8 Manicure Products You Need

Good morning, it’s Friday!

People frequently ask me what kinds of products I use for taking care of my nails and hands. How do I get my manicure looking so “perfect”? Well it’s really no secret! There are a few things you need, the right products and practice. That’s it!

One of the first things I do before I paint my nails is shape them. My favorite nail files are the glass ones, like this one by Sephora.

Glass nails files are great for two reasons. First off they are really gentle on your nails and don’t leave raggedy edges like others can. Secondly, they never get dull. If you buy one once, you don’t ever have to get another one again (unless you break it)! This one was around $6.00, but you can find them for around $2.00 at Sally’s Beauty Supply and online.

A good base coat and top coat are absolutely essential if you want your manicure to last. I know people who don’t use either, then complain when their manicure chips in a day, hello!! A base coat helps the polish adhere to your nail, so this is pretty much a no-brainer. Also it keeps the polish from staining your nails.

My favorite base coat is Nubar’s Foundation because it dries quick, has a slightly “sticky” texture and is vegan and Peta approved (meaning no big-3 chemicals, and won’t wreck your nails).

Along with the base coat, you must have a good top coat, unless you are using a matte polish. This is just as important as the base coat as far as helping to keep your manicure intact. I prefer ones that dry super quick and are very shiny. Some good ones are Seche Vite, Poshe and Nubar Diamont. I prefer Nubar Diamont because theirs seems to help my manicures last a little longer than other top coats, when mixed with their base coat. Also I have a weird issue with Seche Vite. It’s so thick and shiny that scratches show up on my nails really quickly.

Hand lotion is super important also. I use hand lotion all day long, after every time I wash my hands. I always put it on before I go to sleep as well. I tend to have super dry skin on my hands, and this helps my hands not look like I am 97 years old. :)

I don’t have one brand that I always go to, I am what you might consider a hand lotion whore. I have about 20 various tubes all over my house, desk at work and purses. Some of my favorites are from Bath & Body Works, CND Almond Lotion and Jaqua Pink Buttercream Frosting. A word of warning, the Jaqua lotions tend to be like smearing actual frosting on your hands, they are greasy and make your hands shiny. But I still love them.

Probably the most frequently asked question I get it “How do you get your polish looking so perfect?”  The answer, my friends, lies with this little brush you see here. I got this non-descript brush at Sally’s Beauty Supply (or Michael’s, I cannot remember for sure) a couple years ago for like $2.00. It has a slightly tapered head and soft pliable bristles.

When I am finished painting my nails, I dip this into polish remover and go around all the edges and cuticle area cleaning up the excess. Works like a charm! Remember, the more you paint your nails the better you will become at it, and the less clean-up you will have in the end.

There are other cuticle clean-up products out there that I have tried and not liked much. Essie has a Corrector Pen which has these little tips on it filled with polish remover. You use it to go around your nails and clean up. However I have found that these aren’t very precise because the tip is hard and a little thick, so you can’t get into the little groves around your nail very easily. Not to mention that they are much more expensive than this $2.00 brush!

Another essential for keeping your hands looking their best is cuticle oil. There are some that seem to work better than others, but really, even olive oil would work if you could stand that on your hands! Some of my favorite ones are from Deborah Lippmann, Boots, China Glaze and CND.

I use the Lippmann one when swatching because it’s the least oily one I have and I don’t have to worry about it getting on my nail bed and ruining the swatch photos as much as more oily ones. It has a great coconut scent also. The one from Boots is great also, and I got it at Target, so it was cheaper than the Lippmann for sure. It has a great bottle dropper applicator and a fabulous rose scent. China Glaze Orange oil is another great one that isn’t excessively greasy feeling and has a nice orange scent. And finally one of the “old stand-by’s” out there is CND’s Solar Oil. I also use and love this one and the smell of sweet almond oil (like the aforementioned lotion) scent is one of my very favorite scents in all the land.

There are other cuticle products out there also.  Sally Hansen has a cuticle oil treatment pen. It is definitely convenient because you can put it in your bag and not worry about it spilling. However I have found it to be too thin to work all that great.

