I'm somewhat of a purist when it comes to removers. There are lots of different kinds and I do make use of many of them but my absolute favorite remover is regular 100% pure acetone. It's super effective and it works really quick.
The bottle on the left is from Sally Beauty Supply, the bottle in the middle is from Harmon Discount Beauty and the tub is from Wal-Mart. Both the green bottle and the tub list their ingredients as "Acetone, Denatonium Benzoate" while the Sally bottle is simply "Acetone". From what I've read, denatonium benzoate is an inactive ingredient used to discourage ingesting the product. I'm not going to pretend I know anymore than that on the topic!
I use the green Harmon bottle and refill it with the Sally's acetone because the Harmon bottle doesn't have a childproof cap, so it is just easier to remove. Sally's acetone is available in larger quantities and therefore cheaper in "bulk" which is why I purchase it over smaller bottles of the Harmon brand acetone. They're the same from what I can tell.
What isn't the same, however, is the Onyx remover. Regardless if the ingredients are listed as the same, the Onyx remover has some sort of moisturizing agent in it or something. If I soak a cotton round in regular pure acetone, and swipe it on my skin, my skin turns white from drying out. If I do the same with the Onyx acetone, my skin is actually MORE moisturized than before using it. The tub has little plastic scrubbies on the inside, so you have to stick your whole finger in to use it as directed. The Onyx doesn't dry out my skin yet it works pretty well.
Additionally, and I'd love some feedback from anyone who has experienced the same thing, upon refilling the tub with the Sally acetone, the sides started to break apart (the inside, not the actual container). I don't know if i was too aggressive with it, or what but the pink liner on the inside has broken and cracked in multiple places. That leads me to believe that the actual pure acetone I've refilled it with has weakened the plastic inside; just a theory though.
I also keep some regular nail polish remover (also with acetone) around. I'll be honest, I use this more for removing glue from price tag stickers more than its intended purpose. It's good to have in case pure acetone is too strong for someone you're doing a manicure for, non-acetone remover is good for spills on surfaces with finicky finishes.
I've heard this from multiple sources and I think it's worth mentioning. Despite the harshness of pure acetone, it's actually better to use than regular diluted remover. Because it's so powerful, it spends less time in contact with your skin and nails. With acetone you do a few quick swipes, with a weak remover you're holding it onto your fingers waiting for it to work.
If you skin is angry at you for using too much acetone, I suggest creating some homemade Zoya Remove +. It's basically pure acetone mixed with some glycerin, a recipe can be found HERE. It's much more gentle but I don't use it much because it feels filmy on my hands. I mainly use this when swatching multiple times in a day so I don't kill my hands.
Note: My dad, the chemical engineer, absolutely hates that I have so much acetone in the house. IT IS HIGHLY FLAMMABLE. The fumes are also highly flammable. He swears I'm going to blow up the house. Be cautious when using pure acetone; do not use around open flames, candles or smoke around it.
If you paint your nails often, you remove your polish often, too. Acetone and other removers dry your skin out so it is important to put back what it takes out. I've got an arsenal of moisturizers so I am going to share with you my favorites.
1. Lush Lemony Flutter - This stuff really is all it's cracked up to be. It is super hydrating and has staying power; it doesn't absorb instantly. It has a pleasant (to me) lemon scent. The little 1.5oz tub was around $15 but I've had it since September and haven't even made a dent in it yet. It does have an expiration date on it however, which I'm not too crazy about but overall I think it is worth it. If you have a nail buddy you could go halfsies on it and decant half.
When I first bought it, the name led me to believe it would have the consistency of whipped butter or something, but it doesn't. It is dense and waxy almost, not waxy like Burt's Bees Cuticle Creme (which I no longer use because I prefer Lemony Flutter by a landslide) Some may find it a little bit greasy, but if you don't want that you could use any type of lotion which will absorb much quicker.
