Raise your polished hand if you’ve spent hard-earned dough on a salon manicure, only to have it chip or fade after a few days.And how about those cuticles that started off smooth, but are now as ragged as a saw’s edge? Turns out, there are a few reasons (beyond the temptation to update your Facebook status while drying) your nails don’t stay a perfect ten for long.Follow this guide to make the most of your next mani.STEP ONE: CLEAN AND PREP NAILSThoroughly wash your hands and feet, then scrub cuticles and the undersides of nails with a soft baby toothbrush and a gentle antibacterial soap to get rid of dirt and other debris. Pat dry.MORE: Hepatitis C From a Manicure?Next, remove traces of old polish with an acetone-based solution that’s free of glycerin or vitamin E, ingredients that serve to moisturize skin around nails, but actually leave the nail bed too slick for color to adhere. Instead, try a formula like Cutex Advanced Revival Nail Polish Remover ($3, drugstore.com), which contains flaxseed oil, black currant oil, and apricot kernal oil to strengthen the nail itself, rather than just condition.“Unlike other moisturizing agents, these botanical oils dry to form a protective shield that’s an excellent base for polish,” says Cutex’s Chief Chemist Frank Busch, who began researching the ingredients after seeing a still-vibrant 13th century Madonna and Child at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “I wondered what they used to make paint during the Middle Ages, and found a whole class of natural oils that have strengthening properties when converted from a liquid to a solid.”STEP TWO: CLIP AND FILE NAILSIf the edges of your nails extend beyond their bed, trim them straight across, leaving each squared off to prevent in-growns. We like a mess-free clipper such as Sally Hansen Clip N’ Catch Nail Clipper-Lip ($4, ulta.com). Next, use a file to create your shape. “Traditional cardboard and metal files are too harsh for the delicate natural nail,” says Los Angeles nail stylist Jenna Hipp. “Crystal versions smooth edges instead of ripping into them.” (Try Sephora Collection Crystal Nail File, $12, sephora.com.)To determine how round or square your nail should be, Hipp advises mirroring the natural curve of your cuticles. “Like eyebrows, the right shape can create the illusion of longer fingers and younger-looking hands,” Hipp says. Gently work your crystal file in a back and forth motion across the edge to create the smoothest edge possible.MORE: Signs of a Shady Nail SalonSTEP THREE: EXFOLIATE AND HYDRATE ROUGH SPOTSHeels take a beating all summer, especially if you’re pounding the pavement in trendy, but often unsupportive, sandals. Using a pumice stone (We like CoverGirl Ergo Pumice Stone, $5, drugstore.com), move your hand in circular motions to slough away dead cells. At the salon, avoid razors (they are outlawed in most states), which can cut skin and transmit infections, and avoid shaving before plopping into the pedicure station, since micronized nicks on the epidermis can allow bacteria to enter. Seal moisture back in and continue exfoliating with a lactic-acid infused moisturizer such as AmLactin Foot Cream Therapy, $12, drugstore.com).
STEP FOUR: NEATEN CUTICLESContrary to popular theory, “There is no need for harsh and scary tools when it comes to cuticle care!” Hipp insists. “Cutting them seems like instant gratification, but will only cause them to grow back with a vengeance in the long run.”Instead, she recommends pushing them back with a cuticle stick (Try Cuccio Naturale Cuticle Eraser Stick, $3, ussalonsupply.com). First, soak fingertips in a bowl of warm water for five minutes to soften the nail beds. “Pushing back when they are dry can lead to painful hangnails later,” Hipp says. Combine a few drops of your favorite essential oil with one teaspoon of jojoba, grapeseed, or olive oil, then massage the mixture deep into the cuticles before pushing them gently back towards your wrist. “The massaging action forces moisture into the skin and jumpstarts circulation so the area can repair itself more quickly,” Hipp says.If you can’t resist trimming, stick to just the hangnails, and use a sharp, professional-grade tool such as Nip-N-Push Tweezer Style Cuticle Nipper ($12, bodytoolz.com) which will “Be more precise and help you avoid over-clipping,” Hipp says. Let your hands dry completely.VIDEO: Razor Burn, ExplainedSTEP FIVE: APPLY A BASE COATYour nails are ready for a base coat, which will help smooth ridges and imperfections on the nail for a better color application. Cutex’s new Baseworx ($8, drugstore.com) combines the same strengthening natural botanicals in its Advanced Remover with bioceramic mineral technology to instantly (yes, instantly) repair the nail’s surface. “We applied a single layer on testers and measured their nail strength after 20 minutes,” says Busch. “There was a 46 percent increase in resistance within a half hour, and 95 percent increase after 24 hours.”How? Tiny glass-like powders in the formula form a chemical bond to protein materials (like keratin, which makes up your nail) and fill in damaged areas. “The only thing it won’t do is make your nails grow faster,” Busch says. “We haven’t invented a way to speed up cell re-growth just yet.”STEP SIX: PAINT YOUR COLORMost polish companies have already started to remove toxins linked to cancer—DBP, formaldehyde, and toulene—from their formulas (check the label to see that it’s ‘3-Free), but some are even weeding out lesser-known carcinogens such as formaldehyde resin and camphor. “These chemicals can often lead to headaches and nausea,” says Smithtown, New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, M.D., F.A.A.D. “Chemical-free or water-based polishes are much better for your overall health in general, and your nail health in particular.”When you’ve selected your color, tap the wand back and forth on the lip of the bottle until there is only a droplet of polish left on the tip, then sweep the brush away from you. “This ensures a smooth, even finish,” Hipp says. Apply a second coat, then let nails dry for at least three minutes under a fan before finishing with a topcoat.MORE: Nail Polish Trends to Try