Prep the surface: Swipe clean nails with a cotton ball soaked in nail polish remover. Greasiness from lotion prevents polish from adhering. Pure acetone removes the most residue, but if it is too drying, try a nonacetone remover without hydrators like lanolin.
Choose the right base: Not all clear polishes are alike: A base coat is soft and sticky, so it can expand and contract with your nails and grab color. A top coat is formulated to be hard and shiny; if you put one under your color, you will short-change your manicure.
Pick a pearly polish: Shimmery polishes have the longest staying power. Pearlescent formulas, with their fine mica particles, are likelier to withstand wear than matte ones. For beautiful, even color, apply two thin layers: One heavy coat keeps a polish's solvents from evaporating, which leads to chips and dings.
Top it off: Steer clear of quick-dry top coats: What you gain in speed, you lose in protection, says Arnold. A regular top coat is thick and slow to dry, but lasts longer and is more lustrous than thinner fast actors. Save the quick-dry product for a touch-up three days after you have painted your nails.
Oil daily: A dry nail and hardened polish are both like glass rods, they fracture and break easily. Oil helps keep polish from chipping and nails from peeling. Rub a few drops of oil onto your nails before bed. Your polish may look solid, but as it dries, its evaporating solvents leave micro-channels that let nails absorb the oil.