Bypass the salon and give yourself an impressive at-home manicure with these expert-approved tips (2024)

Table of Contents
Our top picks Tried-and-true polish remover: Beauty Secrets Pure Acetone Manicurist Solvent Pure Acetone Manicurist Solvent Don't forget the classics: Beauty Secrets 4-Way Nail File 4-Way Nail File Gel-removal kit: Onyx Professional Manicure, Gel Polish Removal Tool Kit Professional Manicure, Gel Polish Removal Tool Kit Post-polish corrector: MANUCURIST Nail Polish Corrector Pen Nail Polish Corrector Pen Editor-favorite: Zoya Remove 3-in-1 Remove 3-in-1 Nail Polish Remover Sleek editor go-to: Holo Taco Glass Nail File Budget buffers: AhaTopia Nail Buffers (Set of 50) Nail Buffers (Set of 50) Expert-recommended for cuticles: ULTA Beauty Collection Cuticle Pusher Cuticle Pusher Everything you need: Olive & June Pearl Mani System Olive & June Pearl Mani System Editor-pick polish: essie Salon-Quality Nail Polish Salon-Quality Nail Polish No lamp required: CND Vinylux Longwear Pink Nail Polish CND Vinylux Longwear Pink Nail Polish Skip the polish completely: Dashing Diva Crystal Clear Gloss Ultra Shine Gel Strips Long-lasting gel: DND Gel Tropic Like It’s Hot DIVA #216 "Vibrant" and quick-drying: OPI Big Apple Red® Nail polish pen: Kiki Pretty Nail Graffiti™ Gentle cuticle oil: Blossom Cuticle Oil Rose Cuticle Oil Rose Don't forget to moisturize: OPI ProSpa Protective Hand, Nail and Cuticle Cream ProSpa Protective Hand, Nail and Cuticle Cream Nourish the nails: Dermelect Rejuvenail Fortifying Nail & Cuticle Treatment Rejuvenail Fortifying Nail & Cuticle Treatment Long-lasting gel top coat: KUPA GelFinity - Soak Off Gel - Top Coat Glossy Finish GelFinity - Soak Off Gel - Top Coat Glossy Finish Frequently Asked Questions

Painting your nails at home can save time and money. Plus, when you paint your own nails, you can change your nail shape and polish color as often as you like, and I personally find painting my nails to be a soothing self-care activity.

With some patience and practice, you (yes, you!) can achieve a beautiful at-home manicure that looks like you just stepped out of the salon.

Whether you’re a nail painting novice or looking to learn new tricks to prolong your at-home manicure, you’ve come to the right place. I chatted with some nail pros (including a manicurist who invented "glazed donut" nails) to learn their top tips.

Here’s what they had to say.

First reminder | Nail prep | Cuticle rules | Adding color | Hand-care tips | Top coat | How we chose | Meet the experts

Our top picks

Home manicure essentials

1. Don’t use water.

For a long-lasting at-home manicure, it’s a good idea to stay away from water prior to application. Rachel Apfel Glass, the founder of GLOSSLAB, a membership-based nail studio with locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and more, explains that water can cause the nail to change shape and cause the polish to chip faster.

“When the nail is wet (after being soaked in water), it changes shape before the polish is applied,” she says. “When the nail plate reverts back to its usual shape, this can compromise the manicure and lead to chipping because the polish was applied prior to the nail plate being fully dry.”

2. Do prep your nails properly

One of the best ways to ensure a smooth, long-lasting manicure is proper prep. This includes removing any existing polish, filing your nails to your desired shape and length, and pushing back your cuticles, according to Zola Ganzorigt, OPI Global Ambassador and celebrity nail artist.

Although Maley Kadel, a California-based certified nail technician, advises keeping a small amount of nail polish remover nearby on a dish to clean up any excess nail polish before and during the manicure process, she notes that keeping large amounts of acetone open or spilled is not a smart idea. “Do not leave any acetone or nail polish remover open or spilled,” says Kadel. “This can easily eat away and ruin any tabletop, as well as evaporate into the air if left exposed.

Glass also recommends lightly buffing the surface of the nails “for an even application of polish.”

Jordan Hurley, a licensed nail technician and nail artist serving New York and New Jersey, adds that although buffing nails is a key part of an at-home manicure, excessive buffing can be destructive to the nail plate. “The higher the grit, the smoother your nail will be. Go easy on this step too, as over buffing can damage the nail plate.”

Tried-and-true polish remover: Beauty Secrets Pure Acetone Manicurist Solvent

What we like

  • 100% acetone
  • Removes polish, acrylic tips
  • Large bottle

Something to note

  • Acetone is flammable

“I have used this nail polish remover for years!” says Kadel. “Not only have I found it the quickest and most effective, but the cheapest as well.”

