There is no real secret to having the healthiest looking and feeling nails out there. It’s more of a multi-part formula that requires work and discipline – for most of us that is!
Some people are born with perfect nail beds, with a maintenance free shape and smooth nicely rounded cuticles that look like they just came from a professional manicure at the salon.
Such people are rare. All they need to do is trim their finger and toenails once or twice a month and that’s it.
For the rest of us, nail care is at least a weekly job if we want to look our best. A mani/pedi will only take you so far though. For one has to be hyper-vigilant about how they treat their nails (and body) every day, or even the best beauty-care professional won’t be able to help you.
The 12 following tips will help you to keep your nails looking sleek and healthy, while minimizing the amount of time and/or money you need to spend at the manicurist.
1. Clean them throughout the day
Dirt, grunge, oil, food residue, etc., are always attacking the overall health and beauty of your nails. Also, bacteria is always present on our hands and fingernails, even though we can’t see it. Make sure to use a gentle moisturizing soap whenever possible. A good practise is to carry your own stash along in your purse or backpack, placing a bar in a compact waterproof container or carrying liquid hand soap with a well sealed lid. Scrub them well and clean under the tips at least once a day.
2. Always use a nail brush
This tip is an extension of the last, but deserves its own dedicated narrative. Using the wrong tools on your nails is a recipe for disaster. Don’t use a nail file, knife, scissors, etc., to clean under and around your nails. Not only can you actually hurt yourself inadvertently, you’re also scraping precious keratin away from them which will make them brittle and likely to crack and break off. Using anything but a soft-bristle nail brush will also cause separation between the nail bed and the nail itself, exposing the immature area of the nail before it’s ready. Carry your own nailbrush with you, so you’re never caught in a pinch and tempted to use anything but to clean your nails with.
3. Protect them as much as possible
Wear dish gloves if you’re doing the dishes and cleaning with water and/or chemicals of any kind. Wear gardening gloves when gardening, etc. Try to avoid leaving your hands and feet submerged in water for any length of time. The bathtub/shower is a place where many of us are guilty of abusing our nails unnecessarily. If you spend a lot of time swimming, try to get out of the pool every fifteen minutes if possible and dry your hands and feet – apply a waterproof moisturizing cream whenever possible.
4. Moisturize ladies!
And yes, this goes for those men out there who’re (secretly) reading this! Moisturize at least twice a day. Apply lotion or cuticle oil in the morning after a shower, and a thicker moisturizing cream in the evening before bed to give your nails some needed moisture nourishment. Don’t get caught up in the hype and think you have to buy the most expensive hand lotions and creams on the shelf. Anything that moisturizes is better than nothing, and often the most expensive “miracle hand and nail products” offer very little extra value over a $5 bottle of Vaseline Intensive Care and similar products you can find anywhere.
5. Stop biting them for god’s sake!
This is for all of you who blatantly or sneakily bite your fingernails throughout the day. Biting your nails isn’t just bad for your nails either, it’s a habit that’s sure to be wearing down your teeth, whether you notice it or not. Chewing your fingernails (or, OMG your toenails!) leaves chips in the nails which will sooner or later lead to cracking. Most nail biters actually bite into the tips and cuticle area of the fingers themselves which leads to infection too. Buy a nail biting solution if you really can’t stop. Such products are only a deterrent, but the bitter taste will make you think twice about doing it, causing you to stop and think about reasons why you don’t want to wreck your nails anymore.
6. You are what you eat
This old cliché is very true when it comes to nails. Eat lots of healthy veggies, nuts, salmon, and low sugar fruits like blueberries and strawberries. Also, look for calcium rich foods like almonds, almond milk, cottage cheese, greek yogurt, and dark leafy green vegetables. Baby carrots and apricots (fresh or freeze dried) are also considered good foods to eat for nail health.
7. Limit smoking and alcohol
Smoking – period, and consuming alcohol on even a semi-regular basis will both hurt your nails. Smoking hits your nails from the inside and out, due to the increased free radical damage it does inside your body and the staining and drying it causes on the hand or hands you smoke with. Drugs of any kind are also bad news.
8. Don’t push or trim cuticles
Leave cuticle work to a good manicurist if yours don’t look right. Not only is it difficult to properly trim your own without cutting too deep, pushing them back opens your fingers up to bacterial and fungal infections (this is what cuticles are there to protect us against!) While this is a common practise, it’s been found to cause more harm than good and most professional manicurists will only do it if you specifically ask them to.
9. Nails aren’t letter openers
While nature did give them to us for utilitarian purposes, if you want your nails to look supple and sexy instead of like you work on a farm, you can’t use them to open letters or as mini picks for scraping and cleaning. If you use them as tools they’ll dry out, crack and break, and will eventually harden and thicken as the body adapts to the way you use them – much like skin thickens and toughens into calluses on our hands and feet.
10. Stay away from the nail hardeners
Healthy nails are moist nails. Using a nail hardener might seem like a bad idea, but they do more harm than good. If they can’t flex and bend a little as needed, they’ll break at some point.
11. About nail polish removers
Don’t use acetone-based products. They may work just a smidge faster than acetone-free products, but they’ll also strip your nails of moisture during the process. This is particularly true if you have dry and brittle nails to begin with.
12. Trim and file them right
Never clip your nails below the tip. Always trim them well ahead of the area where the exposed tip merges with the nail bed and leave yourself plenty to work with when you turn to file/shape them. File in one direction only, not back and forth, using an emery board and not a metal nail file. Metal is far too aggressive, whereas an emery board is much finer.