A Good Nail File - A good nail file is key to achieving a great nail shape. This is something that I really didn't learn until I started blogging. I used to use the little files that you get in a pack of 10 at the drugstore. Bad idea! Those files are far too course for natural nails and as a result I was constantly having split nails and peelies. Nail file grit is key. The lower the Grit number the courser the file. I am currently using this Tropical Shine File that I bought from Sally's for around $2. It is 400/600 Grit and works perfectly for my nails. If your nails are thin or damaged this grit may work for you as well. Another option for damage-prone nails are Glass Files. These have become very popular as of late. I have used glass nail files and while they do work I find it takes a really long time to shape and file the nail. Also in order to get a really great glass file (as opposed to the cheap ones that just have frosted glass glued onto them that stop working after a few filings) you have to spend a decent amount of money. The cheapest real glass nail file I have found is one sold at Sephora for $8.
Acetone - Acetone has gotten a bad rap. It's not as dangerous as some would have you believe if you use it properly (i.e; don't drink it or wash your face with it!). It is absorbed through the skin but the human body actually has acetone in it naturally so unless you're bathing in it you will be fine. It's a lifesaver when it comes to taking off polish quickly. If you are a glitter lover (and haven't jumped on the PVA Glue Base kick yet - which you should btw!) you will most definitely need acetone to take off your shinies. Just make sure you are not using it near an open flame because it is flammable! It can also be very drying so make sure that you wash your hands after using it and apply cuticle oil or a nice thick hand cream to put some moisture back into your hands and nails.
Cuticle Remover - I don't think I need to say this but I'll say it anyway just in case: DO NOT cut your cuticles!! Never never never! I know, it's tough and it's something that I myself was addicted to doing for quite sometime but it is bad for you cuticles and your nails. So just don't. Instead, use an orange stick to gently push back your cuticles and cuticle remover to remove any excess debris. It is a gentle way to remove the excess cuticle without damaging your nail bed or risking infection (which you do every time you cut your cuticles, btw). I use Orly Cutique Cuticle & Stain Remover. There are other cuticle removers that are really popular and people have told me work really well like Blue Cross. I bought this remover in a pinch and it works nicely. I have had the bottle for over six months and I still have tons left to use- a little goes a long way. What I like most about it is that it gets rid of any staining that you might have around your nails from polish. When taking off a vampy or black I like to rub a little of this along the sides of my nails and then scrape gently with an orange stick. It leaves my nails looking nice and clean.
Cuticle Oil/Balm/Hand Cream - I decided to count these as one since everyone has their own preference when it comes to keeping their cuticles moisturized. I actually use both. I have to. Swatching is hard on the nails and hands so I need all the moisture I can get. My routine starts when I remove my polish and use my cuticle remover. Once I have washed my hands I apply a little bit of California Mango Cuticle Oil to my cuticles and rub into the cuticle and the nail. My cuticle balm of choice is Sally Hansen Cuticle Eraser + Balm. This product is pretty "meh" as far as "erasing" cuticles but it works really nicely to keep my cuticles hydrated throughout the day. I work in an office and the air is always so dry so I like to apply this after washing my hands or when I think of it during my work day. I love that it is not oily or greasy and absorbs quickly.
I don't use anything fancy for my hand cream since my skin is actually really sensitive. I can't do fragrances or anything greasy. What actually works best for me is the Walgreens Moisture Recovery Lotion which is fragrance free and hypoallergenic. And it only costs .99! Can't beat that!
Clean-up Brush - This is what will give you the nice clean lines around the cuticle after painting your nails. You don't need an expensive brush for this. You can use a cheap angled makeup brush or nail square nail art brush. Whatever works best for you. I use an angled brush from my nail art brush set. Just dip into a little acetone and brush around the nail. You will also find that the more you practice applying your nail polish the less you need to use this at all. I don't actually do a ton of clean-up anymore unless I am doing nail art.
Base Coat - A must have if you want to not only protect your nail but make your polish stick. Top Coat helps protect against staining (though it won't stop all staining if you wear polish on a regular basis). Some people like a base coat that is also a strengthener. I'm not overly picky about my base coats. I switch them up constantly. Right now I am using Seche Vite Base Coat and it's okay. Nothing to write home about. When I feel my nails need a little extra TLC I use Nail Tek Foundation II. I used this for a month straight awhile back and it helped my nails tremendously.
Top Coat - Just as important as your base coat! Not wearing top coat is the equivalent of getting all dressed up to go out and then forgetting your shoes. There are soooo many top coats out there to choose from and I've tried a ton of them. I recently joked to a friend that I have come to realize that I can never marry a top coat. I can only date them. And they work differently for everyone. I have friends who swear by one top coat that cracks my polish. So that's a nope for me. The main thing that I need is a fast-drying top coat. I do a lot of nail art and I simply don't have time to wait for everything to dry. Seche Vite has been a frenemy to me for some time. Sometimes we get along. Sometimes we don't. Right now we are bickering a bit. SV is notorious for shrinkage and this is what it has been doing to me lately. Not cool SV. So I switched to NYC In A New York Minute which I had heard good things about. It does dry quickly. Just not as quickly as I need it to. So I have placed it among the top coat bone yard. Will probably be trying something new very soon.
I hope you all enjoyed this post and that it answered some of your questions! If you are looking for amazing nail care tips and tricks I highly recommend loodie loodie loodie! I basically learned everything I know from reading her amazing blog. She is a nail care genius!