Tricks For Maintaining Your Nails At Home When You Can’t Get to the Salon

healthy nails and how to strengthen nails at home

Some may say there’s nothing more relaxing than a trip to the nail salon. An hour spent in the salon chair while your nails are being trimmed, buffed, and shellacked is a self-care ritual that many look forward to. But since the days of pampering inside the nail salon are now a distant memory for many (we know, we’re unhappy about it too), it’s time to take nail care into your own hands. 

While it may sound daunting, it’s absolutely do-able to give your nails the TLC they deserve at home. To ensure you’re fully equipped to tackle your tips in the comfort of your abode, we reached out to the experts for their advice. We’re not going to teach you how to apply nail polish in this article (there’s a good chance you have that under control!), but if you keep reading, you’ll discover the best ways to prep your nails for a flawless at-home mani, including info on what belongs in your tool kit, and sure-fire ways to keep your nails well-groomed all on your own.

Tip #1 to Maintain Your Nails At Home: Don’t Peel Off Your Pre-Existing Gel Manicure

If you’re anything like us, you may be guilty of peeling off weeks-old gel polish in lieu of using an acetone-soaked cotton ball. While this may be satisfying, it’s most definitely not good for your nails. Peeling off polish doesn’t just remove the lacquer itself, but also takes the top layer of your nails with it. This can cause damage to your nails like ridges or divots — and these don’t go away so quickly. “You’re peeling off the under layers of your nails, and ultimately weakening the entire nail bed,” warns Amy Ling Lin, Founder & CEO of NYC-based Sundays℠ Nail Studio

Instead of running the risk of ruining your nails long-term, she recommends sticking to the traditional cotton ball, acetone (a non-acetone formula doesn’t break down the gel lacquer), and aluminum foil method. First, file the surface of your nails. This will remove the shiny finish from your manicure along with the protective top layer, which will help you soak off the gel. 

“Depending on how big your nail plate is, divide the cotton ball in half, pour the polish remover onto the cotton ball (just enough to coat the cotton, but not soak it), apply to the top of your nails, then use the foil to keep it in place,” Lin instructs. Basically, you’ll wrap your fingertips like they’re tiny burritos. Leave the foils on for at least 10 to 15 minutes — after this point, all your gel should have disintegrated off your fingertips. Discard all the waste and follow this routine with a hydrating oil or hand cream (more on this to come!). If you’d like to re-do your gel mani at home, here’s how-to do it. 

Tip #2 to Maintain Your Nails At Home Keep Cuticles Hydrated 

While keeping your hands hydrated is uber-important, it’s equally as important for your fingernails — and the skin around them — to stay moisturized, too. Not only because it’s aesthetically pleasing, but also to help ward off bacteria: cracks and breaks in the skin can allow unwanted bacteria in. Luckily, you don’t need anything fancy. Rachel Apfel Glass, founder of NYC-based Nail Salon GlossLab℠, recommends using rich, hydrating hand creams on your hands, and then a targeted oil on your cuticle area — like coconut or jojoba oils, or anything else you have on hand at home. If you do want to purchase a cuticle-specific oil, we thoroughly enjoy slathering on the nourishing jojoba and sweet almond oil-based formula of CND® Solar OilTM ($9). 

Tip #3 to Maintain Your Nails At Home: Build Your At-Home Tool Kit

When it comes to creating a glamorous makeup look, it’s important to use the right brushes and blenders in order to achieve the look you want — and the same thing applies to your nails. Without the proper arsenal of tools, it's nearly impossible to shape, buff, or care for your nails. If you’re not doing any sort of nail art or designs, both Glass and Lin recommend sticking to the basics: a nail file, buffer, orange stick or cuticle pusher, nail clipper, nail polish remover, and a base and top coat (if you’re using polish!). These are the essentials you’ll need to groom and give yourself a manicure. If you’d rather not purchase these products individually, you can also find pre-made kits like this one from Sundays Nail Studio ($72) or this one from Glosslab ($25).  

Tip $4 to Maintain Your Nails At Home: Keep Your Nail Length on the Shorter Side

Whether coffin, stiletto, or otherwise, long nails are definitely popular these days. And sure, they may look great and lengthen the look of your hands, but they may actually be doing more harm than good. According to the CDC, long nails often harbor bacteria since you’re often not scrubbing the underside of your nails themselves. This can cause the spread of bacteria and infections to you and those around you. 

“Cutting or filing your nails to about finger-tip length ensures no germs or bacteria get stuck underneath your nails,” Glass says. We know it’s easy to get sentimental about having long nails, so if you’re itching for excitement after cutting down the length, this is the time to experiment! Test out different nail shapes, nail art, or adding a fun top coat to elevate your manicured nails.

Tip #5 to Maintain Your Nails At Home: Always Use a Base & Top Coat

While you may not be able to totally replicate the technique of your trusted nail tech, taking a few extra steps can get you pretty close. A major key to maintaining your mani is using the proper reinforcements, like a base and top coat. Similar to how a primer preps your complexion for foundation, a base coat readies your nails for polish, and helps the lacquer on top go on more smoothly, Lin shares. Plus, it’ll prevent staining, which can happen when you’re using dark or neon colors. Finishing off your manicure with a top coat gives it a beautiful shiny finish and keeps chips at bay, making your mani last longer than it would without it. Lin also recommends adding quick dry drops at the end, (like these from Essie®, $8), which helps to speed up drying time and further protect against any smudges, dents, or nicks in your nails.

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