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…

My nail polish collection prior to a recent spring cleaning binge.

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.

Wearing OPI Big Apple Red, which matches Maybelline Color Sensational Lipcolor Are You Red-dy perfectly.

My Preferred Nail Products

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.

  1. Remove existing polish, if applicable. I prefer using cotton rounds to cotton balls, because they don’t usually leave cotton fibers on your nails.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Finish with a clear top coat. OPI is my fave.
  10. 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.
Wearing OPI Black Onyx.

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.
Wearing Sally Hansen Salon Effects in Kitty Kitty. YSL Arty Ovale ring with turquoise stone.


  • 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.
Wearing Sally Hansen Salon Effects in Glitz Blitz. YSL Arty Ovale ring with black gold stone.

What are your favorite colors and products?

* Read more about the results I’ve experienced using Appearex.


  1. this has to be the absolute most thorough guide on polishing nails that i’ve ever read!!! wowsa i love it!!!

    i’m a huge fan of essie. i’ve never owned opi except for the opi sephora collaboration, but that one was pretty sweet! i am terrible at keeping all my nails the same length. i hate it and agree it’s totally unsightly but i’m in a perpetual state of being unable to find my nail file. vesper likes to steal them out of my make up bag to play with them, i’m not even kidding. i’ve went through 6 different glass nail files before realizing that i really cant get the glass ones because she breaks them every time. that’s entirely besides the point but i just thought it would be fun to share that with you. =P

    1. Thanks, Kristy!

      I’ve never used glass files, only traditional style ones. I actually prefer a large fine/ultra fine file like manicurists use. Maybe it’s time to put your files in a place where Vesper can’ get to them!

  2. I’m the complete opposite – I never paint my nails or go for a manicure – just no time but I like the idea in theory and do love looking at the wonderful colours and finishes. There’s something very seductive about pots of nail polish and painted nails – love the leopard ones! I shall have to keep this post for reference when I do get round to painting them.

  3. I love what you said about the indulgence of nail polish. You’re right, it serves no purpose other than to be pretty, and it does require that we carve out time to just sit still and do it. I hadn’t thought of painting my nails as a therapeutic activity, but I will think of it that way now. I’m an OPI fan, although I will buy just about any brand if I like the color enough. 🙂

      1. HA! Thanks, Courtney. No I don’t read All Lacquered Up, though I probably should.

        I’ve found the longer I wait between coats of polish, the less likely I am to have smudges. Waiting that long between coats is obviously only possible at home!

  4. I am a nail polish addict!!! ADDICT! I have an enormous collection, I keep them sorted by color in an old library card catalog, it’s a problem. I mean even the mail guy at my job looks for my new mani’s, lol.

    Your tips are so thorough!! Thank you! I will take many of them. I do my own nails most of the time too and I have to say that my most favorite of favorite clear fast dry polishes is Seche Vite. I will never ever buy or try another clear topcoat because of this. It’s the greatest. I highly recommend!

  5. Ohhh I’ve been waiting for this post ever since you teased it. It’s even better than I anticipated. And your new Arty ring is AMAZING. So beautiful, and perfect with your new nails!

    I am an OPI and essie girl as well. Ulta is like crack to me – every time I go in there I walk out with at least 1 new polish, though I always have a few staples in my collection. In the fall I always reach for Sephora by OPI in Metro Chic, and in the summer I wear OPI Koala Bear-y a lot. I just bought essie Vermillionaire the other day and can’t wait to try it out. Seems to be an orange/coral-y shade.

    Thanks for all the other product tips. It’s funny, I was actually hunting for Appearex a couple of weeks ago based on your prior recommendation. Turns out our Walgreen’s stores don’t carry it here. I ended up getting a 30-day hand,nail, skin plan from GNC instead so we’ll see how that goes. I’ve never taken supplements for nails before but so far so good!

    Also – thanks for the shout-out, I appreciate it!

    1. I need to check out your colors, B…they sound really lovely! Especially the Vermillionaire. I’m so addicted to orange.

      You can find Appearex on That’s where I always get it…it’s cheapest online!

      Thanks for popping over, babe!

  6. Wondeful nail, wonderful tips. i was tempted by O.P.I on the airport, but in the end I didn´t get any. It hasn´t arrived to Spain yet, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

  7. question: i’ve started using the sally hansen press ons as well because i love the patterns and i couldn’t do them on my own otherwise. but the problem i keep having is that the strips don’t extend to both sides of my finger. any tips on how to fix this? or do i just have freakishly wide fingers? 🙂

    1. i also forgot to mention that i pretty much stick to sally hansen insta-dri for my polish. i think i have the whole series. they don’t last as long, but i’m in college, so i change my colour often anyway. it’s pretty much an every 4-5 days thing. i don’t mind either because that way i don’t have to choose which colour to wear.

  8. I’m a total nail polish addict too! I totally agree about removing nailpolish that’s chipped; keeping all nails the same length; and not having to have long nails to look like you’ve taken care of your manicure. In fact, I am not a huge fan of overly-long nails in general (when they’re not taken care of it’s even more horrifying!). However, I don’t find it necessary to wait 30 minutes in between coats – I wait 2-3 minutes (at most) and I’ve never had a problem with smudging or anything!

