The key is to try to have everything to hand (no pun intended!) so you won't have to keep getting up and down. That will be particularly important once you get your cuticles softened. And the best time to trim them is when they are soft from soaking.
have the right tools for your manicure
Smallish bowl of fairly hot water
Cuticle cream (or anything you have that is too heavy for your face)
Four-way file, ridge file, smoother, buffer
Ridge filler or base coat
Coloured nail lacquer
Start the manicure process by soaking your nails
Apply a small blob of cuticle cream to the base of the nail bed. This is where the join is between your finger and your fingernail. You can also use any cream that is too heavy for your face - almost anything will do! Rub it in slightly, leaving the cream visible, and then stick your fingertips into the bowl of hot water. You are going to need to sit like this for about 10 minutes. If you were having a professional manicure, they would push back the cuticles on one hand while the other was softening, but unless you have a third hand, you will just have to be patient.
Once the cuticles have plumped up and softened, use the orange stick to push them back. The orange stick has a bevel that will also lift the skin up. What you are trying to do is to separate the cuticle from the nail, so you can snip them away.
Cut your cuticles
Now that the cuticle has been softened and lifted, you can very carefully cut them away. Proceed with caution; a cuticle nipper is very sharp so there is no pulling at the skin. If you do snip into the skin, you will have a very red nail bed. It will also start peeling within a few days, making your manicure look ragged and in need of a retouch. As you snip, try not to pull up. You want to make the cut clean. This is the most difficult part of the job, but once done, you are already in the home stretch.
Shape the nail
Nail shape trends change, but the most common is a tapered nail - one that is gently rounded and comes to a graceful point. If you are in doubt as to what shape will be the best for you, try to match the shape of the tip to the shape of the nail bed.
If there is not much nail to be removed, you should do all of the work with a nail file. If you need a major reshape, give yourself a break and use clippers. Use an emery board rather than a metal file. Metal files will always have a good grate, but it weakens and burns the nail. Diamond files are an exception, but you still need to be really careful. Don't rub back and forth as though you are sawing a log, but use a directional stroke, moving repeatedly in the same direction.
Time to deal with the ridges
Your nails will not be smooth and even, but there are two options for dealing with ridges. First, ridge files are inexpensive and easy to find from a chemist. A four-way file is marked with the function of each part: nail file, ridge remover, smoother and buffer. Use the ridge file to gently pull over the tops of the nail to smooth away the ridges. Don't do more than you need or you will weaken the nail. You also don't want to do it too quickly or there will be a build up of heat.
After reducing the ridges, use the smoothing part of the file to finish the job. If you want a bare nail you can give it a quick buff and be finished. This is especially nice for blokes because it will be a little shiny without looking as though you are wearing varnish.
The other option is to use a ridge-filling base coat. This will not only save you time, but it will also make your coloured nail lacquer longer wearing. If you are a French manicure-lover, you will only have to touch up the tips.
pick your nail colour
Finally, the fun bit. Using a fab nail colour is one of the fastest ways to give yourself a makeover!
To apply, load the brush and wipe off excess product. It is usually best to apply a centre stroke first and then do either side. If you have very short nails, leave a little bit of space on the sides and it will give the illusion of a slightly longer nail. If you don't have a particularly steady hand, have some toothpicks and cotton wool to hand. Wrap a little bit of cotton around the point of a toothpick, dip into nail lacquer remover and use that to touch up little boo-boos. Try to get the job done with as few strokes as you can, otherwise you are going to end up with a streaky finish. You don't have to worry quite so much about the first coat, but on the second coat it is important to work efficiently. If you want to extend the life of your manicure, apply a coat of topcoat daily to keep the shine fresh.
Remember when we were talking about ridge filling bases? These give an excellent first colour for a French manicure. Dior has a great range of ridge-filling bases in a broad spectrum of tones. You should aim to get close to the colour of your own nail bed.
The trickiest part of a French manicure is applying the white tip, but I have a trick for you. Do you know those little hole reinforcements from the stationery store? Tear one in half and stick it to the nail - the curve of the reinforcement is a superb guide that will work like a stencil. Paint the white on, and then peel off the little sticker.
Solving other nail problems
Splitting nails - Mavala Scientifique bonds the layers of the nail together. Be careful to keep it only on the tip, otherwise the product will bond the nail to the nail bed and you will have an ugly bump for the next six months!
Flexible nails - Develop 10 is applied daily, like a topcoat, to harden and strengthen even the softest of nails. For your local stockist call 01543 482 505
Nothing stays on - Apply a base before you put on colour. It seems like an extra step but it really does work. It will also keep the colour from staining your nails. Try OPI Nail Envy. I have seen this product keep nail colours that have notoriously short wearing time on for a week. OPI is available on mail order - 020 8868 3400
Weak nails? Give your nails a rest. It seems simple, but your nails need time to breathe. If you nearly always wear colour, leave at least one weekend day without it.