So you’ve made the decision to take off your gel or acrylic nails. Whether it was voluntary or not (for work, sports, financial reasons, etc.), it probably feels a bit sad to look down at your naked nails right now. Not to worry though, taking a break from artificial nails can be very beneficial. This is because nail products adhere better to healthier nails versus damaged ones. Here are the top natural nail care tips that I share with my clients who want to maintain healthy nails after an artificial nail removal!
This article was originally published in May 2020. It has since been revised with more relevant and updated information.
This post contains affiliate links. This means that we’ll make a small commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you.
What Do Healthy Nails Look Like?
First things first, let’s do a quick analysis of your nails to see how healthy they are.
Healthy nails should be:
If your nails check off all of the above - congrats, your nails are doing great!
If your nails are missing some or all of the above - we’ve got some work to do!
Either way, check out my top tips below on how to maintain and care for your nails so they can look and feel their best!
28 Natural Nail Care Tips & Tricks
#1. Don’t Pick Off Polish
Whether it’s regular polish, gel, or acrylic, picking these products off of your nail plate is a huge no-no. This is because as you’re picking them off, there’s a big chance that it’s peeling away the surface of your natural nails.
Although it might feel satisfying while you’re doing it, you end up with nails that are thinner, and more prone to breakage in the future. So if you have regular polish, pick up a bottle of nail polish remover to swipe it off properly. And if you have artificials on, check out the next tip!
#2. Get Gels & Acrylics Removed Professionally
As mentioned in the first tip, picking off gels and acrylics at home can cause major damage to your nail plate. So please make an appointment with a nail tech you trust ASAP. On average, artificial nails need to be refilled or removed every 2-4 weeks. Waiting any longer than that will throw off the balance of the nail enhancement and could lead to nails breaking or snapping off (ouch!).
If you’re truly in a bind, and can’t make it to a salon, check out our Guide On How To Remove Gel Nail Polish At Home.
#3. Trim & File Nails Regularly
Just like hair, trimming and filing your nails regularly can help them grow faster and longer.
How does this work? Nail breakages don’t go away or ‘get better’ on their own. If anything, they will only get worse. Trimming nails regularly will remove such imperfections, and discourage more nail disasters in the future.
Start by taking a good look at your nails. What do you see?
For small chips, simply file the area until it’s smooth. For larger ones, clip off the entire portion - you may have to trim the rest of the nail to balance it out.
The only way to battle breakage is to cut it off. Sad - yes, but you’ll thank yourself later. Leaving a crack untreated can lead to it ripping off as it gets caught on stuff (not fun!).
Similar to cracks, you’ll want to cut off all affected areas. If you can see your nail splitting into layers, it’s beyond saving. The best you can do is to trim it off.
#4. Keep Nails Shorter
Let’s be realistic, natural nails can and will break when enough force is applied. That’s why it’s important to figure out how long you can grow your nails out before they start to break or crack due to everyday activities. This maximum length is different for everyone, and it can range from factors such as the strength and curvature of your natural nails, to what your lifestyle is like.
That’s why I always encourage my clients to keep their natural nails a bit shorter than they like. This reduces the chance of breakage, in which case you’d have to chop that nail down short anyway!
#5. Proper Nail Shape
When it comes to growing healthy natural nails, the nail shape is so important. There’s really no point in following the other steps if you’re going to ignore this one. Just think of it as the foundation of getting better nails!
So, what is the nail shape that is least likely to break?
I typically suggest round or oval shapes for clients trying to grow out their natural nails. Squoval is also an option, but I always make sure the free edge and corners are well rounded.
Shapes with corners or points can break easily, so stay away from them!
To get this shape, trim your nails to get the approximate length and shape, then file the free edge until smooth and even. File from one side to the center, in one direction, and repeat on the other side.
#6. Care For Nail Regularly
Just like how dentists tell us to brush our teeth daily, we should also set a regular schedule for nail maintenance:
Everyday Nail Maintenance Checklist
Weekly Nail Maintenance Checklist
Hand scrubs can slough away dry skin, while hand masks pack in the moisture - a perfect combo for dry winters! Here are some of our faves:
Tree Hut Shea Sugar Scrub Tropical Mango
Aveeno Repairing CICA Hand Mask
#7. Keep Nail Files In Your Purse
Nail chips and cracks can happen anywhere. That’s why it’s a smart idea to keep nail files in your purse, car, desk - everywhere! There’s nothing worse than walking around with a chipped nail and having it snag on your clothes and hair all day!
Good news is that nail files are relatively inexpensive and you can buy them in packs!
12 Pack 240 Grit Nail Files
20 Pack Glass Nail Files
#8. Don’t File Nails Back & Forth
You might have seen your nail tech file your artificial nails back and forth like a saw, which is fine. However, when it comes to our natural nails, you should only be filing them in one direction. This is because natural nails are more delicate, and filing them roughly, back and forth can cause breakage and splitting in the future.
I always advise my clients to cut the length and shape they want with nail clippers first, and then use a nail file to smooth things out.
