I have beautiful nails – said no woman ever. Why are they so dang hard to keep them looking nice? Seriously how have we not fixed this yet? I obsess over my nails. I have anxiety and that is my anxious habit. If I have a chip in my nails I will pick every scrap of nail polish off, gel or not. And, as if to add insult to injury my nails are paper thin. Of course, it isn’t my fault, picking off your gel polish doesn’t wreck them right?
I have tried everything. Every nail polish out there, gel, acrylic… all of it. There are times I paint my nails every 2 days. Thinking of the hours I wasted painting my nails makes me cringe. This year, as a 31-year-old, I decided it was enough. I was going to find a better way, and I actually think I found it!
Here is my new nail care routine. Its what I would like to call frugal luxury 🙂
Step 1: get your nails done professionally. I know, I know… you are thinking WTF is this? What kind of blog post is just telling me to get my nails done? But stick with me, I swear! Don’t just get them done anywhere, find a great nail salon and a great nail tech. I got lucky, my friend did this research for me. She swears she has been to every nail salon in the area and found the winner. Even better than that, it is only a few blocks from my office. So I have sworn to go and get my nails done every 4-6 weeks over lunch, a little me date.
That’s it, they will look amazing for 6 weeks and all will be great.
RIIIIIGHT, if only we were so lucky. Now you really think I am delusional. Here is where the next steps come in.
Step 2: enjoy your beautiful nails for 2 weeks. 2 weeks is about how long I can make it before my nails are so long I can’t handle it. My nails grow pretty quickly so you might be able to make it longer. I also am not used to having long nails so they start to bug me, but usually, at this point, my nails still look great, they are a little grown out but not too bad.
Step 3: File your nails down shorter. With the professional gel, I am able to file them down without and chips. I usually file them a little shorter than I want them to be so that I can go another 2 weeks without touching them. I also have found that rounding the corners a little more helps. I usually get a little bit of a square corner at the salon and it never seems to be a problem but when I try to do them myself they seem too sharp or seem to catch on stuff. So I round my nails a little more than the salon does.
Step 4: Paint regular nail polish over the gel. Think I am crazy yet? Trust me. I do 2-3 coats of regular polish over the gel. I try to find a color similar to the gel just so it isn’t such an extreme change. I really like Essie brand nail polish. Don’t just polish over the gel, polish over the part that has grown out too. There will be a strange bump, don’t worry, we will fix this. I usually end up painting my nails at night after Blake goes to bed because painting your nails while your kids are awake is their cue to need you to do something with your hands – every time.
Step 5: Go to bed. I do the touch ups over 2 days. I have found if I put gel polish over regular polish too soon it will get wrinkles in it. So I like to let the polish sit for a day before putting the gel on it.
Step 6: Add the gel. I use the Gelish brand polish and Red Carpet brand light. It works well. If I were to get a new one I would look for one that can fit all 5 of my fingers are once. I do 1 coat of the foundation and I try to only put it in the area that has grown out, you are trying to fill that weird gap. Now unless you have the most steady hands ever you won’t only be able to get it in there, that’s okay, just smooth any extra out across your nails, making sure you are not going to leave any strange bumps in the polish. It won’t be perfect but you are going to fix that. And more important than that is not make sure not to get any gel on your skin. If you do it will make the gel peel really easily. It is much better to have a gap between your polish and your skin than to get the gel on your skin. This is why I do the color under the gel. You can make sure to get your color right up to the skin and not have to worry about it as much with the gel. Your nails won’t chip by the cuticle so its okay to leave it.
Okay, so you put on the coat of the foundation, now cure it under the light. I can’t fit all 5 fingers under my light so I do 4 fingers on 1 hand, then the other 4 fingers and then I do my thumbs together. I also do 2 rounds under the light. I don’t have any scientific reason why but I feel like it helps. Once you have cured the foundation layer DON’T wipe it with alcohol. I did my own gel for years and I always did the alcohol after each layer. I noticed at the salon they just do the alcohol at the end. So, do like the pros right?
After you cure the foundation layer you put on a coat of top it off. Do this all the way from the cuticle to the end of your nail, the goal here is to make everything look smooth. Make sure to do a thin layer and remember not to get any on your skin. Cure under the light. Do another coat of the top it off. If your nails are smooth after 1 coat of top it off you don’t need the second, but I always still have a little bit of an indent where my nails grew out after 1 coat.
