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Want a salon-quality manicure? Find out nail pros’ top 6 do’s and don’ts

Here's how to (always) look like you just stepped out of a nail salon.
Vivian Le / TODAY
Vivian Le / TODAY

Painting your nails at home can save time and money. Plus, when you paint your own nails, you can change your nail shape and polish color as often as you like, and I personally find painting my nails to be a soothing self-care activity.

With some patience and practice, you (yes, you!) can achieve a beautiful at-home manicure that looks like you just stepped out of the salon.

Whether you’re a nail painting novice or looking to learn new tricks to prolong your at-home manicure, you’ve come to the right place. I chatted with some nail pros (including a manicurist who invented "glazed donut" nails) to learn their top tips.

Here’s what they had to say.

1. Don’t use water.

For a long-lasting at-home manicure, it’s a good idea to stay away from water prior to application. Rachel Apfel Glass, the founder of GLOSSLAB, a membership-based nail studio with locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and more, explains that water can cause the nail to change shape and cause the polish to chip faster.

“When the nail is wet (after being soaked in water), it changes shape before the polish is applied,” she says. “When the nail plate reverts back to its usual shape, this can compromise the manicure and lead to chipping because the polish was applied prior to the nail plate being fully dry.” 

2. Do prep your nails properly

One of the best ways to ensure a smooth, long-lasting manicure is proper prep. This includes removing any existing polish, filing your nails to your desired shape and length, and pushing back your cuticles, according to Zola Ganzorigt, OPI Global Ambassador and celebrity nail artist. Glass also recommends lightly buffing the surface of the nails “for an even application of polish.”

Zoya Remove 3-in-1

The ZOYA Remove Plus is my favorite nail polish remover. It functions as nail prep, nail conditioner and polish remover in one, and many reviewers note it doesn't smell harsh like other drugstore brands, and it doesn't leave nail beds dry.

Holo Taco Glass Nail File

I use Holo Taco's glass nail file, which is made of premium Czech Glass, to file my nails. It has a fine glass grit edge and comes with a protective sleeve.

Tweezerman Pushy and Nail Cleaner

For cuticle pushing, we recommend Tweezerman's stainless steel pick, which is dual-ended: Gently push and loosen your cuticles with the flat end, and clean under and around your nails with the curved end.

3. Don’t cut your cuticles at home.

“We like leaving [cuticle cutting] to the professionals because you can cut yourself and get a potential infection,” says Olivia Van Iderstine, VP of Content and Creative for Olive & June.

Instead, she recommends pushing your cuticles back gently and lightly buffing away the dead skin. “Over time this will train your cuticles to lie flat and look super neat,” she explains.

Ulta Beauty 4-Way Nail Buffing Block

This four-way buffing block, part of Ulta's Beauty Collection, is both affordable and durable, users report. It comes with four sides: one for filing, one for buffing, one for smoothing and one for shining.

4. Do paint thin, even coats of nail polish.

Van Iderstine stresses the importance of painting two to three thin coats of polish to achieve full coverage, and waiting five to 10 minutes between each coat.

“This ensures each layer has time to sufficiently dry, and creates strong adhesion between each coat of polish,” she says. “This also helps your mani last as long as possible!”

Painting thick coats, on the other hand, can lead to your manicure chipping in the first few days, and the polish will take a long time to dry (if it ever does).

5. Don’t skip hand and nail care.

If you think your manicure is complete after a layer of top coat, think again.

“Maintain the health of your nails and hands by regularly moisturizing them with hand cream or cuticle oil,” says Glass. She recommends a hand cream that's made with nourishing ingredients such as shea butter and coconut oil for hydrating the nails and hands.

In addition to making your manicure look nice, keeping your cuticles moisturized can help keep chips at bay. 

OPI ProSpa Nail and Cuticle Oil

This oil by OPI contains oils like avocado, cupuaçu and sunflower to help strengthen, condition and revive nails and cuticles. The oil is formulated to be fast-absorbing and can be used on both hands and feet.

Moroccan Oil Hand Cream Fragrance Originale

This cream packs in antioxidants in the form of argan oil, locks in moisture with hyaluronic acid, and intensely hydrates nails and skin with shea and cocoa butters. Bonus: Reviewers say it feels luxurious to apply.

Dermelect Rejuvenail Fortifying Nail & Cuticle Treatment

This cream contains ingredients Glass highly recommends in a hand cream, including hyaluronic acid and shea butter, and it can be used on both bare and polished nails. It's also formulated with the brand's keratin protein peptide technology, as well as vitamins A, C and E, for maximum nourishment.

6. Do reapply the top coat every 2 to 3 days.

We all love the shiny look of a fresh manicure, and reapplying the top coat throughout the week both reinvigorates your mani with shine and protects it, according to Van Iderstine.

Olive & June Top Coat

Cirque Colors Looking Glass Top Coat

Olive and June's Top Coat has a plump, gel-like feel, while Cirque Colors’ Looking Glass Top Coat (my personal favorite) is glossy and quick-drying.

Questions about at-home manicures, answered by experts

How we chose the best products for at-home manicures

For this story, I interviewed three nail pros to share their top tips and product recommendations. I also shared a few of my personal favorites as a nail polish enthusiast who owns hundreds of nail polishes (and posts nailfies on Instagram).

I paint my nails at least twice a week and have tested dozens of nail care products to help me achieve a salon-quality manicure at home.

Note: Any product from OPI and Olive & June recommended here were chosen based on my personal experience and independent editorial judgment.

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