Polish Routine and Products

It is always nice to try new products that other bloggers recommend, so here is a list of what I currently use and what I have used in the past and would still recommend, in order of my nail routine.

List of Holy Grail (HG) Products before we get into the lengthy routine:
  1. Lotion hands to prevent acetone from removing natural oils in cuticles and drying them out.
    • current lotion: KBShimmer lotion in Paradise - moisturizing yet not oily, fast drying and great fruity smell
    • others recommendations: any lotion or cuticle oil on hand.  For some great information on moisturization and the ingredients to look for, check out this post on the Loodie Loodie Loodie blog.
  2. Remove old nail polish and clean nails of lotion if they are "naked".  If removing glitter, see step 3.
    • current remover: 100% Pure Acetone - removes polish much faster than anything else.  I have a giant bottle of this from Sally Beauty Supply, but even stores like Target carry 100% pure acetone, just make sure it says 100% acetone.  If you are worried about it being a "chemical" or being "too strong" please educate yourself with this informational link.
    • other recommendations: Zoya Remove+ - doesn't dry out your hands as much like pure acetone, but expensive and not as efficient as pure acetone, and I think unnecessary as long as you complete step one and use cuticle oil at the end of the manicure, but still a fantastic product - I like to save my one flipper bottle for occasional use or a rainy day.  You can also make your own with glycerin, there are various links on Pinterest like this recipe.
    • bottom line: if you use anything other than 100% pure acetone, you are going to have to scrub more
  3. If removing glitter, use a special method.  If not removing glitter, skip to step 4.
    • currently: Wearable Nail Soakers - these are seriously easier and more efficient than any other method, you just do one hand at a time, resting them on a tissue or towel as they can leak if you move, and playing on the internet or whatnot with the other hand for about 5 minutes.  Then reuse the acetone and pop them straight onto the other hand.  I usually have to take one cotton ball and wipe off a bit from the sides of one or two nails, but it comes right off.  I clean the soakers by rinsing them in the sink and air drying, but you could wipe them with acetone to get the nail polish out, but I don't care too much since I use them a lot.
    • other recommendations: The Foil Method or the Cotton Method or the Felt Method (go to the links for instructions) - both of these methods are great, but they require more mess than the soakers and more disposable product than reusing than soakers.
    • peel off base coat:
      • Nail Pattern Boldness Glitter A-Peel base coat - I just got this in the mail, will be trying it out soon and let you know how it goes!  For another blogger's review of it, see The Lazy Laquerista. You can buy Glitter A-Peel when it is in stock from the NPB etsy shop or Llarowe.  NPB also makes a Glitter Food top coat for hungry glitters, and it can also act as a replacement for suspension base in polishes with sinking glitters, which the PolishAholic reviews here.  You can buy Glitter Food when it is in stock at the NPB etsy shop or at Llarowe.
      • Elmer's Glue (PVA glue) base coat - Before applying glitter polish, you can apply a coat of Elmer's glue (the classic white glue, or PVA glue) as a base coat, then your glitter will peel off in one piece when you want to take it off.  This sounds too good to be true, and I think it is.  I tried it and it peels off a little too easily, as in only an hour after I painted my nails the edges of my polish started peeling a bit and I lost at least one entire polished nail before two hours was up.  This method is great for swatching glitter polishes, but little else I would say.  If you have a better glue brand or better way to apply the glue to increase the amount of time it stays on, let me know.
  4. File and shape nails.  Make sure to use a higher grit file for shaping and sealing natural nails, like a 400/600 grit file.  The higher the grit, the finer the file, and the safer it is on natural nails.  For more information on choosing a nail file, see Loodie's post here.  It is also better to file only in one direction, not using a back and forth sawing motion.  Also be sure NOT to file down on the free edge (the sides) of your nail as this can weaken the nail and cause further nail issues.  For more information on how to file, see Loodie's post here on filing the free edge.  Basically you need to avoid filing into the free edge.  For more information on different nail shapes, see Loodie's post here.  I will say that some bloggers encourage you to file your nails with a dark polish on, meaning shape and file your nails before removing your old polish, in order to better see your nail shape.  I find it annoying to get the dark polish all over my file and the polish sometimes peels or chips as you file, sometimes making it harder to shape your nails instead of easier.  If you are trying out a new nail shape, then maybe filing with polish on would be easier for you, but if you are just reshaping your nails routinely, it may not matter when in your polish routine your shape and seal your nails.  I actually shape and file nails at this point in the routine and usually again right before the base coat, just to make sure I catch any rough edges and seal everything up again.