After the second coat of top it off is cured under the light then wipe it with alcohol. I use a little piece of paper towel that is SOAKED in alcohol. I found it needs to be soaked in order to keep the gel smooth.
Step 7: Enjoy! I can usually get another 2 weeks out of my nails like this. If they start to look dull I will throw another coat of color on top but no more gel. Too much and it just gets too thick. Are they salon quality? No, if you really look closely you can tell I touched them up, but I would certainly give them an A for effort.
So who is good at math? I Originally said how to get 4-6 weeks out of a manicure. If you add this up we are only at 4 – I know, math is hard, but trust me, were only at 4.
Sometimes I go back in now after 4 weeks, or throw another coat of regular polish and try to stretch it to 5 weeks.
Sometimes I do my own gel manicure in between. When I do an at-home gel manicure it never lasts as long as the salon, but I am also not trying to spend all my money on my nails so I throw a few home manicures in there as well.
When I do my home manicures here is my process.
Step 1: Take off the old gel. I wish I had one of the cool electric sanders like they have at the salon, but I am just not that fancy, so I just use a coarse emery board. I file off the top few layers, making sure to get most of the shiny layers off. I then soak a piece of paper towel or cotton ball in acetone and wrap my nail in tin foil. I look so cool! I do 1 hand at a time because its super hard to do anything with tin foil on your fingers. I let the acetone sit for like 10 minutes and then take the foil off and wipe as much of the polish off with the cotton ball or paper towel. I usually do this over the sink. I then try to scrape off the remaining polish with this fancy tool. I have no idea what it is called but it is from Target. If all the polish doesn’t come off I will do the acetone and foil wrap again.
Step 2: Look at your now naked nails and be sad about how thin and gross they are. I know they say keeping gel on your nails all the time isn’t great for your nails but I have tried to leave my nails naked for months and mine just never seem to get stronger. I guess 15 years of biting them took its toll.
Step 3: Push back and remove cuticles. I like using this cuticle remover. As I mentioned above I am usually doing my nails at night and therefore it can sometimes be a 2-night project. If so I cover my nails with all the moisturizing things I can think of. Cuticle oil, 125475 layers of lotion and these cool nail masks I got on Amazon.
Step 4: Prep nails. I clean my nails with alcohol and then add a layer of the PH Bond.
Step 5: Put on a coat of foundation. Make sure to do a thin layer and remember to make sure it doesn’t get on your skin. Cure under the light. Remember, no alcohol yet
Step 6: Put on a coat of top it off, make sure it is thin and doesn’t get on your skin. Cure
Step 7: Second coat of top it off. Thin and no skin. Cure
Step 8: Add color. I use regular nail color. I had too many colors in regular polish to switch to gel color. Also, I like just putting the color on the gel because then I can also take the color off with an acetone-free nail polish remover and change the color. I usually do 3 coats of color. If I am trying to make this manicure last a little longer I will put 1 more coat of top it off over the color, but remember to make sure the color is fully dry. Sometimes I will even wait until the next night to do the top coat of gel.
So there you have it. My super simple nail process. Okay, I know it sounds like a lot – but as someone who honestly used to paint her nails every other day, this is worth it to me!
A few other tips that I do:
- Being that I live in Minnesota it gets SUPER dry in the winter. I put cuticle oil on every night before bed. I usually let it dry while I scroll through my phone and then put lotion on every night before bed.
- SO MUCH LOTION! Dry nails are one of the main reasons my nails chip and peel so I try to keep them as moisturizes as possible.
- Dishwashing gloves. I always wondered who wore those. Turns out now I do (does that make me officially old? I am constantly washing my hands, doing dishes, cleaning up spills – all that drys out my hands big time. Since I can’t stop doing dishes or washing my hands, I resorted to dishwashing gloves.
- Nail polish thinner. The nail polish at the salon always goes on perfectly. That is because they go through it fast enough so they are always using new bottles. Since I don’t go through polish that fast and I refuse to buy a new bottle every time I use nail polish thinner. When my polish gets too think and goopy I used to put nail polish remover in it. It fixed it for a minute but then it was even worse the next time. Then I found there was a thing called nail polish thinner, who knew! I put this in my polish when it starts to get thick and it thins it out and makes it like new!
- I don’t usually get pedicures. I know I am an outlier but I don’t like people touching my feet. I love the outcome so I put on a brave face here and there but normally I just paint my own toenails. When I do I really like the Zoya base and top coat. It is not a gel but still helps my nail polish last longer.