I like to pass myself of as an expert on make-up and hair color, and I do know something about both. But nail care is my true area of expertise. Here are a few tips:
1. Think long and hard before you get artificial nails. Any time you immobilize your nails and expose them to harsh chemicals, they're going to atrophy. Even nail glue, an absolute necessity for a real girl who gives a damn about her nails*, weakens them. And if your nail tech tells you there won't be any damage, she's either lying or doesn't know what she's talking about. In either case, find a new tech.
Artificial nails are for women whose nails are hopeless. Before you go to the time and expense of fake nails, start getting manicures every 2-4 weeks. Sometimes they just need a little TLC.
If you have fakes, and want to remove them, you'll have a long road of healing ahead of you. The best therapeutic nail products I've worked with is Nailtiques. They are most definitely not inexpensive, but they do speed up the repair process quite a bit.
2. A clean nail will hold polish longer, but using nail polish remover to clean them pretty much defeats the purpose. Use a non-alcohol toner, or just wash your damned hands.
3. If you want your polish to last, you have to use a base coat. The polish needs something to hold on to, so the base coat should be a little tacky when you apply the first coat of color. After that, you can wait as long as you want to apply the second coat. Here's my favorite base coat. (The top coat also rocks.)
4. Wear gloves when you do housework. Do I even have to say that?
5. Don't saw at your nails like they're pieces of wood. File them in one direction.
6. A 3- or 4-way nail buffer is your very, very cheap friend. Start with the coarsest side and work your way to the finest. Or use whatever sides work best for the job. Ten to 20 seconds on each nail is fine. A buffer is also perfect for removing all that raggedy stuff you get after filing.
7. Far be it from to tell you how long and ornate your nails should be, but do you really want to look like you work at 7-11?
8. The best way to remove polish is with pure acetone. Unless you have artificial nails, gels or nail wraps, non-acetone remover is for sissies. (Acetone eats through all the above, in which case you're excused. Except why do you have that crap on your nails in the first place?) Acetone is very drying, but it works really fast and you'll be washing your hands anyway.
9. The only thing that really, truly dries nail polish is time, and by "time" I mean hours. A great top coat like Seche Vite helps, and there is some credence to stuff like sticking your hands in ice water for a few minutes. But you have 4 coats of lacquer on your nails. My point? Don't do your nails and then decide to wash the dishes.
My favorite professional polish is OPI. Essie is also great. My favorite drugstore brand is Revlon. It takes a bit longer to dry, but it holds up better, and it could go under Good Stuff Cheap. I don't have any favorites in the higher end beauty lines, because I'm too cheap to $20 on a bottle of polish.