    • currently: Tropical Shine Nail File: Fine 400/600 from Sally Beauty Supply.  This file is really gently and great for shaping.  I also have a coarser one in case I need to file down a bit more due to a nail break or something.  The fine nail file is what I normally use 99% of the time since I don't have to worry about taking too much length off or destroying the nail edge.
  5. Soften and remove cuticles with a cuticle remover.  Drop a few drops onto each nail, and using a cuticle pusher, gently push back the cuticles around each nail.  I also like to go over each nail again with a stiff angled edge and gently scrape the excess cuticles off as they become softened and detached with the cuticle remover.  I also like to clip off any hang nails at this point with a hangnail clipper.  In order to avoid confusion and to treat our nails with the best care, let's take in some nail knowledge.  I love the blog Loodie Loodie Loodie.  She has so so so much information on different types of nail techniques and products for improving nail health.  I garnered the information from her post here on cuticles that when you remove your cuticles, you should only remove the "true cuticle" or the dead cuticle skin lying farthest along the nail bed.  The Lacquerologist also did a nice post of the biology of the nail here.  Cuticle remover softens and removes this for you, and she also recommends this method, however she does say you can cut this dead skin or "true cuticle" that lies directly on the nail bed.  She warns, as do I, that cutting could cause you to also cut into the eponychium which leads to raggedy cuticles and possibly infection.  Hangnails seem to be skin that is part of the eponychium and has since ripped off, hanging there obnoxiously.  I like to cut these, and only these, hang nails that are dying or dead skin from the eponychium using hang nail clippers.
    • current cuticle remover: Blue Cross Cuticle Remover from Sally Beauty Supply.  There are many types of cuticle removers, and you can usually find reviews of them on other nail polish blogs.  I will give a word of caution to those with possible sensitive skin: test any cuticle remover first on a small patch of skin before pouring it all over your nails.
    • current cuticle pusher: I got mine from Walgreens, but it is only available in the store as listed here.  The kind I use has a flexible rubber end that flattens out to push your cuticles back.  I prefer this flexible rubber tip to the stainless steel ones because it is more gentle than steel and I don't have to worry so much about pushing too hard.  The body of the cuticle pusher is plastic and comes to a hard plastic angled edge on the end, which can be used to clean under nails or as I use it to scrape away the cuticles that detach off after using the cuticle remover.  If you are worried about hygiene or if you share nail care items, I would suggest the stainless steel cuticle pushers as they are more easily sanitized and can be autoclaved.  Since I am the only one using my cuticle pusher, I don't have to worry too much about it being made of plastic and rubber.  Here is a good example from the blog Loodie Loodie Loodie about why metal implements can get you into trouble if you aren't careful.
    • current hang nail clipper: I use some really old probably Tweezerman stainless steel hang nail clipper.  It is definitely old and still does a great job.  Keep it simple and easy with stainless steel on these since you need to be able to clean them.  I also recently got the super awesome, yet not really worth $25, Tweezerman Spiral Spring Cuticle Nipper.  It looks really cool and I do appreciate not having to put the little spring in place to use them like with my old pair.  The other nice thing about the spiral spring pair is that they start closed, so you squeeze to open, unlike the old classic pair I have where you put the spring in place and they spring open, so you have to squeeze to close.  I find I hurt myself less with the spiral spring ones, mainly because I can be a bit more precise with them since I don't have to force them closed, they close on their own.  You can buy the Tweezerman Spiral Spring Cuticle Nipper on either Amazon or Ulta (I have only seen it available on Ulta.com not in the stores though).
  6. Wash your hands to remove the cuticle remover.  Some people like to also apply lotion and cuticle at this stage, however I prefer not to because then you would have to wipe your nails again with acetone to remove oils and lotion in order for the polish to stick.  Do what you would like though if you don't mind going over your nails again with acetone to clean the nail bed.
  7. Painting time!  Paint on your favorite base coat.  ALWAYS wrap your tips! What does "wrap the tips" mean?  Here, here, and here  are tutorials on wrapping your tips, and here is a post about how using the popular Seche Vite top coat could cause severe shrinkage on your nails to the point of bending your nails inward, so be careful!  I would go to the blog Loodie Loodie Loodie for a very comprehensive and informative list and review of the different types of Nail Hardeners and Treatments.
