Caution: You're now entering the secret beauty files, a restricted area where the lips are loose and the classified information flows freely.
To share with you the most useful nail tips, tricks, and secrets possible, we contacted the top manicurists in our little black book. After separating the wheat from the chaff—or rather, the been-there-done-that from the trying-that-immediately—we present the cream of the crop to you below, covering everything from at-home treatments to how to make sure both hands come out flawless.
NAIL AND HAND CARE
"To whiten your nails and remove any yellowness, try using white toothpaste and a toothbrush to scrub your nails. Then rinse with warm water."—Natasha Karam, China Glaze nail artist
"I like to make a homemade scrub for hands during the winter. I combine coconut oil, sugar, and vitamin E oil. (If you prefer a scent, add a few drops of essential oil.) Massage your hands with this exfoliating mixture for a few minutes. Wash and moisturize with hand cream and apply a cuticle balm."—Madeline Poole, Sally Hansen global color ambassador
"Heat a wet towel in the microwave and wrap up hands drenched in moisturizer to help heal cracked skin and cuticles. Leave on for 10 minutes. Do this nightly." —Robbie Schaeffer, celebrity manicurist
"I love to use face oil on cuticles and nails. Try this nightly before bed, and I promise results."—Tom Bachik, L'Oréal Paris global nail artist
"Use a softsponge buffer to exfoliate and smooth cuticles instead of cutting bits and pieces off."—Tom Bachik, L'Oréal Paris global nail artist
"A favorite of mine is a simple mixture of coconut oil and Epsom salt. Mix and rub in your hands and rinse in warm water. Apply a thick, rich lotion afterwards."—Gina Viviano, Chanel celebrity manicurist
"I love to make brown sugar and coconut oil hand and body scrub. It's super simple, all natural, and leaves your skin silky soft."— Ashlie Johnson, Chanel celebrity manicurist
"Use a soft sanding block on and around the nail and cuticle area to shape and exfoliate."—Ange and Vernice Walker, co-founders of Rococo Nail Apparel Nail Apparel
"Mix any of your favorite oils and massage into nails and cuticle area. (I love coconut. olive, and sunflower seed oils.)"—Amy Shockman, Julep manicurist
"Keep your cuticles in shape by teasing them back after a shower with your finger wrapped in a towel or tissue. Don't cut them because they're there to protect the "matrix," which is the area where the nail cells grow."—Sophie Harris-Greenslade, the Illustrated Nail for Models Own
"If your nails are on the short side, it's fine to go with slightly softer square shape for a deliberately strong mood. As nails grow longer, round off more, eventually ending with a more oval to almond shape, which helps make fingers and hands look more elegant and elongated."—Tom Bachik, L'Oréal Paris global nail artist
"It's more important to consider your lifestyle than your finger shape. If you're super active and type a lot, you're better off with a shorter, squarer nail. Longer, almond-shaped nails are a little more of a luxury."— Ashlie Johnson, Chanel celebrity manicurist
"I have an unorthodox way of applying polish, but I think it works just great. I start in the center just below the cuticle and push the brush gently towards the cuticle to get the paint as close as possible without spilling over. To pull the brush towards the tip on the edges, I use a curved motion to create the perfectly rounded shape at the base of the nail. I try not to make more than six strokes."—Madeline Poole, Sally Hansen global color ambassador
"Start with your to-be-polished hand flat on a surface. Keep the polish brush flat to avoid streaking. Start by placing the polish brush about two-thirds up the nail, and push the color back toward the cuticle then straight out to the tip. Now place the polish brush back in the cuticle area and push polish to the free edge, following the cuticle out along the sides of the nail to the tip. Repeat on both sides. Remember: The fewer strokes you use to cover the nail, the smoother your polish will be."—Tom Bachik, L'Oréal Paris global nail artist
"Wait a minute between coats for best results. After two coats of color, use an old lip or gel eyeliner brush with remover to clean up along the cuticle or remove excess polish from the skin."—Tom Bachik, L'Oréal Paris global nail artist
"For best application, two coats of color is recommended. The first coat should be quite thin but use firm strokes. Apply slightly more product on the second, coating the free edge of the nail."—Ange and Vernice Walker, co-founders of Rococo Nail Apparel
