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How to Give Yourself a Flawless Manicure


How to give yourself a manicure

In college, it’s all about saving money. With textbook and tuition prices at their highest rates in years, who has the cash to pay for regular salon manicures? That’s why it’s important for every college girl to know how to do her own nails. I’ve been doing my own nails for years, and there’s just no reason to go to a salon regularly when you can do the exact same thing yourself for next to nothing!

Here are the steps for achieving a flawless manicure at home:

10 Steps to a Perfect DIY Manicure

How to give yourself a manicure

* 1. Remove your old polish.

Use a non-acetone nail polish remover for normal polish, but switch to acetone if you need to remove stubborn colors or glitter nail polish. I like to use the instant polish remover where you stick your finger into the jar and twist to remove the polish, but whatever you prefer is fine.

* 2. Trim/file your nails.

Get rid of excess length with nail clippers, then file using a nail file to get your nails into the perfect shape. Which shape you choose is up to you – I’m partial to the “squoval” shape, short and squared with smooth edges, because I think it looks the most modern and fashion-forward. I also like squared-off nails. But nail shape is a personal choice, so do what works best for you. For illustrations of the different nail shapes, see this post from Glamour’s Beauty Blog.

* 3. Soak your hands.

It’s an optional step, but for the full-on nail salon experience, soak your hands in warm water for 5 minutes. Add a tablespoon or two of scented liquid soap for a nice scent and some bubbles. This will soften up your cuticles and prepare them for the next step.

* 4. Push back your cuticles.

Also an optional step if your cuticles aren’t too out of control. For those of you who aren’t familiar with cuticles, the cuticle is the little piece of skin at the bottom of your nail bed. It can sometimes get in the way of your polish, so pushing your cuticles back is usually a good idea for a uniform nail surface. Use a cuticle stick to do this, or in a pinch, a popsicle stick will do. Sometimes they cut your cuticles at pro nail salons, but I don’t recommend it. There’s no reason to cut your cuticles, and it can often lead to infection or gross-looking hands. Whatever you do, don’t cut your own cuticles at home!

* 5. Use a scrub to remove dead skin.

Use a hand or body scrub, or make a simple scrub yourself using a mixture of olive oil and sugar. This will remove dead skin from your hands and get them feeling soft and looking flawless.

* 6. Moisturize your skin.

The next step is to slather on your favorite hand lotion or cream. My favorites include Crabtree & Evelyn Rosewater Hand Therapy and Jaqua Pink Buttercream Frosting Hand Creme. Victoria’s Secret PINK Body also makes a great hand cream that’s 100% vegan and isn’t tested on animals.

* 7. Wipe excess lotion from your nails.

Polish won’t adhere to greasy nails, so use a paper towel or tissue to wipe the lotion off your nails before you apply polish. If they still feel greasy, use a drop of nail polish remover. It will help cut through the grease and get your nails primed for the polish.

* 8. Apply a ridge-filling base coat.

This is my number one tip for flawless nails – always use a ridge filler! This product not only makes your nail polish stay on longer, but it fills in all the ridges and bumps on your natural nails, leaving a silky-smooth surface to apply polish on top of. This is one of the reasons salon manicures seem to look nicer than when you paint your nails yourself – the ridge filler is the secret! I use Seche Base Ridge Filling Base Coat – it’s $6.99 at

* 9. Apply two coats of your chosen polish.

There are so many options when it comes to nail polish, but be sure you’re using a quality polish that won’t chip for best results. My favorite brands are Orly, Essie, China Glaze, and OPI. They may cost a bit more than good old 99-cent Wet & Wild, but they come in tons of fabulous colors, stay on longer without chipping, and generally stay fresh for longer.

Here are the pro secrets to perfect polish application: make three swipes over each nail – one on the left side, one on the right, and one down the center. Wipe off any mistakes immediately so they don’t have time to dry. And always make thin coats – two thin coats of polish always come out better than one thick one.

* 10. Let the polish dry.

Give your nail polish a few minutes to dry. It’s recommended that you let each coat dry for at least 5 minutes. To speed up drying time, you can apply a fast-drying top coat or run your semi-dry nails under very cold water. But be patient – you can completely undo your entire manicure if you use your hands too soon after polish application. Wait a little while and your nails will thank you!

What are your manicure tips?

So there you have it – my tips for an amazing DIY manicure. Do you have any tips or suggestions to add to the list? Do you normally do your nails yourself, or are regular salon manicures part of your life? Leave a comment and let us know.

