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Bold Summer Nails

When it comes to choosing a polish color, there's no such thing as toeing the line. Liven up your look and mood by going for the bold.

Come summer, the desire to kick off your shoes at the sight of green grass or a sandy beach is nearly Pavlovian. What makes this sensation even more luscious? Having a sunny shade of polish on those toes. "Seeing a pop of color when you look down at your nails puts an instant pep in your step," says celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann. And this season's new rainbow of shades is "vivid and rich but not neon," Lippmann says. "They're appropriate for work and an evening out." Still, if ballet-slipper pink is about as daring as your lacquer usually gets, just dip a toenail (or 10) into unabashed brights. It helps to think of your polish as a fun accessory rather than as a subdued standby. Plus, when you find the hue that's right for you (like classics? try coral!), you won't feel as if your feet stick out like, well, sore thumbs. Be sure to use our expert tips to extend the look of a DIY mani-pedi. If only it were this easy to make summer last longer, too.

Show off your sunny attitude with vibrant color. If you're feeling timid, start by testing the brighter waters on toes.

Nail an At-Home Manicure or Pedicure

You may think you know how to polish properly, but the rules have changed. Make these changes to your routine to achieve professional-looking manicures and pedicures that last.

Step 1: Soften Skin

Old Tip Soak hands and feet.
New Trick Soak feet only.
Placing your fingers in water will cause nails to retain moisture, which makes polish take longer to dry and leads to more chips and peeling, says Kimmie Kyees, a celebrity manicurist. Feet usually get ample time to dry (you don't use them to dig around in your purse), so soaking isn't an issue. Place them in warm water for 10 minutes to soften calluses, making it easier to scrub them away with a foot file or a pumice. Avoid callus shavers or graters; they can tear skin or take too much of it off, and they make calluses grow back faster.

Step 2: Cut and File

Old Tip Shape with clippers.
New Trick Clip nails straight across, and shape with file.
Clipping into the sides of nails at an angle can cause hangnails or ingrowns, since people often cut too much, Kyees says. Instead, clip straight across for length only; then use a file to shape and smooth corners. "File from the outer edges toward the center; sawing back and forth may cause weak nails to split or peel," Lippmann says.

Step 3: Care for cuticles

Old Tip Use a cuticle clipper.
New Trick Apply a cuticle and stain remover.
Nippers can be tricky -- it's common to accidentally take off the viable, protective skin instead of only the dead, dry parts. Cuticle solvents soften the hardened skin and gently loosen the excess that needs to go. Because they're meant to exfoliate, some may also lift stains and whiten yellow nails, which result from wearing dark polish without a base coat.

Step 4: Hydrate and Prep for Polish

Old Tip Apply lotion to hands before polishing.
New Trick Massage in moisturizer; clean nails with polish remover.
Hand cream smoothes skin and is key for protecting cuticles from peeling and looking ragged, Lippmann says. But any moisture left on the nail will prevent polish from fully gripping, making it more likely to peel later. Instead of washing hands to remove residue (which will rinse away freshly applied lotion), soak a cotton swab in remover and use it to wipe down the nail, Kyees says. Avoid cuticles so you don't dry them out.

Step 5: Polish

Old Tip Apply in two strokes.
New Trick Paint on in three strokes, and seal the edges.
Apply thin layers of base coat, polish, and top coat, using this technique: Hold the brush close to, but not touching, the cuticle in the center of your nail, and swipe to the end; then apply on each side. Next, lightly run the brush across the tip of the nail so the polish wraps over the edge. This will help protect it from chips, Kyees says. Apply two coats of lacquer. After top coat, let your nails dry for 15 minutes. "Polish dries from the top layer down, so even if the surface doesn't feel sticky, you can still get nicks," Kyees says.

Top Nail Tools

Clockwise from top:
Revlon What a Catch Nail Clipper With Catcher ($3, at drugstores) traps clippings as you cut, making it mess-free and a cinch to use. Massage Orly Cutique Cuticle and Stain Remover ($10, orlybeauty.com) into each nail; then push back your cuticles, and scrape away excess skin; rinse hands to finish. Use the medium-grit portion of Sally Hansen Ahead of the Curve 2 Step Sapphire File ($4.49, at drugstores) to get your ideal nail length and shape; then smooth edges with the fine-grit section.

On the Bright Side

Clockwise from left:
Deborah Lippmann in Girls Just Want to Have Fun ($16, lippmanncollection.com). Dior Vernis Nail Lacquer in Nirvana ($21, dior.com). Chanel Le Vernis Nail Colour in Mimosa ($25, chanel.com). Rimmel Lasting Finish Pro Nail Enamel in Sunset Orange ($4, at drugstores). Estee Lauder Pure Color Nail Lacquer in Purple Passion ($19, esteelauder.com). Essie Nail Color in Too Too Hot ($8, essie.com).

Martha's Picks

Martha often opts for color on her toes, but for hands, she prefers a natural look, which is better for television. She layers two lacquers -- Essie Limo Scene, right, for the first coat and Essie Adore-A-Ball ($8 each, essie.com) for the second -- to create a custom shade that suits her skin tone. The resulting color has more depth than one shade alone.

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