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How to Give Yourself a Manicure

How to give yourself a salon manicure at home - The Well Dressed Life

Today, we’re walking step-by-step through the process of how to give yourself a manicure at home. With the right tools, products and about 30 minutes you’ll quickly elevate your look while saving time and money. 

We talk weekly about how to look more polished and pulled together. Obviously, our clothes play a huge role. Their quality, fit, and the general composition of an outfit all work together to create an elevated look. 

But what about that one friend we all have that’s wearing her workout clothes, or a simple pair of jeans and a tee shirt on the sidelines of her kid’s soccer game and looks impeccable?

Why does she always look so great even when she’s not wearing anything particularly special?

It’s all in the details of how she’s groomed. And I would bet that her nails are manicured. Tiny details, like well-manicured nails, make a huge difference in our overall look.

How to Give Yourself a Manicure at Home 

So many of my friends religiously maintain their weekly manicure appointments, but I just can’t get myself together enough to stick to a schedule. Maybe I’m missing the “salon is fun” gene? 

I’m already over-scheduled as it is, so I find them to be a colossal drain on my time. While the idea of sitting for an hour or two sounds heavenly, like so many of you, there is little margin in my day.

Salon appointments also costs a pretty penny and that adds up.

We all need to find places to save so we can spend in others. For me, with the exception of special events and the occasional pedicure, I’ve been skipping the salon and giving myself manicures at home.

After a lot of trial and error, I’ve figured out how to give yourself a manicure quickly and simply.

So if you feel like I do, and want an elevated look without draining your resources, follow my steps below. 

How to Give Yourself a Manicure

How to Give Yourself a Manicure

Top Coat, $11.50  |  Nail Polish, $11.50  |  Hand Scrub, $10  |  Cuticle Oil, $20  |  Cuticle Pusher, $12.50  |  Nail File, $2

How to Give Yourself a Manicure Step by Step 

The secret to a shiny, and long-wearing manicure at home is using quality products and taking the time to prep your nails. It’s kind of like painting a room. The more time you spend getting ready, the easier it is to paint and the better the result.

Typically I do this on a Sunday night as part of my getting-ready -for-the-week-self-care-routine.  

Multitasking is the name of the game, so I pack a lot in that hour. 

Here’s how to give yourself a manicure at home in less then the time it takes to drive to the salon. 

Trim your nails

My nails grow fast, I’m always typing and I’m blessed with long nail beds so I keep mine as short as possible. 

Plus, the shorter you keep your nails the less you’ll deal with chipping and the longer your manicure will last. 

Soak and scrub your nails

Depending on how much time I have, I might sit for a few minute and soak my nails. This is a helpful step in getting your nails clean and your cuticles soft.

More often, though, I hop in the shower with a body scrub and use the steam of the shower instead. 

I found this scrub at Target last year and use it almost every day.  It’s great for your body pre self tan and on your hands and nails. It gently exfoliates while leaving your skin soft and smooth. 

After I trim my nails, I hop in the shower, scrub this on my hands and nails and gently push my cuticles back with a warm wash cloth.  It’s a great buy for under $10.

Take care of your cuticles

Healthy cuticles are essential for youthful looking hands and nails. Depending on the state of your cuticles you might need a little more than just pushing them back with a wash cloth. 

Cuticle cutting is controversial, but if you need to trim them or remove a hangnail move with caution and use a pair of cuticle scissors. I also recently picked up this cuticle remover at Target for $3. It helps you easily trim them back with more control than the scissors.

Your skin should soft from your shower or soak. Never cut your cuticles when your hands are dry, it’s too easy to trim too much and cut yourself in the process.

Likely you’ll just need to clean up your nail bed and push back your cuticles. For this use a cuticle oil. I have a few I like. L’Occitane has a nice one, this one by Essie also works well and is affordable, and I recently started using OPI’s cuticle pen and I love it.

Apply the oil around the nail bed and gently push with with this cuticle pusher

To keep my cuticles in good shape, and make subsequent manicures easier, I brush a little of the oil on my nails at night before bed. It’s helpful to use it throughout the day too if you are constantly washing your hands in hot water. 

