My Manicure Routine

DIY Manicure Routine
I've had a few requests recently to post what my manicure routine is with product recommendations. A while back I posted about DIY Spa Manicures, but I thought a more complete, super detailed post was in order. I'll gladly do this, but I do also recommend that you check out All Lacquered Up where Michelle has been doing her Top Coat Challenge, trying tons of top coats out with different base coats and commenting on things like drying time, shine, and wear. The other nail board ladies over at Makeup Alley are a fantastic resource as well!

This post will cover doing the actual manicure, I'll post soon with the steps that I do in between manicures to maintain my manicure, prolong wear and shine, and treat my cuticles.

I have a job in which I use my hands a lot, including in and out of gloves, washing many times a day with very heavy duty, surgical grade soap, typing and doing procedures. Despite all of this, my manicures usually last me at least 4-5 days with minimal tip wear, and very few chips (usually on the last day of the mani).

Obviously, a new mani must start with removal of the old mani. I really love the Cutex Nail Polish Remover that comes in these little plastic jars. Often they won't remove polish with a lot of glitter or shimmer very well (though, the link I found at Amazon says it is just for glitter nail polish, odd...), but I can get most polish off very quickly and easily. For my pedicures I prefer to use Cutex Nail Polish Remover Pads which are pretty hardy and can take quite a bit of abuse. The only reason I don't use these for my manicures as well is that they can be rather expensive. Some ladies on the nailboard will use a piece of felt with nail polish remover or acetone, which will be rather like using these pads.

Every few weeks I will soak my fingers for about 5 minutes. Although any bowl from the kitchen will do, I have 2 Manicure Bowls which I find are more comfortable. I like to add a little bit of Creative Nail Design's Citrusoak to the water, which gives a light citrus scent and a few bubbles which I like. Pretty much any liquid dish soap will work as well.

Next, I prepare my cuticles and the sides of my nails (the lateral nail fold). I use Sally Hansen's Instant Cuticle Remover about once a week. The directions say it takes about 15 seconds, but don't worry if it's on longer. I rinse my hands in the sink, then apply a thin bead of this along the base of my nails, on my cuticles on both hands. I then rub it in to the cuticle, along the sides of my nails and the tips of my fingers (make sure you get this under your nail tip). Then I rub my thumbnail over the skin over all the areas I've just covered, this removes the excess dead skin. Then just wash your hands to remove. If I have any hang nails on the side of my nails, I use a tool like this Revlon Cuticle Trimmer.

If I'm feeling like my hands have neglected or very dry, I'll use my Paraffin Spa Bath. I usually only use this during the winter time, but if my hands are dry and cracked nothing helps like a paraffin treatment! After the paraffin I will use a very rich lotion, my favorite is Bliss Lemon+Sage Body Butter.

When shaping my nails, my preferred file is a glass file. There are many brands of glass files, I do not know of any differences between them. I personally bought my file for $5 next to the register at Hallmark. Really. Why a glass file instead of an emory board or other file? Really, lots of companies like Orly, Essie, OPI make different emory boards, all sorts of different grits (they're numbered like sandpaper, higher numbers are finer). However, glass files don't tear at the nail the way these files do, this helps with the nail's strength and helps cut down on peeling. A crystal file is NOT a glass file, look for glass. The brand doesn't matter. You can use it wet or dry, and it's easily washed by either just rinsing or a little soap and water. I keep my nails fairly short with filing only, avoiding clippers. I file them to the same shape as my nailbed, a squoval shape.

I will occasionally buff my nails if ridges have become more prominent. I use a 4 sided buffing block similar to this one. Work from rough to smooth, being careful not to overbuff. According to Allure you are overbuffing if you create dust while buffing. If you plan to use polish, do NOT buff to a glassy shine. I have done this, and it doesn't allow the polish to grip your nail, and it will basically just slide off of your nail within the day. If you do this on accident, you'll need to roughen up your nail with one of the medium grits.

Before applying polish, you will need to remove any lotion, wax or anything left on the nail. Remover doesn't work well for this, 100% Acetone or Rubbing Alcohol both work well for this since they don't really leave any residue and will air dry on their own quickly.

Finally, the last step is applying the polish! A few guidelines to help with application can be found on the Makeup Alley Nailboard Wisdom Notepad under Application Tips and as part of Nail Tech Secret's Manicures that Last Series. I personally have been working on trying to master the "gap." The gap is about a 1mm gap between the polish and the cuticle, which results in a more professional looking manicure. I start with a horizontal sweep across the nail tip and then I fill in the nail bed. I have found that this initial horizontal stroke that covers the nail edge is very important, it usually adds at least a day of wear to my mani. Some will wrap the polish all the way down the back side of the nail, for me it is most important to cover the edge of the nail.

