Whether you're the type of person who religiously paints their nails as a form of self-care or someone who's constantly picking and biting at their cuticles, we all yearn for healthy, perfectly manicured nails. We talked to nail-care experts to find out exactly what you should be doing for your nails — but first, how can you tell if your nails are healthy? Here's what to look for.
Signs of Healthy Nails:
Nail plates are a pinkish-white color
Cuticles are existent (so don't cut them!)
Nails and white tips are even lengths
Prominent half-moon shaped white section (called the lunula) at nail base
Signs of Unhealthy Nails:
Peeling or splitting nails could be dryness or the result of vitamin deficiency
Tiny white spots usually mean you're biting your nails or painting them too often
Horizontal grooves could be from stress, high fevers, or jamming your finger
Red, swollen skin around nails could be from removing or biting cuticles
Spoon-shaped nails could be a sign of iron deficiency or anemia
If you're concerned about your nail health, it's important to consult a dermatologist. Since your nails are super visible, it's easier to tell if an issue arises — meaning you can treat it early if you get help, says dermatologist and nail-care specialist Dr. Dana Stern. Now here's how to get strong, healthy nails:
1. Keep your hands very clean.
Before you do anything, it's important to make sure your nails and the skin around them are thoroughly dirt-free. Then remove all traces of your last color with an acetone-free remover (anything else unnecessarily dries out your nail). Dr. Ava Shamban, author of Heal Your Skin, recommends applying soap to a toothbrush, then gently scrubbing your nails and skin. This will remove dirt and exfoliate any dead skin without the need for harsh, drying chemicals or expensive scrubs.
2. Be gentle on your nails.
Your nails are delicate, and scrubbing them too roughly can actually expose you to infection. Another no-no: Using metal tools under the nail, as too much digging can cause the nail plate to separate from the skin (called onycholysis). It's a common problem for people over 50, according Dr. Stern, who is also the developer of the Dr. Dana Nail Renewal System. This could also lead to an irregular white, arching nail tip, explains NYC dermatologist Dr. Janet Prystowsky.
3. Clip your nails regularly.
Regular trims are as important to your nails as they are to your hair, says Dr. Prystowsky. So set aside time to clip them every two weeks, adjusting to more or less often once you see how your nails respond.
5. Always keep a nail file on hand.
If you're someone whose work or gym routine causes a lot of wear and tear, Dr. Prystowsky suggests keeping a nail file handy to smooth away any rough edges that happen on the spot. The best way to do it? Work in one direction with the grain of your nail for a smoother finish.
And it turns out, the emery board that's been sitting in your drawer could be causing your nails to peel and snag. Instead, try a glass (also called crystal) nail file. "A glass file will create an even edge to the nail and can be used on the weakest, brittle, and damaged nails," says Dr. Stern.
6. Don't forget to take care of your nail tools, too.
Disinfecting your nail tools between uses is just as important as regularly cleaning your makeup brushes, and for the same reason — bacteria. To keep your nails happy and infection-free, Dr. Prystowsky advises washing metal tools with soap and water and then wiping down with rubbing alcohol. And don't forget to regularly replace disposable tools like emery boards. There's no reason to continue using a tattered tool when it's so easy to rotate in a new one for a few bucks.