How often do I have bare nails?
When I was working as a nurse (I'm on medical leave right now), I rarely wore polish. I worked in critical care and polish was not permitted. I would work 2 days then 2 nights and have 4 days off in-between -- not much time for polish!
In August 2013 I started getting into polish more and more but was about to start grad school (to do my masters in library & information science). Again, little time for polish! Up until around the end of March 2014 I was doing full weekly manicures (& pedicures). After March 2014 I started doing my nails almost daily.
Back to the original question: I rarely have bare nails! It makes me feel naked.
Do you do ALL the steps every single day??
Definitely not. As I go through the steps, I'll explain what I do daily vs every few days.
Doesn't all that stuff damage your nails?
I try to use quality products and take really good care of my nails, cuticles, and hands. I think non-polish things damage your nails/hands WAY more (cold, water, alcohol hand sanitizer, not moisturizing, over-washing, etc). I also use preventative products and try to take care of problems right away.
How much nail polish DO you have??
A LOT. I stopped counting though. I went through a phase where I bought a ton but I've slowed down a lot, gotten pickier, and I'm trying to use all my "untrieds" (i.e. polish I bought, shoved in a box and forgot about).
Why don't you do more nail art?
Nail art is not my forte! I'm just not good at it. I might try the odd thing (stamping, for example) but it comes out looking wonky. I'm better at just doing straight colour with the odd glitter or holo topper.
Feel free to ask me any questions. I'll get into my usual nail routine below, after the jump…
(warning, it's long!!)
Step 1: Remove old polish. (every manicure)
If it's glitter polish, I use Julep's Party's Over Glitter Removal cap thingies (read my review here). If it's just regular nail polish I DO NOT use acetone (it's WAY too drying!). I'll use a standard acetone-based moisturizing remover. It doesn't have to be expensive. I've used Kit brand (from Rexall), Life brand (from Shoppers), Zoya+ remover, Julep's remover, Quo brand (from Shoppers). I don't really have a favourite, but I absolutely cannot tolerate the smell of non-acetone removers! They seriously make me gag and choke, even with a fan running.
Speaking of fans, I keep a small 4-inch fan on my desk. I usually turn it off for polishing because it makes your polish dry fast/get thick & hard to work with, but it's good to have when working with any chemicals.
I don't use cotton balls to remove my polish because I have a serious phobia of cotton balls. No joke, if you stuck my hand into a jar of cotton balls, I would probably pass out. Instead, I use cotton makeup remover pads (the more quilted the better). I tried ones from Dollarama but they were WAY too thin and kinda fell apart. Now I use the large square ones either from Rexall or Shoppers (store brand). I don't like the texture of those either but I don't get all creeped out.
Step 2: Wash hands & moisturize. (every manicure)
This step is crucial to me. I like using the Julep Glycolic Hand Scrub with super warm water -- it gets all the dead skin off your hands/around your nails, removes polish residue and any stray glitters, and makes your hands super soft. Plus it smells really good!
After the scrub I dry my hands and immediately apply a good helping of Julep's Rock Star hand lotion. I love this stuff!! I have really sensitive skin and this doesn't irritate me at all (neither does the glycolic scrub). I rub it into my hands, wrists, nails, cuticles for several minutes until it's all soaked in. You HAVE TO moisturize!! And do it often. My hands are particularly dry from all my years of nursing -- I think the alcohol hand sanitizer and hospital soap ruined my skin -- so I use lotion constantly. But it's also good to avoid the obvious age-related skin changes. It won't stop you from aging but it keeps your hands looking beautiful. It doesn't have to be expensive!
Bottom line: If you don't moisturize and care for your nails really well, slapping some polish on them won't make much difference. If anything, the polish will highlight your raggedy nails. Take care of them!
My fav moisturizers: Julep's Rock Star, L'Occitane hand creams, Gold Bond hand lotion (this is one of the best ones you can get, it's easy to find and it's reasonably priced). I would avoid anything with lanolin in it, it tends to irritate skin. Read labels!! Ones with shea butter as a base are amazing (though cost more). I tend to dislike ones with cheap emulsifiers like petrolatum (vaseline), lanolin, etc. They just don't work as well. The trick is trying out a few and finding one that works on YOUR skin. A lot of people like straight-up Vaseline. Use what works!