    Absolutely love that glitz blitz and wish I could get Sally Hansen stuff here 🙂

    1. Honey, I KNEW you’d love this post…you’re way ahead of me in the nail creativity department! Thanks for your comment!

      Hopefully the Sally Hansen products will make their way across the pond soon. 😉

  9. i love that mint candy apple. i’ve never tried essie but i adore opi. my collection is kinda ridiculous but i love wearing interesting, eye catching colors. for quick drying polish i swear by sally hansen’s dries instantly top coat. i’m sooo impatient and it really works!! also, i really like that gold bling. imma have to look into that. lol

  10. As a nail polish addict, I LLOOOVVEEDD this post! I polish my nails every week, either Friday or Saturday, and though it is a lengthy process (especially when I try to do designs), I wouldn’t stop doing it unless I’m injured lol. My favorite brands are Essie, Revlon, and OPI. I’ve been wanting to try Ginger n Liz and Butter polish though. Great tips; I never heard of Appearex, but am off to learn about it and where I can get it!

  11. ~ * ♥ * ~

    Wow, great post V! I have learnt a whole bunch of tricks and tips that I never heard before. Just one thing though ~ I have found that the Sally Hanson Intsa~Dri top coat works pretty well for me. I usually get at least five days out of it depending on the polish quality I have underneath and that’s without retouching and with doing a lot of things like crafting and horses!! But I also use a Sally Hanson undercoat ~ do you think that might help at all?

    bonita of Depict This!
    ~ * ♥ * ~

  12. Years ago, I was very meticulous about always having my nails polished. Now > not so much. These days I can’t seem to find the time to sit still long enough to do it AND I hate that I spend so much time on them to have them chip in a day or two. I need to look into that CND that you mentioned. Never heard of that before; maybe it will help. I always keep my toes polished for sure. Especially during sandal season > like NOW! Feet are ugly enough by themselves (imho) so polishing the toes to make them at least presentable is a MUST DO!
    I loved reading this post Vahni! You have some great tips on here. OPI polishes are my favorites!

  13. I hardly ever wear polish, although I do think it is pretty. I don’t like taking the time to do them…but lately I have been wanting a manicure. This only makes my desire stronger. I will have to get that green sticky stuff! Seriously, I have always wondered how people keep their manicures so long…

  14. This is definitely a girls 401 on nails! Like Kristy, this is such a brilliant post! I’m with you on Sally’s insta-dri, years ago I tried everything, but this is the one I buy in bulk when i’m back in London! Along with some Deborah lippman polish (i’m a sucker for glitter).

    I have you to thank for the condition of my nails now, since my growing out disaster with Gel bonded nails (ugh!), Nailtiques have been my saviour! Found a place online that sells it, thank God!

    Have a fab week angel.

  15. Great tips! Ive only recently started to paint my nails properly, basically doing what you describe here…before I would just remove old colour, already rubbish at that, hen apply new colour. Until my little sis became a nail fanatic, and now I follow all the steps you mention here 😉
    Also thanks so much for clarifying the acetone/non-acetone conundrum, now i know what to go for ;P

  16. when i was a kid visiting my gran, i used to play with the bottles, she said I did it for hours, every time. every time.

    that mint apple color is amazing!! i really love the sally hansen stickers the best… i mean they really stay on like nothing else. i went to get a ‘real’ manicure, and they didn’t last as long.

  17. Thank you all for sharing your favorite products with me! I’m really elated to know that this post was informative for so many of you…and that I have a lot of fellow nail polish fans!

  18. I have to agree — in my lifetime, OPI color is the best I’ve found for smooth application and lasting finish. I almost always have OPI Chocolate Shake-Speare on my toes. It’s described as a brown, but as with lipsticks, against my skintone and pale nailbeds, it’s a cheerful, neutral medium pink.

    For the toes: I clean any treatment creams off my nails with another round of polish remover — a trick I learned from some magazine. Then I do a coating of Sally Hansen Miracle Nail Thickener to fill in ridges and provide a smoother canvas. Then just one coat of OPI usually does the trick, and the pretty-good pedi lasts for at least two weeks.

    Fingernails are another matter! I do garden, and I clean house and do lots of dishes without gloves (a habit I should really fix). If I’m feeling disciplined, I remove polish and begin overnight cuticle treatments on Tuesday or Wednesday. On Thursday I do an early hand cream treatment, then do a final cuticle pushback, clip and shape the nails as needed, clean off residues with polish remover, and put on two quick coats of Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure in iridiscent white Angel Wings. Then I’m set for any outings Friday-Sunday!

    I love seeing a variety of colored polishes on the fingers of other style bloggers, and sometimes I daydream about a pearly teal manicure. But it’s easier for me to maintain a translucent pale neutral.

    1. I forgot to mention — one helpful timesaver I read once is to push cuticles back gently with your washcloth in the shower once the skin has softened a bit. I tr y to remember to do this; saves some time and force with the cuticle pusher.

