A Comprehensive Guide To Preparing Your Nails For A Long Lasting Manicure•
Posted on December 04 2022
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The new year is upon us and New Year's resolutions are brewing. A goal you might have is to ditch the expensive salon and do your manicures at home. Maybe you already do your manicures at home but want to step it up a notch and take your manicure skills to the next level. Whether you are a veteran at painting your nails at home or just starting out, we’re here to help you achieve your nail goals! Let’s start with the basics. A great and long lasting manicure starts with a great nail prep routine.
Remove Old Nail Polish
First things first, remove any old nail polish you may have on your nails. Depending on what’s currently on your nails, will depend on how you remove it.
Are you wearing acrylics or some type of extensions put on by a nail salon? Please go back to the salon and have them remove them properly before continuing. We will not be going over any information that applies to these types of nail enhancements.
Are you wearing a DIY gel manicure that you’ve applied yourself? First we recommend using the instructions that came with your DIY kit for removal. This will give you the best possible removal strategy. I have done gel manicures at home for myself, but I stopped doing them because I got a little overzealous with the removal part and it caused my nails to get really thin. If this is the route you are going, I would recommend being very gentle when filing off the old nail polish and don’t scrape the old nail polish off too hard after they’ve soaked in acetone. These I feel were my trouble spots in my technique. And if you are in doubt at all, go to a nail salon and have them remove your gel polish.
Are you wearing regular non-cured nail polish? Great! I can help you with this one! One of my all time favorite nail polish removers is Zoya’s Remove Plus. I’ve used a lot of different nail polish removers and this one is by far the best. I don’t know what they put in it or why it works so well, but it does. It’s gentle on your nails but very effective in removing nail polish. It claims to also work as a nail prep cleaner, but I’ve never used it for that purpose before. I’ll add that to my try list.
Lastly, are you not wearing any nail polish at all? Then I recommend just washing your hands. That gives you a nice clean slate to work with.
Techniques For Removal Of Regular Nail Polish
Cotton Pad/Ball Method
This one is your basic removal method that you’ve probably been using for years…or have you? If you’ve been applying your nail polish remover to a cotton pad/ball and scrubbing away at the nail polish on your nails for what feels like forever with a less than great result, try this:
- Take your favorite nail polish remover and apply it to a small cotton pad or ball.
- Press the pad/ball to your nail and hold there for 10-15 seconds.
- While still pressing down on the nail with the pad/ball, gently pull the pad/ball across your nail from the cuticle to the tip.
- Repeat the process on all other nails.
This should result in most, if not all of the nail polish coming off of your nails in one single swipe. This is also a great method for removing dark colored nail polishes. People often complain that when they remove a dark colored nail polish, they see some staining on the fingers. This method keeps the majority of nail polish on the pad/ball and off of your fingers.
Sometimes, you may still have a little bit of nail polish around the side of your nails or the cuticle area, but it will be much easier to remove now that some nail polish remover has soaked into the nail polish. When that happens, I just take another pad/ball (or even a Q-Tip), apply more nail polish remover to it and gently wipe the excess nail polish away. Unless you are wearing a glitter nail polish, it generally doesn’t take much more effort than that.
Which brings me to my next removal method:
Aluminum Foil/Nail Clip Method
This method is great for removing glitter nail polish or nail polishes that are a little more difficult to remove. You may have tried something similar when removing your at home DIY gel manicure. For this removal method you are going to need: aluminum foil torn or cut into about 5 inch x 5 inch pieces OR nails clips, cotton pads/balls and your nail polish remover. You might also want to try out these aluminum foil wraps.
- Apply your nail polish remover to a cotton pad or ball. Note: If you are using a cotton ball, you will want to pull it apart a bit so it is a little more flat and less ball shaped. This is because we will be wrapping the cotton around the nail and finger.
- Wrap the cotton ball/pad around your finger nail. Make sure that the portion where nail polish remover was applied is directly on the nail. Wrap the excess cotton around the rest of your finger.
- If you are using aluminum foil, take a piece of the foil and tightly wrap it around the tip of your finger so that the cotton pad/ball is completely covered and secured to your finger. If you are using the nail clips, open the nail clip and clamp it down over the pad/ball so that it is secure on your finger. With either method you want to make sure there is enough pressure applied to keep the cotton pad/ball secured to the nail surface. Essentially, you are letting the remover soak on the nail.