Posted on on May 26, 2009 / Filed Under: Beauty & Hair / Tags: , , , , ,

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36 Responses to “How to Give Yourself a Flawless Manicure”

  1. 1
    May 26th, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    I recently read that you should hold the brush more parallel to your nails instead of straight up and down. I think it’s supposed to go own more evenly that way. I haven’t tried it yet, so who knows!

  2. 2
    May 26th, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    i always loved college fashion beacause it taught you to give a pop of color to a boring outfit,decorate your dorm room,or how to wear the newest trend. the problem is,it’s being
    a)bombarded with sponsers
    b)never updated!

    i’m starting to give up on collegefashion!!

  3. 3
    May 26th, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    i have to disagree with the comment above…the sponsers are great because i assume they help you to advance your blog and they also help me to learn about their products.
    i enjoy hearing about the products that companies send you because they all usually have alluring advertisements that keep me curious. its nice to hear your opinion (someone i trust to be honest since you usually are about all fashion stuff) about products rather than from fake reviews and promisin ads.
    i know a lot of blogs that i loved but only update monthly now. keep up the good work, a lot of people dont understand how busy you must be now that this blog is so popular!
    by the way, have you ever tried those buffers that they sell at the mall to make your nails smooth and shiny? those suckers are so awesome but not worth the money if you dont want to spend ten mins buffing your nails. youp tips are great. essie nailpolish is my absolute fav!

  4. 4
    May 27th, 2009 at 1:06 am

    oh man, I need this article. I’m admittely the worst nail painter ever– somehow it always ends up all over my cuticles & fingers instead of my nails.

    I just had a manicure done the other week & it’s already chipped! it’s definitely a much better idea to save the money and DIY :)

  5. 5
    May 27th, 2009 at 4:27 am

    Great tips. I’m awful when it comes to doing my nails…its because I’m so impatient and usually find the rge to do something very hands on when I have wet nails.
    I use those nail buffers aswell – they are absolutely amazing, and really smooth out your nails.

  6. 6
    May 27th, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Love this article…you done it again…$$ saving tips :)

    One thing I do at the end of my at home manicure is …after 5 mins of dry time I spray 2 sprays of: Avon’s NAIL EXPERTS Liquid Freeze Quick Dry Spray on each hand…holding the bottle about 4-5 inches away from my nails. You can find this at for about $6.00. This spray does exactly what it says…freeze quick dry.

    Thanks :)

  7. 7
    May 27th, 2009 at 9:43 am

    I totally disagree with zoey’s comment. This site is great and it is always updated. The adds make the page more accesible b/c you can go to a certin site with just a little click. I LOVE college fashion. Keep up the great wrk.

    ps. thanks soo much for the DIY mani i love to have clean pretty looking nails especially for the summer


  8. 8
    May 27th, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I’ve also heard that spraying alcohol on your nails before applying the base coat is a good idea to get rid of any oil left on your nails

  9. 9
    May 27th, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Love the article! :D I’ve always done my nails at home coz my usual salon doesn’t offer great manicures and manicure salon is SO expensive!
    1 important part you must not forget is give the nail polish a shake before applying it to your nails. But don’t shake up and down, it will give bubbles and bubbles ruin manicures. Hold the bottle with both of your palms and move your palms to and fro (sorry if this is confusing, i’m seriously bad at describing things)
    oh and, i’ve also heard that running your hands under cold water before applying the nail polish helps the nail polish to dry evenly later after you apply the nail polish. i’ve tried this and it works. :)

    one question Zeph, what about French manicure?

  10. 10
    May 27th, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Love the article, but i have to agree with Zoey. Not to be negative, i think the articles are ok, like the fashion shows, but from time to time i wonder if you get paid to sugest a product. And lately (only lately, dont know if its due to examns, this page hasn’t really gotten anything new in a long time)
    But as i said, I LOVE this article. Just vanted to ad that the nails on the right hand should get cut by someone else (at least i can’t controle my left hand that well).

  11. 11
    May 27th, 2009 at 11:36 am

    i cut my cuticles with a nail clipper, and it doesnt really do that much damage, unless i cut a lil bit too far, which will bleed a bit, but the pain goes away immediately. and it makes my nails look longer too!

  12. 12
    May 27th, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Kristen – I always seem to hold the brush more horizontally but I had never heard that tip. I guess it just seems to make sense to hold it more parallel to the nail for a more even stroke.

    zoey – Sorry you feel that way! I have been trying to update more lately because I JUST got done with exams last week. Also I’m not sure what you mean by bombarded with sponsors, could you be more specific? If you’re talking about the Reebok promotion, they didn’t pay me to do that, and that was a one-time only deal that won’t become a regular feature here. Anyway, updates will definitely be more frequent from now on!