Related: How to Look Expensive Without Breaking the Bank 

Dry off

Take a dry towel and wipe any extra moisture off your nails before you file and polish. You want your nails bone dry. If you file wet nails they will break easily. 


Don’t go crazy with this step.  All you want to do is lightly file down any rough edges. You can use any nail file you have. I like this curved file by Butter London because it helps you easily create a “rounded square” shape. 

It’s important to file in one direction to create a smooth finish.  When you go back and forth you create a ragged tip which will make it easy for your nails to crack and chip. 

Wash and dry your hands again. 


How to Give Yourself a ManicureThe woman who used to do my nails regularly did an incredible traditional manicure. I could never figure out what she did that kept it looking so perfect for so many days. 

It turns out; she skipped the base coat step. “If you prep the right way, you don’t need it,” she told me.

And boy, it makes a huge difference. 

Since then, I go right to polish. Use your favorite polish. I happen to love Essie Gel Polish.  The colors are pretty, and the formula is so smooth and easy to apply. 

The brush is wide and flat, so you can cover your entire nail in three simple swipes. You don’t need to use a gel polish. Essie’s basic line is great, so is OPI. 

The trick is to place the brush on your nail bed a little above your cuticle line and then gently push down and pull up so the polish spreads evenly. Have patience and take your time. 

The Secret To a Perfect Manicure at Home 

Here’s the game changer. Once you have applied your color, add the Essie Gel Top Coat. It doesn’t matter what polish you use. Two coats of this gel top coat and you will have a shiny, long lasting, chip free manicure for days. 

Let your nails dry completely and enjoy looking down at your perfect fingers all week long. 

Shop How to Give Yourself a Manicure

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Our readership inspires all of our posts and is not sponsored or paid for by brands or retailers. 

Recommendations are based on my experience as a personal stylist and wardrobe consultant for over a decade. I worked with busy, down-to-earth women who wanted to look chic and feel confident but were often confused by so much of retail. 

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How to Give Yourself a Manicure

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Megan Kristel

Megan Kristel is an entrepreneur, working mom, and former personal stylist. Tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of women online, she founded The Well Dressed Life as a resource for other professional women.

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Tuesday 1st of August 2023

Your point of view caught my eye and was very interesting. Thanks. I have a question for you.

Polish, Gel, Dip, Oh My! | The Novice Nail Tech

Thursday 15th of October 2020

[…] The Well Dressed Life has an excellent post on how to give yourself a high-quality manicure with nail polish in 30 minutes. Check it out!  […]

Maree Lane

Thursday 16th of April 2020

I would love to have well manicured nails but they just won't grow. They are so weak


Tuesday 3rd of March 2020

Megan, thank you for this post and for the nail polish recommendation! I am never able to keep the polish on my nails even for just a day. It seems to wear off so fast and the Essie polish combination is a miracle! I bought the 2 pack that included the polish and top coat at CVS and I tried it on Saturday and 4 days later my nails still look like I just did them an hour ago. I will buy in every color! So thank you thank you!!!

Mary Bepristis

Thursday 27th of February 2020

I've tried several times to get the wardrobe check list and it's not happening! What am I doing wrong? I've been following you for quite awhile. Thank you. Mary

Megan Kristel

Thursday 27th of February 2020

You can simply send me an email and I would be happy to forward it to you.


Friday 14th of February 2020

How do you dry the gel polish? I read where you need a UV light to dry at home.

Megan Kristel

Saturday 15th of February 2020

The great thing about the Essie gel top coat is there is no UV light and it comes off with regular nail polish remover.


Thursday 13th of February 2020

Another great blog post thanks. What type of nail polish remover do you use for gel polish? I hate when you go to the salon and they basically file it off it ruins the nail bed. I’m going to try the Essie. What are some of your favorite go to colors. 😊

Megan Kristel

Thursday 13th of February 2020

With the Essie gel polish you can easily remove it with standard nail polish!


Thursday 13th of February 2020

Love all your posts, please keep doing what you are doing! 😊

Megan Kristel

Thursday 13th of February 2020

Thank you!!!


