For some time, Dom de Luxury has wanted me to do an article about nails. I resisted. What do I have to offer when there are nail geniuses sharing their skills on platforms like YouTube?
But there's something to be said for sharing the basics with other beginners. So here it is and I hope you get something out of this!
The Practical Side of Nails.
For some strange reason, I've found that painted nails on men upset more people than things like earrings or long hair. Because we are worried about upsetting people, many of us will paint our nails for an evening and then clean them off, which is not the best thing for the health of your nails.
Nails take a lot of time to do. Even a simple one-color nail look can take an hour or more. It can take 15 minutes or more for a coat of polish to dry. If you do three coats, that's 45 minutes. And new nail applications are fragile. You can't do anything while drying, and you must be careful after they dry until they harden. More detailed looks can take even longer. Some new nail technology (such as gels) make nail application much quicker and harden instantly. However, they are much harder to remove. That's great if you wear colored nails all the time. For a single evening wearer? Not so great. But there are ways to deal with all of these problems:
- Since nails take time, try to do them the night before your session if possible. That will also harden as you sleep, which is a plus.
- Acetone nail polish removers are the most effective but destroy your nails. Single evening wearers remove nail polish often, so using acetone becomes an issue. Try to use a non-acetone nail polish remover. That's not always possible but do your best.
- Some beautiful new technology (such as gels) that looks amazing and fun is almost impossible to remove, so we have to avoid that for now.
- Complicated nail looks take ten times as long, and you don't get to show them off much. It's best to avoid them. However, I find them impossible to resist. If you are like me, it's crucial to plan if you are going to do one of these.
An alternative to painted nails is false nails. I tried these, but they didn't work for me. One problem with false nails is that if you have large hands, as I do, you will not be able to find nails that will fit all of your fingers. It's hard to find nails that fit my thumbs, for example. Another problem is that they fall off very easily. Some adhesives will keep them on better but at the cost of being harder on your nails. Without these special adhesives, I found that the false nails did not last even for one session with Dom. But they look beautiful, and I loved having long fingernails. I truly regret that they are not practical for me. You might give them a try. Please let me know if you find a brand that works for you.
Doing Your Nails
That's enough of the real world, thank you very much. Let's get to the fun stuff.
What You Need to do Your Nails
You don't need much. Here's the basic list:
- Cotton balls
- Base coat. A common type of base coat is a ridge filler. More on that in a moment.
- Orange stick, for cuticles.
- Nail polish, pick a color you love.
- Top coat
- Nail polish remover. I use both acetone and non-Acetone polish remover.
That's not so much stuff, right? But if this is more than you can handle, try the minimal list:
- Nail polish, pick a color you love.
- Non-acetone nail polish remover.
You'll need paper towels, tissue, or cotton balls to remove the polish. You could do it for under $10 or splurge a bit on more expensive polish and do it for $15 or $20.
The full list will cost you a bit more, maybe around $25-$30. But this is a one-time cost and will last you for many nail applications.
What Brand of Polish Should I Buy.?
Good question. I wish I had a good answer. I'm still looking for "my brand ." Here are some of the ones I've tried:
Essie Essie is everywhere and not very expensive. It's a reputable brand and has some lovely colors. Some of the colors tend to streak when you apply them. An extra coat or two will fix that.
OPI This is my current fave. They have gorgeous colors and generally go on more evenly than Essie. Even with OPI, you can find a color that streaks. A bit more expensive than Essie, but not substantially.
Other Brands I have only minimal experience with other brands. Sugarpill, which is one of my favorite cosmetic companies, has started making nail polish. I was so excited to try these! Unfortunately, they didn't work for me. The colors are too transparent for my taste, so I gave away the ones I bought. I will say that they make an amazing nail glitter they call "Space Junk," which I love.
I bought some Sally Hansen. magnetic nail polish in a close-out sale. People sneer at that brand for some reason, but I was very impressed with these polishes. Magnetic polishes contain iron which can be moved around and shaped with magnets. It's pretty amazing and fun.
Base Coat, Top Coat, Nail Polish Removers
I have even less specific brand recommendations for this stuff. Let's briefly talk about each one:
Base Coat You might be able to dispense with this. However, many people have "ridges" running along their nails from the base to the tip. That's perfectly normal and tends to become more prominent as you age. (If you have ridges that run across the nail, this is not so good, and you should visit a doctor.) Ridge filling base coats fill these ridges and leave a smooth surface for applying polish.
Some "nail gurus" recommend filing down these ridges. I tried this, and I can tell you this is terrible advice! Yes, it makes the nails delightfully smooth, and the polish goes on nicely. The problem is that it also weakens the nails! After doing this, my nails cracked and split for a month or two until new ones grew. I've found this common and do not recommend filing to smooth the tops of the nails. Instead of filing, I now use a Ridge Filling Base Coat. Most nail polish manufacturers seem to make one. I have tried both Essie's and OPI's. Both worked well.
