How to Apply Nail Polish: A Guide to Applying Nail Polish Perfectly

May 30, 2023 7 min read

How to Apply Nail Polish: A Guide to Applying Nail Polish Perfectly

When it comes to nail care and grooming, nail polish application plays a significant role in enhancing the beauty of your hands. Whether you're heading to a special occasion, a social event, or simply want to add a touch of elegance to your everyday look, nail polish can be a great choice.

However, it's not just about applying any coat of color - achieving a professional finish is essential to truly elevate your manicure. Learn how to put on nail polish perfectly!


Step I: Preparing Your Nails

Before finding out how to put on nail polish, you need to prepare your nails properly. It not only ensures a smooth and even application but also promotes the longevity of your manicure. Here are the essential steps to follow for nail preparation:

Cleansing and Shaping Your Nails

Start by removing any dirt, oils, or residue from your nails. Gently scrub your nails with a nail brush or a soft toothbrush using mild soap and water. This step will ensure that the nail polish adheres properly to the nail bed.

After cleansing, it's time to shape your nails. Use a nail file to shape them according to your preference—be it square, round, or oval. File in one direction to prevent splitting or damage.

Various nail shapes

Removing Old Nail Polish

If you have any remnants of previous nail polish, it's crucial to remove them before applying a new coat. Use an acetone nail polish remover and cotton pads or a non-acetone remover if you have sensitive nails.

Gently rub the cotton pad soaked in the remover over each nail until the old polish is completely gone. Ensure you remove all traces to achieve a clean canvas for your new manicure.

Soaking and Pushing Back Cuticles

Soaking your nails in warm water for a few minutes can soften your cuticles, making them easier to work with. Fill a small bowl with warm water and add a few drops of gentle liquid soap. Place your fingertips in the bowl and let them soak for about five minutes.

After soaking, use a cuticle pusher or an orangewood stick wrapped in cotton to gently push back the cuticles. Be careful and avoid cutting or damaging the cuticles, as they serve as a protective barrier for your nails.

Smoothing the Nail Surface

To ensure a smooth and flawless finish, it's essential to smooth the surface of your nails. Use a buffer or a nail file with a buffing block to gently buff the surface of each nail. This will help to remove any ridges, bumps, or imperfections, creating a smooth canvas for the nail polish. However, be careful not to over-buff your nails, as excessive buffing can weaken them over time.

By following these preparatory steps, you set the foundation for a successful and professional-looking nail polish application.

Step II: Putting on the Base Coat

When you apply nail polish, the base coat application is an essential step that should never be skipped. The base coat acts as a foundation for your nail polish, providing several key benefits. First and foremost, it helps to create a smooth surface by filling in any ridges or imperfections on your nails.

Additionally, the base coat acts as a protective layer between your nails and the colored polish. It helps to prevent staining and discoloration, particularly with dark or highly pigmented shades. On top of that, the base coat enhances the longevity of your manicure.

Proper Base Coat Application Techniques

To apply the base coat correctly, follow these steps:

  1. Start with clean and prepped nails: Ensure your nails are free from any residue, oils, or moisture. Use a nail polish remover to remove any traces of old polish or oils, and follow the nail preparation steps outlined earlier.
  2. Apply a thin layer: Using the brush from the base coat polish, apply a thin and even layer of the product to each nail. Start from the base near the cuticle and gently stroke the brush toward the tip of the nail. Take care to cover the entire surface of the nail without getting the base coat on your cuticles or skin.
  3. Avoid flooding the cuticles: Pay attention to the amount of product on the brush to prevent the excess base coat from pooling around the cuticles. This can lead to a messy and uneven nail polish application.
  4. Let it dry: Allow the base coat to dry completely before moving on to the next step. This usually takes a couple of minutes, but refer to the product instructions for specific drying times.

Step III: Putting on the Actual Nail Polish

Once you've prepared your nails with a base coat, it's time to move on to the exciting part—applying the nail polish. The color you choose can have a significant impact on your overall look, so it's important to select an appropriate shade that complements your style and occasion.

