Nail Polish: Faves, Tips, and Tricks
I recently promised that I would share the answers to my two most-asked questions: What lipstick are you wearing? What polish is that?
In Lipstick: Faves, Tips, and Tricks, I answered the first question and confessed that outside of being enamored with lipstick, I am not a makeup girl. And it’s true; makeup is not something I spend much time or money on. My daily face takes a total of eight minutes to complete, if that.
Now my nails, that’s an entirely different story. Over the last two years, I’ve become a complete nail product addict, and have gone from having my nails polished only occasionally to always having them done. Even Hubby knows that on Saturday or Sunday, at some point, I’m going to be painting my nails.
Last year, in my post, Beauty Confession: Nail Polish Obsession, I wrote:
I think most women have some sort of beauty product addiction. For some it’s eyeshadow. Or lipliner. Or body cream. For me, I now know, it’s nail polish…
And you know why? Because seeing those glorious bottles of color every time I open my medicine cabinet just makes me feel good. And I get the same joy when I look down at my fingers and toes and they gleam back in lacquered perfection. Polish is the ultimate girlie-girl marker, and on the surface it may seem insignificant. But isn’t it the most telling sign of self-love, of time made for one’s own sanity?
Nail polish is one of the few beauty products that is absolutely unnecessary. It is an indulgence on every level, especially if like me, you prefer to handle your own manicures and pedicures. Doing your nails is labor intensive, time-consuming, and as we ladies know, a process that simply cannot be rushed. And all for a few days of enameled bliss.
Perfectly polished fingers and toes is so ladylike—I really don’t feel “done” unless my fingers and toes are done too. But I’m not alone. It seems that more women are using polish as a fashion accessory than ever before. Nail polish has come a long way—and I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. These are my favorite products and tips for tending to your nails.
(Ever wonder how nail polish came to be? For a great read about the history of nail polish, check out Beautifully Invisible’s post, Nail Lacquer: Blood Red Nails On Your Fingertips.)
My Absolute Favorite Polishes
Over the last couple years, I’ve tried many brands and fallen in and out of love with a lot of different colors. But these are the colors I come back to them over and over, and consider them to be the base of my polish arsenal:
From left-to-right: Essie’s Mint Candy Apple and Pink Parka; OPI’s OPI on Collins Avenue, Big Apple Red, Lincoln Park After Dark, and Black Onyx; Orly’s Hot Shot. Note: If OPI or Essie made a neon coral like the Orly shade, I’d use that instead. I find that Orly polishes thicken quickly, and chip faster than others. But I’m wild about this particular color.
There’s Essie Mint Candy Apple on my nails. It has taken me some time to love this color, after a couple tries with similar colors by other brands that I did not like. In some light it looks mint-colored, other light, more blue—plus it’s cheaper than Chanel’s take on this color. Bonus.
My Preferred Nail Products
- Nail strengthener, repair: Nailtiques
- Base coat: CND Stickey Base Coat
- Top coat: OPI Top Coat
- Brands for long-wearing color: OPI, Essie
- Best brand for everything nail-related: OPI
- Quick-dry color: Sally Hansen Insta-Dri
- For DIY nail art: Sally Hansen Salon Effects
- Vitamins for nail growth: Appearex*
- Remover: Target acetone remover
The 7-Day Natural Nail Mani
These are my tried-and-true tips after several years of doing my own nails weekly. My natural nail manicures usually last seven days with a minor touch-up halfway through. Of course, I’m not digging in any gardens or washing dishes without gloves. Pedicures can definitely go 14 days or more.
- Remove existing polish, if applicable. I prefer using cotton rounds to cotton balls, because they don’t usually leave cotton fibers on your nails.
- File your nails to the same length. Your nail shape should essentially mirror the shape of your cuticles. A square/oval “squoval” shape is most universally flattering.
- File edges with a ultra-fine grain finishing block after shaping. This step softens sharp corners and removes any filing debris that may still be attached to nail edges.
- Apply a cuticle remover or nail oil and push back cuticles with an orangewood stick. This maximizes the surface area of your nails and ensures you cuticles are tidy.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. A critical step—if you don’t remove every bit of oil or moisturizer on your nails, the polish will not adhere for the long run. Wash well with hand soap and scrub with a nail brush if you prefer. Rinse well and use a paper towel to dry your hands, so you don’t leave any towel lint on your tips.
- Start with a protein-based nail-strengthening base coat like Nailtiques. Find the formulation that is right for your nail condition. I use Nailtiques Protein Formula 2 religiously. The right formula will heal weaknesses in your nails, and lessen breaks, peeling, etc.
- Add a coat of CND Stickey. This green-colored base coat is the absolute key to long-lasting manicures. It extends the life of a polish I know would normally chip after two days. Seriously good stuff.
- Add two coats of your polish. Allow at least 30 minutes (or more, if possible) between coats. Try not to paint on too thick a coat. If you do two coats, thin layers will be fine.
- Finish with a clear top coat. OPI is my fave.
- Touch-up minor chips with polish, then add another layer of clear top coat. I do this about halfway through my week, if necessary. Note that I do not repaint the entire nail. I spot-paint and add the clear coat and it you almost can’t see any outline at the chip.
Tricks for 20 Perfect Tips
- Use an orangewood stick to remove paint from cuticles. When I sit down to do my nails, I always have an orangewood stick, a napkin or paper towel, and my polishes. As I polish with color, I use the stick to remove color that may have hit my cuticles, then I wipe the tip on a paper towel so I don’t transfer paint back to my fingers.
- When one nail breaks, file them all down. No one likes breaks, but varied nail lengths is not attractive. Better to file them all down and paint with a light color until they grow out some. Just let the long ones go. They will grow back!
- Nail length isn’t necessarily the marker of a great mani. More important is consistency in length; tidy, non-peeling cuticles; and a neat polishing job. I’ve seen some beautiful nails that are no longer than the fingertip, but they were immaculate. And in reality, dragon-lady nails are off-putting (and a little terrifying), and they don’t work for bloggeristas who are always typing and checking their smartphones.
- Don’t use fast-dry nail color when you need your mani to last longer than a couple days. I love Sally Hansen Insta-Dri—it’s a fantastic product, and delivers rich color in one fast-drying coat. But any fast-dry polish will not go the distance. Use it only when you need fresh color on the fly, and don’t expect it to last longer than a weekend.
- It’s OK (and faster) to use acetone remover. For years I was freaked out about using acetone remover, fearing it would weaken my nails. Non-acetone remover is actually for acrylics and gels. Using acetone remover for the short amount of time it takes to remove your polish will not harm your nails, and gets the job done in less time.
- If you can’t get away with spot-painting a chip, it’s time to remove your polish. Absolutely NOTHING is more unsightly or ruinous to a look than chipped nail polish! When chips are more like chunks of polish missing, please just remove all your polish. Bare nails are better than an obliterated mani any day. And you can bet your sweet a** that people do notice. Men and women.
- Take a vitamin supplement. I swear by Appearex. It’s worth every cent, and improves hair growth too.
- Wear gloves if you are working with your hands. You can’t possibly expect a natural-nail mani to last more than a day or two if you have your hands in dirt, water, or cleaning agents without gloves.
- Have fun! Nail polish is temporary, so have fun with it! My favorite new product is Sally Hansen Salon Effects. These patterned nail polish strips are totally fun, very easy, and they last like, forever (10 days)! I’ve found that the patterns (not solid colors) are easiest to work with, and the best part is there is absolutely no drying time. If you add a clear top coat they last even longer.
What are your favorite colors and products?
* Read more about the results I’ve experienced using Appearex.