How to File Your Nails

Filing nails correctly is a skill and one that is very much worth taking the time to learn if you wish to have beautiful nails. It’s also a skill that seems to be very much lacking among the general population, many people go at their finger nails with metal files, use the wrong side of the emery board or go at them with a sawing motion! Correct filing of the nails can help to prevent splitting and breakage of the nails.

Choosing the right file

Using the right tools for the job is very important and the tools very much affect the results with filing. There are so many things out there it can be a bit mind boggling. I recommend starting with a basic emery board before graduating to anything else. They are super cheap and also very light and flexible so you can really get a good movement going on with them. When the surface wears down you just replace it with another one from the pack – don’t keep using a worn one as it may tempt you into bad habits!
Whatever you do never ever use a metal file. While these are quite frequently packaged in manicure sets for consumers they are simply not suitable for use on finger nails. They cause separation of the nail layers which leads to flaking and breaking of the nail. Glass files are very good but create a funny feeling on the end of the nail that is not for every one (think nails on a chalkboard!), they can also be expensive. If you choose a glass or crystal file dampen it before use to get the best results. Also available are padded files which come in a whole rainbow of colours and patterns, these are very similar to emery boards and this is really just a personal choice thing.

Now, if you look carefully at your emery boards you will notice the sides are two different colours – the darker side is rougher, it’s a different grit from the paler side and is for filing toe nails which are usually thicker and tougher. We always use only the lighter side for finger nails.

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The grit of nail files is really important when choosing a file to use on your natural nail. The higher the number the smoother the file (it refers to the number of grit particles per square inch on the file, to fit more grits per inch they have to be smaller finer grits). Emery board packets usually do not list a grit number but come with this colour coding of dark (usually about 180 grit) for toes and light for fingers (usually about 240 grit) which makes them a good starting point. Never use a number lower than 240 on your natural finger nails, lower numbers are for acrylic and gel nails.

Now we’re ready to file!

Filing is mainly a technique for shaping and smoothing, if you want to remove a lot of length (say more than 1cm) you should be clipping or cutting with nail scissors before beginning otherwise you’ll be there all week!
Firstly make sure your nails are dry, never try to file damp or wet nails as this will damage them. Hold your file at a 45 degree angle to the nail. This allows you to see exactly what you are doing, how much length you are taking off & what shape you are creating but most importantly it bevels the edge of the nail which creates strength.
Always file from side to centre, never straight across the whole nail and never ever in a “sawing” motion. Apply minimum pressure while working – this will help give more control with shaping and give a smoother finish but also prevent cramp in the fingers of the hand doing the work! One of the good things about using an emery board is that it’s quite difficult to press overly hard unlike with other types of file.
As you practice you will be able to speed up the motion significantly but don’t be tempted to go too fast as you don’t want to risk building up any heat that could damage the nail.

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Nail Shapes

There are five basic nail shapes, round, square, oval, squoval and pointed although pointed is not recommended for natural nails as it will break very easily. You can choose one to suit you based on your job (do you need neat short nails that won’t get in the way?) and other factors affecting the use of your hands. If your job or craft doesn’t affect the use of your hands you can choose a nail shape based on the shape of your cuticles, mirroring the general shape of the cuticles is a good way to produce a nail that suits the wearer.

5 nail shapes

After filing – moisturise of course! You could choose a dual use product such as Elemis Pro Radiance Hand & Nail Cream or use separate products for the nails and hands such as massaging in a nail oil and your favourite hand cream. If you’re going to paint your nails you might want to leave this step until after enamelling though as the enamel won’t stick to greasy nails!

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