By Samantha Faragalli
Updated Oct 27, 2015 @ 10:00 am
Spilled Nail Polish
Credit: Christine Blackburne

Let’s face it: Painting our own nails is no easy feat—and the result is usually a messy manicure and a frustrated you. Believe it or not, the reason behind your not-so-polished (pardon the pun) mani isn’t just your unsteady hand. To decode the mistakes you’re probably making while painting your nails, we chatted with Deborah Lippmann. The celebrity and fashion manicurist weighs in on how to properly fix these bad habits to achieve a show-stopping mani—no salon visit necessary.

The mistake: Rushed, heavy-handed application.

How to fix it: When painting your nails, it’s important to allot an ample amount of time to do the job correctly. It’s absolutely crucial to allow the base coat, first polish application, second polish application and top coat dry completely before moving on to the next step. “The solvents in the polish need no less than two minutes to evaporate and if you actually watch the nail for that period, you'll see it go from having a really wet look to a dried-down, glassy look, which means the solvents are gone,” Lippmann says. “When you paint on your next coat before the layer is fully dry, you get peeling in sheets.”

The mistake: Mixing up cuticle oils and cuticle removers.

How to fix it: When it comes to cuticle oils versus cuticle removers, there are differences to consider. “First, you must apply an exfoliating cuticle treatment and massage it into the cuticles and push back gently,” Lippmann says. “Not only does this help to gently push the cuticle back from the nail plate, but it also helps get rid of dead skin cells safely and effectively.” However, cuticle oils serve a different function. According to Lippmann, cuticle oils should be used afterward and rubbed onto the base of each nail for nourishment.

The mistake: Assuming that you just need a top coat and no base coat.

How to fix it: To ensure a long-lasting manicure, a base coat is always an essential. “It is always important to use a base coat like my new All About That Base CC Base Coat ($20; so that it adheres to nails, protects them and prevents staining.”

The mistake: Pressing the brush all the way to the cuticle before pulling down.

How to fix it: There’s nothing more irritating then when the nail polish manages to get everywhere but your actual nail. “To prevent getting polish on your skin, place the brush down 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch from the nail plate so the color doesn’t flow out of the brush toward the cuticle,” Lippmann suggests.

The mistake: Painting thicker coats of polish to get the color as it appears in the bottle in one application

How to fix it: When painting your nails, it’s ideal to make each layer very thin. “Painting thick layers actually deters the whole process and has a reverse effect,” Lippmann says. “You end up over-polishing your nails, slowing down the entire application process and making them more prone to chipping and not drying properly.”