    • current base coat: Qtica Natural Nail Growth Stimulator (from Art of Beauty, the same company that sells Zoya Nail Polish and Treatments) - I swear by this, I even got a bottle for my friend for her birthday, she now swears by it, too.  It is the best nail strengthener I have tried yet!  It is a bit expensive, running you $20 for a 0.5oz bottle.  I love it and highly recommend it especially if you not having as much luck with other brands.  You basically put two coats on before painting your nails and then every other day either on top of your polish or on top of the existing coats of the treatment.  I actually dont put it on top of my nail polish because I feel like it is a bit of a waste of the stuff since it is so expensive.  If I find my nails are starting to get rough on the sides like they are about to peel or rip, I will just take off my nail polish and apply the treatment to my bare nails, or I will just add another layer of topcoat to make it last another day or so with some additional support on the tips.
    • other recommendations: If you don't need a nail treatment as a base coat, I would go for the cheaper generic brands of basecoat at Sally Beauty Supply or Wal-Mart.  I currently have a few types of the Pro-FX brand that are in a 2.5oz globe bottle (a few bucks for a huge bottle!), and there is a similar brand at Sally's called Beauty Secrets.
  8. Color time!  Personally, I tend to break up my nail routine into two days since it can get time consuming.  I usually take off my polish and do everything up to this step, so my nails are a clean slate with just the nail strengthener on.  When painting your nails, especially now that we are at the color part, make sure to take your time with your brushstrokes.  The steadier you paint, the less clean up you have to do.  Here is a great tutorial on the best way to paint your nails, complete with wrapping your tips.  Maybe I will do my own eventually, but it is definitely hard to take pictures as you are painting, and so here is a great pictorial or infographic on how to do the 3 stroke technique when painting your nails.  Honestly, it doesn't matter which of the 3 areas of your nail you start with, starting down the center and then doing the sides or painting the sides first and then the center.  I think I do the sides first to get a good curve going and then I paint down the center last to make sure everything blends in.  You will find your own personal preference, and the key is just make sure all the strokes blend in and you get an even coat of polish without bald spots.  Whatever you do, I highly recommend wrapping your tips!  I like to wrap my tips before I paint the nail.  Some people do it afterwards, but I find that creates a bulge on the edge since you aren't able to blend it into the coat of polish that is already tacky and drying.  I would suggest my preferred method of swiping my brush with a small amount of polish along the free edge of my nail, then proceeding to do the 3 stroke method on my nails for a full coat of polish.  Even though I don't always follow my own advice, I recommend to try doing thin coats, even if it means you have to do more coats.  This way, the polish dries faster and more evenly than with thick coats.  My rule for polish is it has to be two coats or less, so when I am applying a polish that is more sheer, I usually apply 2 thick coats and they end up a bit globby looking and take longer to dry.
    • favorite brand of all time and favorite indie brand: a-england, a UK brand that you can purchase in the US from either Llarowe or Ninja Polish online.  Unfortunately due to increased shipping limitations in January 2013, they can no longer ship directly from their UK website, but feel free to peruse their international distributors!  a-england is highly pigmented and has the most amazing scattered holographic polishes ever, which I prefer over linear holographic polishes.  Most, if not all, of their polishes require only one coat to completely cover the visible nail line.  They are without a doubt the most amazing brand I own!  Besides their impeccable polish quality, they also have great customer service and have fabulous story backgrounds for each of their collections, very detailed and thoughtful!  Here is a great post by Fashion Polish outlining the whole story behind their collection, The Legends.
    • favorite commercial, mainstream brand, 2nd favorite brand: Zoya, part of the Art of Beauty company, which also sells my holy grail nail strengthener and base coat by Qtica.  You can purchase Zoya from their website, and they constantly have sales and promotions, most importantly they have flash promos in December right around Black Friday where you can grab free polishes and other awesome things!  You can also now buy a small selection of Zoya polishes, including their newly released collections from Ulta stores only (you can get a few Qtica products from the Ulta online store), but I would definitely recommend using an Ulta coupon on them or just buying them from the Zoya website during a sale.  I recommend buying direct from the Zoya website because they have better sales and they also give you free samples of things, like their Zoya Remove+, depending on how much you spend.
