KARIN ARMBRUSTER: From nubs to nails - My journey into the world of nail art

I've never, ever had nice nails. Biting them was a fierce habit I couldn't get rid of no matter how hard I tried. I rarely used nail polish since I wanted to hide my jagged, sore fingertips as much as possible.

Filing those edges was not an option, as I hated (and still can't stand) the sound and feeling of a file. It gave me goosebumps and made my teeth grind.

But then I had a revelation.

About one year ago, I painted my nails with a clear coat and noticed I stopped biting. If stressed, I would pick or scratch at the polish instead. After a few weeks, I stopped picking. My nails had grown! It was time to pick out some new polish.

Of course I knew of all the drug store brands, but the brand called Essie caught my eye one day at Meijer. I had never heard of it, but the bottles and colors were inviting. It was difficult for me to justify spending more than a few dollars on a bottle of nail polish, but I did learn something very valuable in the industry: you get what you pay for.

If you want your polish to last longer, I would recommend purchasing a polish for no less than $5. Personally, unless it is a rare polish brand or something I really, really want that I cannot find in the United States, I don't spend more than $10 per bottle. Sorry, Butter London and Deborah Lippmann, you won't get my money unless I find you on the clearance rack.

I began finding nail art blogs online and learned a few tricks of the trade and how vast the world of manicures is. Nail art is emerging from an underground hobby to a quickly growing fad, thanks to sites like Pinterest, tutorials on YouTube and quality independent polish makers on Etsy.

I learned there are two things that should not be overlooked when in need of a long-lasting manicure: a base coat and top coat (I use Beauty Secrets Base Coat and Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat, both found online and at Sally's Beauty Supply). Believe me, it makes a difference, especially if you're using your fingers a lot during the day to type, perform manual labor or wash dishes. Both help to reduce chipping and peeling, and a top coat adds a finished shine. Also, instead of the brightly colored polish remover found on store shelves, opt for 100 percent acetone. This will leave nail beds incredibly clean and free of natural oils for you to begin again. It makes clean-up a lot easier, too.

Detailed or intricate manicures might look intimidating, but tools most people already have in their home work perfectly. For example, using a toothpick or end of a sewing pin can be used to create dots, thin strips of tape can help create straight lines or zig-zags, sponges can be used to create blended gradients and straws can make splatter prints. Crafters that have extra studs, rhinestones and charms can add something special to each manicure. Using an old makeup brush dipped in acetone can remove excess polish mistakes around your cuticles.

I've also embraced the trend of nail stamping, but that's another story!

In terms of nail art, there is no limit to the number of designs you can make! Be creative, don't be afraid to try something new and most of all, have fun.

Some of my suggestions:

My Go-To Polish Brands:

  • Zoya
  • OPI
  • China Glaze
  • A England
  • Essie

Blogs You Can Follow:

  • Chalkboard Nails
  • The Nailasaurus
  • Nailed It
  • The Polished Perfectionist

Online Nail Polish and Accessory Stores:

  • Bundle Monster
  • Born Pretty
  • Mash Nails
  • Etsy