Other hand skin tips: ALWAYS wear mittens in the winter and put them on before you go outside (I can't emphasize this enough), wear gloves when doing any "wet" stuff -- dishes, cleaning house, etc., put moisturizer on your hands after shower/bath/dishes/etc., wear gloves when doing any work in garden or garage, wear gloves at work if you're a nurse (like even when you don't think you need to), invest in good hand soap that doesn't dry your hands out too much -- and use moisturizer after every hand wash. I know this all sounds crazy and paranoid but trust me, do these things and you will be rewarded with gorgeous hands & nails!
Step 3: Cuticle care! (once or twice a week)
I used to use that blue Sally Hansen cuticle gel remover stuff and an orange stick. I HATED it! Julep came out with their Vanish cuticle softener/remover and cuticle pusher in January and I snapped it up. Then I freaked because it said "lanolin" in the description but not on the ingredients listing. After much back & forth with Julep (& their supplier) it was finally determined there was NO lanolin in it (yay!). Unfortunately, Julep had to change their website and packaging to reflect this. Oops!
Anyway, SO GLAD I bought this! I don't use it every day -- maybe twice a week (or less). If you go at your cuticles too much you can damage them, irritate the skin, and damage your nail bed. Vanish softens your cuticles and the dead skin around/under your nail. You use the pusher to kinda scrape it away -- BUT if you don't use either product carefully you can damage your nails.
* Do one nail at a time. Yep, it's slower but so what?? Relax! Doing your nails should be fun and meditative. If you don't have time to do it properly then don't do it at all. I put a drop or two on my cuticle near the base where it curves. It should run down the sides and underneath your nail. Don't put it on your actual nail, it will only loosen up those top dead cells (nails are just dead cells, like hair!) and they'll shred off -- nothing dramatic but it will mean you have to buff it out later. It's not "ruining" your nails or causing some horrible allergic reaction. It is just doing it's job. Nails normally shed bits of themselves all the time, you just don't see it. Anyway, if this happens, don't panic. It's seriously not a big deal and it's not ruining your nails. Breathe!
* After you put your drop onto your cuticles, get to work! It doesn't need time to soak in or anything. If you let it sit it could irritate your skin or cause your nails to do the shredding thing around the edges (more annoying than anything). If you put your drop on and the phone rings or something, just wipe it off and come back to it later.
* Using the Julep pusher or an orange stick VERY GENTLY run it along the cuticle only. You shouldn't be digging at your nails. You can use the blunt edge to VERY GENTLY "push" the cuticle back. This is a ridiculously gentle scraping motion with almost NO downward pressure. Once you start pushing down, you're gonna damage your nail bed or start shredding your nails. I usually do the base then each side of the nail.
* As a last step, I scrape the sides of my fingertips (dead skin tends to accumulate here and then UNDER my nail on my fingertip (lots of dead skin here!). I also go up under/against the nail but if you do this be VERY careful. That cuticle between the fingertip and the nail is super sensitive and prone to tearing -- which is really painful!* Vanish is also good as a stain remover. Note though, that if you didn't use a base coat and have serious blue staining on your nails, it's not going to make them bright and clear again. Nor will it remove old buildup of yellow staining which happens over time with regular polish use. BUT if you have some residual pink from wearing red or something it will take it off. Just put it on your nail, let it sit for a few minutes then rub it off with a paper towel (works better than cotton). You may need to give it a few tries. I wouldn't soak nails in vanish since it can soften up your actual nails a lot. If I have residue around the edges I'll use the cuticle pusher to very gently scrape off the residue (and I mean gently!!).
This is after removing that glitter polish from my previous post. The first 2 nails on the left are after using the Vanish remover & cuticle pusher, the 2 nails on the right haven't been done yet. I'm not sure if you can tell from the photo (I can).
Step 4: Implements!! (every manicure)
Ok. Maybe I don't use all these things for EVERY manicure but for most, I think, depending on what my nails need. Usually I don't buff much. I like these little Julep buffers. We got them free in one of our boxes one month and I loved them so I bought more. I like that they are small and they're pretty cheap (4 for $2 I think). You can get buffers anywhere though.
