Giving yourself a mani may seem harmless enough, but there are some key techniques that, if done incorrectly, can not only ruin your entire paint job, but can also risk your health (does clipping your cuticles ring a bell?).
We tapped Miss Pop, one of the top nail artists in the biz, to give us her insider advice on which specific polish tips to heed and which ones to entirely avoid. Scroll down to unlock a dozen lacquer lapses that are often overlooked — and how to correct them stat!
Mistake #1: Not using a base coat.
A lot of people think a base coat is unnecessary or prefer to use one product for both the base and topcoat. No bueno! The fact is you can extend the wear of your manicure by at least a couple days just by adding that first proper layer. "It's like primer to foundation," says Miss Pop. "Your natural nail has oils in it that prevent nail polish from adhering well. You need to seal out the oils first with a base coat before you apply a color." She recommends Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Base Coat ($45 for the set). "It's a splurge, but I get 10 to 12 days of wear with it, and I work with my hands," she explains. Other picks: CND Stickey Base Coat ($9), and Orly Bonder ($10). "Also, topcoat as a base coat doesn't work because it's thicker, it takes longer to dry, and it doesn't have the properties that a base coat does to properly lock out the oils in your natural nails," she adds.
Mistake #2: Cutting your cuticles.
We know you've probably heard it countless times before, but Miss Pop says this mistake is a cardinal sin. "It's a health risk because you're basically giving yourself open cuts on your fingers, which have a huge potential for getting infected," she explains. "Also, when you cut cuticles, they get gill-y and flaky when they grow back, which really never looks pretty." If you are one who likes nipping for aesthetic reasons, Miss Pop advises just sticking with pushing them back. "You can be aggressive about that, too, and do it once a week," she confirms. "Just use some cuticle remover or softener, and push them back with an orange stick, which forms a smooth barrier. If you don't have cuticle remover, just use the orange stick after the shower when your skin is already softened. But your body is supposed to have cuticles, so please keep them intact!"
Mistake #3: Not washing your tools.
Washing tools including clippers, files, buffers, and orange sticks regularly with soap and water is a must to prevent contamination. "Never put your tools in a sealed bag because it just allows the bacteria to fester," warns Miss Pop. "Every time you use your tools, just sanitize them with antibacterial soap or Barbicide.
Mistake #4: Using the jet chairs.
Sitting in a massage chair while you get a pedicure can be supremely relaxing, but those jet basins that always come with those relaxing seats are dangerous. "You can't clean the jets properly, so bacteria can collect in there very easily," Miss Pop cautions. Ergo, dirty jets mean dirty water! And those germs can majorly corrupt your foot health. "Always just go for the classic bowl when getting a pedicure."
Mistake #5: Using Q-Tips to clean up your mistakes.
It's all too easy for the cotton fuzzies on a Q-tip to get caught in your polish and disrupt your mani. "Q-tips are just a nightmare," says Miss Pop. Instead, she advises using an old makeup brush for more precise touch-ups. "If you get a little paint on the skin around your nail, it's no great tragedy," she says. "Just dip a flat makeup brush into nail polish remover and clean the smudge up immediately while the paint is still wet so it's easier to remove. I also like filbert-head brushes that you can get at an art supply store. Otherwise, you can always just push the polish right off when you're in the shower."
Mistake #6: Applying thick coats of paint.
Generous painters, beware: Globbing on polish is a surefire way to get smudges and nicks in your handiwork since it takes so much longer for the paint to dry. "It's always better to apply three or four thin coats of polish than two thick and gloppy coats," confirms Miss Pop. "Using thin coats is how the paint dries faster. Polish is just not formulated to dry well when the coat is too thick." On the other hand, that rule can bend a little when it comes to topcoats. "Topcoats are more forgivable when applied thick and usually don't take too long to dry, no matter what, but heavy layers still can make topcoats get very bubbly," she says. "It must have something to do with the pigment in the colored polishes that makes them take longer to dry."
Mistake #7: Shaking your nail polish bottle.
Speaking of bubbles — that's what happens when you shake your bottle. "It traps the air inside, which creates those tiny pockets," Miss Pop explains. "Bubbles can also form when you shove the brush back in the bottle, so never pump the brush in and out of the neck. Always just roll a bottle in your hands like you're rolling out play dough."
Mistake #8: Painting your nails in a hot or humid area.
"I always say, 'Never do your nails in a thunderstorm,'" says Miss Pop. "It has to be dry when you do your nails because too much heat or humidity also prevents the polish itself from drying." Instead, always apply polish in an arid and cool place.
Mistake #9: Using quick-dry products.
Even though quick-dry polishes and sprays make your paint dry fast, it makes your natural nails dry out faster. "If you want the healthiest nails, you shouldn't use any product with acetone in it besides nail polish remover because they cause nails to chip, peel, flake, and break," warns Miss Pop. If you struggle with waiting around for your polish to dry, she suggests using a cuticle oil instead. "If you knock something when you've got cuticle oil on your nails, the oil acts as a barrier, and the offending object will just slip off the nail instead of denting the polish. And once the cuticle oil sinks into your skin, you'll know your nails are dry." Her cuticle oil faves include CND Solar Oil ($12) and Essie Apricot Cuticle Oil "because they're thinner and more absorbent than others."
Mistake #10: Filing nails in a back-and-forth motion.
"Just as the hairs on a violin's bow rip and get fuzzy over time as you move it back and forth, the same thing happens with your nails," says Miss Pop. "That motion causes tiny tears and splits in the nail that can turn into full-blown cracks and slits over time." Instead, she recommends just filing the nail in one direction. "I admit it's a slower process, but you just have to be more deliberate and purposeful with each stroke. I promise this will give your nail a smoother and more refined finish overall."
Mistake #11: Drying your nails under the UV lights.
Just as UV lights can cause damage to the rest of your body, those purple bulbs can also age your hands as well! Instead, for drying, remember the cuticle oil trick? (See mistake No. 9.) "Otherwise, those UV dryers usually have a fan element attached, so just use that instead of the lights if you have time to sit around," Miss Pop offers.
Mistake #12: Washing the dishes and washing your hair.
Hot water is nail polish's natural-born enemy!" Miss Pop exclaims. "Hot water lifts the paint on your nails and causes it to chip, so wait at least six hours before submerging your hands in hot water." She suggests always wearing gloves when doing heavy-duty scrubbing work like washing the dishes, and washing your hair with medium-temperature water instead of a burning-hot stream. "As a general rule, if you're looking for a manicure that lasts, tone down the temp."