Tips for Filing Your Nails

Using the proper filing technique for your nails will result in stronger nails less prone to splits and breaks.

Learning the right techniques for nail filing will do more than just shape your nails. Proper nail filing methods will help protect your nails against breakage, and ultimately result in healthier and more beautiful nails.

A crucial part of proper nail filing technique begins with selecting the correct tool for the job. With so many nail instruments on the market today, its no wonder that many people choose the wrong type of file. For simple nail filing, you’ll need a soft, pliable file. Some nail experts recommend a two-sided file with a soft, cushioned center, while others say that a simple flexible wooden file will suffice. As long as the surface of the file is a fine grain, the style is largely a matter of personal preference and comfort. Never choose a metal file, as they tend to have a more coarsely grained surface and can be very harsh on nails. You may be tempted to try a very rough grain file in the hopes that it can speed up the job. However, these types of files are meant for artificial nails and can tear apart a natural nail.

Whichever file you choose, make sure to replace it often. Fine grain files wear down easily, and you may be tempted to handle a worn file more aggressively. This will usually lead to nail breakage.

When using a file, it is important to maintain a proper angle. The file should be held at a 45 degree angle to the bottom side of the nail tip, almost against your fingertip. Contrary to popular technique, don’t hold the file perpendicular to the nail tip or, even worse, angled over the top of the nail, as this can wear down the nail’s hard protective surface. The top portion of your nail is the toughest and will help protect against peeling of the weaker layers underneath.

Proper nail length is key to maintaining nail health. The ideal length for filing is when the tip of the nail has grown one quarter inch from from the nail bed, or the pink part of the nail. This joining point between the white tip and the pink nail bed is called the “stress point.” Trying to shape nails with tips shorten than a quarter inch from the stress point can weaken them, while trying to maintain nails longer than a quarter inch can lead to breaks. This is why many experts recommend a shorter, more rounded nail shape.

If your nails are quite a bit longer than the quarter inch recommendation, don’t try to file them all the way down to size. This would require a rough file that would weaken the nail. To alter the length of a nail, always use nail clippers first. Don’t clip in the center of the nail, but use two cuts, one on each side of the nail. Positioning the clipper in the center of the nail will make the nail “flatten out” as you try to cut, and can result in a tear further down the nail bed.

When determining the shape of your nails, most experts will recommend a rounded oval or squared shape, as these shapes are less likely to lead to breakage. Filing down the nail sides to create a more pointed shape can dramatically weaken the nail and leave it exposed to breakage. The oval or square shape leaves the more sensitive side areas of the nail intact to protect against tears or splits.

Nail filing should be reserved for simple shaping once the nails are at the desired length. Using the proper file, take a few gentle strokes from the corner to center in the same direction. Don’t file nails all the way across or from side to side. A few strokes should be all that is needed to get the ideal shape. Take care not to file down the sides of the nail aggressively – this area is essential to nail strength and should be left alone as much as possible.

Make sure that your nails are clean and free of polish before you begin filing. In addition, nails should always be very dry while filing as wet nails tend to split more easily.

Written by Michelle Capasso – 2002 Pagewise

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