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How To File & Shape Square Nails + Expert Tips To Elevate The Look

May 26, 2022
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Some beauty choices take major commitment, but nail shapes aren't one of them. You can sport one nail shape one week, another the next, and you don't need any harsh chemicals or processing to do so. So when it comes to switching up your beauty look, experimenting with your nails is a no-brainer. Not to mention, there's a shape for everyone—whether you prefer natural-looking nails or bold and daring tips.

This go-round, we're diving into square nails: It's a modern yet classic nail shape that withstands the test of time. Below, we tapped experts to get the scoop on square nails, including how to achieve them and tricks for taking your at-home mani from basic to salon-worthy.

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What are the nail shapes? 

nail shapes graphic
Image by mbg Creative

Think of nail shapes like a new haircut. Since most of us have a tried-and-true nail shape that aligns with the outline of our nail beds, it's easy to forget that there are, well, options when it comes to filing your tips. Before we dive into square nails, let's do a quick brief of the most common nail shapes out there.

First, there are round nails, which are exactly what they sound like: straight on the sides with rounded edges. Then there are oval nails, which are a variation of the round shape but with corners that curve inward, says celebrity manicurist and brand founder Deborah Lippmann. These two are the most natural-looking of the nail shapes and some of the easiest to accomplish, too. 

In the center of the natural-to-bold spectrum, we have sharp-edged square nails, but we'll dive into this shape more below. Next up, there are squoval and almond nails. "Squoval is similar to square, but with softer edges, and almond-shaped nails are slim on the sides and wide on the base, coming to a rounded peak," Lippmann says. 

Then there are the dare-to-go-there styles, like stiletto and coffin-shaped nails. "Stiletto nails are similar to almond but with a much more drastic point," Lippmann says. And coffin nails are shaped similar to a ballerina pointe shoe: dramatic, long, and very striking. 

The bottom line? There are plenty of options when it comes to shaping your nails. Just like a brand new 'do, you can experiment with a few until you find the shape you adore. 

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What is a square nail shape? 

square nails
Image by mindbodygreen

Square nails are, well, square, and they're pretty hard to miss. "Squared nails have no soft edges," Lippmann says. "It's been a classic and has been used for ages—it's timeless." Square nails have straight sides and a flat tip with edges filed to a perfect 90-degree angle. 

While square-shaped nails can look good on anyone, you may need medium- to long-length nails to achieve the sharp shape. According to Lippmann, finding the best nail shape comes down to mirroring the shape of your cuticle. "After you have done a proper cuticle pushing, mirror the shape of the tip of your nails to the shape of your cuticles," she suggests. While this doesn't mean you have to steer clear of square nails if you have rounded cuticles, it is something to keep in mind when choosing your most natural-looking nail shape. 

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How to achieve square nails.

If you're at the salon, you can simply ask a professional to file your nails into a square shape, but if you're attempting at-home nail maintenance, there are a few tips and tricks to perfecting the shape with ease. Here's how to achieve a square nail shape at home: 



Before creating any nail shape, you want to remove any old polish, dirt, and debris from the nail bed. Use a cotton pad and nail polish remover to clean nails from cuticle to tip. "If you have long nails, put less pressure on the tip and work the soaked cotton from the cuticle to the tip to avoid breaking the nail," Lippmann suggests. 

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This step may sound simple, but it takes patience and time to perfect it. If you're attempting a square nail shape for the first time, start with one nail, work slowly, and then proceed from there.

"If you want a square shape, start filing from the middle," says Amy Lin, the founder of sundays—a nail care brand focused on wellness. Filing straight across will not only give you the flat top quintessential of a square nail, but it will help create those sharp edges, too. If the edges are rough or too sharp, gently file them down to be smooth, but don't file them so much that they turn round. (You'll wind up with more of a squoval nail shape.) Once the first nail is complete, continue this step on all other nails. And voilà! You've got square nails. 


Exfoliate and tend to your nails.

Now that your shape is perfected, it's time to buff and tend to your nails. Says Lippmann, buffing the nails primes them for a beautiful lacquer, and tending to the nails and cuticles helps soften and hydrate. "Gently push back cuticles using small circular movements, working from corner to corner to get a clean cuticle," she suggests. "Then, wipe nails of debris and rub a drop of cuticle oil onto the base of each nail." 

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Now, it's time to apply your favorite nail color. For best results, stick to two coats of polish and allow your nails to dry for a beat in between layers.

Nail care tips. 

If you want to take your at-home mani to the next level, these pro-approved tips can elevate any nail look: 


Don't skip base and top coats.

"Base and top coats contain vitamins and minerals that strengthen and improve nail health," Lippmann says. This is also a great way to address any specific nail concerns since base formulas are usually made to address common nail issues like cracks and peels, fingernail ridges, or dry and brittle tips. The top coat is what gives the nails mega-shine—like you just stepped out of a salon. 


Be patient with drying.

Though we wish there was a way for a fresh nail polish to dry instantly, no invention has made this possible yet (although, there are a few ways to speed up the process). But if you want to avoid smudging your lacquer, Lippmann says do your best to sit still: "Let it dry and know that it requires time to dry all the way. If you're feeling impatient, there are quick-dry polish drops that help, but patience is still the name of the game. Just stay away from aerosol [quick-dry sprays], because they can take the shine away," she warns. 


Protect your tips while you work.

If you find yourself cleaning around the house, washing dishes, or scrubbing your bathroom tub, Lippmann suggests wearing gloves to protect your manicure. "Try to keep nails clear of anything oily or greasy since it can cause the nail color to wear away quickly and become dull," she says. 

The takeaway.

If you're looking for a timeless, classic nail look (that pairs fabulously with a French manicure, we should add), square nails are for you. They're easy to create at home, and they work for nearly anyone, as long as you have medium-to-long-length nails. Just don't skip simple nail care: It makes a world of difference in an at-home mani and your nail health. 

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Andrea Jordan
Andrea Jordan
Contributing writer

Andrea Jordan is a beauty and lifestyle freelance writer covering topics from hair and skincare to family and home. She received her bachelor's in Magazine Journalism from Temple University and you can find her work at top publications like InStyle, PopSugar, StyleCaster, Business Insider, PureWow and OprahMag. When she's not writing, you can find Andrea tackling new recipes in the kitchen or babysitting one of her many nieces and nephews. She currently resides in New Jersey with her husband and cat, Silas.