Top Coat I do recommend a top coat. Why apply a top coat if you plan to remove the polish the same day? Top coats do two things that I love:
- They give a delicious gleamy shine to the finished nail.
- You can buy "quick dry" top coats. These do work and speed up the drying process dramatically. So use this after your last coat and finish sooner. I use the one from Sally Hansen at the moment.
Nail Polish Removers Acetone nail polish removers are very hard on nails. You want to minimize your nail's exposure to these as much as possible. The more often you remove your polish, the more important this becomes.
I use acetone to clean up around the nail if I am careless with the polish, but only on the skin.
Prepping Your Nails
One nice thing you can do for yourself is to shape your cuticles. And UPDATE! The day after publishing this article, I got inspired to try cuticle remover. I have used it precisely one time, but I am a believer. I recommend this stuff! They don't remove your cuticle, just the dead cells covering it. Since this was my first time, I don't have anything to compare it to. But it looks so much nicer!
You should deal with your cuticles once a week. They look so much nicer when you do! Use cuticle remover and something called an "orange stick" to push back the cuticle. Orange sticks (made from orange wood) have a pointed side and a flat, oval side, cut on the bias. The biased side is what you use most. Here are the steps:
- Do this after a shower, or soak your nails in warm water for 5-10 minutes to soften the cuticle.
- Dry your fingers, then spread cuticle remover gel around the edges of your nails. Don't worry if it gets on the skin. Leave it for a couple of minutes. You aren't supposed to exceed 8-10 minutes. I guess it will dissolve your fingers if you do that? Anyway, don't do that. Something bad will happen. They don't say what.
- With the gell still on your fingers, use the orange stick to gently push the cuticles towards the base of your nails, a little bit at a time. Don't push too hard or scrape your nails. You can move it in little circles, which seems to help remove some dead cells. By the way, you never want to cut or tear your cuticles. They are there to protect your fingers from infection, so leave them there to do their job..
- Wash off the cuticle remover in warm, soapy water, then use cuticle oil or vaseline to moisturize your nails. All done!
Before you polish your nails, clean them. You must remove any oils or dirt that might have found their way to your nails. The main cause of nail polish cracking or chipping is not cleaning the nails first. Chipped nail polish is not cute. I use isopropyl alcohol to clean my nails, but vinegar or lemon juice will do the job. If you use lemon juice, make a solution with some water, soak your fingernails in it for 10-15 minutes, then dry them off. If you use vinegar or alcohol, saturate a cotton ball with your cleaner of choice, wipe the fingers, then dry if needed.
The traditional technique for applying nail polish is to take a drop of it and place it in the middle of your nail with the brush from the bottle. Then use the brush to push it left, right, and forward. Voila, all done. Such is the claim.
I could never get that to work. I tried and failed. So I pull the brush out of the bottle, brushing off the excess polish from one side of the brush. Then place the brush with the polish side against the nail and just above the base. Then push the color against the end of the nail and similarly on each side. It works for me.
One hand will always be easier to do. If you are right-handed like me, your left hand will look much better than your right. People suggest that when you do your right hand, you can try holding the brush steady in your left hand, and moving your right hand along the brush, instead of moving the brush. I think this is good advice, but I never followed it. I just kept practicing until I got pretty good with both hands.
You must "mix" the polish before using it. The recommended method is to roll the polish between your hands as if you were shaping a sausage. This method is supposed to prevent air bubbles. I tried this and found it to be a pain. Shaking it works fine; I have seen no air bubbles in my polish. And before you tell me that I get streaks because I shake my polish, just let me say I got streaks no matter how I mixed it.
So let's apply some polish, step by step:
- Clean Nails
- Mix and apply the base coat (if using) and let it dry. These usually dry pretty fast, but do let it dry completely. Use the method described above for applying polish.
- Mix and apply the first coat of polish. Multiple thin coats are better than one thick one. I have tried both ways so that you can trust me. You can. The thick coats take ten times longer to dry, so you aren't saving time. They are also much more fragile, cracking and chipping much more easily. Here's a tip if you have shakey hands: Rest them on something! You can use a rolled-up dish towel or washcloth.
- Let it dry. Drying can take up to 15 minutes or more. (Tap the nails of your little fingers together to test for dryness. They shouldn't be sticky at all.)
- If needed, apply a second coat, mixing gently first. I almost always do this. If it looks good, then go on to the top coat. Otherwise, let it dry.
- If needed, apply a third (and usually final) coat.
- Mix and apply the top coat. If you are using a quick-dry topcoat, follow the manufacturer's directions. These are usually applied when wet. If you are using a regular top coat, wait until the nails are completely dry.
- Using acetone and a q-tip or a small brush, remove any nail polish that went outside the nail.
- An optional step I rarely do, but many nail experts recommend, is soaking your newly polished fingernails in ice water for a few minutes to harden the polish.
There's a small video showing these steps at the end of the article. 'tis a poor effort but my own.
Newly polished nails are delicate, so be careful with them. They get harder with time but be careful with them.