- Allow the cotton pads/balls to soak on the nails for 5-10 minutes.
- To remove, press down on the aluminum foil wrap or nail clip to apply pressure to the nail and gently pull it across your nail from cuticle to tip.
- Repeat the process over all nails.
Again, this will remove most of, if not all of the glitter nail polish. Sometimes you might get a straggling piece of glitter that doesn’t want to budge. In this case, I usually just take a cotton pad/ball, apply more nail polish remover to it and gently rub the piece of glitter away. If there is more than a piece or two of glitter left on your nails, you can repeat the process in its entirety and let the nail polish remover soak into the nail longer. Another option is to try a stronger nail polish remover such as Onyx Pure Acetone. Take caution, this will dry out your nail a lot and I do not recommend using it regularly, but it is great for really difficult to remove glitter or nail polishes.
Determine Nail Shape & Length
There are two things you need to determine about your nails before you continue. How long do you want them to be? And, how do you want them to be shaped? Both are dependant on your personal preference, but some things to consider are:
How much do you use your hands on a daily basis?
Are they regularly exposed to harsh chemicals, water or extreme temperatures?
Do you experience a lot of nail breaks or do your nails peel?
How much time do you have to devote to taking care of your nails?
Do you have a job that requires your nails to look a certain way?
If you are someone who is busy all the time, has a demanding on-your-hands job (like a nurse who is always washing their hands) or works in a strict-dress-code office, might I suggest keeping a shorter nail length with a round or square shape?
Are you someone who works from home, is a makeup/beauty influencer or just loves to spend a lot of time on their nails? Then maybe you’d like having a longer length or more complex nail shape. Again, these are merely generalizations and suggestions. Do what you prefer and what fits your lifestyle. For me, I use my hands a lot and they often take a beating. I keep my nails a short to medium length and usually a square or round shape. If I could keep longer nails, I’d totally wear ballerina or coffin shaped nails!
There are many different nail shapes out there. I’ve listed a few of the more popular ones below and how to achieve them with a file or nail clippers. As we’ll be filing our natural nails to create these shapes, I recommend using our Premium Crystal Glass Nail File. Glass nail files are soft and gentle on natural nails and you’ll be less likely to cause any splits or tears with them.
With a square nail shape, the top of the nail is cut flat with straight sharp edges that mimic two corners of a square. This shape is good for short or long nails. It’s often a popular choice because it is said to help prevent nail breaks as having straight sides creates a more sturdy nail bed, and I have to agree. For a very long time I would only wear my nails in an oval/round shape and they broke almost constantly once they got past a certain length. Earlier this year I switched to a square nail shape and I’ve noticed I can grow my nails longer and they seem stronger. In fact, they’ve almost grown too much in some cases! I’ve had considerably less nail breaks as well. Now it’s the only nail shape I want to wear.
For me, I’ve found the easiest and quickest way to create this nail shape is to use a pair of flat edge nail clippers. I recently found out about these through my sister in law and they are a game changer! Determine how long you want your nails to be and then clip them straight across with the flat edge nail clippers. I then take a nail file to smooth out the rough edge on top and ever so slightly round off my corners just so my nails don’t become dangerous objects. If you are just touching up your nails, it isn’t really necessary to use nail clippers, but if you need to cut off quite a bit of length this makes it so easy and you don’t have to do much touch up with the nail file.
If you are just taking off a little bit of length or not wanting to use nail clippers, I create a square shape by first filing down the top and making sure that it is flat. What I like to do is line my nail file up with my cuticle and then bring my nail file up to the free edge of my nail and see if it is level and flat in comparison to my cuticle. I try to make sure that each nail looks level and flat for each individual finger. After I’m happy with the top, I clean up the sides if necessary. If your nails grow pretty straight out, you won’t need to do very much, but if your nails splay out, you will want to file the sides so that they look like they are coming straight out from the nail bed. Lastly, I gently run the nail file over each corner so that my corners aren’t razor sharp. From a distance, they will still look sharp, they just won’t be deadly.
