How to perfect a manicure at home as nail salons remain closed

Louise Whitbread
As a salon trip is out of the question, treating yourself to an at-home manicure is an easy alternative: Harriet Westmoreland/iStock

On 23 June, Boris Johnson announced that some lockdown restrictions in England would be eased to allow pubs, restaurants, campsites, hotels and hairdressers to reopen on 4 July, with social distancing measures in place.

These new guidelines haven’t extended to nails salons, however, or spas and tattoo parlours, which will remain closed.

The prime minister explained to the House of Commons that nail salons will be able to reopen when the government feels “confident” the business can operate “in a Covid-secure way”.

The decision to keep salons closed is due to the unavoidable close proximity between nail technicians and customers and often busy waiting areas that can make it difficult to adhere to social distancing.

The move has attracted criticism as nail salons have not had work for months, with unclear guidance on when they may open again for business. Many already practice hygiene, cleanliness, preparation and sterilisation.

The all party parliamentary group for beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing, co-chaired by Judith Cummins MP and Carolyn Harris MP have also voiced their concerns, writing a letter to the department for business, energy and industrial strategy to stress the need for clarity on when these services including manicures, facials, spray tans, eyebrow threading and massages will become available.

They wrote that the decision not to reopen beauty salons, “disproportionately impacts the livelihoods of the high number of women working in the industry, many of whom work part-time or on a self-employed basis, providing them with the necessary flexibility to support themselves and their families.”

Currently, while we wait for news of when we can book in our next appointment, you can do a manicure yourself at home with a few simple steps, try your hand at the on-trend nail art and even perfect gel nails thanks to at-home kits.

Here’s our step by step guide to doing your nails at home, and with not a smudged or chipped bit of polish insight.

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How to give yourself a manicure

Nail artist Harriet Westmoreland explains that you only need three tools for a home manicure; a cuticle pusher, nail clippers and a nail file.

“A cuticle pusher will remove any dead skin from the nail plate, this will help your polish to last longer and application will be easier,” she says.

To shape your nails into your desired shape, be it coffin, square, rounded or oval, Westmoreland recommends using a high grit file.

“The lower the number on the file, the courser it will be, the higher the number, the softer the file will be. It’s best to use a grit of 180/220, directing upwards on the natural nail to avoid causing splits and damage.”

Pick up this two-sided nail file 180 220 set (Amazon, £25.42 for 10), that will keep you stocked up for a while but ensure you don’t accidentally damage your nails while attempting your DIY manicure.

A cuticle pusher, nail clippers and a nail file are the tools you'll need to master a manicure at home (left, Amazon, right, Boots)

This Tweezerman mini manicure kit (Boots, £13) is a great all in one kit which has all the essentials you need to get started, containing a stainless steel pair of clippers, mini cuticle pusher and a pocket nail file.

Once you have your tools ready, follow the nail artist's step-by-step guide for the best results:

  • Shape your nails into a short square with rounded corners, a popular and flattering style
  • Make sure the nail plate is clean and free from any oil before you start to apply the polish
  • Apply a thin and even layer of base coat, covering the free edge at the tip of the nail
  • Apply two thin coats of colour and allow 60 seconds drying time in between each coat to make sure the colour doesn’t drag, again covering the free edge of the nail to avoid chipping
  • Apply a quick-drying topcoat

If you accidentally end up with nail polish on your skin, Westmoreland advises using an old lip brush dipped in polish remover to tidy up.

Once your topcoat has dried, she recommends moisturising the hands and cuticles daily to ensure your handiwork lasts as long as possible.

The Clarins hand and nail treatment cream (£23, Clarins), impressed our reviewer in our round-up of the best hand creams as the nourishing formula absorbs instantly, leaving no greasy residue.

Nail polish

When it comes to colour, summer is a great time to wear bold, bright shades, such as this fluoro pink 705 (My Beauty Brand, £15). Created by renowned nail artist Marian Newman, it goes on glossy and dries matte.

Paint your nails in fluorescent shades for a pop of colour (My Beauty Brand)

With a wide brush, it applies easily and one coat has a brilliant colour pay-off.

Sorbet pastels always make an appearance on shop shelves in the summer too, and this Barry M Cosmetics sweet sorbet gift set (Look Fantastic, £15), features five shades including lavender, green and yellow.

Pretty pastel shades scream summer and this Barry M set has excellent colour pay-off and a wide brush for easy application (Look Fantastic)

All of the polishes in the set are from Barry M's signature gelly range, with a formula that strikes a great balance between the glossy, high pigmented colour of gel nails, with the ease of application that a traditional polish provides.

Create a uniform, sleek look with one shade or embrace the rainbow trend and make each nail a different colour for a salon-worthy finish.

