Nail Prep Tips

The trick to a lasting manicure is ensuring a strong bond between your nail and the polish you’re slapping on top.

How? My three top nail prep tips are after the jump.

Rough ’em Up
Nail Prep Tips - Remove Shine

It is good to occasionally (once every 3-5 manicures, or as-needed) gently buff the surface of the nail plate to remove the natural shine from the nail; this allows your polish (regular or gel) to adhere better.  Most people don’t need to do this every time they polish their nails.

You should use a soft-grit file or foam block – you can buy these at drugstores, mass merchants, Amazon, or beauty supply shops like Sally Beauty. Don’t use a glass or metal file, and don’t use the same thing you use to shape your free edge with; it’s too coarse.

By the Way…

Sometimes, you’ll see advice against this, suggesting it causes damage. The damage isn’t from doing it ever, it is from going about it in an overzealous manner (too much!) – you can avoid this, though, by using very light pressure and only going back and forth a couple times.

In reality, the damage most people experience from getting acrylic nails in salons is not from the acrylic itself. Most frequently, most of the damage caused by using a dremel tool on the natural nail during the prep phase of the service. Overzealous hand filing can do so, too, but is far less likely – it would take MUCH longer and MUCH more effort to produce those kind of results by hand. Powertools really shouldn’t be used on the natural nail (it is fine to use it on the enhancement once it has cured, though – that won’t hurt you).


Nail Prep Tips - DehydrateWait, what? Yes, really! While hydration is great for our skin and bodies, it isn’t great for our polish adhesion. Unfortunately, however, moisture and polish don’t play so nicely together or result in a lasting, sturdy manicure. You need to remove oils and other moisture to ensure strong adhesion of your polish to your nails (especially important in gel polish).

Before you apply polish (and after you remove the shine from the surface in the previous step, if you needed to do that this time), you should wash your hands and dehydrate your nail plate. You can use isopropyl alcohol or acetone (though try not to get too much acetone on your skin – it REALLY dries you out). Slap that on (either a drop on each nail, or better yet, with a fine mist spray bottle), let it evaporate, and you’re good to go!

Cap the Edges

Nail Prep Tips - Cap the Free Edge(Image from

When you’re applying, one of the major differences between your application and the salon’s is that they cap the free edge…and you probably don’t. With most of the polish removed from your brush, hold the brush bristles perpendicular to the free edge and run it along it. Personally, I place my free edge about halfway down the brush rather than the edge of the bristles; I find that I have more control this way and am less likely to make a mess.

That’s it for my three top nail prep tips – I hope you this helps you extend the life of your DIY manicures. Who knows, you might even find that you’re happier with your results than the salon’s!