I just finished a two-week rest period for my nails, and decided this would be a perfect time to share a nail care routine! I get compliments on my nails quite a bit, and I have actually never had them done professionally. Mostly because I’m extra-frugal and don’t want to spend $35 for a manicure that will last a week or maybe two if I’m lucky and extra careful, when I can buy 3-4 bottles of nail polish that will last a year each for the same price. Always doing my own nails means I’ve learned from experience how to keep them healthy, and how to make my polish last a full week.
I’ll start with the nail care, since it’s the essential part of doing your nails at home. Here is what you’ll need:
- a strengthening nail polish remover (doesn’t need to be fancy, any store brand will do)
- Jojoba oil (I use this one that I found on Amazon)
- Metal nail file–yes, metal, because one file will last for years with regular use
- A heavy duty, good quality, sharp pair of nail clippers; splurge a little for this one
- Cotton balls
- Nail buffer block like this one, or even a home manicure set like this one if you’re feeling extra adventurous
I start, obviously, by using the strengthening nail polish remover on a cotton ball to remove my nail polish. I’ll either do this prior to a shower, or wash my hands shortly after to make sure my nails are completely clean, and dry before the next step. The next step is using a pair of nail clippers to trim and shape my nails. This is where it is important to have a good quality pair of clippers, because dull or cheap nail clippers won’t make a clean cut and will result in your nails splitting and tearing.
I always shape them with the clippers as closely as I can get them, because the less you have to file the better. Once I have them shaped how I want them, I go in with the metal nail file and file them down. I’ve used the cardboard nail files in the past, and honestly–they don’t do near as good of a job as the metal one, and my current nail file I’ve been using for every bit of five years. I keep it in a little makeup pouch in my purse along with my nail clippers and take it with me everywhere to take care of any snags or breaks that might happen. Just file them enough to make the edges smooth. If you’ve shaped your nails with the clippers then they shouldn’t need much filing.
Once all of that is done, you’re ready for the final step–jojoba oil. I used to use coconut oil in the past and it’s worked pretty well, but I’ve found that jojoba oil is the holy grail of skin, nail and hair care oils. I bought my first bottle in early July, and I went from July until mid-November not only having zero breaks, but having to actually cut my nails back on my left, non-dominant hand, because they were getting too long!
It truly doesn’t take much, just a tiny couple of drops on a cotton ball, then dab a bit on each nail. Massage the oil into the nail, the cuticles, and the skin around them using a cotton ball. This is where I will use the pointed edge of my nail file to push back and scrape off extra skin from my cuticles and around the sides of my nails. If yours is pretty thick you may want to invest in some nail scissors to help remove it. After doing this regularly, however, you won’t have to worry much about cuticles because they will be tame.
Once this is done, I would wait at least a couple of hours, but preferably an entire day, before applying nail polish. Every few months I like to give my nails a breather, too…more often in dry winter months. I’ve read articles that claim nail polish doesn’t damage your nails…but as an avid life-long nail polish wearer I can guarantee you from personal experience that it most definitely does. Your nails are made of skin cells, and skin cells need to breathe, friends. Wearing nail polish 24/7, 365 basically suffocates them.
So they need little day-long breaks between polishing, and occasional two week breaks to strengthen themselves. During that two week break, still keep an eye on them and file as needed, plus use the jojoba oil once per week (more often during the dry winter months). Also, any time I lotion my hands during this time I make sure to rub the lotion into my nails too–if your hands are dry, guaranteed so are your nails. I use Dr. Bronners organic lotion, which nourishes the skin without all of the harmful added chemicals and manufactured fragrances. It gets a 3 rating on the Think Dirty app (this app will tell you how good or harmful your personal care products are–download from the app store and give it a whirl), so it’s safe for regular use.
As for the nail buffer block, I don’t use that every time I do my nails. I actually don’t use it often at all, because I’ve found that over-manicuring your nails can cause them to peel and dry out. Think of buffing your nails the same as exfoliating your skin, which is essentially what it is. If you do it too often your skin ends up sensitive and red. It’s great to get dead cells off of your nails, but it only needs done every couple of months. And a buffer block is really enough to do this. I’m not much of a believer in full-blown manicures. I used to own a manicure set and would use it about once per year. But I haven’t done a manicure now in probably close to 10 years and my nails have been healthy and strong without it.
