Whether you’re trying to save money or you’re still iffy on going to the salon, there’s never a bad time to master doing your own manicure at home. Not only is there a real satisfaction to painting your own nails (and saving a little cash), but it can also have therapeutic benefits. Plus, the whole not-leaving-the-house thing is very appealing, without factoring in health and safety concerns. But even if you’ve become devoted to DIY manicures over the past two years, it can be hard to get the same results at home that you’re used to at the salon.
Between chipping, warping, glops, bubbles, and smudging, there’s a lot that can go wrong with a DIY mani. Zipping up your pants, changing the channel, or answering a text suddenly becomes a life-or-death situation—and don’t even get us started on the risk of getting nail polish all over your couch. From prepping your nails to choosing the right shade, there’s plenty of room for error. The stakes are even higher if you’re attempting something fancy like a gel manicure, experimenting with fun nail art, or learning how to do a French manicure (here’s our guide, by the way).
But it’s not impossible to get Insta-worthy nails by yourself; in fact it’s pretty simple to figure out how to do a manicure at home. A little practice, patience, and the right nail tools will take you far. To help ease your DIY worries, we had celebrity manicurists spill their best self-manicuring nail tips for how to paint your nails like a pro. Turns out, it’s easier than we thought. All it takes is 10 simple steps. Follow along for a mani so good you’ll have people asking where you got your nails done. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with us.
To get a great manicure at home, do as the pros do by spending as much time on nail care as you do polishing them. That means starting with a good nail polish remover like Sally Hansen’s. It quickly takes off all polish (even glitter) and has essential nutrients to help strengthen your nails and moisturize your cuticles. 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. Don’t forget to wash your hands with soap and water after.
This is when you’re going to want to bust out that manicure set. Clip nails first, if necessary. Then file gently, moving in one direction to get your tips square, round, or somewhere in between. Have thin nails? Try this tip we got from celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann: Hold the file flush to your nail and tilt it so you file from slightly underneath. “This allows you to see exactly what you’re doing and helps protect against overfiling,” she says. Finally, buff the tops and sides of your nails lightly with a nail buffer—not your emery board—to create a smooth surface. “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.”
Prep cuticles with cuticle remover—make sure it’s not an oil or a balm—to help dissolve dead skin and soften the area. Contrary to popular belief, cuticle oils and cuticle removers are not one and the same, nor can they be used interchangeably. Oils help moisturize, while removers act like an exfoliating treatment for your nail beds. Then push back gently with a cuticle stick. We love Flowery Birchwood Manicure Sticks’ sleek updates on the basic orange stick, which are also the best for cleaning underneath nail tips, and highly recommend adding them to your at-home manicure kit. Your cuticles protect your nails from bacteria and keep them soft, so avoid cutting them.