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6 Underrated Nail Mistakes Keeping You From Long & Strong Tips, From Experts

How To Strengthen Nails
Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy
January 7, 2021
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Quick anecdote: Quarantine has been great for my nails. An inability to frequent the salon each time I itched for a shiny new coat of lacquer forced me to forgo the polish altogether. At first, I was astounded to find some white spots dotting my nail plates (a present surely left behind from my strict, never-seen-without-polished-fingers habit), but as I gave my nails a much-needed break, those marks soon grew out—I was left with strong, flesh-toned nail plates and white, half-mooned tips. 

With some time, and the help of trusted experts, I honed my at-home mani skills and the fundamentals for healthy nail maintenance—and learned exactly what I was doing wrong. Turns out, there are some underrated don'ts that might be keeping you from your strongest nails yet:

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Forgetting to hydrate them properly.

We'll start with the cornerstone of nail care. Keeping your tips hydrated is simply nonnegotiable for keeping them healthy and strong—that said, a friendly reminder to moisturize the nailbeds never hurts. (Plus, with all the constant hand-washing and sanitizing of late, your nails can really take a beating.) Put hydration on the back burner, and you'll likely face weak nails, snagged cuticles, even damaged nailbeds and infection if those frays are left untreated. 

Keeping your tips hydrated doesn't have to be too demanding: Just make it a habit to moisturize in some way or another (be it a proper cuticle oil or working your extra hand cream into those nailbeds). Start with once per day, working your way up to three times if your nails are especially cracked and brittle. Says chief educator of Paintbox Evelyn Lim, "Apply cuticle oil at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Why not?" 


Using acetone removers. 

Just as important as it is to hydrate your nails, it's crucial to avoid ingredients that strip them of precious moisture. Case in point: acetone polish removers. As the solvent lifts pigment with ease, it also tends to dry out the nail plate as well as the surrounding skin, which makes your previous hydration efforts all but thwarted.  

Nail experts would agree: Choose a non-acetone remover to save your natural nails (some even come loaded with nail-strengthening antioxidants and vitamins), or you can create your own DIY solution here.

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Ignoring your diet.

Think of your nails as windows to your overall health, able to signal dietary, mineral, and vitamin deficiencies right there on the nail plate. But the ticket works both ways: Your nails also benefit from the right nutrients, helping them look longer, stronger, and healthier.

"Pay attention to your diet," says Amy Lin, the founder of sundays—a nail care brand focused on wellness—regarding strong nails. "Your nails are made of proteins and naturally need a lot of vitamins." When they're lacking, it tends to have a physical effect, with nails looking brittle, weak, or dimpled. "When we're low in protein, calcium, or other vitamins, that can sometimes show up on your fingernails with vertical lines," Lin remarks about nail ridges.*

All that is to say, getting your fill of proteins and vitamins is as essential to nail health as a hydrating cuticle oil. Two nutrients of mention happen to be collagen and biotin, both of which are widely studied for nail health and help to build keratin (which is exactly what your nails are made of).* One study even found that those who took biotin supplements had 25% thicker1 nailbeds, and another study showed that when patients took collagen daily for 24 weeks, they experienced faster growth rates, reduced breakage, and improved appearance2.*

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"Sawing" vertically when you file.

Here's a little filing etiquette: You don't want to use back-and-forth motions with the board (a common misconception, say the nail pros). According to Elle, a celebrity nail tech, this "sawing" motion can cause the keratin layers to split and fray while you file—best to move the board in one direction when shaping the nail. 

As for which direction, she also notes you never want to file vertically. The corner of your nail should be your stopping point when you file—never go beyond that curve, or you'll be digging into your nailbeds. "It'll cause hangnails, but also the minute you file, it can cause [the nail] to collapse and break," she says about shaping your nails.


Never giving them a break from polish. 

Now, we've arrived at my personal predicament: If you're one to jump from mani to mani, your bare tips rarely seeing the light of day, you might want to reconsider your strict schedule. Even if you opt for clean polishes and products, Lin doesn't recommend leaving on the same shade for more than three weeks (even if your lacquer remains smooth and chip-free). "The base coat might wear off, and the pigment might start to stain your nails," she previously shared with mbg.

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Clipping them straight-on. 

You never want to cut your nails head-on. "Nails are naturally curved," says Mytien Le, nail specialist at sundays, so if you use the clippers at a straight angle, the nail may bend, sometimes even split. (Especially if your tips are more brittle than usual, again due to frequent hand-washing.) She recommends cutting the nail starting from the sides, working your way to the middle before switching up the angle. (See exactly how you should be cutting your nails here.)

The takeaway. 

These common nail mistakes could be keeping you from your healthy nail goals, whether you're trying to revive weak and brittle tips or just hoping to keep them strong. If you feel like you're doing the most but aren't seeing results, make sure you're not unconsciously sabotaging your progress with these blunders. 

*If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.