13. Use a specialized base coat.
Speaking of glitter, did you know there are now peel-off base coats that work wonders for removing tough-to-get-off textures? They’re particularly game-changing if you want a little sparkle on the weekends but can’t show up to the office on Monday with your nails looking like a Katy Perry concert. Try UNT Ready for Takeoff Peelable Base Coat.
14. If you’re in a rush, pick a sheer shade.
“If you’re running out the door, choose a sheer because it’s dummy-proof,” says Rita Remark, Essie global lead educator. “Just one coat works to give your nails new life.” (May we suggest the ever-popular Ballet Slippers? Queen Elizabeth is a fan; just saying.) But if you’re going with full-on color, make sure to stick to the basics: a base, two coats of polish, and a topcoat. Otherwise, you’re opening your quick job to ever faster chips and peels.
15. Treat your nail care like skin care.
Ever wonder how those women with long almond nails keep them from breaking? “It requires constant care and TLC,” says Remark. That obviously sounds like a lot of work, but think of it like this: “During your nighttime routine, add a step to take care of your nails. So when you’re done with your face, put on cuticle oil after that.” It helps to keep a bottle of it right next to your bed.
16. Take your time.
If you’re not waiting at least one or two minutes before applying another coat of color or a topcoat, you’re not giving the solvents in your polish enough time to evaporate (which, ultimately, is what dries your nails). Edwards describes it this way: “You know how there’s a difference when you cook something in the microwave versus when you cook it in the oven? It holds the flavor in more when you take the time to use the oven. The same can be said for your nails. The longer you wait between coats, the more it’ll keep your color locked in.” Use your iPhone timer if you really need help slowing yourself down.
17. Simple nails often make the biggest impact.
Talk to any pro artist and they’ll agree: You don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to make a statement. Naomi Gonzalez-Longstaff loves creamy pastels, especially soft pinks; Rose Velez-Miggins likes a mixture of pale shades and earthy tones that flatter all different skin tones; and Choi is all about androgynous colors (think greige and browns) with a squoval (squarish oval) tip. (See the best versions of all of them here.)
18. An edgier look is as easy as applying a topcoat.
“I love applying a matte topcoat to my designs lately,” says nail artist Betina Goldstein, who’s Insta-famous for her minimal—but stunning—take on nail art. “It adds a bit of edge and sophistication to any minimal design or polish. A simple black dot on a nail with a matte topcoat transforms what could be childish into a more chic look.”
19. Seal off your nails.
Nicks and chips tend to happen most at the tip of the nail, and yet the majority of us forget to give that part a little extra topcoat love. Try this trick; it acts like Saran Wrap for the polish on that area: “Take a topcoat and run a horizontal swipe of it over the bottom edge of your nail after you do your last coat,” says Edwards. Let it dry, and repeat one more time.
20. Don’t sleep on gems or crystals.
Can’t paint your nails? Don’t bother. Slick on a shiny topcoat like Sally Hansen’s Miracle Gel or a sheet nude like Chanel Ballerina, then use a silicone dotting tool or tweezers to place tiny embellishments on your nails. “Adding small pearls, gems, or accents is very easy, and you do not need to be very savvy with the paint brush,” says Goldstein. She recommends also using nail glue first to secure the stone, then capping it on top—along with a topcoat over that—to ensure it doesn’t get caught in your hair.
21. When in doubt, there are always press-ons.
Another option if you need to paint your nails in pinch: Skip the dry time and go straight for press-ons, like Kiss imPress. “The prep is the key,” says Edwards. “You want to make sure your nails are free from oil. So buff your nail, get rid of the shine, and push back your cuticles. If you have even the smallest amount of cuticle over your nails, it’ll continue to grow and can pop off the nail.” (See more of the best press-on nails, here).
Lindsay Schallon is a writer in New York. Follow her on Instagram @lindsayshcallon.