I have also used some of the cuticle balms in the past and don’t like them that much. I tried CND’s Solar Oil Balm for awhile which comes in a little tin, but one day it got too hot in my bag in the sun and turned into a weird waxy consistency, so I had to toss it. I have also used Burt’s Bee’s Lemon Balm, but found it got really dirty from dipping my fingers in it.

I don’t apply cuticle oil on my hands anywhere near as much as hand lotion mainly because I type all day at work and don’t want greasy fingers. I usually apply it at night before bed only.

A nail polish remover that isn’t too harsh is ideal. I’m not getting into the safety debate here about polish remover, you can read about that online and decide for yourself.

There are tons of different ones out there that are non-acetone, acetone and even vegan! I highly suggest not using 100% acetone simply because it dries the hell out of your nails and cuticles. This type is usually found for a couple bucks in the drug stores, and always leave a tell-tale white chalky finish on your nails, ick.

I much prefer ones with a mild acetone formula and that have a more pleasant lavender scent. Two of these I can vouch for are OPI Expert Touch and Zoya Remove. I have yet to find a non-acetone remover that works as well as acetone ones, but I want to try Orly’s Gentle Nail Polish remover when I run out of the ones I currently have.

This may seem obvious, but in all honesty, I never used cotton balls for my remover until about 3 or 4 years ago. I had always just used toilet paper, which sucked! But there are differences in cotton balls so buyer beware! What you don’t want are linty ones. I have been stuck with linty ones a few times after buying them at Target. I found the ones from Rite Aid to be FAR less linty though, and I much prefer them.

Tip: rip them in half! They are usually fairly large and I like to use one piece per nail (or two), otherwise the polish tends to spread around and get on my cuticles. So basically one cotton ball will take polish off of two-four nails. It’s a good way to economize! :)

I hope you find this information helpful, let me know your thoughts!


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  • February 26, 2010

    Great post! I’d say you’ll need a cuticle pusher as well, but you can also push your cuticles back when you’re coming out of the shower. Gently push them back with your towel :)

    The glass file is a true musthave! I had to get used to the sound it makes, but I don’t want to use any other file anymore..
    .-= Daph´s last blog ..A Holo Konadicure! =-.

    • February 26, 2010

      Hi Daph,

      Thanks! I actually use (bit don’t endorse) cuticle clippers. I am super careful with them. My issue with pushing my cuticles back is then I have huge clumps of skin then on my nails after it’s pushed back so I have to clip it off. I have tried cuticle removing products but find they don’t work that great on me.

  • February 26, 2010

    I have never used a glass nail file, but I think that I will have to test it out for sure! I like the fact that they never get dull and leave your nails looking nice! Sounds awesome to me :)

    • February 26, 2010

      Hi MissDeeCanada,

      Oh yeah you need to get one they really are so much better! :)

  • February 26, 2010

    I have never ever used a glass file but I will definatly be keeping my eye out for one. The tidy up brush it a good idea too. I usually use a cotton bud (Q-tip I think in the US?) but then you risk fluff getting stick in the paint…
    .-= Eyelining´s last blog ..March copy of Instyle (UK) – 100 Best Beauty Buys? =-.

    • February 26, 2010

      Hi Eyelining,

      Yeah that’s why I prefer the brush over cotton, I have lint issues. :)

  • February 26, 2010

    I love seeing other people’s go-to products & nail maintenance routines =) I agree with pretty much everything (with some variation in brands of course) except the cotton balls – I was going through so many I finally just bought the 1200 ft. roll from Sally’s & now have a giant box of cotton hanging out next to my Helmers LOL. You can pull off just as much as you need, and I’ve barely put a dent in it after a month.
    .-= Colette´s last blog ..NOTD: Zoya Pasha =-.

    • February 26, 2010

      Hi Colette,

      That is a great idea! I never even thought about it. Totally gonna check that out next time I am at Sally’s, thanks!

  • February 26, 2010

    I don’t know what I did before I bought a glass file. I use the Sephora one as well!
    .-= Sarah R.´s last blog ..Eiffel For This Color =-.

