21 Game-Changing Nail Secrets Only Manicurists Know

So that's how you get the perfect manicure.

Giving yourself a perfect at-home manicure—one free of glops, dents, and spills on your couch—is easier said than done. But like driving a car or curling your own hair, learning how to paint your nails is skill worth mastering—if not for the convenience, then for the money it can save you. We’re not just talking a basic paint job either. Nail art, clean cuticles, and even French manis (yes, they’re back) can all be executable outside the salon as long as you’ve got the right guidance.

So we took matters into our own hands and asked every top nail artist for their most life-changing tips. The good news: We got a lot out of them. Grab your favorite nail polish color and read on for how to paint your nails, the right way.

1. Cuticle oil can liven up unpainted nails.

When your nails look sad and you don’t have time for a full manicure, Jin Soon Choi, who founded her eponymous nail line, swears by cuticle oil to moisturize dry skin and give your mani a second wind. One worth trying: her Extract Cuticle Oil. “Or if you don’t have cuticle oil at home, olive or coconut oil will also work perfectly,” she says. Just massage a few drops around each nail and they’ll look instantly refreshed.

JINsoon Extract Cuticle Oil

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2. Clean your nails with polish remover.

To get a great manicure at home, do as the pros do by spending as much time prepping your nails as you do polishing them. That means starting with a good nail polish remover. Even if you don't have polish on, you'll still want to run a cotton ball of remover over each nail to get rid of any oils or dirt that could warp your polish. 

3. Don't skimp on buffing. 

It's easy to look over this step, but if you truly want a salon-quality mani, don't sleep on it. "If you don't buff, the natural oils in your nails can build up, leaving manicure-ruining residue on them," says Rita Remark, Essie global lead educator. "Buffing your nails is kind of like brushing your teeth—it's brightening, it makes nails look more youthful, and it gets rid of ridges."

4. Add special effects during your dry time.

Still thinking about the insane chrome nails Gigi Hadid wore to the 2016 Met Gala? Celebrity manicurist Gina Edwards is just as obsessed with the high-shine, reflective look as we are and says you can easily get the look while your topcoat dries. “Apply a long-lasting topcoat and let it dry for four minutes,” she says. “Then, while it’s still tacky, apply a chrome or holographic nail powder using a foam eye shadow applicator.” Finish with another layer of topcoat.

Morgan Taylor React Extended Wear Top Coat

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Ocean Nail Supply Platinum Chrome

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5. Base coat is key. 

We know, we know, it's yet another step, but it really does make all the difference. Apply a base coat to hydrate and protect nails and prevent chipping. Then chill for a few. Nail guru Essie Weingarten, founder of Essie, recommends waiting two full minutes between each coat, starting with the base coat. Try Essie Here to Stay to lock color on and keep it from staining your nails. 

Essie Here to Stay Base Coat

$9EssieBuy Now

6. Eyeliner brushes make the best erasers.

“My best nail hack is taking a flat liner brush dipped in remover and swiping it around the cuticle area once I’ve finished my polish application,” says Edwards. “It creates a flawless finish.” Bonus: You won’t spend the rest of the day trying to pick dried polish off your skin.

Getty Images

7. Use painter’s tape for negative space manis.

“Lay down the tape in the shape you want to ‘cut out’ of your nail color,” says celebrity nail artist Miss Pop. “Then apply a base coat and two coats of polish around the tape. When you peel it off, you’re left with an awesome negative-space manicure without any Picasso-like skills.”

8. When it comes to polish, less is more. 

"Many of us overload the brush and do too many strokes," Nails Inc. founder Thea Green says. "The key is to load just enough polish on the brush to cover the nail in one coat." She recommends striping your nail three times: once down the middle, once on each side

9. Cocktails aren’t just for happy hour.

Nail artist Jan Arnold mixes her own nourishing cocktail to keep her nails from breaking and help them grow long. “I love to mix the CND Cuticle Eraser AHA Cuticle Treatment and the CND SolarOil Nail & Cuticle Conditioner and apply it to my nails twice a day.”

CND Cuticle Eraser

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CND Solar Oil Nail and Cuticle Conditioner

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10. Wear ridge filler when your nails need a break.

If your nails are looking a little worn or rough, bring them back to life with ridge filler. Nail artist Naomi Yasuda paints one coat of OPI Infinite Shine Ridge Filler onto each nail for a matte, neutral finish that makes nails look smooth and clean.

OPI Infinite Shine Ridge Filler Primer

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11. Use white polish as a primer.

If you really want a bright color to pop, manicurist Geraldine Holford suggests using a white polish first. Try applying two coats of OPI Nail Lacquer in Alpine Snow as a base, and then layer neon polish over the top for the most eye-catching nails. (These are our favorite neon nail polishes of the moment, in case you’re interested.)

