In the last few weeks, as winter has really taken hold, my hands have been suffering. They’ve become dry and cracked, and my nails were getting flaky and chipping easily. In short, I really haven’t been keeping to my new year’s resolution of pampering myself more at home, and something had to change.
So, I got back in to my mani-addict ways and gave myself a luxurious at-home treatment. Salon gel manicures obviously last longer, and I love the shine, and the chip-free two week honeymoon period, but let’s be honest: salon trips take time and money, and whenever I have gel nails, it takes weeks for them to get back to being smooth and moisturised.
In short, gel manicures are a short term gain, for about 10 weeks of pain, which is why I’ve always preferred to do my nails myself, and I am pretty good at it, but then I asked myself, how do I get an at-home manicure that looks and lasts like gel, without the damage and the added expense of the removal appointment?
After a few attempts, I think I’ve found the answers, and you can follow along in 7 easy steps!
Preparation, preparation, preparation!
We all know that no fancy manicure is going to look great (or last) on dry, chapped, flaking hands, so this is an essential step.
1 Wash and exfoliate your hands
Today, I used a Cath Kidston hand exfoliator that I’ve had lying around for a while, but any fine grain scrub will do the trick. I applied the scrub to my wet hands and massaged it in thoroughly, paying attention to the nails and cuticles. Once you’ve given your hands a good massage to get the blood flowing, rinse thoroughly.
2 Dry hands and massage with hand butter
Again, I used a rich hand butter from Cath Kidston that came as part of a gift set for this step, but any rich hand cream can be used. I rubbed the butter in, and focused on the dry parts of my hands and on the nails and cuticles.
3 Cut nails and file, push back the cuticles
I always cut my nails using scissors or a clipper and shape them with a nail file in one direction, being careful not the split them. I used wooden sticks to gently push the softened cuticles back.
4 Remove cream from the nails using nail varnish remover
I want the base coat to fully line my nails so that my nail varnish lasts longer, so this step is key. I soaked a cotton wool pad in nail varnish remover and thoroughly cleaned my nails to remove all traces of cream.
Over the years, I have tried (almost) every brand of nail polish, from the super cheap £2 bottles to the high-end £25 colours, but if there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that none of that matters without the right base coat and top coat. I say invest in good quality products, because they will work and they will pay for themselves in just 2 or 3 manicures and pedicures.
5 Apply a base coat
For years, I have used Essie Grow Stronger, because it is enriched with Vitamin E and other minerals that leave nails stronger and more protected. The brush, as with all Essie products, glides effortlessly across the nail for the perfect application. Wait until this is fully dry before moving on.
6 Apply 2 coats of your chosen nail varnish and a top coat, waiting for each one to dry before applying the next coat
I used my go-to winter Essie shade, Angora Cardi. It’s the perfect blend of plum, with a dark maroon undertone, which goes perfectly with my skin tone. I love it, and I buy it in bulk because I live in fear of my favourite products being discontinued. Once dry, I applied a coat of Essie Good- To-Go, another one of my manicure essentials. It adds a protective, high-shine layer to any nail varnish and helps nails to touch-dry faster, usually in under 2 minutes.
7 Add a final shiny touch with Essie Gel Couture Top Coat
I only recently started using the Essie Gel Couture range (I know, where have I been?!), but I finally see what all the fuss is about. This top coat is designed to be used with the Gel Couture colour range, but it also protects and adds gel-like shine to a regular manicure. I applied it to my nails, and used it to seal them at the tip for an even longer-lasting finish.
I am really rough on my hands, and if I want my manicure to last more than a few days, I have to put in some work, but it’s a very low maintenance upkeep.
I paint over small chips as they happen, and reapply the Gel Couture top coat every 2-3 days to maintain the colour and the shine, even if there are no blemishes. I also use a rich hand cream to keep my hands and cuticles moisturised, because with young kids and a busy life, I wash my hands a lot. You could even buy a pair of moisturising gloves to pop on your hands at night if they are extra dry. I love these ones– they work miracles if you pop them on overnight after hand cream.
- Remove all product from the nails with nail varnish remover before painting base coat
- Push back the cuticles gently to avoid nicks and cuts which can hurt and cause infections
- File nails towards the centre to avoid breakage
- Make sure nail tips are sealed with top coat to prevent peeling
- Let each coat dry fully before applying the next
- Reapply the Gel Couture top coat every 2-3 days