For the majority of my life, I was The Girl With The Grubby Nails. Nothing was more satisfying than sitting on my bed, lost in a book, gnawing in a distracted fashion on my tiny nail stubs. Save an ill-advised love affair with acrylic French tips in high school, my nails were largely ignored, left to languish while I concentrated my efforts on mastering liquid eyeliner and figuring out a flatiron.
Enter the $10 manicure, the ultimate lifesaver. For the price of two magazines, three street tacos, an iced tea and a big cookie, my nail game was on point, effectively transitioning me from Not Grown to Almost There. However, my lifestyle often belied my appearance, and I’d ruin manicures regularly, digging in my bag for keys, rustling around for chapstick, and once, just by walking up a flight of stairs. My $10 mani obsession had reached its peak, and it was a waste of money. After hours of internet research, I perfected an at-home mani situation that is fun, and dare I say, relaxing. Let me show you the way.
First off, TOOLS. All the tools. You need at minimum, the following:
1. Base coat: The key to a good manicure is a good base coat, which creates a grippy surface for the polish to adhere to and protects your actual nail from becoming yellow and brittle. I like CND Stickey.
2. Nail Polish (duh): You guys know what nail polish is, and if you’re tired of the boring sheer pinks and reds that all your cohorts are sporting, there are literally hundreds, nay, thousands, of colors out there. My top three picks right now are OPI’s My Vampire Is Buff, an opaque, stark off-white; OCC Radiate, an eye-searing neon coral red; and Essie’s Absolutely Shore, a super pale minty green. The world is our oyster. Go nuts.
3. Nail File and Nail Clippers: Disclosure: I never cut my nails because I am a klutz and like my nails a little longer, so I just file. However, any nail clipper will suffice. Some people swear by glass nail files, and those are supposed to be better for your nails, but I’ve been using a regular emery board like the ones they use at your nail salon. Just be sure to get one that has a fine grit — anything too harsh, and you risk tearing your nails. I like this adorable neon set from Tweezerman.
4. Cuticle Remover and Cuticle Pusher: I discovered cuticle remover gel during a late-night drugstore run and have not looked back. I use this in conjunction with an orangewood stick. I like this Sally Hansen gel and these cuticle pushers.
5. Top Coat: Top coat smooths over any little mistakes and streaks, seals everything in and makes your nails mirror-like and gorious. Look for ones that are high shine and quick dry. I like Seche Vite or Essie’s Good to Go!
6. Q-Tips: These are key for cleaning up the edges of your manicure once you’re done, to make it look nice and tidy.
Ready? You’re gonna spend about an hour, tops, including drying time, so put something on the TV, pop in an audiobook, put on Rihanna, get comfy. Crack a window, because it’s gonna smell like a nail salon in your living room. Let’s do this.
1. Make sure your nails are clean and devoid of polish. I have a nasty habit of using pure acetone to do this, but I’d go with regular nail polish remover, as it’s less drying and smells slightly more tolerable.
2. Time to file. There are a lot of different nail shapes out there. Do what makes you feel good, girl. I prefer a long, almond shaped nail myself. File to the desired shape and try to file in just one direction as much as you can — the back and forth nonsense can lead to splits and breakage.
3. If you’re going in on your cuticles, now is the time. Blob out a little bit of cuticle gel into the nail beds, concentrating on the cuticle, and let them sit for a minute. Relax. Refresh your drink, change the song, send a text. After a minute or so has passed, take the cuticle pusher and GENTLY push your cuticles down. See how nice that is? OKAY, now go wash your hands.
Ok, now comes the scary part, which is painting your nails yourself! You got this.
4. Base coat! Get a little bead of polish at the end of your brush and plop it down on your nail. The goal here is to work quickly and get an even coating on your nails in three strokes — one broad stroke down the middle, and 2 smaller strokes on either side.
5. Get your game face on — it’s time for the real color. Get a little drip of color at the end of the brush, and get it on your nail, fast. Use the same three-stroke method you did for the base coat. The goal here is to minimize the amount of times the brush is touching the nail, because that makes streaks.
6. Once you’ve done two coats of the polish of your choice, it’s top coat time. This time, it’s key to get a lot of product on the brush, so get a little bead of color at the end of the brush, drop it on the nail, and watch in amazement as it glides right over. Don’t watch for too long, though. Remember — 3 strokes is key. Watch in amazement as all your weird mistakes, bubbles, streaky bits disappear. Top coat is the best.
7. Wait patiently for your nails to dry. Watch an episode of “Dance Moms” or “Married to Medicine.” Or, if you have places to be, get your hands in some ice water for as long as you can stand it.
8. Do you see nail polish on your knuckles, cuticles, nose, wherever? NBD. Dip a cotton swab in nail posh remover and go to town. It’s like magic!
And that’s it! Admire your handiwork, Instagram it up, feel proud that you learned a new skill AND saved $10.
Got any other DIY mani tips? Leave ‘em in the comments!