2. China Glaze Cuticle Oil - I suppose this could be a fill-in-the-blank for any type of cuticle oil, I just think it's important to own at least one. I use it for taking pictures as opposed to regular application. I wash it off before photographing (of course) and it gives my cuticles a little bit more life and moisture instantly. I always make sure to let it sit a little before washing it off, too. I know some people use it regularly but I find the extra step of washing it off a bit of a pain. As far as the China Glaze Oil goes, they're scented (one peppermint, the other 'holiday berry') I don't mind the scents, they're subtle.
3. Lotion - For me, the brand isn't that important. Using any type of moisturizing lotion is helpful. The Walgreens one is cheap at 99 cents while I think the Aveeno may have been a couple of bucks more. Both affordable and effective. Lotion is important especially in the winter. I wash my hands constantly and soap dries them out. Having cracked skin can lead to infections just as any other open wounds can.
4. Hand Sanitizer - If you're using this, the lotion is again important. I use it to cut the grease that Lemony Flutter sometimes leaves behind. I carry these as well as lotion in my purse to make sure my hands don't dry out but stay clean at the same time.
I realize that I don't have the best routine or skin but what I do works for me. My normal regime for swatching goes as follows (this is after my nails are painted and I'm ready to photograph):
1. Lemony Flutter
2. Cuticle Oil, I rub it in and let it sit for a few minutes.
3. I wash my hands with Dawn to cut the oil.
4. Some more Lemony Flutter.
5. Hand Sanitizer
When I'm not taking pictures, I use Lemony Flutter + Hand Sanitizer + Lotion, sometimes just the Lemony Flutter. If you maintain a moisturizing regime, then it's easier to manage and feels like less of a "chore".
iii. Base Coats & Top Coats
I'll begin with base coats. They're incredibly important but if you've never used one, you won't know what you're missing. For a while I didn't use one but a good base coat sets the stage for a good manicure. They create an even foundation for your nail polish to build on. There are more brands of base coats than I could ever even name but these are the ones I've used and like. Not every base coat I use is pictures; just the ones I found effective.
-Orly Nail Armor
-NailTek Foundation II
I like the Nail Armor and NailTek for its ridge fillers. I don't always need that because I do buff from time to time which helps even out the nail but too much buffing will make them weak, so be mindful of that. Both of these leave a matte finish on your nails, but Nail Armor has little fibers in it.
CND leaves a shiny finish on your nails and I've personally noticed once it gets down to about where the photo is showing, the color concentrates and *is* noticeable on your bare nail. It took me a lot of trial and error to find base coats I like, and right now my preference is CND Stickey, but that could change. Prepping the nail by swiping it over with acetone or alcohol helps adhere the base coats better as it removes your natural oils.
-Out the Door 2 fl oz
-Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Anti-Chip
-Out the Door .5 fl oz
-NYC Grand Central Station
At this point, as you can see, Out the Door is my favorite quick try top coat; I have lots of it. It used to be the Sally Hansen until I had two bottles that cause bubbling, which was strange because I used it for a long time and then randomly it stopped agreeing with me. I still use it from time to time without much trouble.
I'm sure you've all heard about Seche Vite and might be wondering why isn't on my list. I tried it, and it's just OK for me. I don't like that you have to apply it on WET nail polish (otherwise it causes the polish to "shrink" and pull away from the tips of your nails). I do my nails at a snails pace and like being able to put topcoat on when I'm ready for it. I find lots of other quick dry top coats to be just as shiny without the inconvenience or price. For example, the 2 fl. oz. bottle of OTD was only $6 online. The bottom line for me on OTD is it's cheap, effective, super quick drying and plenty shiny.
The NYC top coat isn't really even a top coat but works well as one. It's just a clear polish that is of a quick dry line but it's the cheapest you can get ($2) and works well, dries quick and supposedly (I haven't tested this out yet) doesn't kill holos! A lot of holos you can't wear top coats on because it dramatically dulls their effect.
A good top coat is important as it is the outermost layer of your manicure, so it needs to hold up against whatever you're going to put it through. There are tons available, I get OTD from Harmons or online but many other quality ones are available literally everywhere. It's going to take you a while to find your perfect combination, I'm still not sure if I have. I think OTD will be my topcoat of choice and I do love the CND but I'm convinced there has got to be better out there!