    • other brand recommendations: Wear time and chipping are definitely dependent on the chemical makeup of your own body and the oils on your nails and hands, which is unique for each person. What chips on me may be your favorite polish brand, so try all the brands you want until you find your own favorites!  Below are some brands that I find have good formula, making for easier and more enjoyable application.
      • China Glaze and Orly are both good commercial brands readily available in many stores, and I do have a good bit of their polishes.  For China Glaze, I would generally say their polishes are all 2 coaters with consistent formula, but they tend to chip faster on me than other brands.  Orly also has consistent formula but doesn't chip on me as much as China Glaze.
    • brands I don't recommend:
      • OPI has very inconsistent formula, and for the price I am not willing to try out a color to end up with a streaky 5 coater mess.  I will say that their pinks and reds, their classic colors, seem to be good, but I can't say too much as I stopped even thinking about buying their polishes after their failure with Gargantuan Green Grape, posted about here.
      • Essie has the same story as OPI, very bad formulas on most of the polishes I have tried.  The few that I have tried have all leaned on the sheer side, requiring plenty of coats.  One, Fiji, was less sheer but very streaky and hard to apply.  It seems if their polishes aren't sheer, then they just aren't worth the price with their poor formula.
      • Butter London seems to be very expensive for some pretty inconsistent formulas.  Jasper, a yellow cream, was pretty good, nothing amazing for $14 or whatever exorbitant price they charge.  Black Knight was another one I tired, a glitterbomb, and that stuff was some of the goopiest polish I have ever tried to spread over my nails.  I know I can just add polish thinner, but for the price they charge I shouldn't have to.  I don't recommend Butter London simply because the price is too high for inconsistent formulas.
  9. Clean up the edges around the cuticle and on the skin around the tips.  I use a small paintbrush-style brush dipped in acetone, and I run the tip around the edge of my painted area to create a nice clean edge against the cuticle.  I also take the time to clean off any paint on my cuticles, usually from wrapping my tips.
    • currently: Flat Nail Brush (it said for gel nails on the package) - I think this is the link to the same one I got in the store at Sally's.  Regardless, I like a brush that is a bit firmer, and this brush made for gel nails was perfect.  It was stiffer than the other nail art brushes, and so far it has stood up to the acetone a lot better than other flimsier brushes that have deteriorated after using with acetone many times.
  10. Top coat it!  Don't forget to wrap your tips, unless you are using Seche Vite because your nails could be curled inwards with shrinkage as talked about in this post here.  I use the same technique to paint on my top coat as I do with the color in step 7.  Sometimes I like to just do two thing coats of top coat to avoid dragging marks and to make sure it is a super glossy and protected finish.
    • currently: Cult Nails Wicked Fast (Speed Dry Top Coat).  Seriously better than all the other ones I have tried.  It dries fast and super glossy, but it doesn't have the shrinkage of Seche Vite or get gloopy and thick at the end of the bottle like Seche Vite or many other brands of fast dry top coat.  Just wait for one of their many sales and stock up on top coat and some of their gorgeous colors!
  11. Moisturize!  I like to first apply drying drops to further speed up the drying process.  Drying drops also help moisturize the cuticles you so rudely cleaned up with drying acetone.  Then I apply lotion, take pictures for this blog, and watch a show so that everything dries before I smudge it.  If you are in a rush, it also helps to dip your fingers in ice cold water or even just pop them in the freezer and hold them there for a minutes.  The cold temperature helps set the polish, whereas taking a shower or washing dishes in hot water may increase chances of smudging (I learned this the hard way).  So, don't shower right after polishing, maybe wait a bit.
    • currently: Qtica Half Time Polish Drying Accelerator - now I am not sure if these drops are any different than the Zoya drops or the OPI drops, etc.  They all usually contain silicone and oil to help speed up the drying process.  I don't think the different drying drop brands make as much a difference as different quick dry top coat brands do.  If you think one brand is different or better than another, let me know and I would love to try out your recommendation for drying drops.
So that's it!  That is my polish routine.  I may add or change things as I try new brands or realize I have forgotten a detail.  Sorry there were no pictures, maybe I will add some eventually if I have time while I am painting my nails.  Let me know what your HG products are and if you have any other recommendations!

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