I've gotten lots of questions about nails so I thought I'd put together a little series of posts about some of my favorite basic products and tools, along with some tips on how I get the most from my mani. There are loads of nail blogs out there with far more detailed information as well as step-by-step instructions ranging from simple to the complex, and of course tons of nail art on Pinterest. One of my favorite nail art blogs is Chalkboard Nails, you can get to lots of others from there. A very comprehensive Pinterest collection can be found here, with a HUGE nail art board specifically found here.
The Essential Stuff You Don't See
As with everything, a good foundation is essential. While the quality of polishes ranges widely, you're definitely not required to go high end to make your manicure last. Having a good topcoat is they key, and I HIGHLY suggest using Seche Vite. It is magical. If you take away only one thing from this series, let this be it! This stuff not only toughens up your manicure so it can withstand more wear and extends its life, it also makes dry time EXTRA fast. You can usually wait 5-10 minutes then go on with your business, though I'm overly careful and use it as an excuse to relax for 30 minutes or I'll just paint my nails before bed. Put it on thicker, and minimize the number of strokes to avoid bubbles; no need to wait until the polish below is dry, and actually you'll get better results if it's a bit tacky. Just use a light touch. I get mine from Sally's Beauty Supply, but it's also available at Target, ULTA, and of course online.
A base coat will help even out nail ridges, protect the top layers of your nail, and aid in nail stain prevention (especially with blues and greens). I've been using OPI's Natural Nail Base Coat for years and like it for its fast dry time, though it's very thin and provides only minimal protection/smoothing; if you need nail treatment, hardeners or have thin/grooved nails then a more specialized base coat would be a better option for you.
Another incredibly useful behind the scenes tool is quick dry oil which you can use to speed up in-between coats drying times, and is especially helpful in tape manicures or those with freehand painting; it can leave behind a powdery white residue which disappears under top coat and after washing. I like Sinful Colors Quick Dry Oil because it's inexpensive and fairly accessible (I get mine at Walgreens).
My last essential is a cuticle cream. While nail polish can be tough on nails, it's actually the remover that's the toughest, especially if you use acetone-based removers like I do. I swear by Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream; I rub a little on at night before bed to keep my nails healthy and help prevent splitting, both with or without polish on my nails.
I'm happy to answer any questions, and would love to hear your own tips!