What You Need to Have (And Keep) Great Nails While At College

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As college gets closer and closer, I thought now would be a good time to go through what, in my opinion, the average college student needs to have (and keep) great nails during school. If you are a college student, or you have one in your life, you’re definitely going to need to read through this post! (Click any photo to enlarge it throughout this post.)
What You Need To Have Great Nails At College | Be Happy And Buy Polish

Must-Have Required Items

Beauty Secrets Nail Polish RemoverOf course, the first item on your list is going to have to be non-acetone nail polish remover, like Beauty Secrets Non Acetone Nail Polish Remover. A big bottle like this seems crazy, but it’ll come in handy throughout the year. Hand in hand with nail polish remover comes the next item on our list, cotton balls or pads. In a pinch, you can use the cotton from a tampon (yes, I have been this desperate!) but just keep a bag of cotton balls around!

tweezerman fingernail clippersI know there are some who prefer to file their nails down and not clip them, but I’m of the “clip then file” camp. My dad always had clippers on him when I was growing up, and so I just have always kept a pair of clippers close by my entire adult life (pockets, purses, makeup case, bathroom cabinet). I literally have a set of nail clippers in each room of my house, and in my car. That wCoopers Gotta Have It Glass File | Be Happy And Buy Polishay in case you need to clip a hangnail or if (heaven forbid) you have a break, you can trim that up right quick! I have seriously had the same pair of Tweezerman clippers in my stash for at least 5 years – and I don’t buy any other brand. They just last (well, that is if I don’t lose them first!). After I clip, I use my crystal nail file to smooth and shape my nails. I picked up one from a local distributor (Coopers Gotta Have It) and I love the designs they have!

Barielle Fortifying Nail BuilderSo now we get to painting our nails – YAY! First up, you’ve got to have a good base coat, and since your hands & nails will likely take a beating at college, get a good nail strengthener base coat,  like OPI Nail Envy or Barielle Fortifying Nail Strengthener. I like both of these equally! Even if you never paint your nails with a color, my suggestion is to always have at least a good base coat on your nails. It will help keep your nails strong and protected.

OPI Don't Pretzel My Buttons, Color Club East Austin, Jessica Blue Aria, FingerPaints Peacock Portrait | Be Happy And Buy Polish

In my opinion, at least 4 polishes minimum are required: a neutral, a bright, a dark, and a glitter. The four that I’ve chosen for this post are: OPI Don’t Pretzel My Buttons (neutral), Color Club East Austin (bright), Jessica Blue Aria (dark), and Finger Paints Peacock Portrait (glitter).

Digital Nails Ain't Nobody Got Time for That | Be Happy And Buy PolishFor finishing off your manicure, use a fast dry top coat, like Seche Vite (my beautician friend gives this top tip: also buy Seche Restore) or for a great indie version, Digital Nails Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That. I recently discovered this top coat and I already love it. You want to know why? (Of course you do!) I used it for my vacation manicure, and in the six days I had the manicure on, I had very minimal tip wear, no chipping, and still a beautiful shine. You’ll then want to finish off with a great cuticle oil, one of my go-tos is California Mango Magic.

Caboodles Nail Valet Target ExclusiveLastly, an organizer like the Caboodles Nail Valet is a must! You don’t want all your things to go flopping around everywhere and never being able to find what you need when you need it! The nice thing about the Caboodles organizer is that it has a pull-out tray, a nail polish separator, and elastic bands for brushes or files. Plus, this is super stylish, and great to tote over to a girlfriend’s room for a manicure night!

Nice to Have Bonus Items

Vaseline Healthy Hands Stronger Nails | Be Happy And Buy PolishI really debated about what was a “must have” and what is just “nice to have” items for this post. Assuming that you’ll already have body lotion, a separate hand cream isn’t necessary, but something like Vaseline Intensive Care Healthy Hands Stronger Nails will come in very handy. (Heh, see what I did there?) I really like this hand lotion, it’s easy to find, it’s inexpensive, and if you use it before bed, you’ll wake up with soft and soothed hands.

If you really want to get fancy with your manicure, you can always grab Q-Tips Precision Tips or e.l.f. concealer brush for clean-up to get an extra clean manicure. You can also get a dotting tool set or heck, just grab some toothpicks if you want any kind of nail art.

Don’t Forget Those Toes!

In the grand scheme of things, are you really going to have a lot of time to do your fingernails and your toenails? Not likely. But that doesn’t mean you can’t at least keep them neat and trimmed. I would suggest getting a quality pair of toenail clippers (again from Tweezerman), a separate crystal glass file (Coopers Gotta Have It has file packages), and a quality foot file (I use this one available at Sally’s Beauty Supply, it hasn’t worn out yet after a year!). These three items will keep your toes (and feet) in check!

What You Can Create

So what kind of manicures can you create with only 4 polishes? Well, let’s take a look! The only “tool” I’ve used here (besides clean-up brush) is a toothpick for dots.

Let’s start with OPI Don’t Pretzel My Buttons. First, wear it by itself (left); or with Finger Paints Peacock Portraits on top (middle); or use a toothpick and Color Club East Austin for a dotticure. (Click hyperlinks for individual pins on pinterest.)

