“How to Do Anything” is Man Repeller’s how-to service column that rave reviews are calling “better than Google” (just kidding—but seriously, it’s like a search engine combined with a metaphorical pal who cuts out the ancillary information to tell you exactly what you need to know, and what’s better than that?).
Inside what I call my “emotional arsenal” are a handful of activities that are guaranteed to make me feel bright and genuinely joyous, even when I’m feeling the opposite. Some of these things include making my bed with fresh sheets, watching John Mulaney’s Netflix specials, and, my favorite, painting my nails. Rather than the final result—glossy, polished fingertips—it’s the process of carefully applying base, color, and top coats that I find calming. While my foray into adult coloring came and went in a flash, nail polish has remained a reliable source of mindfulness. It’s a routine I’ve relied on for years, but it isn’t a skill I’ve ever actively tried to get better at.
It’s my personal belief that the more skilled you are at something, the more likely you are to love it. I use this same logic to justify why my boyfriend continues running marathons despite them being objectively hellish, and also how I went from hating cooking (when I was terrible at it) to actually quite enjoying it (I now have the NYT Cooking app). I am good at painting my nails, but when it comes to doing a whole manicure—filing, exfoliating, buffing, and all—I know I have a lot to learn, and in turn, more to love. That’s why I decided to ask celebrity manicurist Gina Edwards to teach me the proper way to do my own manicure at home. I figure, any advice on how to improve a ritual that already brings me joy will only amplify those good feelings. Here’s everything she taught me.
Step #1: File Away
File bare nails into your desired shape. If you’re unsure what shape you like best, Edwards suggests looking at the natural shape of your nail bed and mimicking it. For example, my nail beds are more round than square, so my nails suit a rounded edge best.
Tip! Try to file in one direction and avoid working in a back-and-forth motion. If you truly can’t fight the urge, make sure that your last few strokes are all in the same direction to keep the edge of your nail smooth, rather than jagged. Edwards recommends investing in a washable file, which you can—you guessed it—wash and reuse many times.
Step #2: Get Cute-icles
Cuticles are cutest when properly looked after. Apply a cuticle softening product, like Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover, to your nail beds, leave for a few seconds, then gently push back your cuticles using a sterilized cuticle pusher or an orange stick (with the tip lightly wrapped in cotton wool).
P.S. While some professional manicurists will trim your cuticles, this isn’t something you should try to do at home—in fact, some experts also suggest you steer clear of cuticle trimming in the salon too, due to potential damage and infection.
Step #3: Scrub ‘n’ Rub
To get a truly professional-feeling manicure, you should apply both an exfoliator and a moisturizing lotion—my personal faves are Aesop Reverence Aromatique Hand Wash, which includes fine pumice particles, and this Aesop hand balm, which I’ve written about before. It’s up to you how much time you spend giving yourself a hand massage, but I would recommend one that’s at least as long as an episode of Schitt’s Creek.
Step #4: Get Buff, Baby
Buff your nails all over, using a buffer with a 180-grit or higher, like these. These buffers are relatively soft and will keep you from accidentally damaging your nails. Once buffed, wipe your nails with a cotton round wetted with acetone-free nail polish remover. This will remove any lotion residue and get your nails ripe for the paintin’.
Step #5: Play the Base
Base coats protect your nails from being stained by nail polish (we’re all been there) and also help your manicure last longer so, yeah, you should use one! Apply one coat as you would any other nail polish.
Step #6: Choose Your Fighter (Color)
Next up, the arguably trickiest part of any manicure: painting. If you’re using a light- or bright-colored polish, Edwards recommends painting the tip of your nail first, before applying your first coat over the whole nail. This trick means you will have an extra light layer of polish covering the white of your nail.
If you’re using a darker polish, apply in three strokes: the first down the middle of the nail, then two on either side. Apply two coats. If you mess up, touch up your edges with a q-tip dipped in nail polish remover. For this manicure, we used Londontown Lakur in Piccadilly Square. I also love Essie Urban Jungle (a neutral cream) and Essie After School Boy Blazer (navy) when I’m wanting more neutral nails.
Step #7: Touch It Up and Top It Off
This final step is also one of the most important. Apply a glossy top coat like Essie Gel-Setter, which we used, to help your manicure last as long as possible and keep your color from fading.
And that’s it! May you and your fingertips relish this new knowledge and stun everyone who crosses your path with your perfectly painted pointers.