  • February 26, 2010

    I had NO idea about the whole brush thing to make the nails looking so perfect! I was using q-tip but It wasn’t working that well ! Thank you

    • February 26, 2010

      Hi Marilou,

      Yep I used to do that also, but always would get lint in the polish or mess them up. They just aren’t as accurate as a soft brush. :)

  • February 26, 2010

    Glad I could give you an idea =)

    PS – The boxes aren’t with the rest of the nail stuff, they are in the back, kind of up on a shelf by the capes – above eye level, not something you’d notice if you weren’t looking. There’s a red or blue box depending on if you want re-enforced or non =)
    .-= Colette´s last blog ..NOTD: Zoya Pasha =-.

    • February 26, 2010

      Hi Colette,

      Yay, thx!

  • February 26, 2010

    thank you SO much for this precious tips!!! I was looking for a way to keep my manicure clean and neat and you gave me the answers I needed!! =)
    .-= Arianna´s last blog ..Zoeva – Le palette 88 colori (shimmer): la mia review =-.

  • February 26, 2010

    The brush seems practical. I must try it at once. Thanks! As a perfectionist I’m never 100% happy with my polish :-) and I don’t think a corrector pen works that well.

  • February 26, 2010
    Jackie S.

    LOL! You used toilet paper ?, this made me laugh!

    I totally endorse the Lippmann Oil, its like aromatherapy!

    • February 26, 2010

      Hi Jackie S.,

      I know isn’t that nuts? I don’t know what I was thinking, but we never had cotton balls at home when I was a kid, so I didn’t “grow up” using them, LOL!

  • February 26, 2010

    I love reading articles like this! It’s really interesting to see how people’s routines differ.

    I use cotton wool pads. I find them much less fluffy than cotton balls and I can generally remove a full hand with one pad as long as I put enough remover on.

    I need a glass file though! I nearly bought one the other day but have carried on using emery boards. I think a glass file is my next purchase.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Some more polishes from Marie – P2 =-.

  • February 26, 2010

    I use cotton pads instead of cotton balls, that way I can remove a lot more polish and waste less remover.
    .-= TipsToToes´s last blog ..NYX Paradise =-.

  • February 26, 2010

    thank you – i saved this as a .pdf and am going to keep it for reference
    also thank you for posting the bb greens I just got kelly’s green, vampy varnish, studio 54, pipe bender, redwood forest, and saturday night fever – then I see BB is coming out with another new mens set with 2 more greens – I must stop myself but it is true all the bb greens are unique and different and oh so pretty

    • February 26, 2010

      Hi peripatetic33,

      Ohh that’s a load of good greens you got! Yup, I just got sent the new BB’s including those 2 new greens and while I haven’t yet swatched them, they look very cool in the bottles! :)

  • February 26, 2010

    oh wow can’t wait to see your swatches – from what I could see on Kim’s post fuel injector looked similar to studio 54 and universal joint looked similar to iced olive but i am probably just trying to convince myself that they are close enough to what i already have and tell myself i don’t need to get them did you get stick shift what do you think about it looks like a strong mustardy shade in pic

  • February 26, 2010

    So super helpful, VV! You made my Friday with your list. I’ve never tried the crystal file, but now it’s on my list. I also use cotton pads instead of balls…definitely less linty for me overall. I MUST get the Nubar base & topcoat and try. Haven’t pulled the trigger on that order yet. I also push back my cuticles with a wooden cuticle stick & use the cuticle clippers…very judiciously, though, usually following a shower & Sally Hansen cuticle remover gel. Also, I do buff my nails with a fine grained block-type buffer once a month or so. Finally, I am really liking “Lemony Flutter” cuticle balm by LUSH. I actually dislike the smell (hubby likes it), but I think this product works really well on cuticles, hands, and feet. I use before bed. Body Shop makes an almond oil cuticle balm (or they used to) and it smells divine. Kiehl’s royal jelly cuticle balm is also excellent, but pricey.

  • February 26, 2010


    Awesome post. Thank you so much for it. I was wondering how much time you give between your base coat, different coats of polish and then your top coat?

