Sweep off polish with a piece of gauze or a tissue soaked in an acetone-based remover. Next, working from the outer edges in, use nippers to trim nails to your desired length. Then, massage cuticle remover into each nail. After you've covered all 10, guide a curette around the base of each nail to clear away nonliving cuticle only. Finally, wash hands with a nonlanolin liquid soap — lanolin leaves behind a film — and use an old toothbrush to clean under nails.

Use a fine-grained emery board to file your tips into a soft, rounded shape. Be sure to choose a file that is labeled 240-grit or higher — or one that looks practically smooth. These are the kindest to your nails. File in a back-and-forth motion across tips. It's fine to file down the sides of your nails, too, says Jan Arnold, cofounder of Creative Nail Design: "Just place the file next to the edge of your nail and gently pull it out." Last, use your acetone-soaked pad to clear any debris from nails.

Remember, the point of buffing is to eliminate scratches and imperfections from your nail beds so that the surface can shine. So, as with your file, the grit of your buffer is important. Pick a 2000-grit buffer (or one labeled "very fine grit"), which won't abrade the layers, or surface, of the nail too harshly. Most manicurists favor a multisided buffer, since it works gradually and doesn't remove too many layers of your nail at once. Working from the most textured side to the least, rub the buffer across each tip.

Marie Claire recommends: Révérence de Bastien Unguent for Nails and Cuticles, PusherPlus by OPI, Creative Nail Design Girlfriend Buffer.

4 Pointers From The Pros

1. To make sure your nails are even in length, after filing, line each nail up with its counterpart on the opposite hand, cuticle-to-cuticle, suggests Jessica Vartoughian, president of the nail-care company Jessica Cosmetics.

2. Although cutting healthy cuticles with a cuticle clipper is generally a no-no, nail biters are an exception, says Carolyn Cianciotto, a New York-based manicurist. "They're apt to pick at anything, so nipping is the lesser of two evils."

3. Keep a cuticle oil, which penetrates better than a cream, in your bag or on your desk at all times. Apply frequently so that nails stay supple and healthy-looking, since a buff manicure exposes every little flaw.

4. Reshine your manicure as often as you like. This will "help circulation and give your nails a pretty, pink tone," says Bastien Gonzalez, a Paris-based manicurist. Things like applying hair gel will dull luster; reshine with a towel.

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