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Manicure 101: Polish Application

Now to get to the part everyone is really curious about, applying the polish! I’ve found that the secret to making a manicure last really is the base coat and top coat. I can make a manicure last for 7 days without any chips and barely any tip wear. Considering everything that I do in my daily life, I think that’s pretty amazing!

My favorite basecoat is Orly Bonder, though I have great results with CND Stickey as well. Stickey is a little cheaper, so I’ve just ordered a big 2.3 ounce bottle of it and will be using it for most of my manis. My only issue with Stickey is that it seems to tint lighter colored manis a little green on my hands (I took a ton of pics and the Stickey keeps showing up as blue, but it really is a green color, similar to the other flavor of Scope mouth wash), this is likely because I’m so fair. I’ll be saving my Bonder for light manicures to avoid this issue. Otherwise I get equal wear with regardless of which basecoat I use. So, Stickey for mid tone or darker polishes, Bonder for light colored polishes. My wear is equal, it’s the color issue that’s really at play here.

Next is of course, color. I’ve shown Chanel’s Morning Rose, but that’s only because it had just arrived when I took these pics, so it was in the big pile of polish on my desk. My favorite polish brands:
OPI: I get the best wear out of OPI and they do have a lot of fun colors. The Sephora OPI polishes are the same formula, though they are a little more expensive. I’m not certain if the Nicole by OPI polishes are the same formula, but in general they apply just as well on me (and I prefer the Nicole brush) and they also have a great color range.
Essie: Now owned by L’Oreal, Essie can be found in your local Walmart, Drugstore and in salons. If you want a light pink/nude color, look to an Essie. They also do pigmented creme polishes very well, often only 1 or 2 coats are needed.
China Glaze
Chanel: I love the colors and the shimmer, but typically the wear is only for a 2 or 3 day manicure. I usually change so often that I don’t care.
MAC: Similar to Chanel, they have some great colors but horrible wear. I get 1-2 days max.
Sally Hansen: I admit that I’m only including them on this list for completeness. I know their Salon range wears for 7-10 days, but I really haven’t tried them myself.
Zoya: Usually a 4-5 manicure for me, the wear is a little worse than the OPI/Essie/China Glaze brands, but they also have some great colors and are free of 5 different chemicals.

My favorite top coats are Seche Vite or Poshe. I have Seche Vite right now as I bought a big pro sized bottle and just refill my bottles. Both are thicker than other brands, and apply over wet polish pretty easily. Super shiny and dry to the touch about 10 minutes after application!

So, I’ve created this little graphic to show you how I apply polish, though I’m planning to create a video for this post as well. You can click on the image to enlarge it if you want.

So, the cuticle is at the purple semicircle. Not pictured here is my first step, which is wrapping the tip of my nail in basecoat, polish or top coat. Simply run the brush along the tip of the nail. Try not to get it all over your skin, but if it is there don’t worry, you’ll clean it up later.

Next to apply polish to the nail itself. I place the end of my brush in the middle of the nail, a few millimeters from the cuticle (look at the light blue line, that’s roughly where I place the brush). I push/wiggle the brush right up to the cuticle (the yellow squiggle), and let the brush fill in the nail right up to the cuticle. I do like about a millimeter of space there, but if it gets on the cuticle that’s fine. Then I pull the brush along the nail (green arrow).

Usually I have enough polish on the brush that there will be some extra off to either side. I use this polish to help me repeat the process off to the sides. I cover the entire nail in 3 strokes, though I sometimes need 4 for my thumb. I do not reload the brush in between stroke on each nail, this results in too much polish. I do my entire left hand, then right hand and then just repeat. I rarely wait between coats, since the Seche Vite will dry all of the layers together.

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About Me

I’m a doctor, a mommy and a bit of a beauty addict. If you let me, I can take 2 hours to get ready in the morning. Really. I'm on a quest for faster beauty that works!

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  1. 5.11.11

    Great post! I swear by Orly bonder and Seche Vite!!!

  2. 5.11.11
    eGarrison said:

    Hooray, just what I needed! I am off to the store tomorrow. I tried the OPI base and top coat combo (one bottle) and it was terrible. I need something that works!