    Rachelle – You’re right, I’ve been super busy lately juggling school and this website, so updates definitely haven’t been as frequent as I’d like. Also, I don’t want to talk too much about specific products here because I hate blogs that only post about new products, but I will always give you guys my honest opinion if I do make posts like that. Thanks for understanding!

    Gwen – Ooh, I’m going to have to try that! I am so impatient when it comes to letting my nails dry, even though I know it’s for the best…

    Lauren – Thanks! <3

    Liz – Yup, that’s the idea behind wiping your nails off or using nail polish remover – the remover contains alcohol which helps get rid of the oils and makes your polish stay on better!

    Maria – Great tips! I didn’t include the french manicure because I think it’s difficult to do at home and not as popular with college students. But you could definitely do one of those “french manicure” kits and follow the other steps in this tutorial to get that look.

    Lisa – I’ve NEVER been paid to suggest a product, ever. It says right on my contact page “I don’t do pay-per-post type advertising”. No one can buy my opinion. From time to time people send me things to review, but 99% of those don’t even make it to the site. I’m super picky and only write about products I would spend my own money on. If I’m mentioning a product here that someone has sent me for free, I always put that fact in the article so you know what’s up. This article didn’t contain a single product I was paid to talk about and no article here ever will! So now you know…

  13. 13
    May 27th, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Great article! Keeping your nails looking groomed and nice is definitely a part of fashion, and an essential part of looking professional whether you are in school or working at a job.

    I love these metal emory boards from Jonel. I tried using the glass ones but they freak me out.

    Keep up the great work!

  14. 14
    May 27th, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    It’s funny. I just finished doing my nails and decided to read your blog while I wait for my nails to dry. I painted them green. Anyway, I find the post helpful and very easy to follow. The latter’s important since it’s not really easy even for grown-up girls to do nails. About the three strokes, I read in a prom magazine that it’s center first then one side then the other. Hope this helps. xO

  15. 15
    May 27th, 2009 at 2:59 pm


    Seriously works! And so worth it, even though it’s a tiny bottle it should last for months b/c you only use one drop on each nail!

  16. 16
    May 29th, 2009 at 2:45 am

    I’m super glad you wrote this article! I think that there are too many girls who don’t realize that uneven raggedy nails and cuticles and chipped polish looks really gross.

    I used to be awful at doing my nails but last year I decided to work at it and now I’m brilliant.

    I swipe nail polish remover over my nails after the moisturizing step. And speaking of moisturizing, I bought this bottle of Vitamin E oil for less than $5 from the grocery store and I’ve found it’s the best way to soothe and smooth rough cuticles.

    Also, while the bulk of my nail polishes are OPI, I’ve found that NYC New York Color nail polishes come in some really great colors and are always like 99¢.

  17. 17
    May 29th, 2009 at 10:52 am

    I have found that I am willing to spend more money to buy a bottle of OPI in a color that I wear often (like red) but if I am just buying a color I will only use a few times I buy something cheaper at the drug store.

    Does anyone have any tips about painting with your non-dominant hand, I have such trouble painting my right hand with my left, it gets pretty messy.

    By the way Zephyr, I love your site and I totally understand about you being busy with finals and not being able to update, I am sure that any other college student would understand the craziness of exam week. I really disagree with those who were complaining with your lack of updating and ads! Just remember you have tons of fans out there that support your blog with everything.

  18. 18
    May 30th, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I hold mine under cold water for a minute and a half, then they are dry!

  19. 19
    May 31st, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    I was wondering how you prevent brush strokes from showing on your nails…it happens every time I do my nails at home and is so frustrating and makes doing my nails so time-consuming that that I just go to the salon…but if I could figure out how exactly they get nails so smooth, I could save some bucks!

  20. 20
    June 1st, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    Brittany – Using your non-dominant hand is really just something you have to practice. I find keeping your arm touching a table helps because it makes your hand more stable, but practice is key. Also, thanks! Exam week is so nutty – I’m still trying to de-stress and it was weeks ago….

    Anitha – The ridge filler (step 8) is the key! Using a ridge-filling base makes the polish go on super smooth, so the brush strokes won’t show up. Also, be careful not to use too much polish, always do at least two thin coats, and be sure to let each coat dry for 5 minutes before you apply the next. Those steps should help with the brush stroke lines. But really the ridge filler is KEY!

