Thursday, December 13, 2012

How To Do Nail Polish

There are a lot of nail and makeup blogs around that will tell you how to do things "right". The right shape to make your nails, the right colours to wear together, the right silhouette for this season - I'm not that kind of blogger. This isn't that kind of guide. This is for those of you out there who might have looked at nail polish, or girls with amazing nails, and thought, "That looks fantastic, but I couldn't do that." This guide is to tell you that yes, you absolutely can.

I always like to encourage people to try nail polish if they are wanting to experiment with femme, but they're not entirely sure about it all. You're never too fat, or too plain, or not fashionable enough for pretty nails - not that I think anyone is ACTUALLY too fat for any fashion you choose. But it can be hard to convince your inner critic of that sometimes. Not so with shiny, shiny nails - literally ANYONE can pull it off. There is such a staggering variety of colours and finishes and glitters and shimmers that there HAS to be one out there that suits anyone. So first of all, take a deep breath, and chill out. Don't worry if your nails are short, or bumpy, or your cuticles aren't neat enough, or if you have callouses. If you want to try nail polish, just do it. No-one will ever look at it as closely as you do, unless you're actually a nail blogger posting macro pictures of your manicures. I know it might feel like everyone can see that smudged spot where you pushed hair out of your eyes before the polish was totally dry - I know, because I've worn polish that's totally smudged to my eyes, and all anyone has said (if they say anything) is, "Oooh, shiny!" So fuck it, let's go.

Set reasonable expectations
Before you even start, come to terms with the fact your finished product will NOT look like The Swatchaholic's manicures. Remember my review of Cirque's polish, Fascination Street? Here is one of her swatches of the same polish.
 See how much mine suck in comparison?

But it's okay to suck in comparison. Don't let that stop you, because honestly, there are about five people anywhere who are as good as her. Just do what you can do, and you can clean it up when you're done. You shouldn't miss out on the incredible variety of shiny available in nail polish just because you're not the best of the best.

Obtain nail polish
The cheapest possible way to do this is to contact a nail obsessed friend, and ask if they will lend you something. They will almost certainly be delighted to help you out, because sick obsessions love company, and nail addicts are some of the most obsessed people I've ever come across. (Keep in mind for a sense of perspective that I'm living with a Batman fan).
If you don't know anyone with nail polish lying around, you want to hit up your local chemist. There are some incredible polishes available online, but if you haven't tried it before, you want to start with something cheap and easy. (like me! Ha ha, couldn't resist) My go-to recommendations for absolute novices are the Sally Hansen Insta-Dri collection, or the Revlon Top Speed collection. Both are available in a wide range of colours at just about any chemist, and cost around ten bucks. They are both really consistent across the whole range, so you can just pick whatever colour you like and know you won't have to muck about to make it sit nice and smooth.

Here are some pictures so you can look this up on your phone and compare it to what's on the shelf.

As an optional extra, you can also pick up a base coat and top coat. Nothing is going to go horribly wrong if you don't, but if you want to wear nail polish on a regular basis, both of these will make sure you get the best out of your polish. Which of the astonishing variety of each product is the "best" is a subject of fierce and intense debate, so here are the two I use. I got them from The Nail Shop, which I want to jam in there because their customer service was just fantastic. Plenty of communication, posted really quickly, and they threw in a nail file and some teeeeny tiny diamantes as a free sample. So, you know, check them out.

INM Clear Bond base coat = $8.75
Out The Door top coat = $10. 95
I used to have a real problem with nail polish peeling off my nails in one great sheet after about half a day, which annoyed the piss out of me, and naturally didn't really encourage me to try nail polish more than about once every six months. But once I started using this base coat, it's not a problem anymore.
Out The Door is currently my quick dry top coat of choice, but I haven't actually tried any others. I read that some of the other oft-recommended brands can get gluggy halfway through the bottle, and I thought, to hell with that. This one does the job (ie allows my nails to dry in the 2.5 seconds I can refrain from fiddling with things), hasn't gotten gluggy and gross on me yet, and if you go to The Nail Shop they have a trial size available, in case you're only wanting to dip in a tentative toe.

Obtain polish remover
Even if you decide to only go with polish alone, you'll need something to take the polish off again once you're done. Unless you want to go all natural and organic and find non-acetone remover, everything else is more or less the same. Acetone, which is the ingredient in most nail polish remover that does the actual removing, is not particularly good for you, so don't drink it or huff it. Oh, and try and keep it out of cracks in your skin because it hurts like you wouldn't believe. Not that I would know from experience.

This is my polish remover. There are many like it, but this is mine.
Now you can't just dunk your nails in a bowl of this stuff, so you'll need something porous to dab it on with. There are specific lint-free nail wipes available, but I get by with plain old cotton balls and cotton swabs.

Don't put these in your ears once they have polish remover on them.

