Manicure 101

Save your handwashing and hand sanitizer-ravaged hands with an at home manicure
Photo Mar 28 11 21 59 Am
All photos by Melanie Warner Spencer

If you are used to regular visits with your favorite New Orleans manicurist, at this stage of the COVID-19 closures, stay at home mandates and pro-level handwashing, your poor hands are beyond wrecked. While it is certainly a quick pick-me-up and, personally, one of my favorite ways to pamper myself, hand and nail care isn’t just about the aesthetic. Keeping hands exfoliated and moisturized helps prevent drying, chaffing and cuts down on breakouts of eczema and other skin conditions. Massaging them when you apply lotion increases circulation. Nail and cuticle maintenance wards off hangnails, plus dry, brittle and ingrown nails. If you’ve never given yourself a mani or it has been awhile, here’s my at home hand care routine. I recommend playing your favorite music and pouring yourself a glass of bubbly, making hot tea or having some other festive or calming beverage to really amp up the spa vibes and level of indulgence.

Tools and Products

  • Clippers
  • File
  • Cuticle Pusher
  • Cuticle Trimmer (optional)
  • Cotton Pads or Balls
  • Cotton Swabs (optional)
  • Bowl of Warm Water
  • Vitamin-E Oil
  • Essential Oil (optional)
  • Hand Cream
  • Hand or Skin Scrub (optional)
  • Bonder
  • Nail Polish
  • Topcoat
  • Clean Hand Towel


1. Set aside a workspace (the coffee table is fine), assemble your cleaned and sanitized (more on that in Step 16) tools and products, then fold your hand towel in half and place it in front of you.

2. Remove polish if you are wearing it. (Not Pictured: If you want to exfoliate, do that now. Just gently rub an exfoliator over your hands for about a minute and rinse. If

you don’t have a store bought exfoliator, mix sugar, salt or coffee grounds with olive oil for a quick homemade scrub. Rinse with water.)

3. Add Vitamin-E Oil and Essential Oil to warm water (or skip this step) and soak the fingertips on whichever hand you want to start with for your mani. Two or three minutes, or up to five is fine. The goal is to soften your cuticles.

4. Dry your hand on the towel and trim your nails to the desired length with the clippers

5. Begin shaping nails into desired shape (pointed, rounded or squared off) with the nail file.

6. Use the cuticle trimmer or your clippers to remove hangnails and scraggly cuticles.

7. Use the rounded end of cuticle pusher to push back cuticles. It is not recommended to trim your cuticles, because if you are inexperienced, you may cut yourself or cause an infection. Pushing them back is a safe and effective way to keep them groomed. Flip to the flat end of the tool to gently scrape away dried cuticle that remains on the nail bed.

8. Rinse your nails in the warm water and dry with your hand towel.

9. Apply Vitamin-E oil and hand cream.

10. Wet the tip of your cotton swab with polish remover and rub it over your nail, avoiding the cuticle. This will remove the oil so your polish can better adhere and stay on longer.

11. Brush bonder onto your nail. I like Orly, but there are a lot of choices, so just experiment and pick whatever works for your budget. You can also use a basecoat or skip this step, but I find that bonder helps keep my nails from yellowing and preserves my manicure.

12. Grab your preferred polish colors. (For this mani, I used “Merry Macarons” and “Masquerading Monarchs,” special edition collaboration colors between my Mardi Gras marching krewe, The Merry Antoinettes and New Orleans-based Native Polish. But you can pick whatever colors you like and, if you don’t want to do an accent, go with one color.) Paint each nail starting with your pinky and working toward the thumb, with the first stroke on each one beginning in the middle near your cuticle and sweeping back toward the tip. Repeat on either side of the middle paint line. I like to try to get the entire nail covered in three swipes, but that doesn’t always work out. Repeat with a second coat.

13. If you are using an accent color, add it after step 12, but give your hand a couple of minutes to dry. I used a glitter polish and just swiped it across the nail tip at an angle for each nail.

14. Allow a minute or two for the polish to set, then brush on your topcoat. I like Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Topcoat. It is also a great refresher to brush on every few days to extend your manicure.

15. Sit back and relax until your polish is dry.

16. Once everything sets, put your tools in an alcohol bath to sanitize them for the next mani. I always sanitize them before and after, just to be safe.

17. Finally, with all of the COVID-related handwashing and grocery and surface sanitizing you are doing, now is a great time to invest in a pair of rubber dishwashing gloves. I use them when I clean and do dishes and it is such a hand and manicure saver!


Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do this in about an hour or less. It’s a small luxury that will make you, and your ravaged hands, feel much better — and we could all use that right about now.

P.S. If you want to give yourself a pedi, do all of the above on your feet and toes. Use a plastic bin to soak, or plan to do your pedicure after a hot shower or bath.


What beauty and spa treatments are you missing? Share in comments or email Melanie at to suggest as an upcoming post.



Categories: Bon Vivant, Recommendations, Things To Do