Beauty Mode | Basic Manicures

Beauty Mode | Basic Manicures

It’s not immodest to say I am a woman of many talents, and that’s because I can (a) make a banana cake that will blow your socks off (b) lift each eyebrow separately (very useful in these patriarchal times) and (c) apply nail polish perfectly with my non-dominant hand.  The latter is the hardest won, by far, and also the one that other women seem to find the most impressive.  I can only do it because of the many, many basic manicures I’ve given myself over the past 15 years, so I thought as we head into colder weather the time was ripe to run through the quick and easy way to fancy up your hands.


Assuming your nails are clean and neatly filed, you need:

  • Nail polish remover and a single cotton round (a bit of toilet paper will also work).  I’m not here to muck about so I use an acetone formula, which is also good because it’s not full of oils.  
  • Nail polish.  I find polishes with a shimmer will dry faster and are less like to show any ridges or streaks.  I bought this one in part for the name, which speaks to me.  Don’t shake the bottle to combine – instead roll it between your palms.
  • Base coat and top coat.  I am loyal for life to the Orly polish bond, but I’ll use any quick-drying top coat (this Essie Good to Go polish is good though). 
  • Something to moisturise your hands at the end.  I use jojoba oil, more on that later.

Nail Prep


I like my nails to be relatively short, which is unfortunate since my nails like to be long (they grow fast).  The shorter my nails are, the fewer typing errors I make, the less likely I am to Frisbee my laptop into the nearest body of water. 

All that to say – trim and file your nails, then wipe each nail once with some polish remover.  Your goal is a clean nail without any dust or oil on the surface.  Do NOT trim your cuticle – you can gently push them back.  Also, don’t use nail clippers! In my opinion, based on zero actual knowledge, they bend your nail and create imperfections and weaknesses that will encourage your nails to break.

Polish Time


Due to the hundreds of times I’ve painted my nails, I can now paint them in mid-air while holding the polish bottle and watching TV or eating a snack or writing a blog post, but putting your hand perfectly flat will make your life easier. 

Dip the brush into the bottle, then twirl it against the rim of the bottle as you pull it out again.  This will take excess polish off the wand so it doesn’t run down the brush while you are polishing. Gently knock any excess off the brush and then apply thin, even coats.  I bang on the base coat pretty quickly, but of course the colour will take a bit more finesse.


The first coat should be thick enough that the polish doesn’t skip, but thin enough that you can still just see your nail through it.  I like OPI polishes because they have a wider brush, so I can do my pinky nails in a single swipe.  For the other nails, you want to do three careful stripes – straight down the middle, then one down each side, overlapping the middle stroke.  As you get more practised, you will be able to get the polish on the nail quickly enough that those three stripes blend together seamlessly. For the most important technical point though, we need to zoom and enhance.

Yes, that nail is a different colour.  I thought I was going to do something arty and then I couldn't be faffed

Yes, that nail is a different colour.  I thought I was going to do something arty and then I couldn't be faffed

Do you see where that brush is?  That’s right, not touching the base of my nail.  Leaving that little gap will ensure you don’t flood the base of your nail and will give you a cleaner and more professional look. If you do accidentally flood your nail, which I do at least once every time I paint my nails (this is what comes of watching Netflix while painting), just immediately clean the cuticle out with something precise.  I find using the thumb nail on my other hand is perfect.  Some people say to wrap the tip of the nail with the polish, but my nails are generally so short that this is annoying to achieve and I’m yet to find that it makes any actual difference to how long my polish lasts.

Rightio, do all ten nails from left to right (or vice versa if you are left handed).  If your coats are the appropriate thinness, then you should be able to immediately start again from left to right for the second coat. Finally (and unphotographed because seriously, you get the gist), pop on a layer of topcoat.

Nourish your Nails

I was all "why the hell does this nail polish look blotchy" and then I realised it was the reflection of my camera in the shiny top coat. 

I was all "why the hell does this nail polish look blotchy" and then I realised it was the reflection of my camera in the shiny top coat. 

Now, your nails will become “touch dry” (which I think of as typing dryness, as in, you can now type without effing them up) really quickly but they will not be fully dry.  You must be a tiny bit patient or you will get the dreaded dings and smudges.  As soon as you are through the danger zone, you must nourish your nails.  You have just dried them out with acetone then painted nail polish onto them – they need some love now.  I use jojoba oil every night before bed, massaging it into the cuticle and around the nail (as well as across my hands) and I strongly suspect this is why my nails grow like crazy. 

You want to nourish your nails for two reasons:

  • Your nail is only as healthy as the finger it grows out of.  Using something like jojoba will ensure that your nail bed and cuticle support a healthy nail; and
  • Your nails need to be flexible to avoid breaking.  Nail hardeners do work, and I’ve used them in the past, but my test now is whether my nails are flexible without being soft.  This will allow them to withstand shocks and bends without weakening, allowing them to continue growing (or, more importantly for me, without the HORRIFYING PAIN that is breaking a nail down to the quick).

And that’s it!  Two hands full of shiny, evenly polished nails without polish getting everywhere and without you having to spend any money on a manicure that you later regret because the colour looked different in the bottle, but which you won’t take off because it cost real money.  I’m on the prowl for a new nail colour for the autumn and winter – please leave your suggestions below.