#9. Use Nail Files With The Correct Grit
When you’re buying nail files, you might notice they have numbers like “240” or “100” on them. These numbers indicate the grit, or how rough the nail file is. If there is only one number, it means that both sides of the file are the same grit. If you see something like “180/100”, that means one side has a 180 grit, and the other side is 100 grit.
For natural nails, 240 grit nail files are perfect. Anything with a lower number grit (like 180, 100, 50 etc.) is way too rough for your natural nails and can rip it to shreds. Higher nail grits exist, but they will be way too soft for smoothing out the free edges of your nails.
#10. Season Your Nail File
Don’t head over to your spice rack, that’s not what I’m talking about! When a nail technician “seasons” a nail file, it means that they are softening the often sharp edges of a brand new one. Some new nail files can be so sharp that they will cut through skin if you don’t soften it out first.
To soften out a nail file prior to use, simply take another nail file or orange wood stick and run it along the edges of the nail file until it’s no longer sharp. You can test how sharp the edge is by gently running it along your forearm. A properly seasoned nail file shouldn’t be able to cut through skin or cause pain.
#11. Keep Your Hands & Nails Clean
We go through the day using our hands to navigate the world, and on the way, we’re bound to pick up some bugs that can make us feel sick. If there’s any broken skin at all, harmful bacteria can enter and cause infections. That’s why nail health is so dependent on good hygiene.
Make sure that you’re washing your hands regularly throughout the day, and taking care of any open wounds. If you get debris stuck under your nails, use a nail brush daily to clean it out.
#12. Clean Your Nail Tools
When not cleaned properly, nail tools can harbor harmful bacteria and transfer them to your nails and hands every time you use them. That’s why it’s important to make sure they are properly cleaned! Here are some ways to keep your nail tools (nail clippers, files, etc.) clean!
How To Keep Your Nail Tools Clean At Home
Please note that these tips are for home use only. Nail salons have much higher cleaning and sanitation standards.
#13. Avoid Biting Or Picking At Nails
If you have a habit of nail biting or picking at your nails and skin, it’s time to kick it! Not only do these activities affect the aesthetics of your hands and nails, it can also be dangerous to your health. This is because nail picking or biting can lead to open wounds, which are perfect places for bacteria to enter and cause infections.
If you are a nail biter or picker, it’s important to identify why you’re doing it in the first place. Many of my clients tell me that they do it more often during particularly stressful times. Knowing this is helpful because you can try to divert your attention elsewhere or use techniques or products to help you.
For starters, biting your nails can raise the risk of catching a cold or other illness because you're putting your unwashed hands in your mouth. It can also raise the risk of paronychia, or infection of the skin surrounding the nail.
#14. Use Products To Prevent Nail Biting
If sheer willpower isn’t going to step you from nail biting, there are some helpful products available that may do the trick. Here are some of the products my clients swear by:
Fidget rings are a great way to distract you from biting or picking, especially when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or bored.
Biter Nail Polish
These products taste terrible, which is a perfect reminder for you to stop biting your nails every time you start to do it absentmindedly.
#15. Treat Your Nails As Jewels, Not Tools
Our fingernails were designed to help us pick up small things, and give us a good scratch. They were not made to pry, lift, or scrape things. Train yourself to use your fingertips instead. For example, when you open a soda can, pull the tab with your fingertip, or use a spoon for leverage.
#16. Protect Yourself From Harsh Products
Many household cleaning products contain ingredients (like alcohol and acetone) that can really dry out your skin and nails. Dry nails can become brittle nails over time. To avoid this from happening, wear gloves while you are cleaning. After you’re done, wash your hands, and apply your favorite cuticle oil and hand lotion.
#17. Use Gloves To Protect Nails & Hands
I always remind my clients to wear gloves especially when it comes to gardening, cleaning, cooking, and washing dishes. Gloves prevent things from getting stuck underneath the nails, acts as a shield from physical trauma, and eliminates exposure to harsh chemicals.
Soaking your hands in water for long periods of time (like washing dishes) causes your nails to soften, making them extra prone to breakage as you bump them around as you’re cleaning.
Wearing gloves when performing household chores that involve getting the hands wet is very helpful in preventing brittle nails.
#18. Use Nail Strengtheners For An Extra Boost
If your nails are feeling a bit sensitive or weak, or you’re craving a bit of shine or color, try a nail strengthener! These products are created especially for damaged nails and contain ingredients to protect them.
Here are some of our favorite nail strengtheners:
Nail-Aid Keratin 3 Day Growth Nail Treatment & Strengthener
This nail strengthener applies clear, and contains keratin (an important component of nails) to help make your nails grow out stronger and longer. A huge bonus of this Nail-Aid product is that it’s 20 free - meaning that it doesn’t contain harmful ingredients like parabens, formaldehyde, and toluene.
Essie Nail Care, 8-Free Vegan, Hard to Resist Nail Strengthener, Glow & Shine, Natural Pink Tint
Craving a bit of color? This nail strengthener from Essie will give your nails a healthy, pink glow, while creating a natural barrier to protect your nails.
#19. Be Gentle With Your Cuticles
It may be tempting to cut or trim your cuticles like your nail professional does at the salon, but that’s totally unnecessary with at home care. In fact, cuticle care that’s done improperly can lead to hangnails, and in worse case scenarios, skin infections.