"It's best to polish nails at night a few hours before bed. Prep your nails, wash your face, and tend to any business having to do with water. Letting your nail polish set properly for six hours will ensure a lasting manicure."—Gina Viviano, Chanel celebrity manicurist
"Applying polish to your own hands is so hard! The best advice I can give is leave yourself a lot of time. Be in an area with a lot of light and no air drafts. Polish starts drying the second it's on your nails, so use quick strokes and be careful to leave a margin at the cuticle. If polish spills over a bit on the side, that's OK—just swipe with an orangewood stick. Any polish that remains on the skin will come off after a few hand washings."—Gina Viviano, Chanel celebrity manicurist
"It can be hard to paint with your less dominant hand, so I like to hold the brush in one place and move my dominant hand instead. It's easier to control where the paint goes if you're still only really using your dominant hand." — Ashlie Johnson, Chanel celebrity manicurist
"Make sure your non-dominant hand is leaning on something secure while you're painting. If your hand's wavering in the air, it's very hard to paint neatly."—Sophy Robson, celebrity manicurist
"If you smudge a nail, you can easily fix it! Just dip your finger in polish remover and lightly rub the smudged area until it smoothens out the surface, then finish with a topcoat. As good as new!"—Sophie Harris-Greenslade, the Illustrated Nail for Models Own
"Before applying polish, always 'squeak' the nail by using a cotton pad soaked in remover and wiping over the nail. This gets rid of any dust, debris, or any naturally occurring oils that prevent the polish from adhering."—Sophie Harris-Greenslade, the Illustrated Nail for Models Own
"Press your brush against the inside of the bottle when pulling out polish. This ensures there's only polish on one side of the brush so you have more control and will be less likely to flood the cuticle area."—Amy Shockman, Julep manicurist
"Paint the polish in three stripes down the nail. Start a little below the cuticle so as not to flood the cuticle with polish, then push the paint up toward the cuticle making sure to leave a tiny gap. Pull the polish downward toward the tip in a stripe in the center of the nail, then paint another stripe down the left side and another on the right side, remembering to leave that tiny gap all around the sidewall."—Sophie Harris-Greenslade, the Illustrated Nail for Models Own
"To get polish to dry super-fast on set, I use a drying spray like CND Solar Speed Spray. It contains almond and vitamin E oils to moisturize your cuticles as it dries the polish. Everyone tells me it smells like marzipan!"— Ashlie Johnson, Chanel celebrity manicurist
"To make nail polish dry faster, quickly put your hand under cold running water."—Uslu Airlines
"After your polish has dried for a few minutes, hold in front of a fan for faster drying."—Amy Shockman, Julep manicurist
"To create your own nail decals, paint a design on wax paper or plastic wrap and let dry. Peel off and apply to nails like a sticker. Apply topcoat to seal in the design."—Natasha Karam, China Glaze nail artist
"One of the best ways to fix a chipping manicure is by applying some nail art. I like to do an organic floral print on top of chips and re-topcoat the entire look to make it look fresh. For the 'watercolor' effect, it's best to use the brushes from the bottle rather than separate detailing brushes. You can wipe off most of the polish from the brush to get that dry paintstroke look."—Madeline Poole, Sally Hansen Global Color ambassador
"For water marbling, drop polish into water, adding as many colors on top of each other as you like. Use a toothpick to swirl it into a pattern, then dip your nails into the design. Clean up around the cuticles."—Sophie Harris-Greenslade, the Illustrated Nail for Models Own
"Mix craft store glitter directly into clear topcoat to make your own glitter topcoat."—Roxanne Valinoti, CND education manager
"Paint on a color of your choice. (I like blue!) When dry, paint a layer of white over the blue, then, using a cotton bud dipped in polish remover, lightly roll over the white to reveal the blue underneath. The polish remover spreads the blue out into the white, creating an acid-washed denim effect!"—Sophie Harris-Greenslade, the Illustrated Nail for Models Own