Beyond the Basics
Lots of fun stuff to do with nails. Here are a few ideas:
Glitter is always a good idea. Incidentally, it can hide flaws in your polishing job. You can buy glitters in a bottle, pre-mixed with an adhesive. OPI sells them as does Essie. You just mix and apply with a brush. One of my favorites has become Sugarpill's "Space Junk." I love love, love Space Junk. And there are some gorgeous holographic glitters. Apply as much as you want to get the glitter you deserve.
You can also use Dom de Luxury's trick: Apply your top coat, then dip the fingernail immediately in loose glitter. When I do this, I add some topcoat to hold the glitter and make it gleam.
Glitter is easy to apply and looks great, but not that easy to remove. Do not panic! It will come off. Soak a cotton ball with remover and leave it on the nail for a minute or two. That helps a lot.
Magnetic Nail Polish
This is cool stuff. It is nail polish mixed with some magnetic material. You apply it twice: First, a thin coat of polish to prime the nail. Then after it has dried, apply a second, thicker coat. Immediately take a magnet (provided with the polish) and hold it right above the nail and watch while the polish forms a design in the shape of the magnet. I love this stuff, and it looks great. You can try other shapes of magnets, and mixing in some glitter is also fun.
If you use a quick-dry top coat, wait a bit longer than usual to apply it, to keep from smearing the design.
3-D Decorations, Rhinestones and Designs
You can buy collections of little jewels or paste on designs to snazz up your nails. These are available in most drugstores and beauty shops and are a lot of fun.
You can use a dotting tool, a metal rod with a rounded end. They come in different sizes, and you dip the rounded end in polish and then use it to create dotted patterns on your nails.
One of the most beautiful things you can do with your nails is to apply a gradient. The traditional way of applying a gradient is to use a makeup sponge: You place three dabs of colored polishes next to each other on the sponge, then roll it across your nail. It works, but it's super messy. You end up with polish all over your finger, and the cleanup is time-consuming. I've tried using liquid latex or Elmer's glue sticks to protect the skin, but they don't work that well.
I have discovered a neater way to do a gradient. I've only tried two colors, but it should work well with three.
Take a piece of non-absorbent paper or a nail mat. I use baking parchment, which is silicon-impregnated paper. Anything that won't absorb your nail polish should work. Put two generous dabs of color next to each other, and then take a medium brush and draw it along the colors to make a gradient. Immediately apply it to your nail. You can easily control the direction of the gradient, and if you need to touch up any side of the nail, that is easy to do with the brush. See the video at the end for more info. I'm pretty proud of this discovery.
I use cheap throw-a-way brushes. Don't use good makeup brushes; this will ruin them. You can clean the brush with acetone, but eventually, you will have to toss it.
As with magnetic nail polish, if you use a quick-dry top coat, wait a bit longer than normal to avoid smearing your design.
Nail artists are amazingly creative! Here are three of my favorites. I have spent countless hours drooling in envy at their skills. Many of these use techniques (such as gel or acrylic nails) that aren't that practical for a one-day nail look, but you will find plenty of things you can do and much inspiration.
- Sveta Sanders is the most amazing nail artist I have found. Her skill and creativity are just incredible. She is Russian and speaks no English, so it is all learning by demonstration. I can't recommend Sveta highly enough! You can find her on youtube.
- Yagala S is also an amazing nail artist. Perhaps not quite as creative or prolific as Sveta, she is still incredible. She is also Russian and does not speak English, but her videos usually include English subtitles and are very educational. I highly recommend her. You can find her on youtube.
- Simply Nailoglical The main reason to watch this is because Cristine is incredibly funny. She also does product reviews and is incredibly generous with recommendations. It was via Cristine that I discovered Sveta and Yagala. Highly recommended if you want to learn about nails or need a good laugh. You can find her on youtube. UPDATE: Cristine has left youtube, but her old videos are still available and worth watching.
I would be remiss if I did not discuss painting your toes. You should do this. One nice thing about painting your toes is that you can leave the paint on for weeks. Just wear shoes and socks if you need to hide them. As with the other little tasks that Dom de Luxury gives us, painting our toes reminds us of who we are and to whom we belong.
Most people find painting their toes to be a pain. UPDATE: It's much easier now that I've lost 45 kg! Toes have a way of overlapping each other and smearing the polish. Use wadded-up paper or tissues between your toes to prevent this. Even better are toe separators, inexpensive little spongs that fit between your toes and keep them apart. They are easy to find and look like this:
Apply the polish to your toes just as you do to your fingernails. Some people find it easier to sit on a chair and lean over. Some people just sprawl all over the floor. I do both. Other than recommending you put down a few sheets of newspaper to protect your floor, I don't have any great advice. It gets easier with practice.
Here's a short video I made to illustrate the points in this article. I have to admit that this is far from my best video. Getting good lighting and angles for a fingernail video is not easy. On the plus side, this one doesn't require a password. I hope you find it helpful:
Thanks for reading!
I hope this has been helpful. I'm always happy to get good suggestions and nice comments, so feel free to drop me a line.