How to Give Yourself the Perfect At-Home Manicure

A woman's hand with a bright red manicure

Dee Mills / Byrdie

In the case of manicures, the seemingly simple maintenance of our digits has proven to be a more difficult feat than we'd initially imagined. But with the right tools and a little patience, achieving even, chip-resistant polish is definitely within reach. That's where Amy Lin of Sunday's Nail Studio (which also creates its own amazing line of non-toxic polishes and products) comes in—after eight years in the nail industry, Lin is a pro when it comes to mani upkeep, and she's confident that with her tips below, you'll be able to treat your own hands to some TLC. See her step-by-step instructions for a perfect at-home manicure below.

Meet the Expert

Amy Lin is the founder of of Sunday's Nail Studio in New York City.

What You'll Need:

  • Paper towel
  • File
  • Buffer
  • Base coat
  • Top coat
  • Cuticle eraser
  • Nail clipper
  • Cuticle serum (you can use avocado or coconut oil in a pinch)
  • Quick dry oil
  • Wooden stick
  • Nail polish remover

Sunday's Mk.01Manicure Kit ($78) includes all of the above (minus the paper towel), should you wish to bundle them all.

How to Prepare Your Nails

Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before starting your manicure. Then, take a piece of tissue, add nail polish remover, and wipe each nail making sure any residual nail polish is removed. You can use a cotton ball, but it contains lint and leaves residue, so you'll need to use a tissue or paper towel (cut into small pieces) to wipe your nails again. If you don’t want to do the extra cleaning, Lin recommends using a lint-free facial cotton pad instead of a regular cotton ball or cotton pad.

01 of 07

Cut Your Nails

Woman cutting her fingernails

Dee Mills / Byrdie

Decide on the nail shape you wish to file beforehand. If your nails are too long to file, trim them with nail clippers first.

02 of 07

File Your Nails

Woman files her nails

Dee Mills / Byrdie

Start from the side if you would like to do a rounded shape or start filing from the top if you prefer them to be squared. An easy way to make sure the nail is even is to use a table as a level: Place the opposite hand on the table while holding the file, then move your other hand against the file to smooth the edges. 

03 of 07

Buff Your Nails and and Push Your Cuticles Back

Woman buffs her nails

Dee Mills / Byrdie

Place the larger grit side of a nail buffer on your nail. Using unidirectional strokes on your nail, buff any edges and even out any ridges on the nail surface. You may buff your nail plate after using gel polish remover to smooth out your plates as well.

Once you're done buffing, you can use a cuticle serum or natural oil like coconut or avocado oil to soften your cuticles. Then, use a wooden stick to gently push them back into the nail bed.

04 of 07

Add Your Base Coat

Woman applies a base coat to her nails

Dee Mills / Byrdie

Lightly stroke one layer of base coat onto the nail in even strokes. Make sure you’re not putting too much on each nail, and let it dry for one to two minutes. According to Lin, it’s good to use a base coat if you can, because it keeps your nails healthy and makes your polish last longer while also hydrating your nails.

05 of 07

Apply Your Color

Woman paints her nails bright red

Dee Mills / Byrdie

Now it's time for the main event. Try not to use too much, and don’t stress if it’s not perfect—you can always add another layer (two coats are recommended). The key is steady, even strokes from the base to the tip. Be sure to get rid of any excess paint on the brush so that it doesn't bubble and crack.

Use the same wooden stick you used to push back your cuticles to clean up any excess polish around your nails by dipping it in some polish remover first.

06 of 07

Add a Top Coat

Woman adds a top coat to her painted nails

Dee Mills / Byrdie

To protect your new color, Lin adamantly recommends applying a clear top coat on top of your polish. "It lets your nails get that nail-salon finish while keeping them healthy and your masterpiece long-lasting," she says. Note: If you wanted to add some nail art, do so before applying your top coat.

07 of 07

Dry Your Nails and Admire Your Work

Woman with a completed red manicure

Dee Mills / Byrdie

Air dry your nails, or to speed up the drying process, use a quick dry oil. Then voilà! You're all set. If it didn't turn out perfect, Lin has some words of encouragement: "Everyone has their own way they feel comfortable when doing their manicures. There is no right or wrong way! So whatever at-home manicure routine makes you feel most fulfilled is the right way to go."

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