DIY: The Perfect At Home Manicure

The Perfect At Home ManicureDoing my nails at home is something I truly enjoy. I find it to be calming and relaxing; a form of therapy even. Over the (many) years I’ve been doing at home manicures I’ve found a way to create what I consider to be a salon quality manicure.

Nails are a very personal thing and once you find a good at home way to get a professional looking manicure it gives you more freedom to try different nail shapes and colors. Plus, it’s much less expensive and less time consuming than a weekly trip to the salon.

Below the jump you will find a step by step guide on how to achieve the perfect at home manicure.

Barielle was kind enough to provide me with many of the products for this post.

Fair warning this is a lengthy post. But I get questions all the time about how I do my nails so I wanted to be as detailed as possible 🙂


The product(s) used in this post were provided to TDV for review. For more information check out our disclosure policy.

Before you start your at home mani make sure to get out all the products you will need. This includes:

  1. Nail polish remover and cotton balls. I’m using Barielle Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover and super fancy cotton balls from Walgreens.
  2. Nail file. My nail file of choice is a Swissco glass file I picked up from HauteLook.
  3. Hand lotion. My current favorite is Barielle Professional Protective Hand Cream.
  4. Buffing block. This is optional. I use an inexpensive one from Sally Beauty Supply.
  5. Base coat. I’m using Barielle Fortifying Nail Builder.
  6. A nail polish of your choice. For this post I used Barielle Blue Capri.
  7. Clean up brush (if necessary). My favorite is the elf Essentials Concealer Brush.
  8. Top Coat. I’m currently using Barielle Gel Top Coat.


Barielle Non-Acetone Nail Polish RemoverFirst things first: remove your old nail polish. When I really want a salon-esque experience I use Barielle Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover. Beyond that it’s a great acetone free polish remover (those can be difficult to hunt down) it has the smell of salon nail polish remover. That may seem a little silly but it really does add to the experience! Plus, since it doesn’t have acetone it won’t dry out your nails. This is especially important if you’re dealing with nails that tend to split or peel.

A couple of tips for easy as possible polish removal:

  1. Nail Polish RemovalUse small pieces of a cotton ball soaked in polish remover for each nail. Press cotton piece onto the nail one at a time. Wait a few seconds then starting at the base and pushing down onto the nail push the cotton piece towards the tip of the nail. This should remove most, if not all, of the polish. For a detailed post on this removal method including why this is hands down THE BEST way to remove polish click here.
  2. If you’re removing a polish that tends to stain (such as red or dark blue) add cuticle oil around the nail before removing polish (I’m currently using Barielle Intensive Nail Renewal Oil). Rub the oil in making sure to coat the skin around the nail. Not only will this protect your cuticles and skin from the polish remover but it will prevent staining.


Swissco Glass Nail FileNext it’s time to shape your nails. Using a glass or crystal file (these are much less harsh on the nail than a traditional nail file or metal file and aren’t expensive from places like Amazon and eBay) file each nail in one direction until you’ve reached your desired shape and length. I try to do this each time I do my nails that way it’s quick and easy. Never use nail clippers! This creates a blunt cut that can lead to peeling and splitting.

If your last manicure involved glitter this is where you need a buffing block. Glitter can make the surface of the nail a bit uneven which will make your next manicure look less than great. Lightly buff the nails to even the surface. This can be done occasionally even if you don’t wear glitter just try to limit how often you buff your nails. Over buffing can cause the nail to become thin.

Once you are done shaping and buffing your nails wash your hands. This will remove any nail residue and prep your hands for the next step.


Barielle Professional Protective Hand CreamThis step is probably my favorite part of doing an at home manicure. Moisturizing! Using your favorite hand cream liberally moisturize your hands, cuticles and nails. It’s important to moisturize your nails when you don’t have any polish on so the actual nail receives the benefits of the hand cream. I know it goes against common thinking to use a hand cream before putting on nail polish but, believe me, your nails will thank you.

The key is to use a hand cream that isn’t too thick or sticky. This is one reason I’m really loving Barielle Professional Protective Hand Cream. It’s full of stuff that’s great for your skin but it lacks silicone which can make it difficult for polish to stick to the nail.

If you need to push your cuticles back this is the time to do it. Use a manicure stick or the metal equivalent to gently push back the cuticle. I generally skip this step. But whatever you do, DO NOT CUT YOUR CUTICLES. Just don’t do it.