This was always my go-to nail shape before switching to square nails and I love it because it is universally flattering and very soft and feminine looking. The top of this nail shape is rounded or curved, usually to match the shape of the cuticle. It’s great for all lengths, but I find it particularly good for super short and short nails. For example, if you can’t have or don’t want to have any length to your nails and cut them down all the way to where the skin attaches to the nail, it’s typically (but not always) going to have a natural curve to the cut edge of your nail. Smooth out the cut edge with a nail file and you have an instant oval/round nail shape!
But, if you do want some length to your nails, it’s a pretty easy shape to accomplish with a nail file. I don’t recommend using nail clippers (curved or flat) to get this nail shape, unless of course, you are wanting to remove a good amount of length off of your nails first. To create an oval or round nail shape, take your nail file and gently round off the corners. Depending on how long your nails are, the goal is to leave the sides of your nail straight. Obviously, if you have shorter nails, you may not have much nail side to work with, but if your nails are longer, keep the sides of your nails straight. You want to round the corners and the top of your nail to create a soft curve that mimics the curve of your cuticle.
The Squoval nail shape is a combination of the square and oval/round nail shapes. This nail shape usually has a flat top with straight side edges and the corners are generally more rounded and softer. Sometimes the top may be slightly rounded as well. This is another nail shape that is good for long or short nails.
To achieve a squoval nail shape, I start by doing the square nail shape instructions listed above. I then take my nail file and really round off the corners of the edges so that they are visibly rounder. This nail shape I find looks really natural and if I just let my nails grow normally without shaping them, they tend to kind of grow in this shape. If you are doing a squoval shape on longer nails, you’ll want to make sure to keep your side edges straight. While less popular, a squoval nail shape doesn’t have to have a completely flat top, but can be ever-so-slightly curved. This is a pretty low maintenance nail shape that is easy to keep.
Receiving its name from a stiletto heel, this nail shape is long with a sharply tapered point. While I have seen this done on short to medium length nails, you really get a much better effect on long nails. This nail shape is both sexy and dangerous (in a totally femme fatale sort of way).
With all the other nail shapes I start with the top of the nail and work my way to the sides. Since this nail shape requires a pointed tip, I start on the sides and not the top. First, determine the middle point of your nail (where the tip of the nail will be). From there, I want you to imagine a line that connects the outside edge of your nail (where the skin is attached to the nail bed) to that middle point where the finished tip will be. Angle your nail file so that it matches that imaginary line. This angle will vary depending on how long your nails are. Then, pull the nail file out to the free edge of the side of your nail and start filing away.
If you are drastically changing the shape of your nail and you have a lot of length (for example, you had long square nails and are shaping them into long stiletto nails), you might want to consider clipping a bit of the side edge or corner of your nail off with flat edge nail clippers. Filing a lot of length can get very tedious and time consuming when doing all 10 nails and this helps to quicken the pace. Otherwise, file the nail until the outside edge of your nail is connected to the tip of the point. Make sure not to go too far, as you have to match the other side and if you get the angle wrong or go too far past the middle point it’s going to cause you to have to shorten the length of the stiletto shape in order to reestablish the middle point.
But wait! You’re not done yet! Once you get one side properly angled, repeat the above steps to angle the other side of the nail. Take a good look at your nail and make sure that the point still looks centered. If the point is not centered, look at which side the point is more on. If, for example, the point is more on the right side of the nail, gently file the right side a little more (still at an angle) to shift the point more to the center. If it’s more on the left side of the nail, gently file the left side to move it more to the center. Once you are happy with your point placement, ever so slightly run the nail file across the tip of the point to slightly blunt your new nail daggers. (Not enough to visibly round the tip, but enough so you don’t kill anyone.)
Stiletto nails are sexy, dangerous and I’d say expert level difficulty in terms of nail filing. When done well, they look amazing, but they definitely need practice to get them flawless. Might I recommend a couple of less scary stiletto-esqe nail shapes?
Almond nail shapes are a combination of a stiletto nail shape and an oval or round nail shape. Named after the almond nut that it mimics the shape of, this shape takes the top of the oval/round nail shape, elongates it and tapers the tip slightly. The tip is usually rounded and soft. (No nail daggers here.) While this shape can be done on short nails, it works well with medium to long nails.
For this shape, I like to work it like the stiletto nail shape, except that you don’t need to work it into a point. You can work from the outside bottom edge corner of your nail to about a ¼ of the way in from the outside of your nail on either side. Once you get the side completed, round the top of the nail by removing any harsh edges. The side angles on this shape will not be nearly as dramatic as the stiletto shape.
