Whether or not you’re grappling with guilt after reading recent articles in The New York Times on labor practices and working conditions at nail salons, knowing how to do your own manicure and pedicure is a useful skill.
It’s one that many top beauty editors practice (despite having their pick of the best services in the city) from the comfort of their couches while watching, say, “Game of Thrones.”
But if you’re anxious about the process (feet, gaw!), Madeline Poole, global color ambassador and editorial manicurist at Sally Hansen, and Jenna Hipp, an eco-minded manicurist to celebrities like Miley Cyrus, walk you through the steps.
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Skip the clippers unless your nails are nearing Flo-Jo lengths. Instead, Poole suggests that you start filing from either corner of the nail and pull the file in one direction, instead of going back and forth. Lost on the right shape? Hipp, who likes using the Priti crystal glass file, advises that you “follow the shape of your cuticle.”
Soak it up
You can emulate salon pampering by soaking your nails in a hydrating solution. Hipp adds a few drops of chia oil (any oil will work) to milk. “The lactic acid in milk helps remove excess cuticle,” she said. Soak for a couple of minutes, then pat dry.
For feet, Hipp runs a warm water and Himalayan sea salt foot bath before exfoliating heels and rough spots with a lava stone from the drugstore.
Cuticles aren’t cute
Push back cuticles with the flat end of an orangewood stick. Poole finds hers on Amazon.
“Obvious hangnails can be clipped away, while unwanted cuticles will lift easily and can be removed by brushing nails with a nail brush or dedicated firm toothbrush and some toothpaste,” Hipp said.
“Let nails dry completely and swipe the nail bed with rubbing alcohol to remove any oils,” she added.
Perfectionists may want to skip the cotton ball (“It’s the bane of my existence,” Poole said) in favor of OPI lint-free wipes.
“A lot of people ignore the base coat, when it’s really important,” Poole said. “It prevents staining and helps the color adhere.” Lazybones can go for a combination product, like Sally Hansen Miracle Gel polish, which includes the base coat within the color.
If working on a pedicure, forget toe separators. “I just ball up pieces of Kleenex, and it works just as well,” Poole said.
Coloring within the lines
“Start by painting from the middle of the nail by pushing the brush up into the cuticle and then pulling forward,” Poole said. Limit your strokes to six per nail or risk a sticky situation. Finish by running the brush along the ends of nails, which seals in the color.
The tricky part is working with your nondominant hand. (Poole said, “Have a friend do it for you, or bring back the mani party!”)
Not a pal in sight? “The toughest part of painting with, say, your left hand is getting at the edges,” she said. “You can press the nail you’re working on onto a stable surface so that you peel back your skin at the edges so you can get the brush in there.”
Some polishes also have fatter brushes, which are easier for the home manicurist. (Dior makes lovely 5-Free formulas that come with a pleasingly plump brush.) If you’re still struggling, Poole suggests sticking to more forgiving sheer neutral colors and leaving the reds, navies and blacks to a professional.
Hipp uses an angled eyeliner brush dipped in nail polish remover to clean up mistakes (E.l.f. makes them for three bucks). Or start over by swiping Hipp’s acetone-free Clean Sweep Nail Polish Remover Pad, then follow up with rubbing alcohol. Let the nail dry completely before continuing with polish.
Finish with a topcoat, let set and then moisturize. “Moisture plays a huge part in how long your pedi will last,” Hipp said. Dr. Hauschka Neem Oil Cuticle Pen is in her kit. “It’s great to use in between pedicures to keep cuticles looking fresh and hydrated,” she said. “It’s best to use at night, though, as any oil can attract dust and dirt, especially in sandals.”