A good, basic “manicure” is the foundation of any clean and sleek looking nail art. When I say “manicure” I mean cleaning up your hands – giving your cuticles and the skin on your hands some extra love, cleaning, trimming and shaping your nails and basically whipping your hands into shape.
After a lot of trial and error, this is the routine and products that I use to get my hands picture ready. I try to do these simple steps once a week, and it makes a huge difference in the condition and strength of my nails. Plus, it will make your hands and nails just look GOOD!
Basic Manicure Steps
1. Gather Your Tools – Always make sure your tools are clean by sterilizing them before each use. Get everything out before you start so you won’t have to dig through your cabinets and drawers during your manicure:
- Nail polish remover
- Cotton pads, balls or pieces
- Regular nail clippers, if you use them
- Cuticle nippers – for hangnails only
- Fine grade or crystal nail file
- Cuticle stick, pusher, damp q-tip or soft towel
- Electric Nail Shaper/Grinder
- Small, shallow glass or plastic bowl – large enough to soak both hands at the same time
- Soft toothbrush
- Cotton gloves
2. Gather Your Products – I didn’t realize I use so many products when doing a manicure until I listed them all out!
- Warm water
- Olive oil
- Cuticle Oil or Lotion – I use Sally Hansen Vitamin E Nail and Cuticle Oil
- Cocoa Butter – I use Palmer’s, of course!
- VERY thick lotion – such as Neutrogena Hand Cream or straight Vasoline – great for the knuckle area
- Thick lotion – I use Equate Advanced Skin Therapy from Walmart
- Basecoat or nail treatment, such as Opi Nail Envy
- Nail whitening mixture, if needed (Baking soda and water)
- Nail repair kit, if needed – nail glue, cuticle stick or tweezers and buffer bar
3. Remove – Take off any old polish using your favorite nail polish remover. I like DIY glycerine acetone remover. If you have a dark polish color on or worse, glitter, you may want to try one of two easy ways to remove stubborn polish. Now you have a clean slate.
4. Repair – Repair any splits, cracks, and tears you may have.
- File – Gently file away any snags on the tip of your nail using a file. You’re not trying to achieve any shape here, just make sure everything is smooth.
- Smooth Out Splits – Slowly, and again gently, grind or buff out any splits. I use an electric nail shaper for this with as little pressure as possible.
- Repair Breaks and Tears – Here are full instructions for a quick and easy nail repair method, which is the one that I usually use.
5. Shape – While your nails are completely dry and free from moisture, shape your nails into your favorite nail shape. Water and moisture weaken your nail which can make them more prone to tearing or breaking.
Some shapes are less prone to breakage, such as rounded, square with rounded corners and square oval. Other shapes will actually weaken your nail but look really fun like almond and pointed.
6. Whiten – If you wear polish as often as I do, you will probably need to whiten your nails once a week. I currently use baking soda and water:
- 1 teaspoon water
- 4 teaspoons baking soda
Combine the ingredients in a bowl to create a paste like consistency. Use a soft toothbrush to scrub the mixture on and under your nails on each hand for 1-2 minutes, then let the mixture soak on and under your nails for up to 5 minutes. Rinse with warm water, cleaning gently with the toothbrush. Whiter nails!
7. Soak & Soften – Fill your container with warm water and up to a tablespoon of olive oil. Dip in your fingertips and as much of your hands as you can/want and soak for up to five minutes. Your hands will be oily after but that’s okay, we’re just going to slather them in lotion anyway.
8. Lock in Moisture – After soaking your hands, lock in all that moisture by slathering on cuticle potions and thick lotion. My usual method to this moisture madness:
- Cuticle Oil – Brush on a generous amount of cuticle oil all around the edge of your nail and cuticle, and under the tip of your nail. Make sure to spread it out onto any really dry skin surrounding your nail. Do not rub in yet, instead just let it sit for up to 5 minutes.
- Cocoa Butter Massage – Apply a dab of cocoa butter at the base of each nail on your cuticle. Now rub the oil and cocoa butter into your nail and surrounding skin using slow circular motions.
- Thickest Lotion – Put a dab on the first knuckle of each finger and message up onto all of your knuckles.
- Thick Lotion – Take 2-5 squirts of regular lotion and message all over your hands, have your gloves ready.
- Seal – Slip your hands into gloves for 30-120 minutes. This will lock in all the moisture from your soak combined with all the lotion and message to create magic moisturization!
I put everything on really thick to leave a messy residue so when I slip my hands in the gloves they can really soak all that moisture in. Time to play video games!
9. Cuticle Clean-Up – Now that your cuticles are nice and soft you should be able to easily see any loose, dead skin.
- Push Back Cuticles – You can do this using a wooden or rubber cuticle stick/pusher, a soft towel, or a slightly damp q-tip. I don’t recommend those metal cuticle pushers because if you slip you can damage your nail bed.
- Remove Dead Skin – If you’re like me you have dead skin on your nail near the cuticle. At this point in the manicure it may come off with just a quick rub with a soft towel. If that doesn’t work try a cuticle remover gel.
- Eliminate Hangnails – Use the cuticle nippers to carefully trim away any dead, hanging skin. I don’t recommend trimming off anything else, ever.
10. Protect – Last step, first using a q-tip soaked in polish remover, remove any lotions from your nail to make sure your polish will adhere. Apply 2 coats of a basecoat or nail treatment to keep your nails protected. Done, so fresh and clean!
General Nail & Hand Care Tips
- Stick With It – Whatever hand and nail care routine you use, stick with it. Keep your products handy and set yourself a reminder if you need. I have so many on my phone it’s getting ridiculous!
- Moisturize – All the time! When you wash your hands, after using any drying chemicals, when ever you need to or think about it, moisturize.
- Don’t Use Your Nails as Tools – Use tools instead, otherwise you are just asking for trouble!
- Protect Your Hands – When doing chores or other projects that are hard on your hands, wear gloves. I recommend having a good stock of kitchen gloves, work gloves, and generic vinyl or latex gloves on hand at all times.
- Protect Your Nails – There are are a lot of ways to protect nails to help them grow out long and strong:
- Use a bonding basecoat or nail treatment, such as Opi Nail Envy.
- Don’t pick! Instead, gently smooth away any cracks, snags or splits and trim off dead skin. Also, it’s not a good idea to pick off your nail polish, especially if you used a bonding basecoat. This can strip the skin off your nail making it thinner and weaker.
- Wrap your tips
In the spring I wrote an in depth post about my typical daily (and nightly) nail care routine, which remains mostly unchanged. Lots more tips and tricks there.