  3. 5.11.11
    Christine said:

    I don't like that one either! If you don't want them TODAY you might want to check out transdesign.com because everything is cheaper there. Also, don't buy the purple one from the Pirates collection, it's already in this box that I've been making for you!

  4. 5.11.11
    Melissa said:

    I have never tried Seche Vite, but I have heard that it sometimes causes shrinkage???

    My go to is Out the Door. Do you know if there is a decidable difference between the two?

  5. 5.11.11
    Christine said:

    Hi Melissa-
    Shrinkage is a good point, I should have brought it up. Many of the Quick Dry top coats such as Essie Good to Go, Poshe, Seche Vite and Out the Door are known for shrinking on the nail once full dried, creating what looks like tip wear only a few hours after the mani is done.

    It doesn't seem to be something that happens for everyone, and personally I've never had shrinkage from any of the top coats I've just mentioned. Some people say it's a "personal chemistry" thing, though we all have the same composition for our nails, what is different is what combination of products we're using and how we're applying that are different. Wrapping the tip does seem to cut down on this.

    In my use of Out the Door, the results are just as shiny but my wear seems to be 1-2 days less and dry time is a little bit longer with OTD compared to SV. If you're happy with OTD though, then I'd stick with it. If it works, don't fix it! 😀

  6. 5.11.11
    Christina said:

    Would you recommend any Seche Vite alternatives? I keep reading it has toulene, and that makes me nervous, though I understand for some people it's not as big of a deal.

  7. 5.11.11
    Christine said:

    I'm not sure why toulene became one of the "big scary chemicals" in nail polish. When I look in Pubmed (the government's database the searches the medical and scientific literature) I get 17 references that come back and only 1 of them seems to really look at toulene. something about monkey behavior after exposure to gases, part of a US/USSR collaborative look in the 70's. So, nothing really about nail polish.

    I think the main reason most of us ignore it in nail polish is that your nails are dead protein, and don't really absorb anything. As well, if it's in your top coat you usually have a couple of layers of base and color between your nail and the top coat, and it won't leach down to get into your system. As well, you can check out this page from the FDA confirming that it is safe.

    If you're still worried, and really it's fine if you are, you can check out this post from my friend Michelle over at All Lacquered Up. She's broken it down by brand, showing who has what ingredients.

  8. 5.13.11

    Christine, where did you get that massive bottle of CND Stickey? I'm already a third of my way through my .33oz bottle and I've had it for a month -_-"

  9. 5.13.11
    Christine said:

    I got it from head2toebeauty.com, though it's also at other nail supplies like transdesign.com and sometimes Sally's

  10. 6.18.11
    Shannon said:

    Hi Christine,

    I'm just now getting into nail polish, but everything I paint my nails I end up with tiny dots…they look like the polish has sand or glitter in it, but its brand new, sand-free, glitter-free polish. This happens with most of my polishes and when it looks so uneven I end up getting annoyed and remove it. Any advice on what I might be doing wrong?


  11. 6.18.11
    Christine said:

    I've had this happen a few times as well, and the problem seems to be from a few different things.

    First, I've had it if the plate of my nail is not very smooth or my cuticle hasn't been pushed quite enough down the nail, making my nail surface too bumpy. I take care of this by using the buffer on my nails, though if I'll be applying polish I do NOT use the last step for shining, that will make the surface too slippery and polish will slide right off. I also try to make sure I've push all of my cuticle down and used a cuticle remover about once a week.

    2nd I've had it with some polishes that are non-leveling. This is kind of a trial and error thing to work with.

    Either problem can be helped quite a bit by a thick top coat like Poshe or Seche Vite, or you could go for a top/base coat helper product like Gelous.

    Let me know if those work!

  12. 6.18.11
    Shannon said:

    Thanks! I'm heading to ulta (birthday gift card in hand) so I'm going to pick up some supplies. I'll let you know how it works!

  13. 10.4.11
    Christina said:

    Hi Christine! Thanks so much for your response to the Seche Vite – it's one of those things that you read in a lot of places, but I didn't have the medical background to be more in-depth about my research.

    Thanks again! I'm probably off to buy a bottle as soon as my current top coat runs out.