  19. Vahni, I’m totally like you when it comes to nail polish- it is definitely my favorite beauty product! I have so many colors already, but I can’t get enough! Also, my friends make fun of me when I spend hours painting my nails, but in my opinion it is totally worth it! My favorite new product is the Sally Hansen Nail Polish Strips because they come in so many fun patterns and they are so easy to apply- in fact, I’m wearing some right now! I don’t own any OPI nail polishes because I’ve always found them a bit expensive, but I have a gift card to Sephora and this might be the perfect opportunity to give them a try! Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks! =)

  20. Deeply love this post since I am a nail polish junkie. Thanks for the tip about Sally Hansen Nail Effects, that the patterns are better than the solid color. I want to give that product a try. Manicures are hard for me since dishes, grocery shopping, laundry and picking up Legos off the living room floor currently comprise about 95% of my life, but I always have a pedicure and veer toward dark intense colors. I love your black nails! A girl after my own heart!

    P.S. Are you SURE you can’t come to NYC for McQueen? Exhibit extended for a week, and Monday hours have been added. The Met has had over 180,000 visitors so far and it hasn’t even been a month since the exhibit opened. Wow!

    1. Jill, I soooo wish I could make that exhibit, I really do! I love that your toes are always done. I could go without the nails, but no toenail polish? Oh, no.

      Thanks for your comment.

  21. I found out about Essie 3 yrs ago while visiting a friend of mine in the States. Here in Greece they are way more expensive that the US (douple the price), so last year while in NY I got myself 4 nail polishes, a base coat and a top coat. For top coat I swear by Essie’s “Good to Go” it dries really fast and it is helpful because I usually do my nails before bedtime, so with this top coat they don’t get lines from the sheets!
    Lately I bought some H&M nail polishes because I liked the colors and I am amazed that they last 5-6 days (always used with the Essie base and top coat).
    I’ve gone to salons only a few times for mani-pedi, so I tried to pick up some tips and even bought myself a couple of tools to help me (I’m not thaaaat professional though)!

  22. Not a detail left girl! Impressive.
    I am a pedicure fanatic but never wear it on my nails….you may have inspired me with this passionate post!
    I am loving Essie Sand Tropez right now…I even bought it from my nail salon…which is SO unlike me.
    Your polish collection is ridic.
    Thanks for sharing/

  23. I loved this post! I was about to paint my nails when I came across this. funny thing is I have almost the exact same mint apple color nail polish, but not from Essie because they don’t sell them here in Peru. The last time I wore that color some of my friends were shocked because of it, but I also think you should have fun with it!
    thanks for all your tips!

  24. Hmmmm….I am really feeling that Essie mint candy apple. Also…I got my nails shaped similar to yours this week. It looks so great on you…on me…not so sure.

  25. I’m going to have to try some of your tips! My manicures never last more than two days. It would be nice if they lasted longer! I love the Sally Hansen gold color in the last shot.


  26. GREAT post! I loved it. I really have always been curious about the Sally Hanson Salon Effects pasties but I’ve never tried them myself – are they really that easy? I feel like I would cut mine all uneven and I’d never have a clean finish towards the end of the nail.
    I have been after Essie’s Mint Candy Apple forEVER – it is constantly sold out. I love the color, it’s different but looks really cute and fun.

    Your gold glitter nails look awesome!

  27. Love these tips!
    All thanks to Pinterest, I’ve really started getting into mani’s & pedi’s!
    My main problem is something I’ve had forever – I can never seem to paint my right hand as well, since I am right handed. Do you have any tips to improve precision and application on the hand you write with? My left always looks impeccable, but when it comes to my right, it’s typically splotchy and awful-looking!

    1. Hi Hannah!

      Thanks for your comment. Not sure what to tell you about painting your right hand, except don’t do it after a run or a cup of coffee! I truly think the more you do it, the better you get. I’ve gotten really good at it after a couple years of almost weekly nail painting. I could swear I recently read about something you paint on your cuticles that dries and peels off after you’re done painting, but I could be wrong. Might be worth looking into.

      The other option if you’re not on a strict budget is to just have your nails painted at a salon every week or two. No mani, just painted. It’s usually less than the full manicure, but those products they use seem to last a lot longer.

      Whatever you do, good luck! And so love hearing/seeing so many ladies taking care of their nails. Nothing is yuckier than a lovely girl in a lovely outfit with bitten, chipped, or jagged nails!

  28. Just a little tip. I love the Sally Hansen Nail Effects, too, but they are a bit pricey. If you keep your nails relatively short it is absolutely possible to cut them in half. That way you only have to open up one of the packages and you get two manicures from one box!

    1. Thanks for the tip…although I have to admit that the novelty has worn off for me. These days I seem to prefer a simple, classic red, black, or nude mani.

  29. I absolutely love this article. Reading the opening sentences I thought to myself, “is she writing about me!?!?” I am just the same. I might wear some lipstick here and there along with some mascara and then I’m out the door. But my polish?! Now that’s another story. I love me some nail polish! I also love doing my own mani & pedis, which I just finished doing prior to reading this, lol. Thanks for the article. Good stuff..

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