1. Take a bit of cuticle oil of petroleum jelly with a cotton swab and apply it around the skin surrounding the nail. If you do get a wayward smear, you’ll be able to wipe it.
2. Roll the bottle of varnish between your palms. This will distribute pigments evenly without inviting the bubbles you’d get from shaking it up.
3. Swipe on a thin base coat. How evenly you do this will dictate the smoothness of the other layers. “The base coat anchors the polish to your nail, and wherever you put your base coat, the polish will follow,” says Roxanne Valinoti, education training manager for Creative Nail Design.
4. Don’t hold your brush perpendicular to your nail since that can encourage streaks. “If you flatten your brush so that it’s parallel to your nail, you’ll get a smoother application,” explains Valinoti.
5. Take your time. Wait two minutes between every layer—base coat, two rounds of colour and topcoat—and keep them thin. If you’re impatien or heavy-handed, you could wind up with bubbles caused by a not-quite-dry layer. “The bubbles—solvents releasing into the air—are trapped under the ‘blanket’ of the second coat,” explains Sally Hansen nail expert Dana Caruso.