Everything You Need To Know For the Perfect Manicure

I get asked a lot about my manicures so I thought it would be fun to share all of my tips in one handy infographic. The text below the graphic will also have some product recommendations (with Amazon affiliate links).

manicure infographic

1. Start with clean, dry nails.
Use nail polish remover to remove any old or chipped nail polish before you start.
I usually use a pharmacy store brand nail polish remover or Cutex brand (find it on Amazon) with generic cotton balls (find it on Amazon). If you’re looking for more of a one-stop shop you can get a polish remover jar instead. Olive & June has one I have liked (find it on their site) and it looks like Cutex also has their own version (find it on Amazon).
Once you’re done, wash your hands to get off any lingering residue.

2. Shape your nails.
If your nails were chipped or broken, this is the time to smooth them out.
Revlon’s emery boards (find it on Amazon) are the classic go-to but any nail file can work well. The main thing is you want a coarse side for filing/shaping and a smoother side for finishing.
You can also use an orange stick (find it on Amazon) or your nail to gently push back your cuticles so your nail beds are ready for nail polish. You might also see these being called “nail sticks” or “cuticle pushers.” Any kind will work. The main thing is one side will have a pencil kind of point and the other side will have a flatter end. The flatter end can be used for cuticle work. The pointy end will come in hand while painting your nails.

3. Apply a base coat.
I always start my manicures with a base coat. This adds longevity to the manicure. Using a base coat will also prevent your nails from getting stained if you are using a darker color and make the nail polish easier to remove later.
You can use any clear nail polish, even one sold as a top coat! Just make sure it’s not a super shiny version (as in the branding would say “super shine”) as that will make it too slick for subsequent coats. Let your nails dry completely after applying your base coat.
My current favorite clear nail polish is Sally Hansen’s Good.Kind.Pure. clear polish (find it on Amazon). This line is plant-based (even the brush) so it is vegan and 16-free.
NOTE this line is marketed as cruelty free but the Sally Hansen brand is not because they sell products in mainland China where animal testing is required.
If you are looking for a clear polish that is vegan and cruelty free, check out Zoya’s top coat options (find it on their site). You can also try Olive & June’s Super Glossy Top Coat (find it on their website) but I find it is almost too shiny for a base coat.

4. Apply your nail polish of choice.
Apply the nail polish evenly over your nail in a smooth, thin coat. Use the pointy end of your orange stick to remove any excess polish near your cuticles. Alternately you can rub/wash it off once your manicure is complete. Let your nails dry completely after this coat.
If you are new to manicures it’s easier to start with a lighter color with some shimmer. Darker, more opaque polish will require more coats (and possibly patience) to get a finished look.
I only use vegan, cruelty-free polishes and have recommendations if you want to go that route:
Zoya (check out their site): You can shop by color, opacity, and more. Don’t let the scope of colors intimidate you. Also watch for their semi-annual sales where polishes are 50% off with the option to “trade in” older bottles.
Olive & June (check out their site): You can shop by color, season, and set here. Polishes are graded from beginner to advanced which, again, is based on opacity. Olive & June also sells nail art stickers, mini sets, and sets of matched colors to create gradient manicures. I check out their sets page for color inspiration.
Sally Hansen’s Good.Kind.Pure line (find it on Amazon) (with the caveat from earlier that it’s only this line that’s vegan and cruelty free–not the entire brand)
Orly (check out their site): This is a common nail salon brand. They also do seasonal collections and have a wide range of treatments.
Different polishes will work different for different people/nail types so you might have to experiment to find your own go-to brand.

5. Apply 2-3 more coats of nail polish.
Let your nails dry completely between each coat. This is my number one tip for a perfect manicure.
Depending on the color and the look you want, your nails should be done after two or three more coats.

6. Add top coat.
Once your nails are completely dry add a top coat for extra shine and to help your manicure last longer.
In most cases this can be the same clear polish that you use for your base coat.

Advanced tips:

  • As you work on your manicure be sure to bring your nail polish up over the edge of your nails to better seal the manicure.
  • Not sure if your nails are dry? Tap the nail in question with a fingernail or orange stick. Dry nail polish will not get dented and will make a knocking sound. Once that happens, you’re ready to go!
  • Level up your manicure by adding an accent nail in a contrasting color, using multiple polishes to create a gradient effect across your nails, or apply nail art stickers for a fun finishing touch.