Don't forget the classics: Beauty Secrets 4-Way Nail File

What we like

  • For natural or acrylic nails
  • Can be washed
  • Good price

Something to note

  • Only available in one color

“The Beauty Secrets four-way nail file is my go-to for a flawless manicure!” says Reed. “This is the ultimate tool that files, buffs, polishes, and shines, leaving your nails prepped and ready to go.”

Gel-removal kit: Onyx Professional Manicure, Gel Polish Removal Tool Kit

What we like

  • Good quality
  • Includes tool case
  • Easy to use

Something to note

  • Small amount of polish remover

Vivien Moon, an editor at Shop TODAY, says that "one of the most important parts of nail health is removing your nail polish correctly and this set has me covered when I want to get rid of a chipped gel manicure before doing my nails again." She continues, "I love the tools the kit comes with in particular because they’re useful and feel like quality. I have a bunch of nail tools just around my home in case I feel like picking at my nails without actually picking at them."

Post-polish corrector: MANUCURIST Nail Polish Corrector Pen

What we like

  • Easy to use
  • Comes with refill tips

Something to note

  • Runs out quickly, per shoppers

Moon also recommends this corrector pen, which contains acetone-free nail polish remover. She says, "I love ALL the nail polishes and tools that Manicurist offers but this might be my most-prized manicure tool. Because I’m not perfect, I mess up (especially with my less dominant hand) so having a nifty tool to help correct my mistakes is extremely helpful. The best part? It comes with refill back-up tips."

Editor-favorite: Zoya Remove 3-in-1

What we like

  • Doesn't feel drying
  • No overpowering scent

Something to note

  • Some issues with bottle

The ZOYA Remove Plus is my [Abesamis Demarest] favorite nail polish remover. It functions as nail prep, nail conditioner and polish remover in one, and many reviewers note it doesn't smell harsh like other drugstore brands, and it doesn't leave nail beds dry.

Sleek editor go-to: Holo Taco Glass Nail File

Glass Nail File (Purple/Pink)$11.00

What we like

  • Good for beginners
  • Lightweight

Something to note

  • Fragile

I [Abesamis Demarest] use Holo Taco's glass nail file, which is made of premium Czech Glass, to file my nails. It has a fine glass grit edge and comes with a protective sleeve.

3. Don’t cut your cuticles at home.

“We like leaving [cuticle cutting] to the professionals because you can cut yourself and get a potential infection,” says Olivia Van Iderstine, VP of Content and Creative for Olive & June.

Instead, she recommends pushing your cuticles back gently and lightly buffing away the dead skin. “Over time this will train your cuticles to lie flat and look super neat,” she explains.

Budget buffers: AhaTopia Nail Buffers (Set of 50)

What we like

  • Small size
  • Available in many colors

Something to note

  • Sides too sharp for some

“They’re affordable and accessible for everyone,” says Hurley. “They don’t require a cosmetology license to order, therefore anyone trying out DIY manicures can acquire them easily!”

Expert-recommended for cuticles: ULTA Beauty Collection Cuticle Pusher

What we like

  • Made with stainless steel
  • Has two sides

Something to note

  • Keep away from children

“This dual-ended tool makes it super easy to keep your cuticles healthy and looking great!,” says Breeonne Reed, cosmetologist, nail technician, and founder and CEO of Salon 2 You. “Its rounded head and pointed contoured side make cleaning your nail edge a breeze!”

Everything you need: Olive & June Pearl Mani System

What we like

  • Comes with everything you need
  • You can include polish as well

Something to note

  • Some say it's not long lasting

Anita Chomenko, a social media video producer at Shop TODAY, says, "I bought this kit about a year or so ago to start doing my nails more at home." She continues, "It comes with all the essentials plus a few polish colors!I especially love the detail brush they include. Usually, when I do my nails I end up with some polish on the skin. Being able to clean up the edges really makes it look like a salon-worthy manicure!"

4. Do paint thin, even coats of nail polish.

Van Iderstine stresses the importance of painting two to three thin coats of polish to achieve full coverage, and waiting five to 10 minutes between each coat.

“This ensures each layer has time to sufficiently dry, and creates strong adhesion between each coat of polish,” she says. “This also helps your mani last as long as possible!”

Painting thick coats, on the other hand, can lead to your manicure chipping in the first few days, and the polish will take a long time to dry (if it ever does).