Whatever hand cream you decide to use give it time to really sink in to the skin. If it feels like there’s still oils on the surface of the nails and you’re ready to add polish just take a cotton ball with polish remover or rubbing alcohol and give each nail a quick swipe. This will remove any left over residue.


Barielle Fortifying Nail Builder Base CoatAnd now you can finally start applying your base coat. It’s important to never skip this step. Base coats can not only prevent staining but they can extend the life of your manicure. Depending on the base coat you use they can also improve the health of your nails.

My biggest nail problem is my nails tend to peel. That’s why the Barielle Fortifying Nail Builder Base Coat works well for me. Not only is this base coat 5 free it contains calcium fluoride which bonds together weak layers of the nail and seals free edges. This is perfect for me as my nail polish doesn’t tend to chip so much and the tip of my nail will peel and take the polish with it. For that reason, this base coat is good for cracking and splitting nails as well.

The best advice for finding a base coat perfect for you is to first identify your nail issue(s). Then look for base coats that target those issues. The healthier your nails, the better any polish will wear.

Apply one coat of your base coat and wait for it to dry completely before moving on.


Barielle Blue CapriNext it’s time to apply the polish of your choice. For this post I used Barielle Blue Capri because…it’s pretty. And Capri, Italy is one of my favorite places on the planet. And Blue Capri has an awesome, 5-free formula.

For best results apply 2 to 3 thin coats of the polish of your choice waiting for each coat to dry before moving on to the next. If you really want this manicure to wear well wrap the tips after the first coat.

If necessary, this is the time to use a clean up brush or Q-tip to clean up any polish that may have gotten on your cuticles.


Barielle Gel Top CoatThe final step to the perfect at home manicure is, of course, a super shiny top coat. Gel (like) top coats are all the rage at the moment because they are long wearing, add volume to the nail and dry to a high shine finish. This also aids in mimicking a salon manicure.

Barielle Gel Top Coat is my current gel top coat of choice. By design, gel top coats do not dry quickly. Barielle No Chip Speed Dry top coat is a good, fast drying top coat.

There are a slew of top coats on the market. Finding the perfect top coat for you is entirely trial and error. I personally prefer top coats that aren’t fast drying as I find they wear much better.

Once your top coat is dry you are done! You should be left with a beautiful, long lasting manicure.



  1. I’d like to try the nail fortifier product, I’m always looking for something to strengthen my weak nails.

  2. I would really like to try the Barielle non-acetone polish. The kind I used to buy at Beauty Brands is no longer available, and I really prefer a non-acetone polish.

  3. Great post! I do most of these already, but I’m sad to say that I still use nail clippers. Simply because when I file my nail, some pieces of nail layers don’t file away with the rest and I get little flaps and very uneven nail edges (sorry, I’m Dutch so I find it a bit hard to explain… But I hope this makes sense!). Is there something I’m doing wrong? I’d love to be able to file my nails properly, but somehow I never can :'(

    1. I get that sometimes and what I do is I run the nail down the nail file. Opposite how you usually use a nail file…like a 90 degree angle instead of parallel to the nail. If that makes any sense! Doing that will remove that extra little flap of nail.

    1. Are you letting the base coat dry entirely before topping it with polish? Make sure your base coat is 100% dry before applying color. That should help at least some!

  4. Do you have any recommendations or tips on drying polish? I love doing my nails at home too but have settled on fast dry products because I get so impatient between coats. I’m not too satisfied with my base coat choice though, and would love to try the bareille mentioned here!

    1. I have tried a million products that claim they aid in drying times (like the dry drops and other oil products) and never found they made much of a difference. I just try to be as patient as possible!

    2. I’ve once read on Essie’s website that you only have to wait 2 minutes in between coats… So I usually just wait 2 minutes and use a fast drying top coat afterwards (INM Out The Door is my fav!). This way, a mani takes me about 40 minutes, drying time included…

  5. Great post! I agree with you about using a glass file. It’s a game changer! The Barielle product I want to try most is the Fortifying base, since I have thin nails that tend to split. My favorite part of doing an at-home mani is choosing my color! Always such a huge decision, ha ha.

