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Best Nail File, How to File Nails and Best Nail Shapes

You may be struggling taking care of your nails at home right now while some salons are still closed due to COVID-19. 

Our nails need to be cared for by cutting and filing. Our cuticles need grooming and moisturizing. It can be overwhelming. 

Let's focus on filing because how you file your nails can help them be stronger or it can actually make them weaker.

Filing your natural nails the right way can help them be stronger. I'm talking about how you actually use the nail file and also the shape you file your nails into. The shape of your nail's matters. Certain nail shapes are stronger than others. Filing them the wrong way will increase the chance for nail breakage, peeling and layering. 
nail file

The first thing you need to do is start with the right kind of nail file. You can use an old-fashioned cardboard emery board but there are better, more comfortable nail file options you can use to file your nails.

Use the Best Nail File for Natural Nails

The nail files I like best for filing natural nails in the salon are cushion files. They are about 1/8" thick and they have a cushiony layer between their gritty sides. 

They feel more comfortable than the old-fashioned emery board and they are less likely to give you that nails-on-a-chalkboard sensation.

They are disposable or some brands make disinfectable, reusable versions. Cushion files come in a variety of textures or grits.

Nail File Grit Numbers

Nail files, as well as sandpaper, have grit numbers. The higher the grit number, the finer the abrasive surface is. A 240 grit file is smoother than a 180 grit file. 

Extra coarse files, 60-80 grit, are used to file acrylic nails. The extra coarse grit file will tear and fray natural nails.

Coarse grit files, 90, 100, and 150 grit, are used to file acrylic and other fake nails. The coarse grit file will tear and fray natural nails.

Medium grit files, 180, 220, and 240 grit, can be used for fake nails and most natural nails.

Fine grit files, 320 and 400 grit, can be used for all nails, especially fragile nails.

Extra fine files, 400, 600, and 900 grit, are used for smoothing the surface of all nails.

Cushion nail files can have 2 different grits on one file each side such as a 100/180 file. One side is 100 grit and the other side is 180 grit.  There are lots of common combinations of grits so there are tons of options. Here are a few combos:


The file I like best for shaping natural nails is a 180 grit cushion file.

Shop for cushion nail files on Amazon

Crystal Nail Files 
Crystal, aka glass, nail files work well too, plus they are pretty! 

I sometimes use these with clients but am more likely to use them at home. Glass files are breakable. Store them in the protective case they came in. There are several advantages to using a glass nail file.

Their fine grit surface is gentle on the nails and helps prevent peeling nails. 

Another advantage with a glass file is that they last a long time. One file can last a year or more.

They clean easily with soap and water plus can be cleaned with disinfectant.
Apply only light pressure while filing since the crystal surface doesn't have any give.

crystal file

Metal Nail Files
Avoid those rough ridgy metal nail files. They cause the nails to fray and peel. 

The metal nail files that have a fine grit resembling the grit on a cushion nail file, are okay to use while applying light pressure only. The thin metal files do flex but they are not quite as gentle as a cushion file.

Metal files can last for years plus are easy to clean and sanitize. 

There is a brand called Diamancel that I have used. These metal files have a nice smooth grit and will flex.
diamancel metal nail file
These files are made with a diamond and fiberglass process giving them long lasting diamond like abrasive grit. 

find them especially good for filing toenails.

How to use your Nail file

Now that you know which nail file to use, you need to know the right way to use it. 

The way you file your nails can weaken nails causing side splits, fraying and peeling by separating the layers of nail. 

Use long, one direction strokes with the file to shape your nails, like playing the violin as they say. File from the side towards the middle of the nail in a fluid motion.

Avoid a sawing back and forth motion which will fray up the nails and create stressful movement of the nails. The back and forth moving of the nail can cause stress cracks on the sides of the nails leading to nasty breaks.
broken nail

The Best Nail Shape

Now that you know what file to use and how to use it, you need to know what shape to file your nails into!

Avoid filing the sides of the nail to keep the nail as strong as possible. Let the sides be straight just filing the tip of the nail to create a shape.

Nail shapes that are not filed on the sides include square, square with rounded corners and squoval. 

Squoval, a combo of square and oval, and square with rounded corners is the strongest shape. 

Nails that are filed in a squarish shape with rounded corners break less because the sides of the nails are not filed and there are no sharp corners to catch and break off as in a square shape.

Here are my nails files in the squoval shape. 
pink squoval nails
There are many other nail shapes to choose from both classic and avant garde. The more the sides of the nails are filed into to create the shape, the weaker the nail will be.

The classic oval or round shape are not a bad choices for a strong nail shape since the sides of the nail are minimally filed. An almond shape starts to get into the sides too much.

The trendy and avante garde shapes such as stiletto, square stiletto, lipstick, pointed, cutout, edge, ballerina/coffin, and trapeze shapes are shapes that are more prone to breakage.

The Lipstick Nail Shape

That's a lot of info, so in a nutshell:

The best nail file grit for natural nails is a 180 grit cushion nail file or a glass/crystal nail file.

File your nails in a long fluid one way direction.

The best nail shape for the strongest nails is a squoval or a square with rounded corners.

I hope this post helps you take the best care of your nails.

Stay Healthy and Beautiful!
Licensed Cosmetologist, Makeup Artist, Esthetician
See me at Styling Point in Media, Pa for natural nail care, facials, spot massages, face and body waxing, pedicures and makeup 

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  1. I really like some of your posts... they are genuine and simple to follow =)

  2. So glad you enjoy my posts. Thanks for reading!


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