"The hottest trend in nail art at the moment is negative spacing. This is when you remove pieces of color letting the natural nail show through to create a great look with dimension. Use small strips of vinyl tape across the nail, polish, then remove tape for negative spacing or color-blocking looks."—Tom Bachik, L'Oréal Paris global nail artist
"The easiest designs to make are dots. But if you don't want to be so adorable, you can find metallic striping tape for a cool modern look. And a really fun way to do nail art is to use a stamping kit."—Gina Viviano, Chanel celebrity manicurist
"For brushstrokes, wipe off most of the polish from the brush onto a tissue. Then drag the "dry" brush onto the nail so the color is applied in a "brushstroke." It looks great on a white base with varying brushstrokes of color."—Sophie Harris-Greenslade, the Illustrated Nail for Models Own
"Make polka dots with a Q-tip cut in half or flower petals with a safety pin."—Amy Shockman, Julep manicurist
"Use an eyeshadow sponge to sponge color in a gradient down the nail."—Sophie Harris-Greenslade, the Illustrated Nail for Models Own
"My favorite look of this season is the graphic slant tip. Paint on a red half-moon manicure or take the red half-moon Nail-Its. File the nail into a pointy shape. Paint on two coats of a deep purple like Dark Angel by MAC over the bottom 3/4 of the nail, leaving a red slant tip exposed. Wait until it's dry, then cover in topcoat."—Sophy Robson, celebrity manicurist
"Store polish at roomtemperature. Keep out of the fridge despite what Grandma says."—Robbie Schaeffer, OPI
"The best way to store your nail polish is at room temperature and in the dark. Too cold (like the refrigerator) or too hot (on a counter where the sun comes in) changes the consistency of the polish. I suggest under a counter or in a drawer."— Ashlie Johnson, Chanel celebrity manicurist
"The best way to keep your polishes in tip-top condition is to wipe the bottle neck clean with a little nail polish remover on a cotton pad. Over time polish can build up around the neck and prevent the lid from closing, meaning the polish inside will be exposed to the air, causing the solvents in it to evaporate. This makes the polish go thick and gloopy!"—Sophie Harris-Greenslade, the Illustrated Nail for Models Own
"If you want your polish to blend in, choose a shade that has the same undertone as your skin; if you want your polish to stand out, choose a shade that has the opposite undertone as your skin tone. Take red for example: If you have a warm undertone in your skin (olive, tan or yellow), choose a warmer red (yellow, orange or brown toned) if you want it to be subtle. If you want your red to be more dramatic, that same warm skin tone should choose a cool-toned red polish (pink, berry or blue based). Simple reverse the combinations if you have a cooler skin tone (blue, pink or neutral)."—Rebecca Isa, creative director of ZOYA
"Mixing colors is so much fun—you can literally double your polish collection if you do! Try wearing white under brighter or neon colors to really make them pop! Mix nudes to create the perfect color for your skin tone. Cooler colors look good on pale, more olive skin tones. Warmer colors look good on more peach and yellow skin tones. And bright, white-based colors look especially great on darker skin tones."—Amy Shockman, Julep manicurist
"Apply cuticle oil around your fingernails before removing dark colors. This prevents the polish from staining your fingers and cuticles."—Natasha Karam, China Glaze nail artist
"The best way to remove polish is to soak a cotton pad in nail polish remover, hold the pad to your nail for a few seconds and pull toward the tip rather than rubbing onto your skin. Pulling in this motion will prevent staining."—Madeline Poole, Sally Hansen Global Color ambassador
"To remove polish easier and faster, I use medical gauze instead of cotton. The texture grabs the polish without smearing it all over your fingers, and it doesn't leave behind any fuzzy bits."— Ashlie Johnson, Chanel celebrity manicurist
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Chelsea Peng is a writer and editor who was formerly the assistant editor at MarieClaire.com. She's also worked for The Strategist and Refinery29, and is a graduate of Northwestern University. On her tombstone, she would like a GIF of herself that's better than the one that already exists on the Internet and a free fro-yo machine. Besides frozen dairy products, she's into pirates, carbs, Balzac, and snacking so hard she has to go lie down.
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