Below are some of my personal habits around nail care. I believe these habits are what helps me to maintain strong, healthy nails, and most of them are pretty common among people in the nail / nail art community. Have feedback or a suggestion? Leave a comment or send me a message via the contact form at the top of the page.
Do: moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
Cuticle oil will help maintain soft, hangnail-free cuticles, especially for those of us living in arid winter climates. Using oil several times a day will help prevent cracking, peeling cuticles and will make your nails look professionally maintained. Personally, I use it every time I wash my hands*
Now, you can buy fancy nail oils, but they’re generally overpriced (imho), especially if you use them frequently. Jojoba mixed with a couple drops of tea tree oil (for anti-microbial action) and maybe some essential oil for a nice scent is really all you need. The nail pens are great though, you can buy pre-filled ones in the makeup section of drugstores / walmart and you can also buy them online. Google it. Once they’re empty you can try prying them apart (sometimes it works, sometimes not so much) and refill them with your home blend.
I also use an empty container from some polish drying-drops, which has a tiny dropper. I put a drop on my thumbs and then blot it onto the fingers of my opposite hands then massage it in. Do this a lot, especially if your cuticles are looking a little dry. Kiss hangnails goodbye.
Do: Polish, polish, polish
The second point is extremely important for me in particular, as I have a pretty pronounced “C” curve (the curve of your nails when looking head-on at the tips) and if I don’t have polish on they tend to flatten once they’re past the free edge. This means they crack and split, often painfully high up on the nail bed. For whatever reason (science?) the polish helps them to maintain their natural shape as they grow out.
This also helps to protect nails from water, which can seep into the nail and cause the layers to soften, expand and split. The fear of water appears to be the driver for advice to not wash your hands, but properly protected nails can withstand 60 seconds of soap and spray. Wash your hands*
Do: use proper filing technique
A lot of my next advice hinges around being gentle. Starting with filing your nails.
I don’t use clippers because of the tight C curve I mentioned above. The clippers would press the nail out and cause it to crack at some random place so I just don’t use them. If you have flatter nails you may have more success/comfort with clippers.
I use both a glass file as well as those cheap cardboard-type ones and don’t see a real difference other than the amount of nail you remove with each stroke. I use the cheap, gritty ones for major adjustment, like if I break a nail and need to knock a bunch of length off, and the smoother glass ones for maintenance and fine-tuning. The trick is to be gentle and not just saw back and forth. You’re not a lumberjack and your nail is a small, delicate creation we are trying to nurture and cultivate. It’s not a race, so put on some relaxing music, pull up a chair, and take your time filing gently from the outside corner to the centre of your nail on each side, finishing with a soft swipe across the middle to even everything out. Enjoy the process.
Don’t: cut, snip, trim
Since we’re now keeping our cuticles well moisturized, we also want to keep them under control, right? So we’re tempted to jam the skin at the base of the nail back and hack it off. I get it, and I used to do it too. I usually ended up with hacked-up cuticles that would peel vertically down my finger (cringe!) and would look red and slightly swollen (infection alert!)
Now I gently push the skin back with an orange stick after a shower or after they’ve soaked in oil for a bit. You can use cuticle remover, but it can be damaging to your nail and the skin around your nail so you want to make sure not to leave it on longer than suggested (usually 15 seconds) and to wash it off completely.
I sometimes use a cuticle cream overnight if I remember, but I’m not sure it really does anything. The key is to be consistent and gentle. Cutting or using too much force could damage your nail and can lead to infection, so be mindful. This leads to the next point.
Don’t: use your nails as tools
Think of your nails as being too beautiful to work. They exist only to look beautiful and that is enough 🙂
That goes for your nails only, folks. You are still expected to be at least a somewhat productive and functional member of society. Get educated and get busy. But never use your beautiful nails to open a can of pop (soda for my American friends), pry a sticker label off a new bottle of polish, or split a piece of tape holding your nail mail closed. And if someone asks you to weed the garden without gloves or pick up a tiny object off a rough concrete floor you can respond with the first comment 🙂
Along the same line, try to be mindful of your hand movement in general. We all have our moments of swinging our arms and bashing our hands into things, but try to keep it somewhat under control unless you want to have to tell people you broke your nail motioning to your aunt how big that fish you caught really was.
?: vitamins and supplements
I’m not a scientist but I don’t think that vitamins, supplements, or “grow fast” products do much other than empty your bank account unless you are already malnourished, in which case you need to address that before focusing your attention on pretty nails. Priorities, people. That being said, do what works for you. Just don’t look to me for recommendations.
However, if you have recommendations I’m always interested in exploring / discussing them 🙂
Do: accept that “perfect” nails are ephemeral
Like bodies in general, you will never achieve the “perfect” nails and then maintain that state indefinitely. Bodies change, grow, shrink. Nails are the same. Accept and embrace this and be comfortable wherever you are in the process.
Actually this is true of most things. Life is about change. And that’s okay.**
*PLEASE wash your hands properly and regularly – I’ve read advice to avoid washing your hands but that is flat-out disgusting. In addition to increasing you risk of infection by communicable diseases (think colds/flu), do you really want to walk around all day with other people’s bathroom germs on your hands? You touch your phone, your face, your food! with your hands. Don’t be a filthy peasant, keep it clean, people.
** I hate change and feel angry and sad when I break a nail. And that is also okay 🙂