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There are nail trends you wish you could forget, like those viral videos of painting on 100 coats of nail polish from a couple of years back, and ones that hang on like a hangnail, including the once-ubiquitous French manicure that made a comeback late last year.
Polish has come a long way since the first nail salon opened in 1848. There are tons of options out there, from the popular Essie polishes you can find easily in a drugstore’s beauty aisle to the cult-favorite hushed hues of J.Hannah, which The Cut dubbed “a nail polish brand for people who hate color.” And brands like ORLY and OPI don’t just call their colors blue, bluer and bluest — oh no, their polishes have much cheekier names like “Country Club Khaki” and “Crawfishin’ For A Compliment.”
Getting your nails done has become self-care ritual for some — especially since you really can’t multitask when the polish on your nails isn’t dry yet.
But with most nail and hair salons currently closed, your tradition of a monthly manicure might be looking different these days. (Of course, you could support your local salon now by still paying for the service you were going to get.) Painting your nails has become another way to pass the time ― #quarantinenails, or showing off your painted fingers from your couch, has become an actual thing.
Since the editors at HuffPost Finds have been painting our own nails a lot more now, we reached out the experts at Essie, ORLY and Sally Hansen to find out how to really nail an at-home manicure and to learn about some of the spring nail trends you can try out once you’ve perfected your paint job.
What should I do before actually painting my nails?
Don’t reach for your nail polish just yet — there’s prep work you can do that could help you pull off that glossy finish you get at the salon.
You might already have the obvious tools like nail clippers and a nail file, but you should invest in a base and top coat, buffer, cuticle pusher, cuticle nipper (which will carefully cut hangnails) and cuticle oil or lotion, according to Rita Remark, a global manicurist at Essie.
If you’ve been feeling like your cuticles have been dry right now, especially with all the cleaning supplies you’ve been using and hand-washing you’ve been doing, a cuticle oil could help since it’s “key for lasting hydration and healing on dry cuticles,” Remark said. She massages Essie’s apricot cuticle oil into her nails and cuticles and uses hand lotion to seal it in.
With those tools in hand, Remark said, you’ll want to first trim and file your nails into your preferred size and shape.
Then, you can push back your cuticles back with a stainless steel pusher or even an orangewood stick. But you should be especially careful with this step — it’s not about about over-pushing or scraping your nails. The point “is to simply tidy the frame of the nail to prepare for polish,” Remark said.
“Don't overdo it with a cuticle pusher. The point “is to simply tidy the frame of the nail to prepare for polish."”
The step that Remark recommends next is a two-parter: You’ll want to buff your nails with a buffing block, which exfoliates and smoothes your nails, and then trim hangnails with a nipper.
Before going in to paint, Remark said, you might want to give your nails “a cleanse with a nail polish remover to clean away any excess dust or oils.”
And if you’re hoping to try to paint a pattern or print on your nails, you can find tools at home, too. Remark uses the backs of brushes, bobby pins and toothpicks for polka dots. For an ombre look, she opts for makeup wedges to dab the polish (and brushes dipped into remover to clean up any excess).
Now your nails will be primed for polish.
OK, but how do I make sure that I don’t get nail polish all over the place?
Your nails are cut, clipped, trimmed, buffed and based. So it’s time to get to most important (and sometimes shaky) part of a manicure: applying the nail polish.
Once your nails are completely dry from being cleansed with remover, it’s really about your base coat, said Brittney Boyce, a consulting nail artist for ORLY. A base coat is meant to make nail polish last longer. It also “helps prevent nail colors from sticking,” especially if you use a dark shade, she said. (Her pick for a base coat is ORLY’s Bonder, which is rubberized and supposed to grip into a nail lacquer.)
You should apply your preferred polish in thin and even layers, Boyce said, and try to paint your nails with as few strokes as possible. Three is ideal: one down the middle of the nail, and two on each side.
You’ll want to let that first coat dry before you add a second coat. Doing so will “help prevent the first layer from ‘moving’ too much, which can lead to unevenness,” Boyce said.
While you might not have too many problems when painting with your dominant hand, you could feel slightly unsteady if you’re a righty using your left hand or a lefty using your right hand.
You might help that shakiness by putting your elbows and forearm on a table, Boyce said, and use a nail brush dipped in nail polish remover to get rid of any paint that’s outside your nails.
And finally, Boyce recommends finishing with a top coat “to help extend wear and add shine.” You can keep putting on a clear top coat every two to three days, too.
What are some of the spring nail trends to try at home now?
With the flowers starting to bloom now, you might be feeling like you’re missing out on seeing the colors of spring. But you can bring the spring indoors with on-trend pastel shades.
In its latest limited-edition collection, Essie has six different pastel polishes that range from a celadon green color called “Can-Dew Attitude” to a lilac shade named “Spring In Your Step.”
Boyce said she is also seeing lots of mellow pastels and deep terra cotta shades. “A lot of us are quite nervous about what’s happening, and these softer colors look and feel calming,” she said. ORLY’s trending colors include “Super Nova Girl” and “In The Groove.”
“A lot of us are quite nervous about what’s happening, and these softer colors look and feel calming.”
And now that you might be spending much more time at home, you could opt for experimenting with new trends on your nails rather than the neutral color you would normally wear to work.
“These manicures are a mix and match of colors, a different one on each nail,” Lee said.
The French manicure has gotten another update, too, according to Lee. There’s a double-tipped French nail trend, “where instead of the classic white tip, you have two shades replacing it for a modern look.” She said there’s also a “sea glass” nails trend, which is created by putting a matte top coat over sheer polish.
Now you know how to achieve a manicure by yourself and have some inspiration for styles to try out. We found trendy nail polishes that’ll make that next at-home salon session a breeze.
Here are some nail polishes to try now: