9 nail care tips professionals swear by for healthy natural nails

Your ultimate nail care guide to strong and healthy nails, no salon appointment required

Close up of hands applying cuticle oil for nail care maintenance
(Image credit: Getty Images)

How high does nail care factor on your beauty to-do list? (Be honest!) You may be diligent with your skincare routine and get regular trims to keep on top of split ends, but not as many of us can say that we devote the same time, energy, and money to looking after our nails. 

 it's important to ensure that your nails have a healthy foundation. Well-groomed nails make you look polished and put together, and just like a bouncy blow dry it can immediately elevate confidence levels. Not only that, but strong, healthy-looking nails also have the power to make hands look more youthful, too.

We spoke to three nail experts who have shared the maintenance steps they'd never skip to avoid having to repair damaged nails and to help inspire your new and improved nail care regime. With these easy nail care tricks and lifestyle tweaks, you can transform broken, brittle, chewed-off tips into elegant talons that almost always look freshly manicured. 

1. Treat your hands like your face when it comes to skincare

Daily moisturizing is a key pillar of a good skincare routine, but this essential step is often overlooked when it comes to hand and nail care. If your nails split, break, and flake frequently, they’re probably crying out for hydration. Any time you apply your best hand cream, redirect a little to your nail beds, too. Alternatively, after applying your nighttime skincare routine serums and creams, use the excess to give your nails a little extra attention. That way, you put the spare product to good use, and it will keep your hands and nails in tip-top condition. 

Our beauty editor recommends...


L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream 

A staple of handbags and bedside cabinets around the globe, L'Occitane's Shea hand cream is famously deeply nourishing, thanks to the 20% shea concentration, without being too greasy.  

2. Upgrade your nail file

We're sorry to say it, but it's time to do away with your stash of fuzzy emery boards. These coarse cardboard files can actually cause teeny tiny tears in the nail, so these days it’s better to opt for a crystal file. "A crystal file promotes healthy, strong nails making them less prone to splitting," says podiatrist and brand founder Margaret Dabbs. They are without a doubt more of an investment than those old-timey emery boards, but a crystal version will last years and years, so it’s worth it if you can afford to make the switch.

Our beauty editor recommends...


ORLY Crystal Nail File | RRP: £7.95 (UK only)

Stokes regularly recommends this file to her clients as: "It's gentle enough for frequent use, and the graduated file helps seal the free edge and locks in moisture to the nail plate."


Margaret Dabbs Crystal Nail File

Made from high-quality crystal, Dabbs' own Crystal Nail File is up there as one of the best nail care tools of the trade for keeping one's nails in good shape. 

3. Protect your hands in water when possible

As much as we'd like a reason not to have to do the dishes, washing your hands multiple times a day is unavoidable. But excessive water exposure will weaken the nails – consider how bendy your nails can get after a long soak in the tub. So when you are washing up, it’s a good idea to protect your hands and nails by wearing gloves, while those who like long baths should sit with their hands out of the water where possible. Too much time spent in water leads to brittle, peeling nails and, on an aesthetic level, means nail polish won't last as long. 

4. Never pick off a manicure

Peeling back the remnants of a once-glossy gel manicure feels weirdly satisfying and seems quicker than a salon soak-off, but the resulting damage lasts a lot longer. Doing so removes the top layers of your delicate nail cells, thinning and weakening your nails. Knowing how to remove gel nails properly and safely, ideally at the salon, is therefore crucial to the health of your nail beds. 

If you do soak your gel polish off yourself, it requires time and patience. First, use a nail file to gently sand down and rough up the shiny top coat seal. Then place a cotton ball soaked in acetone remover on each nail, wrapping the tip in tin foil to secure, and soak for at least 15 minutes. You'll know it's enough when the polish looks as if it’s lifted and slides off with a fresh acetone-soaked cotton ball. For any remaining gel spots, use a wooden cuticle stick to lift them away gently. Lastly, replenish moisture in the nails using an oil. 

Our beauty editor recommends...


Jessica Phenomen Oil Intensive Moisturizer | RRP: $ / £9.50

This oil is loaded with nourishing ingredients – vitamin E, almond and rice oils, and jojoba – to help restore thirsty nails between manicures. 

5. File regularly and in in one direction

Ever shaved your legs with a blunt razor? Just imagine that and the accompanying skin irritation the next time you try to file your nails with a back-and-forth sawing motion. Doing so causes a similar kind of trauma to the nails, leaving frayed nail edges that are prone to peeling. Take your file and drag it inwards from each outside corner toward the center of the nail. 

Regular filing is also key to nail health. “It is important to regularly file your nails even if just a small amount,” says Lou Stokes, manicurist and Orly’s ambassador. “Not only will it keep them smooth and snag-free, but by regularly filing your nails you also stimulate the blood flow to your nail plate, which can help provide your nails with all the necessary nutrients for improved growth.”

6. Pick the right shape

"Nail shapes have become more diverse over the years, but not all shapes suit everyone and it quite often depends on the length and shape of the nail bed," says celebrity manicurist Michelle Humphrey

For a DIY manicure, avoid edgy, short-lived styles like coffin or stiletto nails in favor of a more natural oval shape. It’s universally flattering and looks clean, groomed, and polished, and can even elongate the look of shorter fingers. "Oval tends to suit most people and is one of the strongest nail shapes for natural nails," Humphrey confirms.

7. Oil your cuticles regularly

Perhaps the single most important nail care act is to apply cuticle oil often – every day, in fact. It will help to boost circulation, encourage growth, bolster weak nails, and prolong the life of your manicure, whether in-salon or DIY. Choose an oil over a cuticle cream as it will delve deeper to lock moisture into the nail plate. 

Our beauty editor recommends...


Sally Hansen Vitamin E Nail & Cuticle Oil

An absolute classic, this oil is the perfect antidote to brittle nails and dry, flaking cuticles, thanks to its nail care complex containing wheat germ, vitamin E, apricot kernel oil and soothing aloe vera. 

8. Take a polish break

While properly applied and removed, good quality products shouldn't affect the health of your nails, giving nails a break from polish every so often is worth doing to keep your natural nails looking and feeling healthy. But, if you can’t bear to, there are "breathable" polishes on the market and plenty of gel manicure alternatives that you could turn to during a break from gel, BIAB or acrylic nails.

Our beauty editor recommends...


Barry M Air Breathable Nail Paint | RRP: $12.99 / £3.99

One such breathable polish formula, Barry M's offering has been designed to allow oxygen, water vapor, and essential nutrients to pass through to the nail bed. 

9. Apply a strengthening treatment

Applying a strengthening treatment between manicures is a great way to ensure that your nails stay as healthy as possible. "If your nails need a bit of extra TLC, look for a nail strengthener that will help target your individual concerns," says Stokes. "Not all nail strengtheners do the same thing – some help to accelerate nail growth, some give strength and durability to the nail, and some actually soften hard brittle nails, so it's important you pick the right one for you."

Our beauty editor recommends...


Essie Hard To Resist Nail Strengthener | RRP: $11 / £10.99

Promising visibly healthier nails within three days of wear, this strengthening formula utilizes MSM technology (present in keratin, a protein that makes up nails and hair) to get soft, weak nails back on track. 

Lucy Abbersteen

Lucy is a UK-based beauty journalist who has written for the likes of Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, OK!, Women's Health and more, as well as contributing to woman&home. Her work covers everything from expert skin and haircare tips to the latest product launches and the show-stopping beauty looks spotted backstage at London Fashion Week. During her career she's interviewed some seriously famous faces, from Little Mix to Drag Race royalty The Vivienne, as well as chatting to the industry's leading hairdressers, dermatologists and make-up artists.

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