I've been meaning to do a post detailing my routine for giving myself a manicure and the products I use for a while now. It wasn't until a very nice reader emailed asking for the post that I got up my butt to do it. This is going to be pretty wordy so I'll get right to it.
Word of warning first: What works for one person will not always work for someone else. Most of the items I describe are pretty universal in that they won't cause any harm but, for the nail hardeners and treatments I recommend Loodie's series on hardeners and treatments so you can determine the real problem with your nails. In my case, my nails were hard and they grew quickly but peeled like a mofo. If this is your case, you'll probably benefit from most of the products I use.
First thing I do is remove my old polish. I make a mix of glycerin and pure acetone in the little bottle to get my diy version of Zoya Remove. The result is very effective at removing polish but doesn't dry out my cuticles as much as pure acetone would. If you're interested in learning more about this, Loodie's was the original post I saw that explains it and Wacky Laki has a great simpler tutorial.
Next, I file my nails. Some people prefer to do this while they still have polish which makes it easier to correct crooked nails. I don't do this mostly out of habit. Before, I needed to see the nail plate and where it was peeling so I could file accordingly. I also file my nails at this step because most of the next steps involve filling the nail with moisture and you NEVER want to file your nails while they're too moisturized. They need to be completely dry before filing and painting, which is why I don't like the professional manis that place your hand in warm soapy water.
These are some of the files I have at the moment. The Revlon comes in a set of two for around $3-4 and they were my go to files for the longest time, until I tried the pink one. That one is from Sally and it has the grit printed on which is way more useful since I never knew the Revlon's grit. The glass file is from Sephora (as you can see) and while it was the best glass file I've tried, I still can't get into glass files. I just...no. The pink one works so well for sealing my nail edge that I never looked back to the glass file. The Sally Hansen one at the top is from Wal Mart and I bought it because I was shopping and I snagged a nail and needed to fix it. I kid you not, it bothered me so much I bought a file. Since buying it I actually quite like it now. I use it for when I want to take down length.
Next up, I remove my cuticles. I have to do this at least once a week or my cuticles run rampant. Please, don't ever cut your cuticles. In my opinion, don't even let a professional do it unless it's an extreme case. The cuticle is there for a reason, it protects your nail plate. To remove the build up of dead cuticle (ew) I use Blue Cross Cuticle Remover from Sally. It's a HUGE bottle that I decanted into the smaller one you see. If I see some growth in the middle of the week, I use Essie's Disappearing Trick. It works great and it's gentler than Blue Cross. Sometimes, I find if I use Blue Cross too often, it will turn my nail green (?) for just a moment, it disappears when I wash it off but it also happened with Orly Cutique very often so I stopped using it.
This is what I use to remove my cuticles. The rubber is preferred but, sometimes there's a particularly stubborn piece and I use the orangewood stick. The one at the bottom is brand new and I buy these at Sally's (surprise surprise) in a pack of 5.
Suddenly, moisture! You've put a lot of crap on your nails by this point so treat them nicely. I've been using CND Solar Oil since my previous oil ran out and I love it! The smell kind of hit me the first time but, I don't know if its because I'm stuffed up 95% of the time or I got used to it, now I barely smell it. The Sephora pen was on clearance for $5 and I use it every once in a while before taking pictures if my cuticles were particularly dry. For every day moisture I use Burt's Bees cuticle cream (not pictured, I keep it in my car or purse) and any random lotion. I love the OPI Avoplex minis but I've been using an Avon one since I finished my Vaseline Aloe Vera and it's all the same to me. It's just a matter of sealing in the moisture from the cuticle cream.
Now go wash your hands. *Twiddles thumbs waiting for you to get back*.
All clean? Good. Now you're basically done and it's time to paint your nails. Like I said, your nails are probably a bit bloated from all the moisture so wait for them to dry before proceeding to paint.
These are my current base coats. The Nailtiques Formula 2 is what I used to get my nails healthy. In the beginning, I tried to go a week without polish and just follow the instructions on the bottle but I was like 'lol, no' and I had to paint my nails so I just always used it as a base coat. My nails were at their worst around July when I got back from my trip to NYC. They were so peeled (?) that any new growth would grow peeled (I hope that makes sense). Anyway, now my nails are 100% healthy and they've been that way for a while now so I would say it took a good 3 - 4 months for them to grow out of their previous damage. It may take longer or less depending on your own nail growth speed.
The Nailtiques Formula 1 is a recent acquisition, it's meant to be used on healthy nails to prevent them from becoming too brittle after Formula 2. I haven't done a thorough testing yet but things seem to be going well. I'll admit to having separation anxiety from the Formula 2, I really dread going back to peeled nails but it has been maybe a month since I stopped using it and still no peels. The Essie Feed Me is what I use when I want to give my nails a break from the treatments and proteins. It's a good hydrating base coat.
You can now FINALLY paint your nails. I'll add on here the picture of the brushes I use for cleanup too.
The two middle ones were ones I always used until I discovered the angled one. I still use both depending on the polish and on how I painted my nails. The topmost one was an impulse buy, I thought the rounded edges would help but it's a bit too fluffy, I need a more stiff brush. They're all brushes for acrylic paint
If you're still here you deserve one hell of a prize. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments or email me. I'm not a professionally trained expert but I can always share what worked for me. Plus, I'm just gonna say it, I feel I know more about general nail health from reading Loodie's blog than some nail techs around. We have a lot of nail techs here that are young and this is their part time job so they'll give the most random advice without knowing what they're saying. This is most definitely not the case 100% of the time but I just want you all to exercise caution in who's advice you follow. Even my advice could not work for you.
I really hope this helps, have a great day ladies!