If you plan on taking some length off of your nails another method for this nail shape would be to create an actual stiletto nail shape and then file down the point until you reach your desired length. This option will leave you with a slightly more pointy tip, but still not as dramatic as the stiletto shape.
This is one of my absolute favorite nail shapes! If I could keep long nails, this is the nail shape I’d wear all the time. It has become quite popular this year and I see a lot of people wearing it too. Ballerina or Coffin shaped nails are essentially a stiletto nail with a flat squared off top. The sides are tapered in, but instead of a pointed or rounded tip, it is flat. This is a combination of a stiletto shape and square nail shape. These are great for long nails, although you can wear them with shorter nails for a less dramatic look.
Depending on how long your nails are, might depend on how you want to start these. I find that if my nails are shorter, it’s easier to start at the top, like square nails. Get the top of your nail nice and flat and even and then slightly angle your sides in. If your nails are short, this will not be a dramatic angle, but rather a slightly inward side wall.
If you have longer nails, I would start by shaping them like the stiletto nails and then flattening the top until you reach your desired length. That way you will have all the drama of the sidewall angles and as little or as much as a flat top as you want. You can create the flat top by using the flat edge nail clippers or by filing them flat with a nail file.
Getting Even Nail Shapes Across All 10 Fingers
Something that can be difficult, especially if you are new to taking care of your nails or shaping them, is to get all 10 fingernails looking even and consistent in shape and size. My biggest rule for this is to do a little at a time and then check whichever fingernail you are working on with itself and the other fingernails you have already done. If you've taken off too little nail, you can always take more of the nail off. If you've taken off too much nail, you have to wait a lot longer for the fingernails to grow back and catch up with the others.
So, I file one nail at a time. I determine the length and shape I want it to be and I work on that one nail until it looks the way that I want it to. I look at the nail from a couple of different angles to make sure that it looks even on its own. Then I move onto the next nail. I work on it a little and then compare it to the other nail to make sure I haven’t taken off too much length or that the shape isn’t off. I make adjustments as necessary and then compare again. When I feel that it’s pretty even in comparison with the first nail I did, I take a final look at it again on it’s own and make sure that as a stand alone nail, all the angles and corners look even and symmetrical.
It’s important to file a little at a time and continually compare the nail you are working on with itself and also with your other fingers so that it looks consistent and equal with the other nails in length and shape. This takes some practice and the first time you do it, it will feel like it’s taking forever, but the more practice you get the easier it will become. Also, if you always stay with the same nail shape, you’ll find that you don’t have to do a ton of shaping every time. If you touch up your nails with a file every week, you can easily keep them a consistent size and shape without much effort.
So, our nails are clean and shaped. Next I like to move onto taking care of the cuticle area. If you spend any time with a nail polish enthusiast (or if you are one yourself), you’re going to hear about cuticles a lot, maybe even more than actual nail polish! (just kidding) It’s often in the form of, “Don’t forget to oil your cuticles!” You probably think it sounds crazy and wondering what good it will do you. But, it actually works!
I did an experiment last summer because I’ve never been very good at oiling my cuticles or really moisturizing my hands at all. I’m busy and have a hard time remembering to do it. So, I decided to commit to oiling my cuticles 1 time a day for 30 days to see if it really did anything or not. I was skeptical, but the results were pretty impressive. My cuticles were softer and more supple. My nails stopped peeling and breaking and this may be an illusion in my head, but it felt like my nails grew stronger (my nails have always been paper thin). I was so pleased with the results that it led me to start developing my own nail care line for BLUSH. We recently released our cuticle balms and our cuticle oils!
That’s my nail oil testimony, but how should you actually care for your cuticles? After my nails have been cleaned and shaped, I either use a cuticle remover or an emulsified sugar hand scrub depending on how bad of shape my cuticles are in. If my cuticles are pretty scraggly, rough and just look terrible, I use Sally Hansen’s Instant Cuticle Remover. It’s simple to use and works great when you’ve got a lot of dead skin to get rid of. I don’t use it all the time, especially when I’ve kept up with my cuticle routine and my cuticles are in good shape. In those times, it’s not really necessary. And if you are using it regularly, I wouldn’t use it more than once a week. To use the cuticle remover you just:
- Start with clean, dry hands & cuticles.
