30 Manicure Tips

How to Give Yourself a Manicure and the Secrets to Gorgeous Nails

applying nail polish
Getty/Yungshu Chao


People notice your manicure. It's a fact of life I try to remember at all times, because if I'm not careful, I'll end up with fingernails at five different lengths and a hangnail or two. Here, I share 30 of my favorite manicure (and pedicure) tips. Enjoy!

How to Give Yourself a Mani and Pedi

Why spend money on a new manicure every few weeks when you can do it yourself. Below I give you all my favorite tips and tricks for getting the perfect at-home manicure.

  1. The most flattering nail shape is not long or short or square, it's "squoval" — not quite square and not quite oval. Get the look yourself by filing nails into a shape that mirrors the curve of your nail base. Square tips can make fingers look chubby, according to nail guru Deborah Lippmann in InStyle Magazine.
  2. To ensure your nails are the same length after filing, line each nail up with its counterpart.
  3. Don't shake the nail polish bottle, instead roll it between your palms. This mixes the polish without causing air bubbles.
  4. Before polishing clean nails, soak a cotton ball in nail polish remover and swipe across nails. This will remove any excess oils or soap than can cause peeling once polish is applied.
  5. One trick for applying nail polish: Hold the brush between the thumb and middle finger while resting your forefinger on the top of the cap.
  6. To get the best results, apply thin layers. Start with a thin layer of base coat (I like China Glaze's), then apply a thin layer of polish down the middle, then one on the left and one on the right. After the first coat dries for a couple minutes, repeat, then follow with a thin layer of topcoat. The most popular topcoat, hands down, is Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Nail Coat.
  1. Once your pedicure or manicure is complete, run an orangewood stick dipped in nail polish remover along either side of the nail to fix any mistakes. 
  2. Speed up the drying process by aiming a blow-dryer at toes (set on cool) for a minute at a time. Be sure to keep the dryer at least 12 inches from your feet.
  1. Gotta leave the house before your pedicure is dry? Apply cuticle oil over the polish. This will keep anything from sticking to your polish. See my list of the best cuticle creams.
  2. Stained nails? Remove the yellow easily by following the directions in How to Get Rid of Nail Stains.
  3. For an extra spa feeling to your home pedicure, nuke a damp towel in the microwave for a couple minutes, slather feet in moisturizer and wrap them in the warm towel.

Manicures at the Salon

  1. It's my professional opinion that real nails are much classier than fakes. They are also much better for your nail health.
  2. If you are super-paranoid about germs in nail salons, you can bring along your own tools for your manicure.
  3. Cut the cuticle or not? Ji Baek, owner of the Rescue Beauty Lounges in New York City, recommends that people don't cut their own cuticles. The cuticle is there to protect the nail bed, and a cut on a nail can easily become infected. Instead of cutting the cuticle, push it back with an orangewood stick covered in a cotton ball. According to Baek, professionals are trained in cuticle cutting so most can be trusted. If you are paranoid (manicurists have accidentally cut into my skin one too many times for me), simply ask them not to cut.
  1. Like the look of clean, nude nails? Skip the polish and ask for a buffing or buff your own nails with a good buffer. Buffing removes ridges and creates a high shine that clear polish tries to emulate. About 30 percent of Baek's clients ask for a buffing over polish. "Fashion editors have it done before they go to shows in Europe," says Baek in InStyle Magazine.
  2. Skip the fast-drying topcoat unless you are in a hurry. Salons like to charge an extra dollar or two on this gimmick. While these coats do dry faster, they are more susceptible to chipping.

Protecting Your Manicure

Once you spend time and money on a manicure, you'll want to protect it. I hated getting manicures before I learned these tricks because they never lasted long. But these tricks help:

  1. A fresh swipe of topcoat every other day on your manicure and once a week on your pedicure will keep the polish from chipping. Check out 8 Secrets to Making Your Manicure Last Longer.
  1. When it comes to chipped polish, a nail buffer is your best friend. Repair a chip by smoothing the ragged edges with a buffer (the smoother the chip, the better the fix). Fill in the chip with polish. Once it's dry, apply a coat over the entire nail.
  2. Don't file nails after a shower, when they are too soft. File in one direction only to prevent tears.
  3. For a pedicure, use a special pedicure nail clipper made for toenails. The straight-edge works better for feet because they don't allow nails to become curved, which can lead to painful ingrown nails (been there, done that). You can round the edges slightly with a file. I recommend the basic toenail clipper from Tweezerman.
  4. Since cotton balls can leave behind fuzzies, consider a cotton band like Miss Webril instead. For stubborn polish that stains, press the cotton on the nail for several seconds before wiping off. Don't be stingy with the polish remover, says Baek in InStyle magazine. The more nail remover you have on the cotton, the easier it will be to remove.
  5. Protect a manicure by wearing rubber gloves when cleaning and gardening.
  6. If you suffer from dry cuticles, keep cuticle oil in your bag or on your desk at all times. Cuticle oils tend to be more effective than creams.
  7. Nail-biter? Get a manicure every week for 12 weeks. According to Baek in "Confessions of a Beauty Editor", if you can commit to 12 weeks, you won't bite your nails. It tastes gross and you'll also think twice because of the cost of getting nails done. Baek says many women backslide in week three, but she suggests persevering.

Pedicures: The Secret to Super-Soft Feet

Here are my favorite pedicure tips:

  1. Keep dead skin at bay by regularly exfoliating in the shower with a pumice stone. Apply a thick lotion or cream to your feet (I recommend the highly moisturizing Eucerin Aquaphor). Once applied, wear socks to bed.
  2. For extra soft feet, try this trick from "Confessions of a Beauty Editor." Apply a thick coat of diaper rash cream to feet (yes, that's what they meant), put feet in a thin plastic bag, then put socks over it. If you can sleep like that (there is no way I could without ending up with sheets full of diaper rash goo), then you are guaranteed the softest feet ever in the morning. I recommend Cerave's diaper rash cream.
  1. Don't grow out nails more than an eighth to a quarter inch past the tips of your fingers, according to "Confessions of a Beauty Editor." Anything longer is verging on tacky.
  2. In her book, "How Not to Look Old" the late, great author Charla Krupp says nothing ages you more than red nail polish, fake nails and bad French manicures (too-white polish and an edge that's not thin). She suggests keeping the fun, crazy colors on your feet and keeping your fingernails neutral.
  3. In "Confessions of a Beauty Editor" the beauty editors confess to lazy pedicures. They wait until nighttime to paint on a basecoat, then follow with 2 thin coats of polish and another thin coat of topcoat and they don't bother to keep polish within the lines. In the morning shower, they reach down and scrape off the excess. They swear it works. I'm too lazy to do my own pedicures so I've never tried it. I'd rather pay a professional.

Find the nail care products mentioned in this article in Amazon: China Glaze's base coatSeche Vite Dry Fast Top Nail Coat, Tweezerman basic toenail clipper, cuticle oil, book "Confessions of a Beauty Editor"Miss Webril cotton bands, Eucerin Aquaphor healing ointment, Cerave's diaper rash cream, book "How Not to Look Old"