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Beauty

Follow these 5 tips for healthy nails

A nail salon owner gives her expert advice.

A closeup on a person holding a nail file up to their fingernails. Credit: Getty Images / Anastasia Gubinskaya

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Manicure trends come and go, and many of them, like gel polish and acrylics, can be damaging to the nails. However, healthy fingertips never go out of style, which is why we consulted Ashley Hoffman, owner of The Nail Studio in Coconut Creek, Florida, for tips on how to maintain strong nails, whether you’re sporting bare nails, gel polish, or an entire set of acrylics.

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1. Apply cuticle oil daily

A closeup on a person's hands as they apply cuticle oil to their nails.
Credit: Getty Images / iprogressman

Keep your fingernails moisturized with cuticle oil.

The best thing you can do to support your nails’ health is moisturize them and seal in hydration using cuticle oil. “Natural nails should stay hydrated to avoid unnecessary lifting, breaking, and cracking,” says Hoffman, adding that this step is essential for anyone who gets gel polish or acrylics. She explains: “When the natural nail is dehydrated, it will start to curl up and away from gel polish or acrylic. Keeping them hydrated with frequent oil application allows them to stay flexible and bend rather than break.”

Hoffman often reaches for her personal favorite, Lush’s Lemony Flutter Cuticle Butter, which contains beeswax, shea butter, and lavender oil in a salve-like formula to moisturize the nails. She also enjoys the popular O.P.I. Nail & Cuticle Oil, a more traditional cuticle oil with a dropper, that comprises grape seed, sesame, kukui, sunflower, and cupuaçu oils. Apply the oil once a day to the eponychium (the cuticle skin), the sides of the nails, the hyponychium (the skin under the nail), and the nail tip. If using an oil on your fingers during the day sounds messy, try applying it at night before bed.

2. Keep a nail file on hand

A closeup on a person's fingernail being filed by a nail file.
Credit: Getty Images / VladimirFLoyd

Skip fancy glass nail files in favor of a paper one.

Regular nail trimming and filing is paramount to natural nail maintenance. While you might like your nails fancy, your file shouldn’t be. “A traditional paper file is best because it’s cheap and disposable,” Hoffman says. “After it dulls, you can toss it. I don't prefer metal, glass, or diamond files because they don’t give a smooth edge like a traditional paper file does.”

Use a nail clipper to trim long nails and then follow up with a nail file for precise shaping. To address on-the-go mishaps, keep a file in your bag to allow for touch-ups, too. This will keep you from picking or chewing if a hangnail comes up while out and about.

3. Lean on a nail strengthener for a layer of protection

A closeup on a person's hands applying clear nail polish to their fingernails.
Credit: Getty Images / Aleksandr_Vorobev

Nail strengtheners can offer protection to your nails.

Some companies promise strong nails with “hardening” treatments. While that’s not quite accurate, strengthening products can add some protection to your natural nails. Consider it a light jacket against a chill in the air. It’s not going to protect you from a snowstorm, but it offers some comfort. “It just works as an additional coat on top of a bare nail that adds strength to it so it will bend rather than break," says Hoffman. "I don’t really think they’re effective in actually ‘hardening’ nails." Another benefit to this type of product: “A lot of my clients tell me that if they have something on their nails, they won’t pick,” Hoffman says. “By not picking or biting, you’re essentially keeping your nails in good shape.”

Hoffman is a fan of the popular O.P.I. Nail Envy that claims to strengthen the nails using hydrolyzed wheat protein and calcium. O.P.I. recommends applying a coat once every other day and removing the layers with nail polish remover after one week to start over.

Get the O.P.I. Nail Envy Nail Strengthener from Amazon for $17.99

4. Schedule regular nail appointments

A closeup on a nail tech's hands working on someone's fingernails.
Credit: Getty Images / EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER

Make regular nail appoints to keep up with gel polish and acrylics.

Maintaining healthy nails when you get gel polish, dip powder, or acrylic tips is all about proper routine and not waiting too long between salon visits. As your natural nails grow out underneath acrylics, for example, they may crack or break due to pressure from the acrylic, says Hoffman. She suggests scheduling appointments every two to three weeks to avoid breaks, chips, or picking off the gel polish yourself. In between salon visits, reach for that cuticle oil every day to keep your nails pliable and allow them to flex with the gel or acrylics rather than pull away from it.

5. Avoid removing gel polish or acrylics at home

A nail tech holding their client's hand while talking to them.
Credit: Getty Images / JackF

Rely on your nail tech for nail removal.

When it’s time to remove your gel polish or acrylics, don’t take matters into your own hands. Hoffman explains: “Always have your product removed by a professional. We know how to do it properly with the least amount of damage to the natural nail. I remove a bulk of the product with an e-file before soaking in acetone. Most clients don't have an e-file, so soaking at home may not be as effective.” The extensive at-home soaking in acetone in order to get the polish malleable enough to take off on your own can severely dry out your nails and cuticles.

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