6 inexpensive products I use to give myself a salon-grade manicure at home

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My friends and coworkers are always asking me where I get my nails done, and they’re totally shocked when my response is that I do them at home. I prefer to have my nails painted at all times and I tend to put a fresh coat on every week (or every other week if I’m feeling lazy). I’m being totally honest when I say I only treat myself to a manicure and pedicure once a year for my birthday.

If I went to a nail salon on a weekly basis and paid for a $10 manicure, I’d be spending $40 a month or $480 a year – and honestly, that’s a low-balled estimate. I live in New Jersey so expect those prices to be higher if you live in New York or another city. On top of that, who has an hour or two every week to get pampered? I wish, but I’m not a Real Housewife.

On top of that, I prefer to paint my nails dark colors like black cherry, midnight navy, and even black, so it’s painfully obvious when my polish starts to chip. I’ve tried different brands of nail polish and gimmicky products to make my nails last through the week and I’ve finally cracked the code – including a quick drying top coat that’s my secret weapon.

Trust me when I say you’ll only need these six products to give your natural nails a salon-grade manicure at home – and at under $30 total, they won’t break the bank.

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A nail file

A nail file

Trim Salon Board (two-pack), available at Target for $1.19Now I know what you’re thinking: It’s just a nail file, they’re all the same. Well, no — not entirely. There are actually several types of nail files, but the most common one is an emery board. Depending on the type of nail (natural or artificial), you’ll need to use different grit levels.

The lower the grit level, the coarser the file, and conversely, the higher the grit level, the smoother it’ll be. For artificial nails, a grit level of 100 should be used, while natural nails tend to require a grit level of 180.

The Trim Salon Board is designed for multi-use. One side of the board has a medium grit, while the other side has a coarse grit. They are also attached to a thick and sturdy board, so you don’t need to worry about snapping it in half as you file away.

I only use the Trim Salon Board on the edges of my nails to shape and file them, never on the surface to buffer and smooth. I use a basic buffer, listed in the slide below, to smooth the tops of my nails before applying polish.

A nail buffer block

A nail buffer block

Tweezerman 4-in-1 File, Smooth, & Shine Block, available at Amazon for $8.30After you’ve filed the edge of our nails (which, by the way, you can use one side of this block for), it’s time to buffer the tops of them so your nail polish goes on smooth. I’m guilty of committing the age old sin of nail biting, so thin layers of my nail protein peel off and make my natural nails look flaky.

I really should stop biting my nails, but it’s harder than it seems and it’s way easier to spend two minutes buffing my nails anyway. This Tweezerman block has really helped clean up the damage that I’ve done to my nails by removing all of the flaky nail protein and restoring the surface of my nails.

This block comes with four sides: a file, a buffer, a smoother, and a shiner. While I really only use the buffer and smoother side, this four-in-one block is the only tool you need to use prior to applying nail polish.

To use:

Step 1: Use the file side to shape and file down your nails.

Step 2: Use the buffer side to remove any flaky and uneven bumps from the entire nail.

Step 3: Use the smooth side to remove any other finer imperfections from the new nail surface.

Step 4: Use the shine side to give your nails a salon-finish shine. Now you’re ready for polish.

The best thing about this Tweezerman block is that it comes with replacement pads. It makes the product last longer, and you don’t need to worry if you’ve out-used your buffer but your file is still going strong.

An inexpensive base coat

An inexpensive base coat

First Base by Essie, available at Amazon for $4.49A base coat is important to use because it preps the nail surface so that the nail polish goes on smooth and protects your natural nail from getting stained by your polish color. A good base coat helps bond your polish of choice to your nail to further prevent chipping.

Like I mention in the next slide, I won’t spend more than a few bucks on a nail polish color, but a base coat is a little different. For this, I trust First Base by Essie and think their base coat is worth the money spent for the results I get.

I apply just a thin layer to protect my natural nail. Personally, I avoid applying too much of this base coat because I don’t want a ton of paint layers on my nails (one layer of base coat, two layers of polish color, and one layer of top coat).

One Amazon user stated, “[…] ever since I started using the Essie base coat … it has protected my nails and made even the cheapest nail polish go on smoother and keeps them from staining my nails.”

An inexpensive nail polish brand

An inexpensive nail polish brand

SinfulColors Professionals nail polish, available at Harmon Face Values for $1.99 Also available at Target for $1.67+You don’t need to spend a ton of money on a nail polish color to get a salon-grade manicure. Personally, I would never spend more than a few bucks on paint for my nails. SinfulColors is not only inexpensive coming in at just $1.99 a bottle, but it’s also just as durable as its competitors that are two and three times the price.

A reviewer on MakeupAlly wrote, “I recently used one (Ruby Ruby) and kept it on for six whole days with ZERO chipping.” Another user wrote, “This product was easy to use and dried fairly quickly. Durability seems to be three to seven days depending on what you’re doing […]”

The amount of time that passes before you start chipping heavily depends on what your daily activities are like.

Read on to the last two slides to find out how I take a $2 nail polish and make it look salon-grade.

A fast-drying top coat

A fast-drying top coat

INM Out the Door clear top coat, available at Harmon Face Values for $4.99 Also available at Amazon for $5.20This topcoat might be the sole reason why my nails come out looking salon-fresh. You should never have to spend more than about $5 on this magical-manicure finishing polish. Not only does this clear top coat create a sleek, shiny finish to your manicure, but it dries quickly without the need for a UV light.

INM advertises that just one coat of Out the Door dries in 45 seconds and two coats in 90 seconds, but I’ll be the first to say that this statement is only somewhat true. To the touch, the top coat does dry that fast, but if you want to use your hands right away, I suggest waiting closer to 10 minutes. I know that seems like a big difference, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve painted my nails (without a top coat) and went to bed four hours later only to wake up with pillow marks all over my nails. If you wait 10 minutes, you’ll be able to go about your day without fear of ruining your at-home manicure.

How I use this product: After applying two coats of an inexpensive nail polish color, I use just one moderately generous coat of Out the Door. Then, I usually hop on social media and watch a few videos or make a phone call, and before I know it, my nails are good to go and I can walk right out the door … get it?

One Amazon user shared my claim by saying, “I painted my nails, waited about 10 minutes, and went to bed. Woke up with perfectly painted nails. Even more impressed that I painted them five days ago and don’t have a single chip.”

A cuticle remover

A cuticle remover

Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover, available at Target for $6.99 Also available from Amazon for $9.89

I put this product at the end for the sole fact that I personally don’t touch my cuticles since they get pushed back and removed from my daily activities anyway. They don’t personally bother me so I leave them be. On top of that, I wouldn’t recommend using this product on a weekly basis or every time you paint your nails, but it’s a great house keeping tool.

The Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover was recommended to me by a coworker Megan Foster, a self-proclaimed nail enthusiast, who said, “I discovered the Sally Hansen cuticle remover at my local Target and since then, it’s been hard to tell the difference between an at-home and salon manicure. It’s easy to apply, works in a few seconds, and leaves my cuticles looking refreshed and clean.”

To use this product, simple apply a thin strip of the gel formula to each cuticle. After 15 seconds, push back the cuticles using a cotton-wrapped manicure stick. The formula features Chamomile and Aloe, so your cuticles and skin stay nourished to give you that salon-grade finish.

One Amazon user wrote, “Within seconds of applying it to my nails, the cuticle becomes soft and I can remove it right away. I used to never remove my cuticles when doing my nails, I guess because I didn’t really know how to, but since I started using this product, my nails look so good.” While another Amazon user said, “I have been using this for years. I don’t like having my cuticles cut and this works really well to clean up my cuticles.”

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