Nail art

Gemstones, marbling, animal prints and abstract graphic lines have dominated nail trends this season, and many are much easier to achieve than the intricacy of the styles may suggest.

An easy and effective way to do nail art at home is with a manicure stick. “Decant a small amount of your chosen colour of polish onto a mixing pallet, dip a nail stick into the polish and place the dots on the nail. I like to dot all along the tip of the nail for an alternative french polish,” Wesmoreland explains.

Try these Mavala manicure sticks (Amazon, £3.66), which are precise enough to achieve the most detailed designs with accuracy.

These inexpensive manicure sticks come in handy for creating patterns and swirls for unique nail art (Amazon)

You can also dot a bobby pin into your chosen colour and use it to create a simple polka dot pattern that’s easy to master and fun to experiment with.

If that sounds too fiddly for your liking, reach for the nail stickers. Applied on bare nails or one a single shade, they’re the easiest way to feel like you’ve just stepped out of a salon with a fresh new manicure and to cover up cuticle growth. It’s minimal effort with maximum impact.

There’s plenty of designs to try, but the Ciate London cheat sheets (Ciate London, £16) are our favourite. This pack comes with four different design sheets to play with; Mattisse inspired abstract illustrations, pastel leopard spots, evil eyes and geometric lines.

Use a pair of tweezers to carefully decorate your nail with these stickers for a modern mani (Ciate London)

Simply peel from the backing sheet they come on and apply to a dry nail with tweezers for expert precision, then apply a top coat to ensure a smooth finish and they should last for up to a week.

When you want to remove them, use nail polish remover to shift the topcoat, then soak hands in warm water and use a cuticle pusher or tweezers to peel the stickers off.

For more ideas, read our guide to the trending nail art designs you can create at home here.

Gel nails

If you're looking for the next best thing to a long lasting salon mani, there are kits that come with everything you need to do a DIY gel manicure at home, including the polish and UV lamps that set the colour and give it the glossy finish.

However, Marian Newman, a British beauty council advisory board member and expert nail artist, told The Independent she does not recommend them because of the risk of a reaction from (meth)acrylate chemicals, the ingredient found in acrylic and gel nails.

There is a risk of an allergic reaction if nails are left under the UV lamps too long, or not left under long enough, and if the polish comes into contact with the skin as well. In order to avoid this, make sure you follow the instructions with your kit properly.

The Bluesky & Mylee black convex curing kit (Amazon, £90), came out top in our IndyBest review of at-home gel nails kits if you’re looking to try it yourself.

It comes with four Bluesky gel polishes (nude, pink, red and black), a top coat, base coat, LED lamp, remover, lint-free wipes to clean nail and a prep and wipe fluid to sanitise nails and aid the adhesion of the gel colour to your nail.

An at-home gel nail kit is the closest you can get to a salon visit (The Independent)

With easy-to-follow instructions, a simple to use LED lamp that has three timer settings – 15, 30 and 60 seconds – and enough space to fit all five fingers in at once, this kit makes it easy and quick to give yourself a mini salon treatment at your desk.

Press-on nails

Ready painted nails that you stick on using a self-adhesive used to be all the rage for cheating your way to a manicure if you didn’t have time to paint them or visit a salon.

Typically inexpensive, they fell by the wayside when gels, acrylic and dip-powder nails became popular for lasting weeks as opposed to a few days before you lost a press-on nail (or three).

However, they’re making a resurgence in the lockdown as salons are closed and many of us struggle to recreate intricate nail art designs.

Instead, press-on nails have upped their game with trend-led designs such as tortoiseshell, rainbow and tie-dye as well as customisable shapes. Application will take you seconds with no drying time needed.

The Shrine x Alice MC cow print false nails set (Asos, £12) is a fun take on the animal print style and comes with 20 individual designs, ranging from neon hues to pastel shades, so you can mix and match a set that’s unique to you.

From festival-inspired designs to animal prints, press-on nails are an easy way to play with different colours, shapes and lengths (left, Asos, right Superdrug)

The set comes with nail glue too and to apply simply spread an even layer of glue onto the false nail, position up to the cuticle and press down firmly for 15 seconds.

Another pair we love is the Superdrug fantasy false nails pastel glitter (Superdrug, £3.99), that will give you the most Instagrammable style yet, all for under a fiver.

The coffin shape does mean they’re a little longer, so you may need to get used to typing with them on if working from home requires regular use of a keyboard or laptop. But they are great for your first socially distanced outing this weekend as lockdown lifts.

When removing press-on nails, be gentle, as picking them off yourself could damage your nail bed. Soak your hands in a bowl of warm water and use a small amount of acetone on a cotton pad to dislodge them.

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