Editor-pick polish: essie Salon-Quality Nail Polish

What we like

  • Goes on smoothly
  • Long-lasting

Something to note

  • May need topcoat

Allie Wise, an associate editor at Shop TODAY, recommends this nail polish by essie. She says, "If you’re looking for a salon-quality polish, I swear by essie. I have many of their neutral colors, including classic white, black and of course, ballet slippers. This nail polish is easy to apply, goes on smoothly and lasts for a long time. Many of the salons I’ve visited in the past use essie as well so you know you’re getting a top quality polish."

No lamp required: CND Vinylux Longwear Pink Nail Polish

What we like

  • Long-lasting

Something to note

  • Some report chipping

Camryn Privette, a production coordinator at Shop TODAY, recommends this polish by CND. She says, "The CND polish is my new go-to gel polish and for good reason but if you can’t make it to the salon, the brand has this at long-wear polish that will get the job done right at home without a UV lamp." Privette continues, "I’m a light pink nail girl to the core and the brand has a great selection of pink shades that provide 7+ days of chip resistant and gel-like shine. What more could you ask for?"

Skip the polish completely: Dashing Diva Crystal Clear Gloss Ultra Shine Gel Strips

Crystal Clear Gloss Ultra Shine Gel Strips$8.00

If you'd rather bypass the polish and rock gel strips instead, give this set by Dashing Diva a try. Associate editor at Shop TODAY, Shannon Garlin, once said, "I get so many compliments when I rock a new decal color and my friends are shocked when I tell them it’s stickers and that I did it myself."

Long-lasting gel: DND Gel Tropic Like It’s Hot DIVA #216

Tropic Like It’s Hot DIVA #216$7.50

$

11.97

What we like

  • Easy to apply
  • Lightweight
  • Long-lasting

Something to note

  • Requires LED lamp

“These gel polishes have changed my life as a nail technician,” says Kadel.” With most colors only needing one to two coats, they are super pigmented and have a perfect rounded-shaped brush to create a clean, polished look!” Keep in mind that if you're planning on painting your nails with gel polish, you'll likely need an LED lamp in your setup too.

"Vibrant" and quick-drying: OPI Big Apple Red®

Big Apple Red®$11.99

$

11.99

$

9.99

$

11.98

What we like

  • Vibrant color
  • Wide brush
  • Quick drying

Something to note

  • On the pricier side

This is my [Clark] go-to polish when I’m looking for a vibrant color that dries quickly and doesn’t easily smudge. This red polish comes with a wide brush so I can paint my nails with fewer brush strokes and only two coats.

Nail polish pen: Kiki Pretty Nail Graffiti™

Pretty Nail Graffiti™$29.00

What we like

  • Easy to use
  • No remover needed

Something to note

  • Expensive

Annie Shigo, an editorial assistant at Shop TODAY, says this nail polish pen is "the perfect way to get salon nails with this easy to use pen." She continues, "It cuts my nail time down to half and is so effective."

5. Don’t skip hand and nail care.

If you think your manicure is complete after a layer of top coat, think again.

“Maintain the health of your nails and hands by regularly moisturizing them with hand cream or cuticle oil,” says Glass. She recommends a hand cream that's made with nourishing ingredients such as shea butter and coconut oil for hydrating the nails and hands.

In addition to making your manicure look nice, keeping your cuticles moisturized can help keep chips at bay.

Gentle cuticle oil: Blossom Cuticle Oil Rose

What we like

  • Quickly absorbed by cuticles
  • Made with real flowers
  • Vegan formula

Something to note

  • Scent isn't strong for some

“This cuticle oil is a total gem as it’s packed with natural oils (making it super effective), and smells amazing,” says Reed. “A little bit of this vegan formula goes a long way and you can feel good about what’s on your nails!”

Don't forget to moisturize: OPI ProSpa Protective Hand, Nail and Cuticle Cream

What we like

  • Doesn't contain parabens
  • Offers pleasant scent
  • Oil-free finish

Something to note

  • Scent overwhelming for some

“I LOVE this hand cream as it smells great and gives a non-oily finish, which is perfect to look for in a hand cream,” says Kadel. “Although I have not found many scent options, the Cupuaçu & White Tea smells amazing.”

Nourish the nails: Dermelect Rejuvenail Fortifying Nail & Cuticle Treatment

What we like

  • Moisturizing
  • Not greasy

Something to note

  • Some don't see cuticle change

This cream contains ingredients Glass highly recommends in a hand cream, including hyaluronic acid and shea butter, and it can be used on both bare and polished nails. It's also formulated with the brand's keratin protein peptide technology, as well as vitamins A, C and E, for maximum nourishment.

6. Do reapply the top coat every 2 to 3 days.

We all love the shiny look of a fresh manicure, and reapplying the top coat throughout the week both reinvigorates your mani with shine and protects it, according to Van Iderstine.

