and as needed to keep your nails looking fresh for longer.

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