The At-Home Manicure How To

At Home Manicure How-To

An ongoing struggle I hear a lot about is the question of “why isn’t my at-home mani lasting as long as the one I paid $20 for at the salon?”. There are a few things that usually come to mind, like how cuticles are treated, the fact that many people skip base and top coats (FOR SHAME!), and a number of other little details that so many of us simply overlook. To that end, this is how to do an at-home spa manicure (and the foundation of your nail art endeavors, should you want them to last without chipping off quickly).


– Polish Remover
– Cotton Balls
– Nail Clippers
– Nail File
– Nail Buffer
– Cuticle Oil
– Orangewood Stick
– Cuticle Nippers
– Base Coat
– Polish of your choice
– Top Coat
– Q-tips or a Flat-tipped nail art brush


Remove any nail polish that’s already on your nails, and if there is none, give nails a swipe with a nail polish remover soaked cotton ball anyway.
Step 1: Remove Nail Polish


Apply cuticle remover cream. Here, I’m using Julep Vanish (which I LOVE). Allow it to sit for 30-45 seconds.
Step 2: Apply Cuticle Softener

Gently push back cuticles with an orangewood stick or a soft edged cuticle pusher. Here, I’m using Julep’s Teflon coated Cuticle Pusher (which I HIGHLY highly recommend).
Step 3: Push Back Cuticles

Gently trim away excess, such as hangnails, with cuticle nippers. Be cautious not to overtrim: your cuticles are there to protect your nailbeds from infection.
Step 4: Clean Up Hangnails & Excess Cuticle with Cuticle Nippers

Gently buff away any residue left on the nail plate by the cuticle.
Step 5: Buff Away Cuticle Residue on Nail Plate

Scrub off remaining cuticle remover with warm, soapy water. Leaving cuticle remover on the skin will allow cuticle remover to continue to eat away at the living skin you DON’T want to remove (the eponychium), so be sure to wash it off thoroughly.
Step 6: Scrub Off Cuticle Remover

Optional step that I didn’t photograph: Apply a sugar scrub and massage into hands, scrubbing gently to remove dead skin. Scrubs with glycolic acid or AHAs are particularly great additions to any mani because they have the added benefit of chemical exfoliants that encourage and enhance cellular turnover. I recommend Julep’s Glycolic Hand Scrub. Rinse thoroughly, then…

Soak fingertips in warm, soapy water for about 2 minutes.
Step 7: Soak Nails

Pat hands dry, then apply cuticle oil to the skin surrounding the nail bed. Here, I’m using an Emerald & Ash cuticle roller in the Chai Tea scent.
Step : Apply Cuticle Oil

Massage in cuticle oil.
Step 9: Massage in Cuticle Oil

Optional step (and this is what I think really makes the spa mani experience): Massage your hands with hand creme, body oil, or a lotion of your choosing. You can warm it up to give it that extra somethin’ somethin’. I love using warm coconut oil with a couple drops of lavender oil, but here I’m using Aveda Hand Relief. Be sure to take your time on this part! Your hands do a lot for you, so give them a little extra TLC, and afterwards, wipe nails down with a warm, damp wash cloth if the lotion or oil you use doesn’t absorb all that well.
Step 10: Apply and Massage in Warm Lotion


If needed, clip down your nails with a nail clipper. Be sure to do this while nails are still soft from having soaked in water to prevent cracking, splitting, and flaking.
Step 11: Clip Nails While They're Damp

Now finish drying your nails and file them into your shape of preference. I recommend starting with a coarser grit file (but don’t go too coarse on natural nails – medium grit at most), then finishing with a crystal file. Here, I’m using the Diamancel for Sephora Mini #2 Medium. A few extra tips on filing:

  • Always always remember to file in ONE direction – do not see-saw!
  • Do not file to shorten – only file to shape. If you need to adjust length, use your clippers
  • File in short, gentle strokes.

Step 12: Shape Nails by Filing in One Direction

If you have any residual powdery nail castoff at the tips after filing, use a soft buffer to sweep it away by using short, downward strokes at the tip of the nail.
Step 13: Smooth Nail Tips with a Buffer


Clean off nails one last time by swiping them with nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol to make sure that no oils are left to keep polish from adhering to nails.
Step 14: Clean Nail Plate with Nail Polish Remover or Alcohol

Apply a base coat of your choosing. There are so very many to choose from, and it really is a matter of preference. Here, I’m using Sally Hansen Complete Care Extra Moisturizing 4-in-1 Nail Treatment, but my favorite non-treatment base coat is Orly Bonder.
Step 15: Apply Base Coat

Make sure to “wrap” the tips of each nail, as this will help your polish from chipping and shrinking. You’ll do this by running the polish brush perpendicular to the tip of the nail plate. Here’s some more help on how to apply polish evenly.
Pro Tip: Wrap Tips with Polish

Apply two to three coats of your polish of choice, again remembering to polish the tips.
Step 16: Apply Polish

Clean any polish that gets around your nails with an orangewood stick.
Clean up as you go with an orangewood stick

Finish by applying a top coat. I’m partial to Seche Vite and Poshé Super Fast Drying Topcoat.
Step 17: Apply Top Coat

If there is still any polish around your nails, use a brush or q-tip soaked in nail polish remover to wipe it off. Note that using a brush is MUCH much easier, because you don’t as big of a risk of smudging around the edges or getting cotton strands stuck to any still-sticky polish.
Last Step: Clean Up with a Clean Up Brush

You should end up with a clean, professional looking mani that will last as long as any salon manicure would.
The End Result