Please note that I am in no way a nail/skincare expert, and I haven't been polishing my nails for very long in the greater scheme of things - this routine is one that I find works for me personally and I hope it can help you too!
Here's what I do:
- Use makeup pads and a polish remover with acetone to remove any polish on my nails. (Here's a tutorial by starofmaybeauty on Youtube)
- Wash my hands. I usually use hand soap and scrub my nails with a nail brush, then dry my hands on a towel and make sure that all moisture is removed. I don't want any acetone left on my skin because it really dries me out.
- Apply base coat to all my nails. I use OPI Natural Nail Base Coat.
- Apply polish colour to all fingers except my thumbs after the base coat has dried. I use this technique, shown here in Lacquerized's awesome tutorial. I also wrap the tips of my nails by holding the brush at a ninety degree angle to the tip of my nail and running the brush lightly over the tip. This not only makes sure there's a nice bit of colour there, but also extends wear time.
- Why don't I paint my thumbnails with colour? Here's why: I use my thumbs for polish cleanup. When I'm painting my nails and I get a bit on my cuticles or the skin on the side, I've found that it's much easier to clean up straight away rather than wait until after the polish has dried; so I immediately use my unpolished thumbnails to scrape away any offending polish. I keep a tissue near me so I can wipe my thumbs. (Tip from PlasmaSpeedo on Youtube)
- Apply second and third coats of polish if necessary. I usually polish my left hand and then my right, and after I've finished with my right hand the left is usually ready for the next coat.
- After all polish is applied, I wait for it to dry and then apply top coat. I use OPI Top Coat.
- I clean up any remaining polish on the sides of my fingers with OPI's Correct and Clean Up remover pen. I've found this is the easiest way - you can also use acetone or remover with a brush, but I've tried this and it really doesn't work for me! If there are any huge smudges on the sides of my fingers, I usually just dip a cotton bud (Q-tip) in remover and take it off with that.
- Once my polish is completely dry (I usually wait an half-an-hour or so, because I hate to smudge my nails or get marks in my smooth finish accidentally) I moisturise my hands and apply Lush Lemony Flutter Cuticle Butter. Acetone remover really dries out the skin by the sides of my nails, so I make sure to rub the Lemony Flutter in there.
I hope that this can help someone out there! As always, just let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to help.