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Nail Care / April 21, 2019

Giving yourself a manicure may seem harmless enough, but there are some key techniques that, if done incorrectly, can not only ruin your entire paint job but also risk your health (does clipping your cuticles ring a bell?). We tapped Simcha Whitehill, a.k.a. Miss Pop, one of the top nail artists in the biz, to give us her insider advice on which specific polish tips to heed and which ones to avoid entirely. Keep reading to unlock a dozen lacquer lapses that are often overlooked—and how to correct them, stat.

A lot of people think a basecoat is unnecessary or prefer to use one product for both the base and topcoat. No bueno! The fact is you can extend the wear of your manicure by at least a couple of days just by adding that first proper layer. "It's like primer to foundation, " says Miss Pop. "Your natural nail has oils in it that prevent nail polish from adhering well. You need to seal out the oils first with a basecoat before you apply a color." She recommends the "It's a splurge, but I get 10 to 12 days of wear with it, and I work with my hands, " she explains. Other picks: CND Stickey Base Coat, and Orly Bonder Rubberized Basecoat. "Also, topcoat as a basecoat doesn't work because it's thicker, it takes longer to dry, and it doesn't have the properties that a basecoat does to properly lock out the oils in your natural nails, " she adds.

Mistake No. 2: Cutting your cuticles.

We know you've probably heard it countless times before, but Miss Pop says this mistake is a cardinal sin. "It's a health risk because you're basically giving yourself open cuts on your fingers, which have a huge potential for getting infected, " she explains. "Also, when you cut cuticles, they get gill-y and flaky when they grow back, which really never looks pretty." If you are one who likes nipping for aesthetic reasons, Miss Pop advises just sticking with pushing them back. "You can be aggressive about that, too, and do it once a week, " she confirms. "Just use some cuticle remover or softener, and push them back with an orange stick, which forms a smooth barrier. If you don't have cuticle remover, just use the orange stick after the shower when your skin is already softened. But your body is supposed to have cuticles, so please keep them intact!"

Mistake No. 3: Not washing your tools.

Washing tools—including clippers, files, buffers, and orange sticks—regularly with soap and water is a must to prevent contamination. "Never put your tools in a sealed bag, because it just allows the bacteria to fester, " warns Miss Pop. "Every time you use your tools, just sanitize them with antibacterial soap or Barbicide.

Mistake No. 4: Using the jet chairs.

Sitting in a massage chair while you get a pedicure can be supremely relaxing, but those jet basins that always come with those relaxing seats are dangerous. "You can't clean the jets properly, so bacteria can collect in there very easily, " Miss Pop cautions. Ergo, dirty jets mean dirty water! And those germs can majorly corrupt your foot health. "Always just go for the classic bowl when getting a pedicure."

Mistake No. 5: Using Q-tips to clean up your mistakes.

It's all too easy for the cotton fuzzies on a Q-tip to get caught in your polish and disrupt your mani. "Q-tips are just a nightmare, " says Miss Pop. Instead, she advises using an old makeup brush for more precise touch-ups. "If you get a little paint on the skin around your nail, it's no great tragedy, " she says. "Just dip a flat makeup brush into nail-polish remover and clean up the smudge immediately while the paint is still wet so it's easier to remove. I also like filbert-head brushes that you can get at an art-supply store. Otherwise, you can always just push the polish right off when you're in the shower."

Mistake No. 6: Applying thick coats of paint.

Generous painters, beware: Globbing on polish is a surefire way to get smudges and nicks in your handiwork since it takes so much longer for the paint to dry. "It's always better to apply three or four thin coats of polish than two thick and gloppy coats, " confirms Miss Pop. "Using thin coats is how the paint dries faster. Polish is just not formulated to dry well when the coat is too thick." On the other hand, that rule can bend a little when it comes to topcoats. "Topcoats are more forgiving when applied thickly and usually don't take too long to dry, no matter what, but heavy layers still can make topcoats get very bubbly, " she says. "It must have something to do with the pigment in the colored polishes that makes them take longer to dry."

Mistake No. 7: Shaking your nail-polish bottle.

Speaking of bubbles—that's what happens when you shake your bottle. "It traps the air inside, which creates those tiny pockets, " Miss Pop explains. "Bubbles can also form when you shove the brush back in the bottle, so never pump the brush in and out of the neck. Always just roll a bottle in your hands like you're rolling out playdough."

Mistake No. 8: Painting your nails in a hot or humid area.

I always say, 'Never do your nails in a thunderstorm, '" says Miss Pop. "It has to be dry when you do your nails because too much heat or humidity also prevents the polish itself from drying." Instead, always apply polish in an arid and cool place.