5 Ways To Make Your Nail Color Last Longer

In college, my roommate Jenna and I had a huge bin of nail polish – everything from metallic blues and greens to the new-and-exciting Vamp (based on that, let’s see if you can figure out about when I went to college!) With a considerable amount of time on our hands, we painted our nails a different color almost every day, switching out shades to match a mood, the weather or something we saw in the magazines that littered our dorm room’s floor.

Just a few short years later, I became a mom – and eventually I stopped wearing nail polish almost completely. I no longer had the time available to swap out my color every two or three days, and with all the activity my hands were seeing with diaper changes and hand washing, any color I applied looked chippy and awful within twenty-four hours (often less.)  Recently I had lunch with a friend after returning home from a conference, where I’d gotten a manicure, and she told me in surprise that it was the first time she’d EVER seen polish on my nails.

nail color, last longer, nail polish

As it happens I like the way my nails look without polish, but sometimes it’s fun to show off a bright color or pale pink for a special occasion or just because I’m in the mood. So recently I began experimenting with different strategies to get the color to last and by following these steps, have actually been able to keep a (regular, non-gel) manicure fresh for up to a week.

Here’s how I make my nail color last longer:

1. Paint short nails.In my world, this is probably the number-one necessity for keeping a manicure chip-free. Between typing, walking dogs and prying the cap off the milk bottle, my fingers see a lot of action. Cutting nails short goes a long way to protect color. 

I have heard from some nail professionals that nail tips can be weaker and more prone to splitting after they are trimmed, which makes sense. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that my nail color does seem to last longer when it’s applied a day or two after trimming my nails. Filing nails with a soft emery board can help buff freshly-cut nail edges and gently get them into the right shape. Just make sure to gently file in only one direction.

2. Prep nails. Polish will last longer when applied to a clean, dry, gently buffed nail surface. If cuticles are ragged, use a cuticle softener and push them back with an orange stick very gently. (Do not, oh please do not clip your cuticles!) You don’t want any oils or moisturizers on your nails when you apply your base coat, so give your fingernails a quick once-over with a bit of nail polish remover before applying your base coat. Use a thin layer of base, and apply over the edges of your fingernails and into the undersides to provide a little extra strength and protection. 

3. Use a shimmery color. I’ve always believed, without proof, that shimmery colors last longer. So I Googled it and found that while some nail professionals believe this, others deny it wholeheartedly. I guess the jury is still out on whether this is true or a myth, but I will say I’ve always had better luck with shimmery or glittery polishes. It’s also possible they are just more forgiving and hide mistakes better, but same end result, right?

Whatever kind of polish you use, apply sparingly. Polish that’s applied too thickly tends to become gloppy, pools in the edges of nail beds and takes forever to dry. Apply two coats of color, allowing polish to dry for a few minutes in between, and then add a fast-drying top coat.

Essie coral nail color

I am in love with all of Essie’s coral polishes.

4. Give yourself plenty of dry time.Sure, the manicurist lets you go out into the world after the ten-minute timer dings, and most sources say that nail polish should be completely dry within two hours. But I’ve noticed that my color lasts far longer when I avoid doing much with my hands for many hours – even a whole day if possible – after applying color.

Sometimes, if I have extra time on my hands, I’ll paint my four fingers on each hand first, let them dry somewhat, and then do the thumbs. That way I’m not walking around with ten wet nails (I am a klutz, and it’s very hard for me to get through a day without dinging at least one freshly-painted nail if I don’t have a drier nail to lean on.)

By the time I wake up on the day after having my nails painted they feel different: like they are set and ready to take on more of what life dishes out. As long as I make it through that first day, the manicure usually lasts for a while.

Perhaps there is a difference between “dry to the touch” and “dry and set?” I don’t know, but I know it works for me.

5. Maintain.This is probably the biggest key to a long-lasting manicure and the one that’s the biggest issue for busy moms. But here are a few tips:

  • If you get a ding,you don’t necessarily have to start all over or give up. See if you can smooth the dent by gently rubbing it in one direction on your pants leg or shirt sleeve. If that doesn’t work, apply a small amount of nail polish remover on a cotton swab to thin the polish, and then go back over that spot with new color.
  • Moisturize.Keeping cuticles healthy and moisturized is very good for your manicure! And moisturized hands just look better. I keep a Burt’s Bees cuticle cream next to my bed, and after massaging it into my nail beds at night, I add a little regular lotion and work the excess into my hands. It’s very moisturizing and makes my skin look a lot better.
  • Protect.If you can find the time, adding a new top coat daily or every other day can help your color last longer. You can also tell everyone in your family that you don’t want to chip your manicure so you will be avoiding all housework and the opening of all lids for a few days. Hey, it’s worth a try.

After writing all this out, I realized something: ergh, it seems pretty complicated, huh? Especially since most of us can’t actually take a day off from life while waiting for our nail polish to harden.

That’s why I still only paint my nails a handful of times a year, and that’s fine with me. But it’s nice to know that if I do feel like brightening up my day with some bright-coral polish, I can get it to last longer than a few hours. (If I’m going to put in the effort of painting them, I might as well put in a little extra effort to make the color last, right?)

Most of the time? I wear my nails long and bare and get my color kick from my toenails, since my pedicures seem to last forever and a day no matter how sloppily I do them.

In either case, keeping hands and nails moisturized and healthy is the best beauty tip I can give. And that part really doesn’t take much time at all.

Do you regularly paint your nails? Do you have trouble with chipping or short-lived manicures? What works for you?

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