1. Base and top coats
Check out my enormous bottle of Out the Door! I need it too, since I burn through the stuff. It's not quite as quick-drying as Seche Vite, which I used for a while, but Seche caused my nail polish to pop off in sheets, while Out the Door doesn't. Plus, OtD doesn't smell like death. (buy it here)
For a base coat, I use NailTek Foundation II about 99% of the time. It's been a big help in strengthening my nails over the past year or so. I rarely get breaks now, even with square nails. It's also a ridge-filler, which is great for my ridge-y nails; it covers up all but the worst ones. (buy it here)
I sometimes use Gelous as a topcoat over really bumpy glitter polish, since it's thick and also ridge-filling. It's also great as a base coat when you need super smooth nails, like when you're putting on a chrome polish. (buy it here)
2. Application tools
My polish remover of choice is Zoya Remove+. It's nearly as strong as pure acetone but WAY less drying. (I was stuck using pure acetone for a while and my cuticles looked absolutely horrible.) It doesn't smell quite as ghastly either. The only downside is the price. (buy it here)
I use OPI polish thinner when a polish is too gloopy, or if I'm doing nail art and I need a polish to apply more like a paint. I also use it when making polish. This thinner is pure butyl acetate and ethyl acetate, so no sketchy ingredients that will wreck your polish. (buy it here)
Here's my cleanup brush! It's actually an E.L.F. Professional Concealer Brush, but it's got the perfect shape and stiffness for cleaning up stray polish (which I really need, since I always rush through application). I've been using this guy for over a year, and you can see it's getting a little worn out, but still works great. Actually it's deformed into a shape that works even better! (buy it here)
3. Nail art tools
Here's my cute little folder full of brushes and dotters. This actually contains brushes from multiple kits; the folder came with a lot, but I added a set of tiny acrylic paintbrushes for detail work, plus some other random stuff. I definitely have some favorite brushes and some not-so-favorite ones. (buy the folder kit here and the small brushes here)
And of course my trusty stamper and striping tape. I've got a Konad stamper, but I'm also hoping at one point to get a "squishy" stamper too. For a scraper I just use an old credit card. (buy the stamper here and the tape here)
4. Nail care
This is actually the most crucial category if you want nice-looking nails (and who doesn't?). Keeping your cuticles moist not only helps their appearance, but also helps your nails grow in stronger and healthier. When shopping for cuticle moisturizers, avoid products that contain water, since water is your nails' worst enemy!
I keep Indigo Bananas cuticle balm in my bedroom to wear overnight. (My tin is actually a prototype, but now she sells larger sizes with different scents!) On my desk where I do my nails I keep Julep's cuticle oil, in case I need to freshen up before I take photos. (buy Indigo Bananas balm here; it looks like Julep's cuticle oil is no longer available in this form, but they have a couple similar products)
To keep my cuticles neat I use Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover. This stuff is powerful--you leave it on for 15 seconds, then push and rub at your cuticles with an orange stick. This may be gross, but I love seeing the bits of dead skin coming off...it beats using nippers anyway! (buy it here)
I hope that wasn't terribly boring! What nail care or nail art product could you never live without?