You don't need to go to a salon and spend tons of money to get the perfect manicure or pedicure. Experts say you can do it yourself at home, provided you follow all the right steps.

Those steps start with a clear base coat, which helps the polish stick to your nail more easily. A base coat also creates a barrier that helps protect your nails from the damaging effects of nail polish. It prevents staining and peeling, and it will give your polished nails a more even texture.

Base coats come in plain and ridge-filler varieties. Ridge-filling base coats are thicker than regular base coats. They fill in any lines, ridges and grooves to give the nails a smoother looking appearance.

Many base coats are fortified with substances such as protein, vitamin E or calcium. These ingredients help keep nails healthier and prevent breaking, splitting and peeling.

After the base coat dries (and it should dry relatively quickly), apply two coats of colored nail polish rather than one, to give the nails a richer look. If you want to skip the colored polish altogether, you can use a base coat on its own to make the nails look shiny but natural.

Finish off the manicure or pedicure with a top coat to seal in the polish, make the nails shine and prevent chipping. Some products combine a base and top coat, but they may not work as well as the individual top and base coats.

Anyone with a sensitivity to nail polish should be careful -- base coats have a higher resin content than regular nail polish, and are the cause of many nail polish allergies [source: Almond].

Although it may seem like a hassle at the time, base coats will extend the life of your manicure and help you avoid yellowed nails if you decide that fire-engine red isn't really for you after all. To learn more about nail health, visit the links on the next page.