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Glass Nail Files: Why They're Great For Brittle Nails + 4 Of The Best To Try

Jamie Schneider
February 5, 2021
Jamie Schneider
Beauty & Health Editor
By Jamie Schneider
Beauty & Health Editor
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
February 5, 2021
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Weak, brittle nails can show tons of warning signs, be it cracks and splits along the free edges, painful frays poking out of the cuticles, or white spots living rent-free on the nail plate. That said, there are also myriad ways to keep them shiny and smooth (on the nail hygiene front, as well as internal fixes). But if you've bent over backward trying to strengthen your nails, applying cuticle oil like it's your job, let us ask you this: Ever thought about switching up your file? 

According to the pros, a glass nail file (also called a crystal file) may be just what your fragile nails need. Take a gander below, and perhaps upgrade your mani kit. 

Glass files vs. emery boards.

Traditional emery boards do have their time and place (especially in a professional setting), but when it comes to regular at-home maintenance, glass nail files might just take the top spot—especially if you have weaker tips. But let's break it down:


We'll start with the obvious difference: the material.

Glass files are made from, well, glass, while emery boards are created by gluing sandpaper to a cardboard or plastic tool. With glass files, the material is tempered (or toughened) so the board retains integrity, and some even have mini crystals affixed to the surface to provide more grit, says Evelyn Lim, chief educator of Paintbox


The grit.

Speaking of grit, glass files do tend to be more gentle on the nail, as they don't have as many grit options. "With paper boards (aka, emery boards), the grit can range from as coarse as 80 to as fine as 1,000, which gives you a wide range of options," says Amy Lin, the founder of sundays—a nail care brand focused on wellness. Remember—the higher the grit number, the gentler the file.

That's why glass files are a great option for those with brittle nails looking for some routine upkeep; the boards are gentler on the nails, and they don't coarsely roughen them up. "Emery boards can shape nails faster, but because of its paper material, your nails can file down a lot without you noticing," adds Lin. Great for reworking your oval-shaped nails into square tips at the salon; maybe not so great for simple maintenance.


The method.

With emery boards, it's so easy to "saw" at the nail, especially if you're filing in back-and-forth motions—a major no in nail care, it turns out. However! You actually can use those back-and-forth motions with a glass file, as the gentler board is less likely to cause the keratin layers to split and fray.

In fact, says Lim, "Due to the fine grit of a glass/crystal file, it also closes and seals the keratin layers of the free edge of the nail." As opposed to the former, which tears the layers open and requires a buff to smooth out the edges after shaping.  


The longevity.

Glass files are less elastic than flimsy emery boards, notes Lin, which means they can last much longer (paper boards can easily peel and bend). Just disinfect your glass file after each use (more on that in a moment), and Lim says you can keep them for up to six months. 

In short, glass files are gentle, durable boards that are perfect for maintaining weaker nails. "If you need to file your nails or you have brittle nails, crystal files could be a great option," notes Lin. "If you are looking for a more professional nail-shaping makeover, I would suggest you go with paper (emery board)." 

How to use a glass nail file.

Good news: If you're well versed in your nail-filing basics, you probably already know how to use a glass file. It's the same process, just with a little more freedom:

  1. First, use your clippers to start shaping the nail, always starting from the sides and working your way toward the middle. 
  2. Grab your board, and file away to your desired nail shape. Since you don't have to worry about filing in one direction (again, glass files don't typically "saw" at the keratin layers), you can file back and forth as you please. Just be sure to keep your pressure light, using the weight of the glass board itself as you shape the nail. 
  3. Follow with cuticle oil.  

How to clean it. 

Simple: After you're done filling, gently scrub the board with some antibacterial soap, rinse with water, then let it completely air dry on a towel before stowing it back in its case (smaller, portable options typically come with travel-friendly canisters, but you can also just store it away in a cool, dry area). You may find some glass files that are dishwasher safe, but it's not totally necessary unless you have significant globs of debris on your board.  

How long do they last? 

As mentioned, you can use your glass file for up to six months, assuming you properly clean it after each go. "It is time to swap out when the file loses its grit and is no longer able to shape the nail easily," adds Lim. It's the same for emery boards, although you might get more use out of a sturdy glass number. 

Our recommendations.

Mischo Beauty Glass Nail File

$ 15
Mischo Beauty Glass Nail File

Anthropologie Pressed Floral Glass Nail File

$ 16
Anthropologie Pressed Floral Glass Nail File

Nail Tek Crystal Nail File With Fuchsia Case

$ 16.50
Nail Tek Crystal Nail File With Fuchsia Case

Ulta Crystal Nail File

$ 9
Ulta Crystal Nail File

The takeaway. 

So, should you use a glass nail file over an emery board? If you have a brittler set of nails and just want to touch up those tips, we say go for it. Glass files are easy on the nails, and they can even seal the keratin layers as you clean up the shape. 

Jamie Schneider author page.
Jamie Schneider
Beauty & Health Editor

Jamie Schneider is the Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and more. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.