Perfect your manicure and pedicure at home

Manicure at home featuring red nails

We all know that how we feel affects the way we look – but the opposite applies too. It may seem like a waste of time making an effort with your appearance during lockdown, especially if you’re isolating alone. But I think there’s a lot to be said for keeping certain elements of your ‘old’ BC (Before COVID-19) routine. So that includes personal grooming – remember the days when you achieved the perfect manicure and pedicure at your beauty salon? In fact, self-care is very important. And liking the way you look isn’t silly or frivolous. It’s inextricably linked with your self-esteem and mental wellbeing. So it’s perfectly understandable if you’re really missing your hairdressers and beauticians so badly! In fact, I’m right there with you. It looks like it may not be long now till they reopen but in the meantime…

I love freshly painted nails. They make me feel polished, pulled together and professional. Before lockdown, I enjoyed regular manicures and pedicures at my favourite beauty salon. For now, that’s not an option, so I’ve investigated how to achieve the perfect manicure at home in the meantime.

gel nails for the perfect manicure

The genius of gels

It’s no exaggeration to say that the arrival of the gel manicure changed the nail industry for ever. Remember paying £30-50 for the ‘perfect manicure’ that chipped after 24 hours? No, me neither. I converted to gel polishes years ago. After all, they offer unrivalled long-lasting coverage, high shine and great value for money. However, they do require “curing” with an LED lamp, which is why a DIY version is so difficult to achieve.

But there are options available. This Mylee kit contains everything you need to give yourself a complete gel manicure at home. Suitable for both professionals and home users, it includes four gel polishes, in addition to base coat, top coat, wipes and remover. Best of all, the LED lamp has three timer settings, and is wide enough to accommodate both fingers and toes. So you can treat yourself to a gel pedicure at home too!

Young woman hands using nail file for the perfect manicure

Be prepared

However if, like me, you simply can’t justify the £95 price tag for this kit, don’t despair. It’s perfectly possible to give yourself a gorgeous non-gel manicure at home, without any specialist equipment. I actually find the process quite therapeutic. It’s a little bit of precious ‘me-time’ that reminds me (in a good way) of days gone by.

As with most things in life, home manicures are all about the prep. So, if you fail to prepare – prepare to fail! Before you start, make sure you have everything you need within easy reach. And choose your location carefully! Good lighting is a must for any successful manicure at home. However, timing is equally important. Regular polish does take a while to dry and set. So, don’t paint your nails first thing if you’ve a full day of chores ahead.

Young woman with cosmetic sponge. Daily care concept


The first thing you need to do for the perfect manicure is remove every scrap of previous polish. Non-acetone versions are kinder to your nails, but darker colours or glitter may need something stronger. Even if your nails are polish-free, it’s worth giving them a quick wipe with remover before you begin. This will remove any dirt or oils that could affect your new polish’s staying power. Don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards – something we should all be very good at by now!

Next, you need to shape your nails. Use a nail clipper to trim the length, then file gently to create a smooth shape. I’m a big fan of the “squoval” (not too long and mostly squared). It’s a modern, easy shape to maintain, plus I find it minimises breakage. But don’t ever “saw” at your nails! File gently in one fluid motion from the side to the centre until you achieve your desired shape.

Woman's hand removing nail cuticle with pusher stick on white towel. Glass bottle of oil for dry, overgrown cuticle for perfect manicure

Next I like to soak my hands and nails in warm water and some moisturising bubbles. This helps to get rid of any dust left over from filing, and will also help to soften your cuticles. Then, pushing back those cuticles is your next step. Use cuticle remover if you have it, plus a cuticle stick. You can also push your cuticles back with a cotton bud or even your fingers, if you’re gentle. Then dry and moisturise your hands, making sure to remove any greasy residue from your nails.

Never apply coloured polish directly to your nails – always begin with a base coat. This will even out your nail surface, help your polish to last longer, and prevent it from staining your nails. Once that’s dry, you can apply your colour of choice, which is the exciting part of creating the perfect manicure! I think two to three coats should be sufficient, but keep those layers thin. Take the colour all the way down to the cuticle and into the corners. And make sure you allow plenty of drying time between coats, to minimise smudging.

Lastly, apply your top coat. This adds shine and longevity to your manicure, so it’s a step I never skimp on. And I thoroughly recommend OPI Drip Dry Lacquer Drying Drops. They really do speed up the drying process while nourishing your cuticles with jojoba and vitamin E.

Spa treatment for pedicure

The perfect pedicure

Pretty, pedicured toes are an instant pick-me-up. Sandal season is fast approaching – lockdown notwithstanding – so now is the ideal time to practice your perfect pedicure at home routine.

Broadly speaking, you can use the same steps for your manicure as your pedicure. The big difference, in my opinion, is exfoliation. For obvious reasons, feet are much more prone to the build-up of hard skin. So I would spend a little longer soaking your feet, ideally in a bowl full of sweet-scented bubbles. Then work hard to physically exfoliate all that dead skin, using a foot scrub or a foot file/pumice, if you have one. Such a satisfying process – and your feel will feel so smooth afterwards!

When you’re trimming your toenails, the important rule to remember is to cut nails straight across, then file the edges smooth. This helps to avoid ingrown toenails. Don’t go too short either, as this can encourage the skin to fold over the nail.

After soaking, make sure you dry your feet thoroughly, then moisturise, ideally with a specialist foot product. L’Occitane Shea Butter Foot Cream is a firm favourite of mine. A little goes a long way so it lasts for ages too.

applying varnish to toe nails

When it comes to applying polish, I would recommend using toe separators. They really do prevent your toenails from touching one another, thereby minimising smudging. Because they’re further away than my fingers, I do find it harder to be precise when painting my toenails. There are lots of corrector pens available, but a cotton bud dipped in remover works just as well, I find. I do tend to favour brighter shades for my toes in the summer. Why not treat yourself to a mood-elevating colourful coral or a pop of neon? As L’Oréal would say, you’re worth it!