The middle guy is a cuticle snipper. I know from experience that professional manicurists just love to cut away your cuticles. I don't do this at home. I would totally cut myself and bleed everywhere. Or I'd get crazy obsessive about it. Nope, I just use these to clip away any hangnails or odd bits of skin. I never bite my nails but I am prone to biting the skin at the edges of my nails near the fingertip. I think the acetone or polish remover makes it thick/hard -- this used to happen a lot when I was nursing, I think it was the hand-sanitizer. I got this one in a manicure set from Bath & Body Works about a million years ago. It's oddly still sharp. I have the Julep manicure tools set but I don't like that one as much as this one. :)
The nail file is a crystal one by Quo (from Shoppers). I think it was about $8-9. At first I wasn't sure about using a glass nail file, before this I used to use those big emery boards by Revlon. After about a week of using this I was totally hooked! There is a trick though… some companies make them by spraying emery stuff onto a glass file. Those ones feel rough and gross. I don't like them. A good one is a rough glass file. This one by Quo is a good one. I've heard of a few other companies that make decent ones but I can't remember the names of them. I'm sure you could Google it. I've had this since last fall and it still works amazingly well. The good ones last a long time! They also don't cause your nails to peel like regular emery boards do. Totally worth it! I only file my nails if they need shaping or I have a snag or something.
Not shown: nail clippers (duh). I rarely use these. My nails are pretty good so I only need to cut them back once a month maybe. Usually once they get so long I can't type properly then I cut them WAY back. I don't try to maintain a certain length. I think it's good to chop 'em back every so often, keeps them strong. :) And I totally don't mind shorter nails. I could never cut them down totally though, the sensation creeps me out!
Step 5: Oil it up! (every manicure)
I then saturate my cuticles and nails with a cuticle oil. I love Juleps but you could use plain coconut oil (I used to use that when I was working). I tried a few others and didn't like them. Find one you like, everyone is different!
I rub this into my nails and cuticles and even under my nails. I get a little crazy with it. :)
After this I rub any excess into my fingertips/hands.
Here is where things get weird! I use a paper towel to buff in/shine up my nails. This is my last step before polishing. I DO NOT wipe the oil off with alcohol or polish remover or acetone -- to me that defeats the purpose of putting it on in the first place, plus it's insanely drying and causes your nails to peel. I can get a mani to last more than a week without chipping or popping off even though I don't remove the oil totally. I'm not convinced when it comes to the "nail prep" thing, if anything that seems like it would cause your polish to chip/pop off faster! Either way, I don't do it, just wipe my nail with a paper towel. :) My manis last forever & my nails don't peel so I must be doing something right!
Step 6: The base. (every manicure)
There are soooo many bases out there! I have a million in my box but these are the ones I use most often.
Nailtiques Formula 2+. This is actually a nail treatment that totally saved my nails when I had a bad phase of peeling. I use it as a base coat if I have the odd peeling nail (but not necessarily on all my nails if they are healthy). Usually it's just my index finger on my right hand that peels. Weird but whatever.
Seche Clear. Not "3-free" but whatever. It's a good base coat and I tend to use this one when I'm in a habit of daily manis. It's not my absolute fav but it's one I reach for often.
Orly Bonder. This one IS my favourite! Seriously. My manis last forever when I use this. No joke. It's the best!
A lot of people find they get bubbles when applying a base coat. Use enough product on the brush and take your time. If you use a scraping of base coat and rush, you will see bubbles.
Do you really need a base coat?? YES!!!! It protects your nails, helps your polish last longer, and prevents staining. It also makes removal easier.
Step 7: Polishing! (every manicure, duh)
The best way to polish is the standard one swipe down the middle, one on each side, then get out. The best way to get good at polishing is to practice! Everyone sucks at first. I do my nails all the time and I still make mistakes and gunk it up or get it on my cuticles. Just take your time and breathe! Be patient. You can use a "helper" like Julep's Plié Wand if you think it would help. But honestly, just practice!
Below is a post-polish/pre-cleanup pic of Julep's Alfre.
DO NOT put topcoat on just yet!!!
Step 8: Cleanup time! (every manicure!)
Like most people, I never used to do this. Or I'd scrape the polish off my cuticles/skin in the shower. But my manis still looked messy/unprofessional. After reading up online and watching YouTube videos, I figured out the best way for me to clean up around my nails.