Put the polish on your nails
I'd like to pretend I have a really careful way of doing this, but I don't. I just slop it on. I TRY to do this thing where you dab a drop in the middle of your nail right down the bottom, then sweep it to either side and up, because it comes out a bit neater. But most of the time, I just slop it on. The great thing about the Sally Hansen Insta-Dri for novices is that the brush is HUGE. You only have to paint, like, two stripes maximum to cover your whole nail. If you were careful, you could probably do it in one. This is awesome, because it gives you very little room to fuck it up. Some of the other polishes I've tried have tiny narrow brushes, which is super unhelpful when you're not very good at making it even, because every time you have to stroke the brush over your nails is another chance for you to make a big streaky mess.
If you're anything like me, the finished result will look something like this;

Hold Still
This is absolutely the hardest of all steps for me. I use fast dry nail polish, and a fast dry top coat, and I still inevitably end up dragging a hair through it, or dinging them on SOMETHING. Unfortunately one of my favouritestest polishes ever HAS to be allowed to dry slowly, so I had to figure out a compromise between my fidgety nature and my love of things shiny. Turns out X-box is a fantastic stop gap solution!

I call this the Nerd Grrl Position
So long as you're careful to keep the fingers curled under the controller from touching each other, playing a quick round of Halo or Borderlands is a fabulous way to keep your mind off your nails. You can twiddle the joysticks and pull the triggers perfectly well with just the pads of your fingers, so you've got something to entertain you AND you're keeping your grubby fingers off things until they're dry.

Clean up
This is where your cotton and caustic chemicals come in. As you can see, even with our expectations set nice and low, my polish always looks like shit until I clean it up a bit. There is a really neat trick I learned from Natalie Dee, where you dip a cotton swab in nail polish remover and kind of scrub it around your cuticles to get rid of the really big fuck ups. But if you're bored already, don't sweat it.
I usually leave it overnight to "cure" - I know, I know, it's kind of gross to think about a chemical cocktail "curing" on your nails, but it really is much easier to mess about with it the next day. In the morning, I just wash my hands with soap and water, and scritch the excess off where I don't want it to be. The soap makes it come off your skin really easily, and I would take a guess that leaving it overnight probably allows the oils in your skin to seep out under it as well.There is lots of advice around about how to clean it up properly (some of it involving tiny brushes), but for an absolute beginner, soap and water is fine. You don't want to be fucking around all day with something that might annoy the crap out of you after an hour.
Once your're done washing, we're done!

 Try not to mess with it for the first day, and see if you like it. Don't fret if you've smudged it, or chipped it, or it's not sitting perfectly symmetrically. Here is a picture to illustrate how other people will actually see your nails in an every day setting.

Yes, I am always holding coffee
Looking at this picture, do you notice that there is a little bubble in one of the nails? Can you tell the thumb is actually painted a little unevenly? Of course not, and neither will anyone if you go out with nail polish applied as inexpertly as mine are.

But more importantly, while you've got in on, have a think about how it makes you feel. If you're going to go to all this effort, you want to get something out of it, right?

Does it make you feel gross, like there's something on your skin you can't get off? You can actually feel nail polish to a certain extent because your nail has a great many nerves running under it, and for some people this sensation is creepy as hell - in which case, nail polish isn't for you.
Does it not really make you feel anything at all? Is it just a patch of your body that is inexplicably a funky colour? Then nail polish probably isn't for you either. But hey, you tried it, and that's the important thing.
Does it make you feel a little girly, and somehow, inexplicably fancy? Then you're like me, and you've just discovered one of the most accessible parts of femme fashion. There are millions of cohorts out there more than happy to drag you into their shiny, glittery, holographic world. Congratulations!


  1. Great post! I always get polish on my skin :( That's why I tend to stray away from dark colours.

    1. It'll come off! I say go for it anyway :)

  2. lol thanks for the share! I'm working on perfecting mine.

  3. I wish the clean up thing was something I learned when I was younger. Growing up, I pretty much thought you had to know how to do nails perfectly in order for everything to be "in the lines" Now, I know better! Thank god for q-tips.

    1. me too! That's why I didn't really play with polish until now - I always thought I was doing it "wrong." This post is my way of trying to encourage others to dip a nail in the water :)

  4. I love this post! I always so astray so I tend to be slower when applying polish to avoid being messy :)

    1. Thanks :) I am super impatient, so I always prefer to just chuck it on and sort out the mess later.

  5. I've been wearing polish regularly since I was a teenager (20 yrs!), and I always just let the stuff on my skin wash off in the shower the next morning. I don't usually get much on my skin, though, since I have so much practice. I like to use Sally Hansen's Double Duty base and topcoat. One bottle gets it done. And, maybe it's just where I live, but Sally Hansen and Avon (my two favorite polishes) are regularly $6 or less.


Thank you for taking the time to comment! I live for comments, good or bad.

Anonymous commenting IS allowed on this blog, but in order to reduce the amount of spam, comments on posts more than 14 days old will be moderated.