If you’re someone who makes regular trips to your nail salon, chances are, your nails are in pretty good shape. Most of us take pride in that, seeing as we use our hands to do just about everything, so our nails get a ton of facetime during social interactions. But having nice nails isn’t only a luxury—it’s actually a sign of good health. Good news: there are plenty of ways to boost the health of your nails naturally. We asked nail pros to share their best-kept secrets for keeping your nails beautiful.
Meet the Experts
Rona Falls, a licensed nail technician with Frenchies Modern Nail Care
Gabrielle Richens, a nail technician and founder of The Rich Skin Club
La Juana Smith Huebner, a nail and body brand educator with Sparitual
Queenie Nguyen, nail artist at Nailing Hollywood
Alena Monson, founder of Whats Up Beauty & Nails
Our fingernails are skin cells, just like our hair, explains Rona Falls, a licensed nail technician with Frenchies Modern Nail Care. “A nail plate is mostly made of keratin, a protein that our bodies produce naturally. We have nails for protection of our fingers and toes,” she says. “For example, fingernails add a little bit of strength when you are working with your hands, and they function to strengthen our fingers and toes, making scratching easier with that hard plate.”
As such, taking care of our nails is just as important as looking after our skin and hair. “The structure of the nail can easily become weakened through neglect or a nutrient deficiency, which shows up as slow nail growth, white dots on the nail plate, and weak, flaky, brittle nails that constantly break,” explains Gabrielle Richens, a certified skin therapist, nail technician, beauty nutrition advisor, and founder of The Rich Skin Club.
“Hangnails or broken skin around the nail edge—especially the cuticle—can lead to more serious damage because it leaves the nail matrix exposed and vulnerable to infection and inflammation.” This, Richens warns, can permanently affect the health and growth of the nails.
If you’re struggling with nails that crack or split easily, it could be the result of an iron deficiency, which affects some 80 percent of people, per the World Health Organization [source]. Brittle nails could also be the result of other more serious health conditions, such as hypothyroidism or Raynaud syndrome, so it’s a good idea to consult your primary care clinician if you have concerns about your nail health.
10 Simple Ways to Keep Your Nails Naturally Beautiful
1. Don’t pick or cut your cuticles.
As tempting as it may be to pick at your cuticles, La Juana Smith Huebner, nail and body brand educator with Sparitual, warns that doing so could compromise their role in protecting your nail and keeping out bacteria. In fact, even cutting the cuticle should be off-limits.
“Cutting healthy tissue requires the body to go into healing mode, and it then creates a scab or scar tissue to seal up the broken area. Hence, the cuticles become hard and thick, reinforcing the mindset that the cuticles need to be cut,” she says. “Any hanging tissue should be nipped with a cuticle nipper after the nail and its surrounding tissue have been properly hydrated.”
2. Use cuticle oil.
To maintain beautiful, strong, and healthy nails, cuticle oil is a must, according to Richens. In fact, she recommends using it daily and massaging it into the nailbed.
“Most plant oils are super high in vitamin E and other nail-loving nutrients,” she says. “This habit will not only strengthen the nails and prevent breakage but massaging the cuticle area stimulates blood flow to the matrix—where all the nail growth magic happens!”
3. File your nails instead of trimming with clippers.
“Filing is a much gentler way to keep your nails neat and of an equal length,” says Richens. She recommends switching to a glass or crystal nail file, as they have a finer grit, making them less abrasive and easier on natural nails. “Try to file in one direction as sawing back and forth across the free edge can cause damage,” she adds.
4. Don’t bite your nails.
This one might sound like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised by how many adults still struggle with this habit. “Stress can cause nail biting as a defense mechanism,” warns Nailing Hollywood nail artist Queenie Nguyen. “Nail biting can cause extreme damage to your nail plate as well as the cuticle around it.” She recommends keeping your nails shorter and getting regular manicures to break this bad habit.
5. Eat a nutrient-rich diet.
You know the importance of eating a healthy diet, but you may not realize how directly it can impact the health of your nails. “The growth of the nail occurs at its base or nail root and is heavily influenced by the blood flow,” explains Huebner. She recommends that your diet be rich in vegetables, fruits, and proteins to ensure that you’re eating the right amount of nutrients.
6. Get regular manicures.
Whether you’re getting regular manicures at the salon or DIYing your manicure at home, Nguyen emphasizes the importance of keeping up with this routine. She does, however, recommend skipping color once in a while.
“We are so used to wearing nail polish or nail enhancements because they make our nails look so pretty and put together. But it is important to take breaks in between so that the nail surface has time to recover from stains or trauma such as drilling or excessive filing,” she says.
7. Don’t use your nails as tools.
Natural nails, no matter how strong, are still quite thin and delicate, notes Richens. “One of the fastest ways to weaken them is to use them as tools—e.g., to pick labels, open cans and packages, or tap buttons and keyboards,” she says. “Treating your nails this way creates tiny splits and tears that lead to breakage.”
She recommends investing in a pair of rubber gloves for any time you plan on using your hands for heavy work, whether it’s gardening, washing dishes, or opening up mail.
8. Exfoliate the area around the nails, including the cuticle and skin.
Falls recommends keeping an all-natural sugar scrub in your shower and regularly exfoliating the skin around your nails. “Rub and scrub around the skin on each nail as this helps with blood flow and keeps the dry skin away,” she says. “Sugar scrubs are a good scrub to use—they are not as abrasive as salt scrubs.”
9. Don’t pick your manicure off.
If you wear polish, do not pick at it, as Alena Monson, founder of Whats Up Beauty & Nails, warns that doing so can cause the top layer of the plate to come off with the polish.
“If your polish starts chipping, the safest thing is to get a non-acetone polish remover and start over,” she says. “Use a nail file that has a gentle surface, ideally an etched glass nail file, as an abrasive file will split the ends of your plates and allow dirt and oils to get between the layers, making them more fragile and promoting cracking.”
10. Use 7-free nail polish.
Believe it or not, some nail polish can contain some pretty harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, for instance. Avoid toxic chemicals by opting for nail polish brands that are 7-free, which means they don’t contain dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, and xylene. Some great 7-free brands include butter LONDON, Deborah Lippmann, Pacifica, Smith & Cult, and Veque Ve Vernis.