    • February 27, 2010

      Hi Leslie,

      I usually wait 2-3 minutes between each coat.

  • February 26, 2010

    Awesome basics post. I use my cuticle balm for tidying around my nails after application, then use an orange stick to lift the offending polish. Works a treat for me since I’m really clumsy with q-tips and those Sally Hansen or OPI corrector pens. But I’ll have to try the brush! Thx Vampy!

  • February 26, 2010

    Thank you sooo much kelly for the post. I so need to get a brush, glass nail file, and opi nail polish remover. This is the reason why I love your blog it is very informative and you always have a new post every day. Thanks again.

  • February 26, 2010

    Thanks for reminding me that I need to try the Nubar base coat. Their top coat is amazing – makes my manicures last up to 2 weeks. I can only imagine how great using their base coat and top coat together would be.
    .-= Glockoma´s last blog ..Celebrating Birthdays & Unbirthdays =-.

  • February 26, 2010

    Great information Kelly! I just recently started using a glass nail file and will not go back to the others again. I had no idea that if I took care of it that it would last that long.

    I need a similar brush. I have noticed that the more I paint my nails, the better I get at it.
    .-= marisol´s last blog ..Showing my Kindle some love =-.

    • February 27, 2010

      Hi marisol,

      I know I started using my glass file about 2 years ago and can’t believe I waited so long to get one. They are so much better! :)

  • February 27, 2010

    I need a glass file and a brush. Great advice, Kelly.

  • February 27, 2010

    Hi Kelly,

    Thank you so much for posting your list. I have often wondered what your wonder tools were. : )

    I need to buy a glass file and brush.

    I am a hand lotion junkie. The absolute best lotion I have found is Glysomed. Rite aid used to carry it but they don’t anymore. I get it from Drugstore.com It is amazing!!

    Thanks Kelly!!

  • February 27, 2010

    That tip about the brush for cleaning up messups is really great and cost effective!! I definitely will be trying that out!

  • February 27, 2010

    Hi Kelly:

    Does the brush also work with pedicures or does it really matter? Toes are difficult to paint anyway;so I think the brush with nail varnish remover would it improve the look? Also, could you leave this helpful manicure tips on your permanent web blog with a link to this page. I think many woman (and men) would like to find it. Or they could just book mark it themselves. Anyway, Great tips, you really do love your fans so much.

    That’s one of the reasons why I come here and visit so often. Besides your nails are always so beautiful and gorgeous looking.

    (((((Love Kelly))))

    Mc Huggs :)

    • February 27, 2010

      HI McHuggs,

      Yep, it can work for that also. :)

  • February 27, 2010

    Thanks for the tip Kelly.
    .-= Mc Huggs:)´s last blog ..Project Runway Season Six: Episode Eight =-.

  • February 27, 2010

    Wow, toilet paper. Never heard of anyone doing that, haha.
    .-= Arrianne´s last blog ..Finally Zoya =-.

  • March 1, 2010

    You should try Orly’s Cutique. I’m a nailtech and this is the best cuticle remover that I have come across. I have others and keep reaching for this one.

  • March 1, 2010

    Quick question..you say you put the cuticle oil on your nails before bed, but how do you get it to not rub off on your sheets?! Thanks..love your blog!

    • March 2, 2010

      Hi megan,

      I rub it in :)

  • March 2, 2010

    Awesome tips Kelly – thank you for sharing! I will have to give the brush idea a try. I am getting pretty good with application and don’t get polish on my skin much but sometimes a crummy bottle brush makes it impossible not to!

  • March 4, 2010

    I love the cuticle oil from Boots, it smells divine! 😀
    .-= Solveig´s last blog ..Bourjois Club à Miami #34 =-.

  • March 5, 2010

    Kool tips! It’s funny, from ages 6-12 i decorated my nails with all types of polishes, decals, jewels… and i never thought of using a brush to clean the edges! I used to use a q-tip, which doesn’t really work, but luckily we all have Kelly to guide us with common sense! :) I wish i could use glass files, but my nails are so long and about as hard as lee press ons, i pretty much have to use sandpaper to shape my nails! LOL!