Even the indecisive can rest assured: the perfect red manicure is always a good idea. It’s eternally stylish, and it’s one shade you can be sure people will notice—which means that perfect application is essential. But since those evening salon appointments book up in about five minutes flat, it’s crucial that every woman knows how to DIY the classic red mani, sans smudges, bubbles and chips. We asked the pros for their best tips on getting flawless ruby fingernails at home—and they delivered in a big way. You’ll never flub your red again.
Care for your cuticles and your hands.
It’s not the sexiest beauty tip in the world, but nail care will make or break your red mani. Before you even break out the polish, tend to your cuticles. When we asked essie celebrity manicurist Michelle Saunders about the importance of nail masks or cuticle oil, she confirmed it’s step you just can’t skip, especially with red polish. “Yes, please make sure cuticles are hydrated and pushed back, otherwise the red polish could ooze into the dryness and cause the cuticle to appear stained,” she says. Try using a product like essie apricot cuticle oil ($8.50, essie.com) or Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil ($20, sephora.com). Editorial manicurist Miss Pop suggests moisturizing the skin on your hands before and after painting, as well as wearing gloves to “protect your nails and hands from the effects of cold weather.”
Apply a base coat.
The one downside to red nail polish? Staining. But you can prevent that if you take the extra time to apply a base coat. “Not only does it help protect the nails from staining, especially with a shade like red, but it also helps your mani last a couple more days,” notes Miss Pop who suggests Orly Bonder ($10, ulta.com).
Pick the shape you like–but make sure they’re uniform.
“Nails can be any length with red polish, but please make sure they are all the same shape AND length,” says Saunders. “A pet peeve of mine is when a client wants to keep 7 out of 10 nails long when the other 3 have broken off.” She further explains that if your nails are breaking, they might just be too long for your lifestyle. Give them a trim! Still need help deciding what shape you like? Miss Pop agrees that there are no rules, but notes that “conventional wisdom” suggests that you follow the shape of your cuticle.
Find your red.
Save the orange-reds for summer and try one of our experts’ favorite colors. Saunders perfers essie’s A-List, a color she says is flattering on all skin tones. If you’re going for something holiday-themed, Miss Pop points to a brighter red like Dior Nail Polish in Rouge 999 ($27, sephora.com). Dark reds are also very big for the winter season—Miss Pop says that China Glaze Wine Down For What is a keeper, while we like Deborah Lippman’s Ruby Red Slippers ($20, bloomingdales.com) for a bit of glitter. If you don’t want to even bother with polish, she says that you can try Kiss Impress Press-Ons ($6, target.com) in red.
Take your time with painting.
To avoid a mess, block off more than enough time to paint your nails, wait for them to dry, and fix mistakes. “Red polish is one of the most challenging colors to apply on yourself,” says Saunders. “There is no forgiving if it floods the cuticle, so please take your time and make sure you have a clean up brush handy to dip in polish remover to help with any polish that may have slipped outside the lines of the nail.” Sounds like a Netflix marathon is in order for this task—we suggest binging on all of Jessica Jones, if you haven’t seen it already.
Dress up your manicure.
Red polish stands out on its own, but you can amp up the color even with this cool trick from Saunders. “After you apply your base coat, use a stark white polish—I like Blanc from essie ($8.50, essie.com)—and then apply red on top. It gives the manicure a unique brightness,” she says. You can also try some subtle nail art that won’t overshadow the color. Miss Pop suggests negative space, tiny dots, embellishments, or mini pearls.
Don’t forget the top coat.
It’s a given. After you’ve finished painting, apply a top coat to your nails. To make your mani last even longer, Saunders says you can add another layer of top coat later in the day—this adds extra hardness and makes sure any minor smudges are smoothed away.
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