How to Give Yourself a Manicure, Really

Woman painting her own nails red
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We all love a professional mani-pedi, but sometimes we don't have the time or funds to get one before a big event. This can lead to late-night attempts at a manicure that would look better if they didn't happen at all. Although we'll never be able to give ourselves a manicure that's "salon-worthy," being able to give yourself a manicure is a skill you'll never lose, and you'll always be glad to have.

Before you begin, though, know that you're going to want to keep a stash of orangewood sticks and cotton balls in order to do the best job possible.

Obviously, start by removing your old nail polish. An acetone-free polish remover is preferable if you have a light shade, but you may need an acetone remover for darker shades (acetones can be drying to the nails). To get rid of polish stuck in the corners of nails, use an orangewood stick, with the end covered in cotton and dipped in nail polish remover. 

Clip your nails straight across to the length you prefer, then file your nails in one direction so the corners are slightly rounded. Finish this step off by filing with the fine-grade side. To ensure your nails are the same length after filing, line each nail up with its counterpart, and file some more if any are uneven.

It's incredibly important to soak your nails before pushing back your cuticles, or else you can cause some serious damage.

Prepare a nail soak by placing a few drops of jojoba or almond oil (in a pinch, any oils will do) in a bowl of warm water. Soak your hands for 5 minutes, then pat them dry. Twist a piece of water-moistened cotton onto the end of an orangewood stick and gently push back your cuticles. Don't cut your cuticles.

Seriously. You risk nicking your skin, which not only isn't fun, but can put you at serious risk for infection. Use the orangewood stick to clean under each nail.

Soak a cotton ball in nail polish remover, and clean your nails. This preps your nails for the polish. You want to have as clean a surface as possible before applying polish. Starting with the pinky finger, apply a thin base coat to all 10 fingers. The base coat will protect your nails from the polish.

Now onto the fun part: the polish! When painting nails, the thinner the coat, the better. Try wiping one side of the brush on the bottle, then use the other side to paint your nails. You want to apply the polish in 3 strokes: Down the center, down one side and then down the other. Wait 2 minutes, then apply a second coat of polish. Brushing the polish over the edge and wrapping the polish under the nail will help prevent future chipping. Clean up any errant polish with an orangewood stick wrapped in cotton and moistened with polish remover from before. Finish with a clear top coat, and let your nails dry for at least 20 minutes.