Woman getting manicure.

There are few things more cathartic than having your hands and feet pampered at the salon or blocking out time to carefully paint them yourself. The process forces you to put down the phone, focus on one thing and treat yourself to a little sparkle (or color, depending on your style). Rigid rules would definitely take the fun and relaxation out of a mani-pedi session, but there are a few manicure and pedicure tips that will keep your nails healthier and extend the length of your paint job.

Play nice with your cuticles: One of the biggest misconceptions about mani-pedis is that the cuticles have to be trimmed or cut off completely. Trimming or cutting cuticles is purely cosmetic and sometimes doesn’t even benefit the nail in any way. It’s important to remember that the cuticle is the barrier to protect the surrounding skin and help protect the nail from infections. Push them back if you must, but they’re there for a reason.

Don’t forget the other side: Understandably so, you are more concerned with the top part of your nail—especially if you are doing them at home—but don’t forget about the bottom. When cutting your nails, always make sure that you clean under the nail. Otherwise, bacteria could form. Also, keep your clipping supplies separate. Keep one reserved for your fingers and the other for your toes.

Match your nail shape and cuticle: Ever been stuck on how exactly to cut your nails? If you’re unsure of what shape they should be—whether round, square or a mix of the two—just look at your cuticles. The U-shape of the cuticle should be reflected (upside down) by the top of your nail. The primary goal is to mirror the shape.

Moisturize: Contrary to popular belief, cuticle oil shouldn’t be an optional part of nail care. Not only does it keep your feet and hands soft and moisturized; it also keeps your nail polish from chipping, too.

Don’t forget your base: A base coat helps to give the color something to sink into besides your actual nails, and it prevents the nails from getting stained. You only need one coat of this and should wait at least a minute before applying color on top. There’s no need to wait until it’s completely dry.

Seal the top: In addition to sealing in color, a top coat is what gives your mani-pedi its shine and luster. Again, give your color (which you can have two layers of if the color is light or transparent) 60 seconds to settle before adding just one top coat. Wait 2-3 days if you want to add a second.

Avoid heat: Try not to handle any blow-dryers or hot ovens right after painting your nails. Nail polish takes about 12 hours to harden, and too much heat can actually melt your polish. If you stick your nails in cold water for a few minutes, it will actually help harden your nail polish faster.

Stay away from scents: Scented lotions with synthetic fragrances can cause your nail polish to crack. Make sure to use lotions that are unscented if you need to moisturize.

Gel should always be short-term: Be careful with gel manicures. You should really only keep the gel and/or acrylic nails on for two weeks, but the cut-off would be three weeks. It’s not good to keep them on any longer, as they will damage the nail beds and cuticles. Expired polish will also make an infection more likely.

There are nail polishes that actually don’t have a shelf life, like organic nail polishes, which can actually be kept in the fridge if you choose. However, polishes that contain chemicals like toluene and formaldehyde should be replaced every 6 months as a good rule of thumb.

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