OPI Nail Lacquer in Alpine Snow

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12. Apply glitter the right way. 

Raise your hand if you've ever painted, like, a thousand coats of glitter on to get it to fully cover your nail. Well, consider your mind blown with this trick from nail vlogger Kelli Marissa. Instead of using the polish brush to paint directly on your nail, saturate the edge of a makeup sponge instead—then press the sponge on over your nail. The sponge soaks up most of the actual nail polish leaving just the glitter behind, so it goes on dense and opaque in one fell swoop. 

Getty Images

13. Use a specialized base coat.

Speaking of glitter, did you know there are now peel-off base coats that work wonders for removing tough-to-get-off textures? They're particularly game-changing if you want a little sparkle on the weekends but can't show up to the office on Monday with your nails looking like a Katy Perry concert. Try UNT Ready for Takeoff Peelable Base Coat.

UNT Ready for Takeoff Peelable Base Coat

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14. If you’re in a rush, pick a sheer shade.

“If you’re running out the door, choose a sheer because it’s dummy-proof,” says Rita Remark, Essie global lead educator. “Just one coat works to give your nails new life.” (May we suggest the ever-popular Ballet Slippers? Queen Elizabeth is a fan; just saying.) But if you’re going with full-on color, make sure to stick to the basics: a base, two coats of polish, and a topcoat. Otherwise, you’re opening your quick job to ever faster chips and peels.

Essie Nail Polish in Ballet Slippers

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15. Treat your nail care like skin care.

Ever wonder how those women with long almond nails keep them from breaking? “It requires constant care and TLC,” says Remark. That obviously sounds like a lot of work, but think of it like this: “During your nighttime routine, add a step to take care of your nails. So when you’re done with your face, put on cuticle oil after that.” It helps to keep a bottle of it right next to your bed.

Essie

16. Take your time. 

If you're not waiting at least one or two minutes before applying another coat of color or a topcoat, you're not giving the solvents in your polish enough time to evaporate (which, ultimately, is what dries your nails). Edwards describes it this way: "You know how there's a difference when you cook something in the microwave versus when you cook it in the oven? It holds the flavor in more when you take the time to use the oven. The same can be said for your nails. The longer you wait between coats, the more it'll keep your color locked in." Use your iPhone timer if you really need help slowing yourself down.

17. Simple nails often make the biggest impact.

Talk to any pro artist and they’ll agree: You don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to make a statement. Naomi Gonzalez-Longstaff loves creamy pastels, especially soft pinks; Rose Velez-Miggins likes a mixture of pale shades and earthy tones that flatter all different skin tones; and Choi is all about androgynous colors (think greige and browns) with a squoval (squarish oval) tip. (See the best versions of all of them here.)

18. An edgier look is as easy as applying a topcoat.

“I love applying a matte topcoat to my designs lately,” says nail artist Betina Goldstein, who’s Insta-famous for her minimal—but stunning—take on nail art. “It adds a bit of edge and sophistication to any minimal design or polish. A simple black dot on a nail with a matte topcoat transforms what could be childish into a more chic look.”

19. Seal off your nails. 

Nicks and chips tend to happen most at the tip of the nail, and yet the majority of us forget to give that part a little extra topcoat love. Try this trick; it acts like Saran Wrap for the polish on that area: "Take a topcoat and run a horizontal swipe of it over the bottom edge of your nail after you do your last coat," says Edwards. Let it dry, and repeat one more time.

20. Don’t sleep on gems or crystals.

Can’t paint your nails? Don’t bother. Slick on a shiny topcoat like Sally Hansen’s Miracle Gel or a sheet nude like Chanel Ballerina, then use a silicone dotting tool or tweezers to place tiny embellishments on your nails. “Adding small pearls, gems, or accents is very easy, and you do not need to be very savvy with the paint brush,” says Goldstein. She recommends also using nail glue first to secure the stone, then capping it on top—along with a topcoat over that—to ensure it doesn’t get caught in your hair.

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel 3.0 Shiny Top Coat

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Chanel Le Vernis in Ballet Slippers

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Betina Goldstein

21. When in doubt, there are always press-ons.

Another option if you need to paint your nails in pinch: Skip the dry time and go straight for press-ons, like Kiss imPress. “The prep is the key,” says Edwards. “You want to make sure your nails are free from oil. So buff your nail, get rid of the shine, and push back your cuticles. If you have even the smallest amount of cuticle over your nails, it’ll continue to grow and can pop off the nail.” (See more of the best press-on nails, here). 

Evanesce imPRESS Press-On Manicure

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Lindsay Schallon is a writer in New York. Follow her on Instagram @lindsayshcallon. 

This story originally appeared on: Glamour - Author:Lindsay Schallon

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