OPI Don't Pretzel My Buttons collage | Be Happy And Buy Polish

Now let’s start with Color Club East Austin! First by itself (left); or use it with Finger Paints Peacock Portrait (middle); or use it with Jessica Cosmetics Blue Aria for a distressed manicure (right). A distressed manicure is where you wipe off most of the polish off the brush before applying the brush to your nail. Chalkboard Nails is where I first heard of this technique, and I love it for it’s lazy-but-together flair! (Click hyperlinks for individual pins on pinterest.)

Color Club East Austin collage | Be Happy And Buy Polish

Now let’s start with Jessica Cosmetics Blue Aria as a base (left). You can apply OPI Don’t Pretzel My Buttons on one half (right), and then apply Finger Paints Peacock Portrait on top (middle)! (Click hyperlinks for individual pins on pinterest.)

Jessica Cosmetics Blue Aria collage | Be Happy And Buy Polish

Let’s do some mix-n-match for these next three manicures, alright? On the left, I’ve used Jessica Cosmetics Blue Aria and Color Club East Austin with a toothpick for a mix-n-match dotticure (you could do the thumb the same as the accent finger). In the middle, I’ve started with a base of OPI Don’t Pretzel My Buttons, did a stripe with Blue Aria, and dotted (with the polish brush) with East Austin. On the right, I started again with a base of Don’t Pretzel My Buttons on my pointer and pinky fingers; I used Blue Aria for a base on my middle and East Austin for a base on my ring finger. I used alternating colors to create a layered distressed manicure. (Click hyperlinks for individual pins on pinterest.)

Jessica Cosmetics Blue Aria, Color Club East Austin, OPI Don't Pretzel My Buttons | Be Happy And Buy Polish

Phew! I know that was a longer comprehensive post, and thanks for sticking with it to the end! I’d love to know what you, my readers, think are “must-haves” and what are “bonus items” for college students. Am I missing something, or did I add something you would’ve left out? Would you try out any of these manicures? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and please share this post if you’ve found it helpful!

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56 thoughts on “What You Need to Have (And Keep) Great Nails While At College

  1. Great idea for a post! While I don’t use the exact same products as you. I really want to try Ain’t Nobody got time for that but I have too many top coats to get through before I get any more. You did a great job of showcasing all the different looks you can get with just those 4 colors.

  2. Love this post, great tips for a basic mani/pedi/nail care kit! Only thing I disagree with is taking just 4 polishes – I went on holiday for a week and took 6 with me 😉 Only joking though, love how you’ve created a nail version of a ‘capsule wardrobe’!

    • haha, Laura, I had *such* a hard time picking only four!! My hand wanted to keep picking some of my pretties up and saying “But…but…but….” LOL! Thanks for commenting!

  3. Awesome post! As a soon-to-be college student I really enjoyed reading your tips for what to bring! I’ve been debating what polishes to take, and this post helped me narrow down some of my options 🙂

  4. This was so helpful to see! Great essentials you listed for if your traveling or away at college. I like that you showed the different nail art you can create with them too. Its always nice to see a visual.

  5. This is a great post. There are some must haves, but since I’m a blogger too, my list is a lot longer :P. Luckily I can fit around 30 polishes to my luggage, unfortunately I can’t use clippers (my nails start to peel), so I have a set of files with different grids, ofc a good strengthener, base coat, top coat and my nail & cuticle oil. For me a hand cream is also a must have.

    • 30 polishes in your luggage?! I would have a *really* hard time narrowing down my list. haha! 🙂 I’m so glad you stopped by to give your two cents on what is a “must have” for you! 🙂

      • I had like 50 when I was traveling back home (last autumn I went with 25 or so) and had few accidents: My Sinful Colors Envy had leaked and some other bottles were slightly damaged, although I packed them very properly (used bubble wrap and plastic bags and placed between clothes). And I will probably increase my collection again while being in the UK. 😀

    • I was really surprised that it lasted so well for my vacation. I mean, it’s not like I was sipping margaritas on the beach (oh how I wish!) – I was hiking and tromping all over Yellowstone National Park. LOL!

  6. Thankfully I’m going to college only 20 minutes away from home, so while I wont be bringing my whole stash (about 400) no one can stop me from bringing 1/4 of it. 😛
    And all my dotters and brushes and files and on and on it goes… my poor roommate! At least she’ll get pretty manis out of it 🙂

  7. Wow, this is one of the most comprehensive posts I have ever read (and it was entertaining!) But… are you telling me I only need 4 polishes? I am totally going to use your formula if I go on a long trip out of town!

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  14. I think this is so informative for everyone and anyone. Thank you so much. I especially adore the different looks you created with the 4 staples. Just goes to show how much you can do with little if you had to.
    And of course my (our) favourite – Don’t pretzel my buttons.

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  16. This is a great post! For me, moisturizers are essentials. I’d have to have some sort of lotion and cuticle oil. I would also want to have foil squares handy to use with cotton pads to remove those stubborn glitters.

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