Practice makes perfect—but it helps to have the best tools, polishes, removers and creams.

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This is part of our weekly series Test Drive, where our team of beauty experts demystify products and tools, and explore new techniques IRL.

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen the inside of a nail salon since before the pandemic began. While I've always been decent at doing my own nails, I’ve upped my game during this time at home. Olive & June's The Everything Box ($80, Olive & June) has proven to be a great start for this nail novice. Each box contains all I needed to make doing my own manicures a breeze. To learn more about how I can make the process even easier (and extend the life of my mani), I caught up with celebrity manicurist Kimmie Kyees. Here, she shares her best tips for replicating a salon-worthy manicure at home (including ideas for DIY nail art). Plus, I dish on my favorite products for creating a professional look.

Close up of someone holding a nail polish bottle
Credit: Courtesy of Amber Katz

Give Your Cuticles and Nails TLC

This is an important step that you might be tempted to skip, but it’s helpful because it extends the life of your manicure. It’s also the key to making it look more professional.

Prep Before a Mani

When it comes to at-home manicures, pushing cuticles back is best done right out of the shower when they’re soft, says Kyees. You can use either your fingers or a tool like this one by Japonesque ($3, Target). She recommends pushing them back and doing your manicure within the next few hours. Kyees says to always clean the nail plate with polish remover or alcohol immediately before polish. “It dehydrates the nail plate and removes oils, lotions, or in this case any water. It’s essential to prep the nail for perfect polish adhesion," she explains.

Shape Your Nails

“A nail file with grit 240 or higher is best for natural nails—soft not super rough,” she says.

Keep Cuticles Soft

Dealing with cuticles requires daily maintenance—that’s the hard truth. This helps your manicure look fresh longer. “Dry and flaky cuticles are unsightly and make any manicure look bad,” Kyees says. I keep this cuticle remover and balm ($5, Amazon) on my coffee table to massage into my nail beds while I watch TV, and it makes the whole enterprise a lot easier. Just wash your hands before applying polish.

Finish with An Oil

Cleaning the nail plate dehydrates the skin around your nails, and oils help rehydrate that area. Kyees recommends finishing every manicure with a cuticle oil—you can even use vitamin E oil.

Keep Your Hands Hydrated

The hand massage step is the best part of the salon experience! You might forget its primary purpose to get your skin hydrated and plump so your hands look great when you walk out of the salon.

Slather on Hand Cream

This Susanne Kaufmann Hand Cream ($48, Dermstore) smells like banana cream pie (but in a subtle way) and treats your hands with anti-aging ingredients like vitamins C and E, plus antioxidants.

Sanitize Smarter

Now that we’re well acquainted with sanitizing constantly, finding one that isn’t sticky, smells clean, and doesn’t dry out your hands is key. This hand sanitizer ($11, Juara Skincare) contains moisturizing ingredients for a smooth finish, and the 8-ounce bottle comes complete with a pump dispenser. It’s perfect for keeping by your front door.

Create Nail Art with Strips and Tools

You can create nail art using nail polish strips that adhere to the nail. Brands like Dashing Diva, Mani Me, and Color Street have several colors and designs to choose from. I cut strips with Tweezerman nail scissors ($19, Amazon) to create different looks. Kyees likes combining purple and gold glitters such as Color Street Juneau the Drill & Chelsea Ya Later. “I like to take the largest strip and cut thin lines vertically so I can use those pieces to create fun and interesting lines on manicures,” Kyees explains. “These can either be over a full coverage nail or on a naked nail to create negative space manicures.”

Give Your Nails a Breather

Finally, if you want to give your nails a breather, here’s what to use to remove polish, treat nails between gel applications, or brush on as a polish-alternative option.

Remove All Types of Polish Quickly

From gel to your regularly scheduled nail lacquer, Nail-Aid’s remover formula ($5, Nail Aid) makes it easy to start with a clean slate. Its aerosol dispenser means there are no spills or leaks.

Treat Damaged Nails

For nails that have been to gel and back, it’s all about this plant oil-infused strengthening serum ($20, Talika). Like a boot camp for your talons, this easy-to-apply formula gets them back into shape within a week.

Camouflage Discoloration

For a quick, your-nails-but-better look, I love this tinted base coat ($28, Chanel). Like a BB cream for your nails, this one imparts a hint of peachy pink to cover up any nail imperfections.


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