Your 5-Step Guide to Perfect Nails

Danielle Candido, celebrity manicurist and nail expert for Morgan Taylor Lacquer, knows all manner of tips and tricks for giving yourself a flawless manicure from the comfort of your room. Here, she breaks them down in five easy steps.

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Prep: What to Do Before the Manicure

"The first thing you really want to have is a daily ritual to maintain your nails so the manicure is an easier process for you," Candido says. "Your daily ritual should be cuticle oil, cuticle oil, cuticle oil." Cuticle oil will help keep the nail and its surrounding area stay moisturized and soft, which means you'll have less work to do when it comes to the manicure.

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Another thing to consider is your physical space. "You want to have a workspace where you can set everything up," Candido suggests. Set up shop on your kitchen table, your desk, or even your floor—any flat, steady surface will do.

The nude manicure look for the fall/winter 2016 Paul Smith show during London Fashion Week. Photograph courtesy of Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
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Ready to master a stress-free DIY manicure? Follow the simple steps below!

Step No. 1: Cleanse Your Hands

What You Need: Just soap and water for this one!

Do: Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Dry thoroughly. "Clean hands means clean implements, and that's important," Candido says.

Don't: Soaking your nails—that can actually ruin a manicure. That's because "the nail is going to absorb that water and it will inflate the nail plate itself," Candido says. "The nail will change its shape and deflate as it dries—this is what causes nail polish to chip."

Step No. 2: Shape Your Nails

What You Need: Find a 240-grit wooden file that's thin and flexible. Add a buffer that's 220-grit or higher to your lineup, too. For files and buffers, the higher the grit the finer and gentler it will be on the nail.

Soft Touch Coarse/Fine Nail File by Rudolph, $1, sallybeauty.com.
Softie Yellow Sanding Block 220 Grit by Star Nail, $1, sallybeauty.com.
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Do: If you think your nails are too long, cut them down with a clipper first. Then, using your file, shape your nails in one motion.

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Don't: Hard files, like those made from glass or crystal, are best left to the professionals. "People can over-file with them and do a lot of damage on the free edge," Candido says.

Step No. 3: Clean Up the Cuticles

What You Need: A metal (which is easier to clean), plastic, or orangewood stick pusher can work for this process. Also arm your kit with a good cuticle softener, which you can use before pushing them back.

Pushy and Nail Cleaner, $18, tweezerman.com.
Cuticle Remover, $20, deborahlippmann.com.

Do: If your cuticles are hard, then apply a small amount of cuticle softener. Try not to use too much, as it can inflate the nail just as soaking would. Candido has a trick to use the perfect amount. "I have a two-ounce spray bottle that has half an ounce of softener and one and a half ounces of water," she says. Spritz once over your nails and that should be enough!

Don't: Avoid cutting the cuticles, as you could damage the cuticle formation and you could be cutting other parts, like the fleshy parts around the nail (a.k.a. the hyponychium). "When you're cutting the hyponychium and the eponychium, you're creating fissure that turn into hangnails and frayed cuticle," Candido says.

Step No. 4: Clean Your Nails

What You Need: A nail cleansing solution and cotton balls.

Pure Cleanse Surface Cleansing Spray by Morgan Taylor, $20, loxabeauty.com.
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Do: "Spray it on a lint-free wipe or a cotton ball, and clean each nail very well because that will help remove any debris that's left behind from all of that work at the cuticle line," she says. It will also pull out any moisture, improving nail polish application.

Don't: At this point, avoid washing your hands again because, as mentioned, hydration causes the nail to shift and that leads to fading color and chipped polish.

Step No. 5: Apply All Polishes

What You Need: A base coat, your preferred color(s), and a top coat.

Anchor Base Coat, $10, zoya.com.
Dry Fast Top Coat by Seche Vite, $10, ulta.com.

Do: Applying a base and top coat really do help lock in the color so your manicure can last longer. Depending on the formula of your colored nail polish (fast-drying or regular), wait three to eight minutes between coats. You should apply your top coat after two coats of polish. "When you pull the brush out, wipe one full side in the neck of the bottle so you don't overload the brush with polish," says Candido. "Place the bead of polish [on the end of the brush] on the nail and allow the bristles to float through the polish, pulling down the nail."

Don't: "Try not to apply too much pressure, you don't want to press the bristles into the polish and drag it across the nail plate," Candido says. If you press down hard, color has the potential to slide off the nail and onto the surrounding skin. Look out for brushes that are flat across or oval-shaped, as circular brushes cause more slippage during application.

Finish: What to Do After the Manicure

Wait until polish dries to clean up any color that remains outside of the lines. Dip an orangewood stick into remover and gently clean up the sides of the nails.

Enjoy!

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