A close-up of nail polish application

Proper Nail Polish Application Techniques

Follow these techniques if you want to achieve a professional-looking application:

  1. Apply thin layers: Just like with the base coat, it's best to apply thin layers of nail polish. Start with a small amount on the brush and swipe it gently across each nail, starting from the base near the cuticle and moving toward the tip. Avoid using too much polish on the brush, as it can lead to streaks, smudges, or pooling around the cuticles.
  2. Use three strokes: For each nail, use three strokes to achieve an even distribution of color. Start with one stroke in the center, followed by one on each side. This technique helps to evenly spread the polish and avoid excess pooling in any one area.
  3. Leave a small gap: Leave a small gap, about 1mm, between the polish and the cuticles. This prevents the polish from smudging onto the skin and gives a cleaner and more polished appearance.
  4. Cap the free edge: To extend the life of your manicure, "cap" the free edge of each nail by swiping the brush horizontally across the tip. This helps to seal the polish and prevent chipping.

Step IV: Putting on the Top Coat

After you've applied your desired nail polish color, it's time to seal and protect your manicure with a top coat. The top coat is an essential step in achieving a professional finish and extending the life of your nail polish.

Proper Top Coat Application Techniques

To apply the top coat effectively, follow these guidelines:

  1. Wait for the polish to dry: Make sure that your nail polish is completely dry before applying the top coat. Waiting for a few minutes after applying the color allows it to set and reduces the risk of smudging or smearing.
  2. Apply a thin and even layer: Using the brush from the top coat polish, apply a thin and even layer of the product to each nail. Start from the base near the cuticle and gently stroke the brush toward the tip of the nail, covering the entire surface. Avoid excessive brushing, as it can drag the color underneath and cause streaks or patches.
  3. Seal the edges and free edge: Pay attention to sealing the edges and free edge of each nail with the top coat. This helps to prevent water or other substances from seeping underneath the polish, which can cause lifting and chipping.
  4. Let it dry completely: Allow the top coat to dry fully before exposing your nails to any potential smudges or dents. Refer to the product instructions for recommended drying time, as it may vary depending on the formula.

Step V: Nail Polish Drying and Cleanup

Once you've completed the application of your top coat, it's important to allow your nail polish to dry properly to avoid smudges or dents. Additionally, there may be some cleanup required to achieve a clean and polished look.

Top Tips for Nail Polish Drying

To ensure your nail polish dries effectively, consider the following tips:

  • Patience is key: Nail polish typically takes some time to fully dry and harden. Be patient and avoid touching or putting pressure on your nails during the drying process. Rushing the drying time can lead to smudges or imperfections.
  • Air dry or use a quick-dry product: You can simply allow your nails to dry naturally in the open air. However, if you're looking for a quicker drying time, you can consider using a quick-dry product specifically designed to speed up the drying process. These products typically come in the form of sprays or drops and can help set your nail polish faster.
  • Cold-water method: If you're in a hurry and need your nail polish to dry quickly, you can try the cold-water method. Once you've allowed your nails to air dry for a few minutes, fill a bowl with cold water and some ice cubes. Submerge your nails in the cold water for a few minutes, as the cold temperature helps to expedite the drying process.


Nails with white polish


Top Tips for a Cleanup and Nail Care

Do you want to achieve a clean and polished look for your manicure? Follow these cleanup and nail care tips:

  1. Remove excess polish: After your nails have dried completely, examine them closely for any excess polish on the skin or cuticles. Take a cotton swab or a small brush dipped in nail polish remover, and carefully clean up any stray polish around the edges of your nails. This will give your manicure a neat and professional finish.
  2. Apply cuticle oil: Once you've cleaned up the excess polish, apply a small amount of cuticle oil or a moisturizing lotion to nourish and hydrate your cuticles. Gently massage the oil into your cuticles and surrounding skin. This will not only improve the appearance of your manicure but also promote healthy nail growth.
  3. Protect your nails during the drying process: While your nail polish is drying, be cautious to avoid activities that may cause smudges or dents. Try to refrain from using your hands excessively and avoid contact with water or any potentially damaging surfaces.


A set of nail tools lying next to flowers and a woman’s hands



Having perfectly painted nails is no easy feat! However, learning how to apply nail polish is within your reach with the right techniques and attention to detail. By following the steps outlined in our guide, you can elevate your manicures to a whole new level.

Remember, practice makes perfect. As you continue to experiment and refine your nail polish application skills, you'll become more confident in achieving a professional finish. So, gather your favorite nail polishes, follow this guide, and enjoy the satisfaction of perfectly polished nails that exude style and sophistication!

If it turns out you lack some of the essentials for applying nail polish, remember that you can always easily order nail tools, polishes, and more from our online store.