Armed with the right tools and tricks of the trade, you can easily DIY salon-quality nails.

By Melissa Goldstein
Updated May 21, 2020
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Our nails have a knack for displaying polish, in every sense of the word. When they're well-groomed and shiny, we feel put together. When they're chipped and scraggly from neglect, into the pockets they go. To get yours in fine form, all you need to do is master the basics of a modern manicure. Ahead, Dana Stern, a New York City dermatologist and nail specialist, Chris Adigun, a dermatologist and nail specialist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Elaine Watson, educator and founder of Nailebrity.com explain how to give yourself an amazing manicure at home.

Always Cleanse Gently

Frequent hand-washing fights germs, but the harsh chemicals in many antibacterial formulas strip moisture from nails. Instead, use a mild soap like Dove Beauty Bar ($6.39, target.com) and always wear rubber gloves when doing dishes or housework.

Nourish Daily

Cuticles keep bacteria out and moisture in. When they're compromised, ridges and brittleness happen. Before bed, massage them with oil, then lavish your hands with an emollient-rich cream. We like CND SolarOil Nail & Cuticle Conditioner ($12.50, target.com) and Lano Intense Hand Cream ($15, violetgret.com).

Prioritize Protection

Nails should be flexible, not hard enough to tighten screws; otherwise, the slightest stress or ding (like bumping against a table) can make them crack. Replace formaldehyde-laden strengthening "treatments" with hydrating base and top coats. Try Nails Inc. SuperFood NailKale Base Coat ($15, sephora.com) and Dermelect High Maintenance Peptide Infused Anti-Aging Top Coat ($16, dermstore.com). Most of today's lacquers are considered "three‑free," meaning they don't contain questionable ingredients like formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP).

Clip and Snip

Once a week, reach for trusty tools to shape up cuticles or sand down a jagged edge. Then brush on a chic, neutral shade. To trim nails, make one clean cut across, and leave the corners intact. Remove hangnails with nippers. We like Revlon Deluxe Nail Clipper ($2.99, ulta.com) and Tweezerman Ultra Precision Cuticle Nipper ($35, tweezerman.com).

File and Shape

Most emery boards are too coarse. Use a fine-grit version, like Deborah Lippmann Smooth Operator ($12, sephora.com). Stroke it in one direction (not back and forth) to shape the edges. Then buff nails until they glow.

Nudge Cuticles

Gently push them back with a wooden stick wrapped in a cotton ball (or use a wet washcloth in the shower). Try Diamond Cosmetics Manicure Sticks ($2 for 10, ulta.com).

Paint

Start with a base coat. Then, for a precise, even coat of color, don't overload the brush with too much polish. When painting, press down slightly to fan out the bristles, and do it in three even strokes: one on each side, then one down the middle.

As for our favorite lacquers? Stock up on these: No Strings Attached by OPI ($12.50, opi.com); Shock Candy by Sinful Colors ($1.99, walgreens.com); Skinny Dip by Essie ($9, ulta.com); Mint by Smith & Cult ($24, net-a-porter.com); Tranquility by Sparitual ($12.50, sparitual.com); and Mia by Zoya ($10, ulta.com).

Clean up any mistakes with a pointed cotton swab dipped in nail polish remover. We like Q-tips Precision Tips ($2.79, walgreens.com) and Cutex Nourishing Nail Polish Remover ($3.99, target.com). Finish with a top coat.

Extra Help

According to several studies, biotin supplements have been shown to help strengthen nails when taken daily for about four months—we like Hum Nutrition Killer Nails ($20 for 60, dermstore.com). Research also shows that glycolic acid can smooth out pits and ridges on nails, much as it does on skin, says Stern—so go ahead and add Deborah Lippmann Marshmallow Whipped Hand & Cuticle Scrub ($29, neimanmarcus.com) to your shopping cart.

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