One final thing to note about nail health–it’s just like skin and hair, which means what you eat and drink matters! Stay hydrated. Eat your veggies (or at the very least, take a multi-vitamin). Get some calcium (preferably from a non-dairy source because plant-based calcium is easier for your body to absorb and doesn’t have acids that are harmful to your bone health), and even more importantly vitamin D. Stay away from lots of sugar and simple carbs. Make sure you’re getting lots of healthy fats (poly- and monounsaturated, Omegas 3 and 6). Skin, nail and hair health truly does come from the inside out.
Now for the fun part–painting your nails! What you need for this:
- A good strengthening polish to use as a base coat, like this nail hardener from Sally Hensen
- A good quality nail polish–I prefer Essie
- An even better quality top coat–I prefer OPI
- Vaseline (optional)
The second-most important part of doing your own nails is the base. There are lots of base coats available, but none have ever compared to the Sally Hensen nail hardener I pick up from target for a few bucks. This is the only coat that is going to directly touch your bare nails. So you want it to be something that nourishes and protects! It also dries quickly, which is always a plus in my book.
Now for the nail polish. I will tell you, this is the least important part of the three steps. Now you don’t want to go with a cheap polish, because despite a good base and top coat it will manage to chip. I prefer Essie, which comes in at $9 per bottle but lasts just this side of forever. OPI is also a good brand, but I really like Essie’s color choices better. You could probably get away with a middle grade brand, like Sally Hensen, but I wouldn’t purchase anything that is less than $6 per bottle because, well, you get what you pay for.
Never stop at just one coat of polish. You will want to do two coats no matter how dark the color, and three coats for light colors, like white, nude, or pale pink. And always remember to swipe the tips of your nails first, then paint your nails starting in the middle and working your way out to the sides. You basically want the polish to wrap around the tips of your nails, because your tips are where the chipping always begins. This is also where the Vaseline comes into play–if you don’t have a steady hand and tend to get polish on the skin around the nails, you can swipe a coat of Vaseline around your nails before polishing to help catch the stray polish and wipe it away when finished to keep it from being stuck to your skin for a day or two.
Okay friends, here is the most important part–the top coat! Do not settle for a cheap top coat because your nails won’t last two days if you do. As much as I love Essie’s nail colors, their top coat leaves much to be desired. It’s strong, yes, but it bubbles badly. I initially thought the bubbling was due to putting on too many layers of polish too quickly. So I started spreading it out, allowing 20-30 minutes for one coat to dry before applying the next one. My nails would look great, and then I would apply the top coat…and I would end up with tiny bubbles. Every. Single. Time.
One time when I ran out of top coat, I decided on a whim to try something different. I’d used OPI nail color occasionally and knew it to be a good brand, so I decided to give their top coat a whirl. It was definitely the icing on the cake to perfectly done nails. That stuff is thick, sturdy, and does not bubble! I might find an occasional tiny bubble here or there. But definitely nothing like the Essie that left tons of bubbles all over my nails. It was a game changer!
For the top coat, you want to coat each nail very well, wrapping it around the tips and underneath the bottom of your nail (if your nails are long enough to do this). You’re essentially using the top coat as a sealer to prevent chipping. In order to prevent bubbles, you can do two light coats of top coat rather than one heavy one. I admit that I’m usually too impatient so I opt for one good thick coat. Realistically you’re better off doing two thinner coats, and your polish will last a bit longer this way as well.
I promise that this will hold up! I did my nails just a couple of days before putting up my tree, and they made it through dragging boxes out of storage and upstairs, putting up my tree, fluffing the branches, wrapping lights around it, and rooting through boxes and putting ornaments on the branches. My hands were scratched to bits, but my nails did not have one single chip. They looked just as good after that brutal beating as they did the day I painted them.
Here are my finished nails. From June until mid-November, they were all long. As the weather turned cold and the air dried out, I finally had three of them break and start to peel. That was my sign that I needed to give them more polish breaks, and more oil and lotion to combat the dry air.
Stay tuned…at a future date I will also share with you my skin care products and routine, including how I use jojoba oil for my face! I am also planning a personal care products post with the natural and non-toxic products that I use daily.