You wanna do this *before* putting on topcoat -- trust me, it's WAY easier!!
* Polish remover. I use pure acetone because it works faster/better than moisturizing removers.
* A small stiff makeup or art brush. I use the e.l.f. concealer brush. I think they're about $1-2 online or at Target.
* A small glass dish (or just use the inside of the cap from the acetone). I bought a small glass dish for polish stuff only at a dollar store. I think they were 2/$1.
I poke holes in the top of polish remover bottles instead of removing the foil seal altogether. This way it doesn't splash out all over the place (I'm clumsy!).
Pour your acetone into the little glass dish (or the cap if you don't have a little dish).
Once you have your dish of acetone (or remover) and little brush, dip the brush into the acetone and lightly dab it onto the paper towel to remove the excess. I use paper towels the entire time I'm doing my nails to protect my desk.
You then take the brush and gently swipe at any mistakes you made around your nails and remove the excess polish from your cuticles. Some polish is easier to remove then others (glitter is always a nightmare). Red is tricky because it will streak pink. Just take your time. If you get polish on the makeup bush, wipe it off on the paper towel before you dip it back into your acetone.
Keep at it until you have nice clean edges.
It won't be perfect the first time you do this, like anything it takes practice -- but this is the key to having your manicure looking perfect!
Step 9: Top coat! (every manicure)
NOW you can put your topcoat on. If you had put it on and then tried cleaning up, it would have taken you ages to cut through the topcoat and get down to the polish. Plus any stray acetone would've dulled your topcoat.
There are a million topcoats out there. It's not just "clear polish", it has hardeners in it and protectants against UV rays and such. I STRONGLY advise getting a quick-dry one. Some good brands: Seche Vite, HK Girl, Essie's Out The Door, & Julep's Freedom. They are all quick-dry (as in seconds later your polish is touch-dry and within several minutes you can do normal things).
If you don't pick a quick-dry topcoat, you can buy quick-dry drops. The only ones I like are Julep's Ta Da! drops. Either way, would rather skip the drops and just use a super shiny, quick-dry topcoat!
My absolute favourite is Seche Vite. Nope, not "3-free" but I totally don't care. I've tried nearly every other brand and I still adore this one. Yes, it can get thick, about halfway down. Just add a few drops of thinner (I use Seche Restore on top coat and other thick polishes). Yes, it can "shrink" (where it looks like your polish pulls back from nail tips/edges). The trick to preventing this is to totally seal in your polish -- make sure you apply a nice thick layer of topcoat and cover the ENTIRE nail -- from base to tip and side to side. Also, most importantly, seal the tips!! This is done by swiping topcoat along the tip edge/slightly under the tip. This not only prevents shrinkage but will prevent tip wear (which happens after a few days of wearing a manicure, looks like the colour on the tips wears away, often from typing or dishes or just … life!).
Do you really need a topcoat??
YES!!!! It makes polish colours/shimmer come to life! It makes them crazy shiny and beautiful. It helps your manicure last forever.
Step 10: Don't forget your cuticles!! (every manicure)
After the polishing and acetone cleanup and topcoat, you should moisturize your cuticles again. They'll need it, I promise! You can use the oil again but that's kinda messy. I MUCH prefer Julep's Mighty Nail & Cuticle Serum. They generally sell it in a pen-like thing with a brush tip and you twist it up. I am not a fan of that. A few months ago I bought their "Nail 911" kit and this mini Mighty Serum came in the kit. It's small and has a doe-foot applicator like lipgloss. I LOVE this format so much more!! My habit is to apply this after every manicure. I wish you could just buy this separately!
Of course, if you don't have it, no biggie. Just wash off the acetone (it turned your fingertips white, didn't it?) and apply a moisturizer or some oil. If you don't your cuticles will get crispy and crack/peel and no one wants that!
That's it! THANK YOU for getting through this seemingly-endless post!
I did purchase all the products I discussed in this entry, regardless of brand or where it came from. Julep products can be purchased from Julep or Sephora. I think I mentioned in the post where I bought various things. Oh, I purchased Nailtiques from Nail Polish Canada. I bought the Orly Bonder from Sally's Beauty Supply. I bought the acetone from Target. The Seche Vite from Nail Polish Canada (originally) but bought more from Winners.
Hope this helps!! :)