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- Wash hands and remove old nail polish with an acetone-free polish remover if you have a light shade or an acetone remover for darker shades (acetones can be drying to the nails). Use an orangewood stick with the end covered in cotton and dipped in nail polish remover for the edges if need be. If nails are stained from the previous nail color, you can fix that using one of these methods in How to Get Rid of Nail Stains.
- Clip your nails straight across. Grab a file and file in one direction so the corners are slightly rounded. You're trying for a "squoval" shape -- a squared oval shape. Finish off by filing with the fine-grade side.
- Apply cuticle remover to cuticles (if you have it). See my list of the best cuticle creams.
- Prepare a nail soak by placing a few drops of jojoba or almond oil (in a pinch, any oils will do) in a bowl of warm water. Soak your hands for 5 minutes in the bowl of warm water. Pat hands dry.
- Twist a piece of water-moistened cotton onto the end of an orangewood stick. Use it to gently push back your cuticles. Don't cut the cuticles, you can risk nicking the skin (this has happened to me and it is incredibly painful).
- Exfoliate your hands with a body scrub, rinse and apply hand cream. Apply more cuticle cream to cuticles. Finish this part by taking a cotton ball soaked with nail polish remover to clean nails once again.
- Start with the pinky finger and apply a thin base coat to all 10 fingers.
- Using a neutral, pale shade that matches the natural color of the nail bed, paint the nails. Leave to dry. Wait 2 minutes, then re-apply. When painting nails, the thinner the coat, the better. Try wiping one side of the brush on the bottle, then use the other side to paint nails. For best results, apply polish in 3 strokes: Down the center, down one side and then down the other.
- Paint the naturally white tip of the nail with an opaque white or beige polish. In traditional French manicures, this white strip is straight across the nail, however, if you let the polish curve with your natural nail, your nails will appear longer. Prevent chips by brushing the polish over the edge and wrapping the polish under the nail.
- Clean up any errant polish with an orange stick wrapped in cotton and moistened with polish remover.
- Finish with a clear top coat. Let nails dry at least 20 minutes.