During application, I am very prone to mistakes (I think I try to do my manis way too quickly), so I need to do some cleaning up. I find that cleaning up should be done during the manicure, while the polish is still wet as this is when it will be faster and more easily done. I have tried the polish corrector pens however I have found that they don't release enough remover or acetone to remove the actual mistake (this is true even for the expensive, refillable OPI one). I have tried to use a cotton swab, however I always end up with cotton fiber trailing across my otherwise perfect nails. The method that has worked best for me is to use a cheap, stiff angled eye liner brush. Mine was $3 at Target, and the stiff bristles are tough enough to push the polish off of the skin, but the bristles will fit easily under the nail and in tight corners. This is fastest and most effective with 100% Acetone poured into a small container. As I clean, I find that the acetone will get dirty, leaving a residue on my skin that has to be removed later. This can be easily prevented by wiping the brush on a paper towel after use but before dipping it back into the acetone.

The actual polish and treatment coats that I use for my mani depend upon what polish brand my color will be, and if my manicure is light or dark. I have found that for me, I can not use certain products for different brands, or else the wear of my manicure can be compromised. The products that work best for you may be different, however this is the method that I've found works best for me.

With OPI, Essie, Revlon, L'Oreal, Sally Hansen, Color Club and Jessica: With these polishes I am able to do my "normal" routine without any compromise in wear.
1. I generally start with a Barielle treatment coat, my favorite is the Fortifying Nail Builder with Calcium Fluoride, but I will also use the Instant Liquid Nail Hardener for times when I am not having any problems with splitting or weak nails. I allow this coat to dry completely before moving on to the next coats.
2. Next I use my actual base coat. I have mostly been using 2 of the favorites on the nail board, my preferred base coat is Orly Bonder. I prefer Bonder over Stickey because I do think that I have 1 more day of wear, and I have had issues with Stickey changing the color of my light manis from pink to a gray/green tint due to the green color of the base coat. However, since I bought the giant 2.3 ounce bottle of Stickey, I use this for darker colors and Bonder for light colors. When I am done with my Stickey, I will buy only Bonder. There is a lot of talk on-line about the Stickey Sandwich to prolong wear, and I have tried this with both Bonder and Stickey. I do not see immprovement in wear, so I no longer do this (and the sandwich was not related to changes in my mani color with Stickey, BTW). I apply 1 coat of either basecoat, and then generally move on immediately to my next coat without waiting for it to dry.
3. Next it is time to apply color! I continue with my habit of a horizontal strip across the nail tip then fill in the nail bed. I do 1 coat on both hands, and then use my brush with acetone to fix mistakes before moving on to the next layer. I do not wait for polish to dry before the next coat, and I will generally do 2-3 coats depending on what I need for good coverage. If your polish is goopy and hard to apply (a problem with some colors of the "newly" formulated OPI), try to thin it with a few drops of thinner. Thinner is available at Sally's Beauty Supply for about $3, I have also see it at CVS and Walgreens. Do NOT use remover for this- you will ruin the bottle of polish.
4. Finally, you are ready for top coat! My top coat of choice is Seche Vite. I like SV because it is quick dry, in about 10 minutes it dries all of the layers that I have left as wet, and I'm able to do a lot of things (notice I say a lot, not everything! I can load the dishwasher, but not put on gloves. I refer to the time until I start back with my routine, time to 100% dry is usually another 60-90 minutes). It also has great shine! I am so devoted to my Seche Vite that I have a 4 ounce professional bottle of it, I bought it in a wholesale nail supply for about $15, which when you consider that a 0.5 ounce regular bottle is about $9 at Sally Beauty, is a real bargain. Seche Vite does get thick about half way through the bottle, and you CAN use any thinner to help with this issue (SV sells it's own thinner, but any thinner will do, really). The large bottle for some reason doesn't really do this, but even if I get just 4 or 5 smaller bottles out of it the cost will be well worth it!
Similar top coats are Poshe and Out the Door. Both of these top coats are loved by ladies over at the Nail Board, however for me I have fewer days of wear and less shine with both of these. As well, note that some have had problems with shrinkage with various top coats. Shrinkage looks like tip wear, but is usually caused by the top coat. I'm not sure that anyone really knows how this happens, but ladies have had this happen whether they wrap the polish around the nail tip or not, only with particular top coats, etc. I have never had shrinkage, but if this happens to you try a different top coat.

With China Glaze: It took me quite a while to figure out why my China Glaze manicures were so soft and gooey with about 1-2 days of wear. Finally, I figured out that for China Glaze I can not use a Barielle Treatment coat or a ridge filler (even the one from China Glaze). If I use just Bonder/Stickey and my Seche Vite for these manicures I get the same wear as my other brands. The one exception to this rule seems to be their Oh La La White Pearl color, which is fine over ridge filler from Boots (but not the China Glaze Ridge Filler). I really don't know why, this is just what has happened to me!