Wednesday 22nd of May 2019

I am too critical of anyone doing my nails, I have had a few professional manicures and always went home and had to redo them. I have not used Essie nail polish yet but will have to look into it, seeing how well your nails looked after 5 days. I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to my nails, could also say I'm addicted to nail polish. My last count was 92 bottles of nail enamel. Recently found your blog and find it very informative and fun.


Tuesday 21st of May 2019

Top tip: Base coat (if you're using one) and first coat of polish on day 1. 2nd coat and top coat on day 2. It saves a lot of waiting around watching paint dry.


Tuesday 21st of May 2019

Your nails looked beautiful. Mine never looked that good when I was polishing them myself, even immediately, much less days later! I get pedicures and manicures at a salon about every couple of months. In between I try to keep all twenty of ‘em decuticled and filed and my no polish short fingernails buffed. Buffing only on fingers has really worked for me to keep hands reasonably well-groomed looking most of the time. My toenails stay polished at all times and stay looking fine without touch ups during the couple months in between polish. On another subject: I am going to shout now. YOU GUYS ARE HORRIBLY OVERSCHEDULED. STOP IT NOW. IT’S AS BAD FOR YOU AS SMOKING CRACK AND SEEMS AS ADDICTIVE! MULTITASKING HAS BEEN PROVEN TO BE INEFFECTIVE. NOTHING AND NO ONE GETS WHAT THEY NEED. REPEAT: STOP IT NOW.

Megan Kristel

Tuesday 21st of May 2019

I have no idea why you are yelling, but it's not cool. I want to be clear that this is not the site to judge other women on how they live their life. Women are busy, modern life with kids is busy, some of us are happily busy and still managing to give our families everything they need and more.


Tuesday 21st of May 2019

I LOVE your blog! I just discovered it after Christmas. Every article is on point for me. Thank you so much!!! I’d love it if you could post Canadian links too (but I understand that’s a lot of extra work, so no worries if that doesn’t work). Thanks for being knowledgeable, funny and real.

Megan Kristel

Tuesday 21st of May 2019

Thanks Rachel! I would love to figure out how to add more links to retailers outside the US. We're still learning so hopefully, as we grow, I can start to include more. My challenge is that because I only know US retailers it's hard to make a recommendation to stores and brands I don't shop. :)


Friday 15th of June 2018

Megan, great post! You didn't mention anything about how you dry your nails, so what do you recommend to ensure they are dried properly. I find when I do home manicures, I don't have time to sit and let them dry (I'm a working mom with 3 boys), so when I look at them in an hour, I see all kinds of smudges :( Thanks. And I agree Essie colors are excellent!

Megan Kristel

Friday 15th of June 2018

Hey Fay! I find that the Essie gels are pretty quick drying. A lot of times I paint my nails and work on my laptop for a bit, or, I do it right before I have to go somewhere and let them dry when I'm driving. Probably not the best thing, but I'm in the same boat and have no time to sit around waiting for them to dry.

Tracy B

Thursday 7th of June 2018

I just tried the Essie Gel polish and love it... I have a very sheer pink, and want to get more colors. I, too, dread the nail salon and tend to leave if there is a wait. The past 2 evenings I drove by and saw a full parking lot (thought I'd get a good manicure with cuticle work, etc) - so kept on driving! My time is too precious... Reading your post today has made me change my mind to use my Essie Gel polish tonight - no stopping at the salon - but maybe to pick up the scrub at Target! Thanks for that tip!


Thursday 7th of June 2018

This post is awesome. I am always concerned with hygiene regarding the use of salon tools. I have tried bringing in my own supplies, but that isn't always well-received. I love all of your beauty posts and have purchased the micro-roller you recommended and added cleansing oil to my routine. Thank you so much!

Megan Kristel

Thursday 7th of June 2018

Hey Anne! Thanks! That micro-roller was a skin game changer for me. So glad you like it!

Neen James

Thursday 7th of June 2018

I stopped going to the salon for a manicure since your last post about using the ballet Opi color and it's saved me so much time (and money) and I am the other person who hates sitting around at a salon (and also the only person at my hairdresser that spends the entire time on my laptop). Thanks for sharing these new tools - these are great.