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The Essentials: Secrets to a Perfect Manicure

Confession: Up until a few months ago, I couldn’t paint my own nails. In the past, every time I tried to paint my nails at my desk, I always ended up with an embarrassing, sloppy mess. I thoughtlessly dished out up to $20 for a salon manicure, which meant I either had to save on food or skimp on polish. With a couple of tips and a bunch of secret weapons, it’s actually pretty easy to achieve a salon-worthy manicure right from your home.

Protect your natural nail with a base coat, like CND Ridge Out ($8), so the color doesn’t stain your nails. Base coats are not only a smooth canvas, but are also adhesive, so polish has something to stick to. This is particularly important with dark polish.

Don’t cut your cuticles. They exist to keep bacteria out of your nail bed. While dry cuticles might not look so attractive, cutting them makes you vulnerable to infection. Instead, use a cuticle remover, like Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover with Lanolin ($20), which conditions and breaks down excess cuticle. If necessary, you can also push them back—just slightly—with Tweezerman Pushy and Nail Cleaner ($17).

Warm your nail polish by rubbing it between your palms before use to prevent bubbles—but don’t shake the bottle, which will only exacerbate the problem.

Take your time and apply two thin layers of polish, instead of one thick layer. If your polish has gotten super goopy, add a few drops of Seche Restore Thinner ($9). Or, if in a pinch, add a few drops of nail polish remover to salvage the last drops of your favorite nail color.

Don’t skip the top coat, which truly does help your manicure last longer. MAC Overlacquer Finition Top Coat ($16) delivers an unbeatable high-shine finish and promises to reduce dry time. For the truly antsy, add one to two drops of Sephora by OPI Nail Colour Drying Drops ($14), which dramatically speeds up the process. If you’re just starting out your mani-kit, Deborah Lippmann ‘Fast Track’ Set ($40) is a great investment—the five-piece set includes both top coat and drying drops (among other essential goodies!) to pamper your hands. Or turn to Sally Hansen Double Duty Base and Top Coat ($4.59), which can prevent polish stains on your nails, but also be reused as a top coat.

Show your hands some love—moisturize hands and cuticles daily.

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