With Zoya: I thought for a long time that I would not be able to wear Zoya's amazing colors, no matter what combinations I did with my base coats, top coats, drying times, etc. I could not seem to get more than about 12 hours of wear with a Zoya polish. Finally, after some discussion with Michelle at All Lacquered Up I gave the Zoya a shot with Zoya's Anchor Base Coat and Armor Top Coat. She was right! With these treatments paired with the Zoya polish, I get about 5-6 days of wear out of my Zoya polish, which is great because now a huge range of Zoya's amazing colors is open to me! Drying time with the Armor Top Coat is about 45 minutes for me (it isn't quick dry), but this drops to about 20 minutes if I let each layer dry first. They do make some Quick Dry drops to put over your polish, I know Michelle loves these but I haven't tried them yet.

With Creative Nail Design: I got this tip from my friend Little Sunshine, over at Bloom Where you are Planted. After experimenting with a lot of different base coats, she finally decided that Creative's polishes wear best with Orly Bonder as their base coat rather than Creative's Stickey, and I do have to say that she is right! Bonder gives me about 2 more days of wear over Stickey, so I use it for all of my Creatives. As well, some have had issues with drying time on Creative Polishes. I have heard stories of polish that is still soft the day after a manicure! I have been using my Seche Vite Top Coat with Creatives, and although my dry time increases to 15 minutes over 10 minutes, I have had no major problems. Creative has some amazing colors, and I think the extra 5 minutes are well worth it!

For streaky colors: Quite a few light colors (especially those from Essie) are difficult to apply due to streakiness, resulting in needing a lot of coats. Some of this can be overcome with a little bit of thinner, but in polishes that are already basically clear, who wants to dilute the color even more? For this problem, a ridge filling base coat can help a lot. I have quite a few ridger fillers (I have a lot of light, streaky colors), and my current favorite for overall coverage, color and help with streaks is Boot's Ridge Filler. I have also used ridge fillers by Essie, China Glaze, Barielle and OPI, all of these are great, I just prefer the Boots which has better application and a light pink tint to it rather than just nude.

Shopping for nail products
Now, I've provided a lot of links above for each of the specific products that I use, I really provided these just so you can see the exact product that I use. I have bought most of my supplies at local wholesale nail stores that will sell to the public, but if you aren't lucky enough to live near Westminster in Orange County (just drive up and down Bolsa, you'll see what I mean), then you'll have a lot of options on-line for shopping.
--Head 2 Toe Beauty
--8ty8 Beauty
--Trans Design
--A Chau Nails
--Beauty West

If you prefer to shop in person, I have a couple of stores that I recommend you check out. Always check the local yellow pages under Beauty Supply and try calling a few places to see if they'll sell to the public. Chances are you will find a place (other than Sally Beauty Supply) that is willing to sell to the public.
--Sally Beauty Supply- Be sure to sign up on-line, they will mail you coupon offers, and if this is going to be your primary shopping location, get the Sally Discount Card! It pays for itself with the discount you get on 1 bottle of Seche Vite. They do have their own polish lines, Finger Paints and Sally Girl, that are very high quality with great colors!
--ULTA- This is one of my all around favorite beauty stores, they carry a great mix of drugstore and higher end brands. In addition, ULTA frequently will get their own exclusives, such as special Essie and OPI colors that other stores don't carry. Sign up on-line and they will start sending their mailers to your home, they will frequently have great sales like BOGOF on OPI, Essie or Elizabeth Arden polishes.
--Trade Secret- These stores are similar to ULTA, but usually with just salon products, they will also have exclusive colors from OPI and Essie.

Finally, please keep in mind that this is just my current routine, this may not be what works best for you, but it could be a great starting point! Come and say hi to me and the other Nail Board Gals on Makeup Alley if you need any advice about colors or need help with a problem, we're more than willing to help you out! Also, don't forget to check out Nail Gal, brought to you by the Nail Board Girls, to check out colors before you buy in the store. (Nikki, that link is for you!)


  1. Thanks for the link. You're the best!

  2. Anything for my little sister! :D

  3. I discovered the link to your blog on your MUA NB notepad. Thanx for a wonderfully informative piece! I am fast becoming a n/p addict and learning all the time. I am now in the process of trying different base coats to see what wears well with specific polish brands.I am looking forward to your next entry about nail care.

  4. I love the polish color at the top! Here's another good resource:

  5. Thanks so much for your tips. I would like to link to your site from my blog, I know my readers will appreciate the time-saving ideas.

  6. Nice Information! Thanks for sharing us........

  7. I'd like you to know that this post (which I dug for in your archives) inspired me to actually go out and buy two OPI base coats, a top coat, and Seche Vite. THANK YOU. :)


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