Since I can remember, painting my nails has always been something I loved. I remember painting my nails as a child with the peel-off polish. Then as I grew up I tried & used everything: normal nail polish, Lee Press-On nails, Sharpie markers (I know you did that too), and acrylic nails. I had acrylic nails for at least 7 years straight and they were long, super long about an inch or so from the top of my finger. Yeah, I was that girl. However, once I got rid of my acrylic nails I stuck with normal polish. I went back to acrylics once for a few months then gave them up for good. It's been eau-naturale ever since. I have tried almost every nail product under the sun in hopes of finding that long lasting chip-free manicure. I hate to break it to you, it doesn't exist. Chips are inevitable but there are products that can help prolong your mani and I'm sharing what has worked for me.
At the minimum, I paint my nails twice a week. Personally, I can't stand it when my nails are not painted. I know it seems like a lot but I've been doing it for so long that I've got my routine down. Basically it goes something like this:
Apply cuticle oil/cream & leave it on nails for 10 minutes
File, buff, push back cuticles and then wash hands
Apply base coats
Paint nails with color
Apply top coat
Most of the time I do steps 1 through 3 earlier in the day or the night before. But in the end I can roll through this entire routine in 20-30 minutes without letting the coats dry in between. I've gotten pretty quick and know what works for me.
Prep the Nails
Nail Polish Remover Pads: I use the Target Up & Up brand advanced formula nail polish remover pads (their Cutex version) when I can I find them, which is rare. So I always buy multiple boxes. I prefer the advanced formula because it works really fast to remove the nail polish and does a good job on removing glitter polishes. I don't know how I managed before nail polish remover pads...they simply are genius!
Crystal Nail File: I made the switch to a crystal file about 5 years ago and have never looked back. Those blue and pink sandpaper files are THE WORST for your nails. Even the finest of files still causes breaks and splits. A crystal file helps seal the layers and edges of your nails, which in the long run helps prevent chips.
Buffing Block: I quickly buff this over my nails - maybe one stroke on each nail. Just to smooth out the edges and tips. This helps to ensure you have an even working surface.
Cuticle WoodStick: I know I'm old school using a wooden cuticle stick. I prefer them over the metal cuticle tools because they are more gentle. I don't trim or cut my cuticles and you shouldn't either. The cuticles are meant to protect your nails. Cutting them back leaves you susceptible to bacteria and fungis. No Thank You. The woodstick is perfect to push cuticles back & it comes in handy for any nail polish clean up around your nails.
Bliss Kiss Cuticle Oil (not pictured): I've been using this cuticle moisturizing oil for the last year and I really love it. It's comes in a pen form and also a little dropper bottle. I have both & keep the pen version in my makeup bag. I've tried others but I like this one the best. I can tell a difference in my cuticles when I haven't used it as they will start to look dry and brittle. This oil is also great to use after you've painted your nails because it can help prevent minor nicks.
Burt's Bee's Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream (not pictured): This is basically like butter for your cuticles. I try to be super diligent and use this every night but sometimes I forget. I also love using this in the winter months when my skin and nails are more prone to that extra winter dryness. It really softens my cuticles and keeps the skin around the edges of my nails not looking so ratchet.
OPI Chip Skip: The purpose of this product is to remove any surface oils or moisture so your nail polish can really adhere to your nail bed. I use this first, on fresh, dry, clean nails. It's not a polish so you just brush it on your nails and as it's soaking up any oil residue it also evaporates.
CND Stickey Base Coat: Despite this product looking green, it goes on basically clear. I use this base coat every time I polish my nails. As the name states, it's sticky so it has a tacky finish that helps anchor the polish to the nail. I notice a significant difference in the longevity of my manicure if I don't use this base coat. Don't let this base coat dry completely because it will lose it's stickyness. I apply the base coat to all ten nails, wait about ten seconds, then apply my polish.
Perfect Formula Manicure Booster: This is my holy grail top coat. It's provides a perfect high gloss finish, doesn't cause my nail polish to shrink, and reduces chips. For me, this top coat definitely extends the life of my mani. I go through these like water.
Chanel Dry & Shine Nail Lacquer: I love this topcoat as a mani refresher. It's the perfect mid-week mani pick me up to restore shine. The high gloss shine it delivers is pretty incredible. Unfortunately, for me it didn't fair well as a normal use top coat & couldn't hold up to the daily abuse my nails get.
CND Speedy Top Coat (not pictured): I only use this if I know I'm planning on changing my nail color the next day or two. I've been known to change my polish up to 3 times in a week & paint them a specific color for an outing. (#DontJudge) So this is great for that because the consistency is thinner than Perfect Formula and it drys quickly. I don't like to waste my good stuff on what I would call a 'temporary manicure'.
A quick side note on top coats...I get a lot of questions on whether I have used Seche Vite Top Coat. If you're not familiar with it, it's one the most popular top coats around as it's used in salons and bragged about all over the nail blogs because of how fast it drys your polish. I don't use it because I don't like it. I hated the thick consistency and over time it continues to get thicker and gooey. So much so they make a special thinner for it. On top of that & the main reason I don't use it or like it is because it shrinks the polish underneath. Meaning it pulls your nail polish inward from the edges & you have a line of demarcation. No thank you.
Manicure Tips & Tricks
If you're doing any type of housework or cleaning that involves household cleaners, wear gloves. That also goes for washing the dishes. Water is a manicures enemy.
Shaking your polish bottles causes bubbles so don't do it. Instead roll the bottle between the palm of your hands.
Keep your nails trimmed short and if you have an edge that has been broken or split, file it down immediately and apply top coat to seal the polish.
Reapplying a top coat mid-week will give your manicure some new life.
Be consistent with your cuticle care & keep them moisturized. After all, live, active nail growth happens here and remember it takes time.
If you get polish on your cuticle or anywhere around the skin of your nails, use a small brush dipped in nail polish remover to wipe it away. You can also wrap a small piece of cotton around the end of your cuticle woodstick if you don't have a brush to use.
Practice. Practice. Practice. The more you paint your nails the more steady your hand will be. Of course your dominant hand will be easiest but your non-dominant hand will fall in line quickly enough.
Lastly, for all my gun girls use a speed loader when loading ammo into your magazine. That seems to be the area when working with my gun that chips my nails the most. And if you're cleaning your gun wear gloves. You should be wearing gloves to clean your gun anyway. But if you don't then those gun oils & solvents will be harsh on your nails & polish.
In the end you have to find what works for you. If you haven't tried any of these products, give them a go and see how they work for you. Also keep in mind that what works for me may not necessarily work for you as everyone's nail chemistry is different.