    1. Deciding what polish to use it the worst. Half the time I decide none of the polish I have will do and I must search for new polish, lol

  6. I want to try the nail rebuilding protein basecoat. My favorite of part of doing home mani’s it the artwork. I like handpainting the details and the way it looks. I like being able to pamper myself and I know I do a better job than the salon because who cares more about me than me?

    1. Oh I agree with that!! I live in Las Vegas, and have been to some supposedly very good (and expensive!) nail salons, but 9 times out of 10 I leave thinking “I could have done a better job myself!” I’m obsessed with cuticle perfection, and no one else can quite match my level of OCD, lol. Plus they never use a glass file, I have to bring my own, which always makes them cranky from the get go, lol.

  7. I have the worst peeling nails anybody around here has ever seen. Even the “horror stories” I see on the internet aren’t as bad as my poor nails. I’m an infant/toddler teacher and I spend a lot of time washing my hands, toys, shelves, and anything my students are getting into. I religiously paint my nails every week, seal them as best I can with a base coat, two or three coats of color, and a nice top coat. I don’t go to nail salons because even the best salon manicures last about three working days before they start flaking again.

    I would love to try the polish remover mentioned in this article, trying to find a decent non-acetone remover that actually works has been impossible for me so far.

    1. I, too, struggle with peeling nails and it’s so frustrating! I do find they are better when I keep them painted…I assume it has something to do with the water/soap not drying out the nail.

  8. I’d love to try the gel top coat. I usually don’t use top coats because I haven’t found one that works. It seems no matter what the day after I do my nails I have fading at the nail tips which leads to chips the next day. 🙁

  9. Great post! I have to agree, it can feel almost therapeutic, this whole pampering-yourself thing.
    Unfortunately I can’t participate in the giveaway, but just want to share my thoughts on this, mainly #2: filing/shaping. Some time ago I stumbled onto this idea to file nails still with the previous mani on (if not too damaged, lol); that way I can shape them better (get them more even) than if I try to follow the free edge as is, because “is”, in my case, is all weird.
    Ooh, and my fave part must be admiring the freshly painted nails! 🙂

  10. I’d like to try the fortifier as my nails also tend to peel. My favorite part of doing my nails at home is that I know everything is clean and I can do it in my pj’s!

  11. I would like to try the hand cream. I don’t like the greasy and oilyness (is that a word?) of cuticle creams and oils, so I lather lots of hand creams and lotions.

    As for at home manicures, the best part for me, a newbie, is doing an amazing manicure with colors my husband loves and not making a mess of my cuticles or fingers 😀

  12. I want to try the base coat. My nails seem to peel every day!

    My favorite thing about doing my own nails is that I don’t feel guilty when I change colors the next day!

  13. I like applying color polish. I’m always excited to get to that step.

    I’m interested to try the polish remover from this.

  14. I want to try the non-acetone remover. My nails are thin and the peeling drives me crazy when they are dried out from regular remover. My favorite part of doing my nails at home is being able to change colors regularly. 🙂

    1. Changing colors often is why I like doing my nails at home, too. If I pay for a mani I feel like I have to keep the color on longer to get my money’s worth!

  15. Because I live in a very dry climate, I would like to try the Barielle Professional Protective Hand Cream.

    The main reason I like to do my nails at home is being able to change colors frequently. I may get a little polish on my fingers, but I’m getting better… practice makes perfect!

  16. I’d like to try the Barielle Gel Top Coat because I’ve been looking for a good gel-like top coat. My favorite part of doing my manicures at home is that it helps me relax and always makes me feel better if I’ve had a rotten day!

  17. I would love to try the fortifying base coat as my nails tend to peel. What I love most about doing my own nails is that the money saved from going to the salon can go toward more polish in my stash!!!

  18. i would like to give that non-acetone polish remover a try! my fave part about doing my nails at home is picking a color!

  19. I would love to try the fortifying base coat. My nails are so thin. Favorite part of home manicures: its a little me time.

  20. I wish I had the patience for a non-quick drying topcoat, but in this humidity it can take 6 hours for a polish to dry. But I do love my Zoya Armor when I have the time. 🙂

  21. I would love to try the hand lotion. My favorite thing about doing my nails at home is thati can relax while doing them, look at a magazine, play on my tablet or watch TV. Thanks for your tutorial, very informative!

    1. I stated in the post that some of the products were sent to me for review.

      That being said, I use all of these products. Of course, you are free to swap out any products you prefer to do each step of your at home manicure 🙂

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