How to Paint Your Nails Like a Pro

A little over a year ago I cut salon manicures from my budget. Which is really not a big deal, except that I really like having my nails finely polished, and at the time, I was horrible at painting my own nails. I pretty much slopped the polish on, crossed my fingers for minimal smudging, and let my hand washing remove the excess paint from my skin.  


My unprofessional results made me determined to learn to paint my nails so that, at least with minimal inspection, they look like I got them done. And after painting my nails probably 70 times in the past year or so, I will say I’m quite proud of my progress! 

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve collected while learning to paint my nails like a pro. Or at least, like less of an amateur. 😉

  • Have all your supplies ready
    • It’s so important to have a station set up with all of your tools ahead of time, to avoid having to reach for something with wet nails. Here is my typical setup:
      • Polish remover, with a little bit poured into the cap for touch ups
      • A small, angled brush for said touch ups – cotton swabs can also work
      • Cotton pads
      • Rubbing alcohol
      • Cuticle oil or softener
      • Nail clippers, file, buffer, and cuticle tools
      • Base coat, nail polish, and a quick-drying top coat – all slightly opened just before starting to paint
      • A place mat or paper towel in case of spills
      • Nail dryer – not necessary, but I have one, so I use it
  • Prep the nails
    • We all know the basic routine a professional manicurist uses at a salon, and taking those steps before applying the polish are imperative to the final result. Make sure you:
      • Completely remove old nail polish. One thing I find efficient is to lightly run a cotton pad soaked with remover over all of my polished nails before working on removing the color from each one individually. The remover starts to break down the polish while you work.
      • Take the time to file. Nail shape is a big factor in how a manicure looks. I frequently buff my nails as well, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary unless there is texture.
      • Moisturize and push back the cuticles. Do not skip this step! Overgrown cuticles will cause the polish to peel at the nail bed.
      • Rub nails with alcohol before applying a base coat. This ensures there are no oils or substances on the nail that could keep the polish from adhering.
      • Use a base coat to prevent discoloration.
  • Flood, don’t paint, the nails
    • I guarantee this method will result in fewer touch ups! Take the polish on the brush and lightly let it drop onto the lower-center of the nail. Using extremely light pressure, hardly touching the nail with the brush, push the paint down to the nail bed and drag it up towards the top of the finger. Gravity will help the polish to flood in the entire canvas. This technique avoids streaking, and helps to get the polish all over the nail without touching the surrounding skin.
  • Avoid bubbles
    • Don’t shake the polish bottle. Even rolling the bottle too vigorously can cause tiny air bubbles to form in the polish. If you do run into air bubbles, you can poke them with a pin before the paint starts to dry to remove them.
    • Don’t wave your hands around to dry. This unfortunately can also force air bubbles to appear.
  • Give yourself time
    • I found the main reason I had trouble painting my nails at home is because I didn’t take enough time to do it properly. Set aside ample time to prep the nails and more importantly, to let them dry!

xoxo Carly

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