So skip the cuticle process that your nail tech does (more cleaning is only necessary for prepping nails for artificial applications). Instead, I suggest gently pushing back cuticles with an orange wood stick when you’re fresh out of the shower, and trim off any hangnails. Finish off by massaging in cuticle oil and hand lotion.
#20. Use Cuticle Oils & Creams Religiously
My clients know and love this step so well. Not only because it’s relaxing but also because it makes their hands and nails look super healthy.
Dry, brittle nails are more prone to breaking, and by now, we know what that means.
Don’t have cuticle oil or cream on hand? You can probably use something that you already have at home. I personally love using coconut oil (it smells so nice!) but a lotion or cream will also work. Simply massage your preferred moisturizer into your nails and cuticles at least once a day - I prefer right before bed so it'll stay on for longer.
Cuccio Naturale Revitalizing Cuticle Oil
Burt's Bees Shea Butter Hand Repair Cream
#21. Buff Nails Instead Of Using Polish
Some nail polishes and removers can make your nails worse (see below). So if you’re avoiding them altogether but miss having shiny nails, I have a simple solution for you - buff your nails!
You can add this step to your weekly nail maintenance routine. It doesn’t require too much time, and the best part is that you don’t have to wait for your polish to dry.
Onsen Secret Professional Nail Buffer
#22. Choose Your Nail Polishes Wisely
As mentioned in the last tip, some nail polishes actually contain toxins that can make your nails brittle, split, and crack. According to Dr. Debbie Palmer, these ingredients include dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, and toluene.
To avoid these harmful ingredients go for polishes that have labels like “8-Free”. I’ve seen some products go all the way up to “16-Free”!
Sally Hansen Good, Kind, Pure Vegan Nail Polish (16-Free)
#23. Don’t Skip Base Coat
You may think that a nail polish base coat is a waste of time and money, but it serves several important functions to help protect the nails.
Functions of nail base coats:
Essie Strong Start Nail Strengthening Base Coat
Skipping base coat is like not using a primer under your foundation. Without primer your foundation won’t apply as smoothly, it won’t last as long, and your skin might not feel very good at the end of the day.
#24. Use A Quality, No-Chipping Top Coat
If you’re planning on painting your nails, top coat is a must as well! Invest in one that is long wearing and prevents chipping. This will make your manicure last longer, and protect your precious nails underneath.
Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat
#25. Be Choosy With Your Polish Removers - No Acetone!
While acetone can effectively remove nail polishes, it’s way too harsh to use on your nails regularly. Instead, opt for a remover that doesn’t contain acetone, and has moisturizing ingredients instead.
ella+mila Soy Nail Polish Remover Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover
Keep in mind that non-acetone polish removers are on the gentler side, so may need a bit more patience removing darker colors or glitters.
#26. Keep A Healthy Diet
A poor diet can affect the appearance and quality of your fingernails. For example, iron deficiencies can cause koilonychia. This condition is also known as “spoon nails” because the nails become so soft and brittle that they invert and look like spoons.
Having a diet balanced with proteins, vitamins and minerals is essential for healthy nails. If this is a concern for you, consult your doctor or a dietician.
#27. Find A Good Nail Tech
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a pretty set of nails once in a while, or even all the time. The key is to find a nail technician that is properly trained, and keeps the health of your nails as top priority.
Some people can go for years with gel or acrylic nails with no problems, but others can’t. This is something an experienced and caring nail professional will be able to identify.
If your nail tech advises you to take a break from artificial nails, listen to them!
#28. Seek Professional Help When Needed
Some nail conditions can’t be fixed by a nail tech or at home. These issues include skin infections and nail fungus. If you notice any swelling, redness, soreness, pain, or pus forming, go see your doctor. These conditions usually won’t get better without treatment. When left untreated, it can result in permanent damage.
What do unhealthy nails look like?
Sometimes physical injuries, like jamming your fingernail, are temporary and will grow out. However, if you notice an abnormal change, it would be in your best interest to see your doctor.
According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some signs to look out for:
Why are my nails so weak and thin?
There may be several reasons why your nails are feeling weak and thin:
Does coconut oil help nails?
Yes! If you don't have cuticle oil at home, using coconut oil will do the trick. Simply massage the oil into your nails and cuticles at least once a day. Doing this can help prevent dry and brittle nails.
Do gel nails ruin your nails?
No, when properly applied and removed, gel nails don’t ruin natural nails.
Make sure you find a nail technician that is properly trained and cares about your nail health.
How long should you wait between gel manicures?
It's best to consult a well trained nail technician. They will be able to take a look at your nails and give you their best recommendations.
If gel nails are applied and removed properly, and the nails remain healthy, there's no need to take breaks. However, if bad technique is used, nails are damaged or the client has a medical condition that affects their nails, taking breaks may be a good idea.
So there you have it - my top 28 tips for natural nail care! If you’re just getting started on your nail rehab journey, don’t get discouraged at the beginning. Keep up with your daily and weekly nail care schedule and you’ll have pretty, strong, and healthy natural nails in no time!