- Apply a little bit of the cuticle remover to the cuticle area only (try to avoid your skin and nail bed as much as possible).
- Wait 10-15 seconds.
- Take a cuticle pusher or orange stick and gently push back the cuticle and any dead skin.
- Once finished, wash or wipe away any excess cuticle remover.
I like to do each finger individually, as I don’t think it’s great to let the cuticle remover sit too long on each cuticle. I also prefer to use a metal cuticle pusher, like this one. Orange sticks are a safe and gentle alternative and if you tend to be a little rough, you might want to use these instead (they are also disposable). Metal cuticle pushers can damage your nail if used incorrectly or too harshly, but you can reuse them and disinfect them and I find that for me personally, they work better. You’ll want to hold the metal cuticle pusher at a 45 degree angle and gently push the cuticles back making sure not to scrape or scratch the nail plate.
One of the biggest debates in the nail community is whether or not you should cut your cuticles. Here is my opinion and what I do but you should make the best judgment for yourself. I do not cut my cuticles, however I will cut off hangnails because they absolutely drive me nuts and if I don’t cut them off I’ll only pick and pull at them and make things 10 times worse. I do not recommend cutting the actual cuticle area as it’s really easy to get an infection or just generally make things worse for your nails.
If my cuticles aren’t in that bad of shape and I’ve kept up with my oiling and I’m just doing maintenance, I like to use an emulsified sugar hand scrub to brighten up the skin, exfoliate and moisturize my hands and nail area. I like emulsified sugar hand scrubs better than your regular run of the mill sugar scrub because they contain an emulsifier that turns the oils and butters in the scrub into a silky lotion that easily melts into your skin. They are non-oily and leave your hands feeling soft, supple and moisturized. They are easier to rinse off and in my opinion, have a more luxurious feel to them. (P.S. We’ll be releasing an emulsified sugar scrub some time in 2023!) After I’ve used my emulsified sugar scrub, I take my metal cuticle pusher and gently push back my cuticles.
Now that our cuticles have been softened and pushed back, it’s time to oil and moisturize. When you apply a cuticle oil or cuticle balm to you nails, it's best to massage the oil into your skin and nails. This helps with circulation and promotes nail growth. If you really want to go all out and up your mani game, first apply a cuticle oil, massage and allow it to soak in for a few minutes and then apply a cuticle balm over it. The cuticle oil will add an intense amount of moisture to the nails and cuticles and our cuticle balm will add another layer of moisture and protection. Our cuticle balms are made with beeswax which is great at soothing and protecting skin as well as creating a water resistant barrier so your skin will get the most benefit out of the other oils and butters.
Read more about the specific ingredients in our cuticle balms and cuticle oils here.
I like to apply my cuticle oils and balms at night because your body naturally repairs itself while you sleep and you don’t have to worry about your nail care routine getting interrupted by having to wash your hands or do the dishes. I usually wait until the cuticle oils and balms soak into my hands before I get under the covers and fall asleep, but if you are impatient or just don’t feel like waiting, purchase a set of gloves like these to wear at night while you sleep. Your sheets won’t get oily and all those good oils will only go into your fingers, hands and nails.
The Final Step
If your intentions from doing this routine were merely to get your hands and nails in better shape, congratulations, you’re done! Don’t forget to repeat this routine often or at least consistently for best results. If, like the blog post suggests, you’re wanting to create a long lasting manicure, I’ve got one more step I do before I actually paint my nails.
Take a lint-free wipe and put a little rubbing alcohol on it. Wipe just the nail plate with the wipe, do not get the alcohol on your cuticles or fingers. This will help remove any excess oils from your nail so that the nail polish will adhere better to your nails which means your manicure will last longer. If you don’t have rubbing alcohol, try a bit of the Zoya Remove Plus and let me know what you think of that as a nail prep!
Stay tuned for next week’s post which will be on tips and tricks for painting your nails!
Read more of our 'Comprehensive Guide' series here:
A Comprehensive Guide To Painting Your Nails, Part 1: All About Base Coats, Top Coats And Nail Polish
A Comprehensive Guide To Painting Your Nails, Part 2: Tips, Tricks & Techniques For Painting Your Nails