Ok full disclosure I’ve been oddly excited for this particular post for what seems like the eternity it has been brewing in my mind because it’s a subject I’m really passionate about! And yes, I’m overly passionate about at-home, DIY manicures and pedicures. I can’t help it! I’ve spent over a decade perfecting my at-home mani/pedi kit, testing and trying and curating the perfect arsenal of supplies and polish to keep my nails looking fresh to death without visiting the nail salon every week, and I’ve been dying to pass on everything I’ve learned in the process.
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I have a complicated history with my mani/pedi regimen. When I was in high school back in Michigan, nail salons that you could just roll up to whenever you wanted, jump in a pedi chair and spend an hour trying not to fall asleep while a nice lady named Tammy gave you the best leg massage of your life weren’t a thing. They just didn’t exist in our small town. Sure you could make an appointment at a “beauty salon” (which we had very few of) that may have had one or two mani/pedi stations, but not only was it expensive, the end result wasn’t great. It was no Tammy! So I never, ever did my nails in high school. I never even thought about it, actually and just left both my hands and feet bare and didn’t give it a second thought. And when it came time to spiff it up for special occasions like homecoming and prom, my amazing mom did my nails and I thought it was awesome!
My mom always did her own nails at home, and she had the most amazing, perfectly curated nail kit that included the prettiest polish colors and every important tool for making your nails look naturally beautiful. I remember her doing her toes on this little stool in her bathroom and her fingers while sitting up in bed — pretty sure you still do that right, mom? So I just thought that was the way it was done, and followed suit by creating an at-home mani/pedi kit of my own when I went off to college.
And then my world was rocked when I moved to the big city (Phoenix) and discovered the most magical places where you could walk in, pay less than $50 and not only get the perfect mani/pedi, but it was done in a flash and they’d give you life-changing massages in the process. Seriously, guys this totally blew my mind. But I still absolutely loved the act of pulling out my nail kit and giving myself a mani/pedi at home, and continued to do my own nails and my friends’ nails throughout college, perfecting my nail kit and nail care routine along the way.
Sure, I visited my local nail place once in a while as I went through college, graduated and started working, but in the last few years getting my nails done at a salon has started to feel more like a waste of the little free time I have and wasn’t really where I wanted to spend my hard-earned cash. Adulting. All the adulting. So I started to exclusively do my nails at home and it actually became this kind of amazing, zen activity for me that I now absolutely love. It also introduced me to the magic (and mystery?) of Hallmark movies, which I’m not even a little bit mad about.
In that time, I’ve tried and tested so many more nail care tools and products, and feel like I’ve finally zeroed in on everything I need and don’t need to give myself the perfect, natural manicure and pedicure at home. The trial and error struggle has been real, and now all that remains in my nail kit are products that actually work, no matter where they’re from or how little they cost, and I’ve kicked everything that doesn’t work to the curb. Cuthroat!
I always keep my nails relatively short and just love a clean, classic, natural manicure and pedicure that blend in with any outfit and are appropriate for any occassion. So if it’s nail art or long, acrylic nails you’re after… get thee to YouTube and set aside an hour or 10. Otherwise, dive on in and let’s start the at-home mani/pedi revolution! Resurgence? Whatever it is, let’s do it!
How To: At-Home Manicure
1. First I remove my existing nail polish with one of the most gentle, yet affordable strengthening nail polish removers that I’ve found, which is just the Target brand Strengthening Nail Polish Remover! I use the regular bottle with cotton balls for this purpose, but I use the pump version later in my routine. Stay tuned for that.
2. I Apply Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover to my cuticles, rub it in a little bit and wait a minute or so for it to soak into my cuticles until the soften slightly. It works like a charm!
3. Once my cuticles are soft, I use the cuticle pusher to push them back, and then trim my cuticles using the Tweezerman Rockhard Cuticle Nippers with a 1/4″ jaw. The short, angled jaw works wonders for trimming cuticles without pulling or cutting. It’s awesome! For the best results I start on either side of my nail and just work my way around the cuticle to the other side. This usually allows me to kind of take the cuticle off in one or two clips as opposed to taking it off in a ton of tiny chunks. It gives you a more seamless, even result.
4. Then trim my nails with standard nail clippers if necessary (thought it’s usually not). I keep mine pretty short always so they don’t get in my way when I’m working and filing usually does the trick. After that I file my nails with my absolute favorite nail file, the Walgreens Beauty 4-Way Nail Shaper, which is only available in stores, sadly. I have equal love for the Deborah Lippmann Smooth Operator Buffer Nail File, but it’s just slightly more expensive. Worth every penny, though if you’re going to be doing your nails at home all the time! I shape mine in between round and square because that’s what my nails seem to want to do naturally. I also find that a totally square nail makes for more breaks, which is no good.