  21. 21
    June 26th, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    My sister just got this white French manicure pen- it works really well! I believe she got it at Target. All you have to do is draw the line, and then paint over it with the light pink color. It’s a cheap and easy way to get a nice French manicure, for everyday or special occasions.

  22. 22
    June 27th, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    i just discovered this awesome webpage
    for am article about gossip girl
    i’m mexican,i live in mexico and i think all these tips
    about fashion are great

  23. 23
    July 1st, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Thank you! i usually put one thick coat, now i know to put 2 thin coats :]

  24. 24
    May 11th, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Instead of using a ridge filler in step #8, I use a 4-way buffing block that gets my nails smooth as well! Just a tip for those who don’t like to use so many coats of polish.

  25. 25
    July 2nd, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    i have an asian friend and she is around 12 and she just started summer… she isn’t really the nail polish type so she was wondering wat color would go perfectly during summer as an asian, she thinks red is too mature and black too goth so she was wondering wat color is nice…… also i was wondering how do you paint your right hand nicely if ur a righty?

  26. 26
    July 2nd, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    i have an asian friend and she is around 12 and she just started summer… she isn’t really the nail polish type so she was wondering wat color would go perfectly during summer as an asian, she thinks red is too mature and black too goth so she was wondering wat color is nice…… also i was wondering how do you paint your right hand nicely if ur a righty?

  27. 27
    July 8th, 2010 at 12:56 pm


    I think your asian friend should go for avibrant colout like lime green or pink Barry M is good it is cheep and cheerful =)

    I am asian and I have been for 13 years

  28. 28
    July 19th, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I am obsessed with doing my nails. Before I was so insecure about painting my nails especially when it came time to painting with my non domininat hand, i would ask my sister to do my nails for me b/c I was so scared, but she would be annoyed and do my nails all sloppy. So one day during my senior year in H.S I decided to just try my best. And fast forward to just a year later and I just love painting my nails, French Manicures and all.

    After practicing for so long, doing my nails is like second nature to me. I’m very confindent and comfortable doing BOTH hands. It just takes practice and confidence!!

    Doing my nails is very calming and fun for me. It’s my “me time” and I’m pretty damn good if i must say so my self. I’d never spend another dime in a salon. What a waste!!!

  29. 29
    October 13th, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Love the cold water suggestion. Never thought of that.

    I just tried an incredible new product – liquid palisade. It helped me do the best manicure ever. I used that new Deborah Lippmann glitter stuff (which can be messy) & my nails turned out perfect with this stuff. You put it on before you polish over your cuticle and then peel it off. It’s really fun too. Check it out.

  30. 30
    January 1st, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    hi i use all these tips all the time but how do i paint it on the nail and NOT my skin thats always where it ends up so i use a “Cutip” to remove whats not on my nail. But if i use a cutip it always messes up my nail so plz tell me!!!!!! :) LOLZ!!!

  31. 31
    January 11th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    anelise: Sally Hansen makes a nail polish remover pen (kind of like a thin marker). I’ve had pretty good luck with it. Where I am (Texas), it is around $9.00.

    Hope this helps! ;)


  32. 32
    July 31st, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Hey! My friend Hannah HATES nail polish, but she has the looks of a girly-girl. She tries to act all sporty and stuff, but I beg her to get dressed up every once in a while. Do you have any suggestions for light nail polish colors just to dress up her nails a little bit. I do NOT want any bold colors like red or dark purple, she would refuse :/ Thanks a bunch!

    ~ Ashlyn

  33. 33
    August 15th, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    I’ve heard that when you’re drying your nails, you shouldn’t wave them around because then you’ll get bubbles? I’m not sure if it’s true but just wanted to mention it.

  34. 34
    November 17th, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    I just started school in aesthetics, simply buffering your nail lightly also works well so you don’t have to have a ridge filler.

  35. 35
    December 20th, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    THANK-YOU!! I <3 doing my nails but i USED to suck at doing 'em, so i almost always wear gloves.. now I don't know what to do with all of those gloves, because I don't need them!!

  36. 36
    December 17th, 2013 at 4:47 am

    Good 10 rules, great thing you posted them here, thank you!

    As for step 1, I find acetone kills and chips my nails real easily, and therefore I wouldn’t use it even if my life depended on it. =) But I DO like my glitters…

    Something that works for me every time is using a non-acetone polish remover on pieces of cottons as big as my nails (or nails size cut-outs of polish wipes). Put them on the nails and wrap them up in some tin foil. Leave for approx. 8-12 minutes, rub a little bit and voila! Everything comes of in (most times) one piece.

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