As I stated in the introduction to my article about the upkeep of hair, the care that you give you nails, feet and hands play an important role in how you present yourself to other people, and as such, their upkeep can greatly boost your sense of self-worth. Again, this is partially achieved by giving yourself the time to indulge in a bit of self-care, but also to give you an excuse to feel proud of yourself for maintaining your appearance.

So what makes your hands, feet, and nails important enough to devote your attention to? Your hands and feet are, to the rest of the world, subtle indicators of your dedication to things. Not only does a good manicure and pedicure polish off your appearance, but it’s essentially a subliminal signal to the people around you that you care about things even down to the smallest detail. It’s a good way to, literally, put your best foot forward, or to curl a potential Dom(me) around your little finger, and it shows the rest of the world that you are willing to put in a little bit of extra effort to make yourself look nice.

So Let’s Talk Manicures/Pedicures

We’re pretty hard on our hands and feet. As a general rule, we use them every day with varying degrees of viciousness. Keeping your hands and feet looking healthy and neat only really takes about five minutes a hand/foot if you’re keeping it simple and doing a home job. I normally stick on an episode of my current TV show for background noise and haphazard my way through touching up my nails. If you’re doing this for the first time, however, it might take you a little longer, so set yourself up with a few episodes of your show of choice, and make sure that you have a few hours to spend in one location. Also: bring your supplies to the table with you. Make sure that you have everything you need before you begin because trying to find your top coat polish when your colour coat is drying is a good way to get polish on everything but your nails. For convenience, here’s what I usually grab before I begin:

  • Nail polish remover, cotton swabs, AND q-tips
  • Nail clippers
  • Cuticle trimmers and orange sticks
  • Hand/nail moisturizer & foot moisturizer (these are different. We’ll talk about that in a minute)
  • Emery board/nail file and nail buffer
  • Your polish (base, colour, and top coats)
  • A bowl  of cold water, a hair dryer, OR cooking spray

Start by removing leftover nail polish. If you don’t usually paint your nails, this is a step you can obviously skip, but always make sure that you remove any leftover polish rather than trying to paint over it. Use the cotton swabs to get the majority of the colour off, and then the q-tips to get the edges of your nails. If you’re trying to remove polish made with a heavy glitter, the best thing to do is to get a bit of aluminum foil, press a soaked cotton ball to your nail, and wrap the foil around your nails for a few minutes. Make sure that you don’t keep them on longer than about 5, though, because polish remover does dry out your nails and will make them peel or shed later.

Once the polish is removed, wash your hands and feet.

I know it sounds silly, but you need to make sure that the residue of the nail polish is completely off your fingers and your nails. Again, keeping the remover on your nails for too long dries your nails out, and that especially includes when the solution dries on your nails. Follow up with the moisturizer. Remember hand moisturizers and foot moisturizers are different. Because your feet are more heavily calloused, a foot moisturizer is going to be really intense and thick, whereas a hand moisturizer is going to be lighter. Your feet will absorb the heavier moisturizer effectively, but your hands won’t. My advice is to take care of your feet before you take care of your hands, that way you can wash the residual lotion off of your hands before you put the proper lotion on them. Also: make sure that you’re getting the lotion on your nails and cuticles. Nails grow from the cuticles outward, and the healthier your cuticles, the healthier your nails will be.

After you’ve moisturized, you can push your cuticles back gently with the orange sticks, and trim the dead skin from around your nails. Try not to actually cut your cuticles. Pushing them back will expose more of your nail bed and make your nails look longer, but actually cutting them rather than pushing them back can be painful and leaves you at risk of picking up infections.

Now that you’ve taken care of the areas around your nails, you can start painting. I recommend at least putting a base coat or a top coat on your nails to protect them. Something either clear or neutral should dry quickly and give you an extra level of resistance against everyday usage. But even if you plan to put colour on your nails, you should always have a base coat, especially if you’re painting your nails a bright pigment such as blue,  green, or red, as those stain your nails.

Try to make sure that you put plenty of polish on the brush, but don’t feel like you need to unload all of the polish on a single nail. You shouldn’t so much brush the polish as use the brush to guide where the polish goes. Once the base coat is on all ten fingers/ toes, put on the first coat of colour using the same technique. Usually, the time that it takes to do all of your fingers and toes is plenty of time between coats; you don’t want to let the coat dry completely, or the coats that follow after won’t adhere to what’s already on your finger.

A note on your colour coat:

Depending on the brand and consistency of the polish, you might need anywhere from a single coat to three coats. If you need more than three coats, you should consider changing your base coat to a more opaque colour, such as neutral instead of clear, or white instead of neutral.

Once your colour coat is on, seal it with a top coat. The top coat can be a matte or a gloss, depending on your preference. The idea behind the top coat is to make sure that the colour coat is protected; your polish will be less likely to chip if you have a top coat on.

The hardest part of a manicure/pedicure is waiting for your nails to dry—especially when you have multiple coats of polish on. Either you’re confining yourself to the same location for an extra couple of hours and hoping to death that you don’t move the wrong way. There are a couple of ways around this, though, and they’re fairly easy, so unless you’re running a particularly compelling marathon of your favourite show, there’s no need to be a couch potato for the rest of the day.

If you have a hair dryer, you can put it on the lowest setting and simply blow your nails dry. Alternatively, submerging your nails, carefully, into cold water for a few seconds and then carefully removing them (and waiting for the water to air dry) is a good way to speed up the process and to determine whether your manicure is set. Finally, the method I usually use is to spray them down with a thin coat of cooking spray, wait about two minutes, and then carefully wash your hands. I have no idea why cooking spray works, and I have no idea where I picked it up as a technique, but it’s really handy if I need to get somewhere quickly after having done my nails. (Just make sure that you don’t use a butter or olive oil flavoured spray because then your fingers will smell like butter and olive oil).


Troubleshooting Long Nails

Maintaining longer nails can be tricky. On average, mine successfully grow about 3-5 centimeters passed the tips of my fingers before they really start to become troublesome, but growing them out is always really tricky. Here are a few things that help yield healthy nail results:

  1. Stay on top of your manicures. Carry a small file or a nail clipper with you. If you notice a snag or an uneven edge in your nail, fix it immediately, because otherwise it’ll catch on something and rip off.
  2. Drink a lot of water and eat well. The appearance of your nails (and your hair) is fairly telling of how healthy you are and how well you eat because they’re your body’s version of luxury items. Only when the rest of you is running well will your body dedicate its resources to your nails, so keep hydrated, and eat things that are vitamin heavy.
  3. Nail split? If you’re at home and you noticed that your nail has split or begun to shed off, you can use a bit of polish and the mesh filter of a tea bag to keep your nail together. Just cut a piece of the teabag to fit over your nail, put a thick coat of clear polish on, and then place the mesh on your nail. Top it off with another thick coat of polish and then cover that with the colour of your choice. You’ll still have to be a little careful with your nail, but it will hold securely until your nail grows out enough to deal with the damage appropriately and without sacrificing length.

Maintaining your nails, hands, and feet can be a bit of a chore until you get the hang of it; putting polish on your nails is definitely one of the areas that requires practice and a certain level of hand/eye coordination, but at least basics of upkeep are simple and have a generous learning curve. As always, there are plenty of videos on that can give you visuals as well as instructions which you can use as supplements. Remember, the idea behind doing this is to give yourself a half hour once a week or once every two weeks where you can focus on doing things that can make you feel good.

Are there nail techniques or tutorials that you find especially helpful? Leave a comment below!