5. And then, I buff! If I’m painting my nails, I’m in love with these mini buffing blocks. They’re so awesome for buffing your nails and getting any remaining color or discoloration out effortlessly without scratching your nail. If I’m leaving my nails bare, I like to use a 4-way buffing block to buff, polish and sometimes shine.
6. Then I wash my hands with soap to get any remaining nail polish remover and dust off to get them super clean before I paint. I always make sure to rub the towel over each nail to make sure no water hangs around.
7. Now I paint! One of the best things I’ve put in my nail kit are these awesome Sili-Stick Reusable Table Toppers/Placemats that are actually used for kids when they eat. I put them on whatever surface I’m painting on – desk, table, floor, etc. – and it doesn’t matter if I drip polish on them. I just use a little nail polish remover to wipe it up and they’re brand new again. These days I’ve been using Essie’s new Treat, Love & Color one-step polish for my manicures and I’m seriously obsessed with it. It doesn’t require a base coat or top coat, and after two coats of the polish my mani looks perfect and it seriously strengthens my nails while I wear it. No joke, guys — my nails look and feel so much better. I love the color “Minimally Modest” which is what I’m wearing in the pics! If I’m leaving my nails “bare” I always put on two coats of OPI Nail Envy. This is another strengthening product that not only makes your nails look so, so good while you wear it, but it seriously fortifies your nails. If I’m wearing a regular color, I don’t use a base coat because it doesn’t really do anything valuable for my nails. But I do use a top coat for extra shine and protection, and my favorite one that I swear by is the Essie No Chips Ahead top coat. It always makes my polish last longer and I love the formula.
8. I’ve gotten pretty good at painting my nails neatly throughout the years, but it’s not always easy. To help keep my polish job looking nice and neat, I use this really small angled brush with the pump version of the strengthening nail polish remover. I just pump a little bit into the cup at the top, dip my brush in, clean up any polish mess-ups with the brush, wipe the brush off on a paper towel and keep going. It’s magic!
Nail Polish Colors I Love
OPI “Dutch Tulips” (a more pink-red)
OPI “Color So Hot it Berns” (a slightly more orange-red)
Essie “She’s Pampered” (a straight red)
Essie “Watermelon” (a more pink-red)
How To: At-Home Pedicure
1-5. First I repeat steps 1 thru 5 of my manicure process, on my toes!
6. After my nails are all trimmed and clean, I head to the bathtub. I fill it up with warm water just enough to soak my feet in it, throw in whatever deliciously scented moisturizing soap I’m loving at the moment, and use a washcloth to give my feet a soft little scrub/clean.
7. Then I take one foot out of the water and apply callus remover to any part of my foot that I see major dryness or cracked/callused skin (usually my heels), wash my hands off in the water right away and leave that foot out of the water for about a minute so the callus remover can soak in. I use the Beauty 360 version from CVS, but this Callus Eliminator is a great one, too. I don’t let it soak in too long because I don’t want those spots to end up raw or sensitive. That’s no bueno.
8. After applying the callus remover solution to my foot, I use the Revlon Callus Remover to exfoliate that dry/cracked skin and watch it come off! I file back and forth gently a few times, moving around to each section of my foot that needs it. All of the skin that you’ve exfoliated will end up neatly in the “catcher” of the callus remover for easy disposal and rinsing. I also like the Japonesque Velvet Touch Foot Smoother. It’s a little bit more compact than the Revlon, works just as well and has the same “catcher” for easy cleanup.
8. Repeat steps 7 & 8 for my other foot.
9. Once my feet are all clean and exfoliated, I dry them off really well and moisturize.
10. After I moisturize I use a cotton ball and nail polish remover to go over my nails and make sure that no water or lotion remains on my nails.
11. And it’s polish time! Usually I just paint my toes on the floor in front of the TV, so I put the Sili-Stick Reusable Table Toppers/Placemats on the floor to make sure I save the floor from any spills or drips. I put everything on there – feet, nail polish and nail polish remover.
12. I always keep it classic and do a red on my toes, and one of my favorite reds to use is OPI’s “Dutch Tulips”. It’s a red that has a little bit of a pink undertone, and is a nice blue-based red for my fair skin. I love it! I also really love Essie’s “Watermelon” which is the same concept. Both are super cute for summer! And again I use this really small angled brush with the pump version of the strengthening nail polish remover to easily clean up any mess-ups.