Long-lasting gel top coat: KUPA GelFinity - Soak Off Gel - Top Coat Glossy Finish

What we like

  • 90 seconds to cure under LED
  • Offers glossy finish
  • Travel size

Something to note

  • Only works on gel polish

“This gel top coat is perfect for not only beginners but anyone who does at-home manicures,” says Kadel. “It gives any nail designs a professional shine.”

Frequently Asked Questions

A crisp white manicure is oh-so-chic, but white nail polish is notoriously difficult to paint. White nail polish formulas are generally thicker and less forgiving, and with such a light color, uneven paint streaks are more noticeable, so take your time and try to cover each nail with as few brushstrokes as possible.

“It's important to wait until each coat is completely dry before applying the next layer so that the nails look neat when dried,” Glass explains. She recommends using two coats of a full-coverage white polish (e.g., Loud Lacquer's Basic nail polish). And if your polish is old or thickened, it may be time for a fresh bottle or a few drops of nail polish thinner. Ganzorigt notes that thick, goopy polish is difficult to apply evenly.

“Nails don’t necessarily need surface access to air because they get oxygen and nutrients from your blood,” Ganzorigt explains. But even though nails don’t need to “breathe,” she notes that keeping them hydrated is important, especially if they’re prone to peeling or breakage. In that sense, taking a break between manicures to moisturize the surface of your nails and your cuticles can be helpful.

To strengthen your nails while wearing color, Ganzorigt recommends using nail strengtheners that include vitamins like A, C, E and calcium, which "work to strengthen and protect nails against breaking, chipping, peeling and splitting,” she says.

Van Iderstine adds that while there’s no scientific reason for taking a manicure break, sometimes taking a short break just feels good. “If it feels good to you, go for it! We love to do an extra-luxe skin care treatment on our off days with an exfoliating scrub and an extra nourishing hydration treatment with [a] cuticle balm.

As mentioned previously, hydration is important to growing long, beautiful nails as it will help prevent chips and breaks.

“Happy, hydrated nails grow quickly,” Van Iderstine says. “Ensuring your cuticles are hydrated is key. When applying cuticle serum, massage it all around your nails so everything gets a little hydration love.”

Beyond hydration, having a round or oval nail shape can be helpful if you’re trying to grow out your nails. “Sharper edges can break or bend more easily, which can slow your growth goals!” Van Iderstine says.

Lastly, taking supplements containing biotin and collagen can help with nail growth, notes Ganzorigt.

“Regular manicures are best for weak or brittle nails, especially if they are filed shorter to allow the nail to regrow a bit,” Glass says. “Avoid anything tough like a dip manicure, as dip can weigh on the nails and cause them to break more easily.”

Between manicures, Glass suggests using a nail strengthener that's made with ingredients like biotin, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, rosemary oil and safflower oil, among others, to nourish and strengthen nails.

Ganzorigt recommends taking a break from nail polish when they’re feeling weak and using a nail strengthener and treatment instead. “My favorite combo is [a bond building nail serum that] penetrates the nail surface and builds new bonds from within, paired with [a nail strengthener that] provides a liquid shield that reinforces the nail with layer-building strength,” she explains, adding that it's ideal for anyone with damaged nails or those who want to protect against everyday wear and tear.

How we chose the best products for at-home manicures

For this story, we interviewed six nail pros to share their top tips and product recommendations. I also shared a few of my personal favorites as a nail polish enthusiast who owns hundreds of nail polishes (and posts nailfies on Instagram).

I paint my nails at least twice a week and have tested dozens of nail care products to help me achieve a salon-quality manicure at home.

Note: Any product from OPI and Olive & June recommended here were chosen based on my personal experience and independent editorial judgment.

Meet our experts
  • Zola Ganzorigtis OPI'sGlobal Ambassador and a celebrity nail artist.
  • Rachel Apfel Glass is the founder ofGLOSSLAB, a membership-based nail studio with locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
  • Olivia Van Iderstine is Vice President of Content and Creative forOlive & June.
  • Maley Kadel is a California-based certified nail technician.
  • Jordan Hurley is a licensed nail technician and nail artist serving New York and New Jersey.
  • Breeonne Reed is a cosmetologist, nail technician, and founder and CEO of Salon 2 You.

Abigail Abesamis Demarest

Abigail Abesamis Demarest is a writer, editor and former New Yorker based in sunny Panama City Beach, Florida.

Jenna Clark

Jenna Clark is a freelance writer based in New York City.

Fran Sales

contributed

.

Bypass the salon and give yourself an impressive at-home manicure with these expert-approved tips (2024)
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