There are two types of women in this world: those with naturally gorgeous nails and then those of us whose tips never seem to make it past our fingers without peeling, splitting, or breaking. So, why does that first group seem to have the upper hand? More than likely, genetics play a role. But just because you're prone to soft, weak nails, you're not destined to have them. Experts say how you handle your hands makes a huge difference how healthy they look and feel. Here, your plan for stronger, longer, more resilient tips.
"Most people think a manicure is all about the polish, but really, it's about proper cuticle care," says Donna Perillo, owner of Sweet Lily Day Spa in New York City. "When you properly push back the cuticle, it clears the way for new nail growth," she says. If you're a DIY girl: Do it weekly, after you get out of the shower and your cuticles are soft. Use a washcloth or a wooden orange stick to gently push the skin off the nail plate. Resist the urge to cut them. "If you go too far, you'll cut into the healthy layer of cells," Perillo says. "Your body reacts by producing, thicker, harder skin." Plus, without a cuticle layer, nails are more vulnerable to infection.
When very tip of your nail, a.k.a. the free edge, is filed smooth, the nail not only looks better, it's better protected. "Research shows that those who maintain the free edge twice a week have more beautiful, longer nails than those who don't," says Frank Busch, chief chemist for Cutex. One reason: A roughed-up free edge is more likely to get snagged on something, causing the nail to split or break. To get yours smooth, Perillo suggests dragging a fine-grit emery board or a diamond file across nails in one direction. "Filing back and forth like saw can cause little tears that lead to fraying," she says. Try Diamancel Flexible Diamond Nail File ($28, sephora.com).
The basecoat smooths out any imperfections on your nails and gives your colored polish something to adhere to. Plus, by protecting your bare nail from polish pigments, you'll prevent the nail plate from yellowing, says Busch. Also essential: a strengthening treatment to fortify weak nails and keep them protected as they grow. Get both in one bottle with a strengthening base coat. Try Sally Hansen The Complete Manicure Smooth and Strong Base Coat ($7, target.com).
Despite what you might've heard, your digits don't need a rest from nail polish. If the polish is nitrocellulose-based -- and 90 to 95 percent of nail lacquers are (look for it in the ingredient list to make sure yours is) -- the coating is breathable and flexible. What nails absolutely need a break from: gel manicures and acrylic nails. These coatings don't allow moisture to pass through the nail and so it gets trapped, making the nail underneath extremely soft and easily damaged, Busch says. If you get these services, go bare every four to six weeks and let your nails dry out for five days before reapplying.
It doesn't just look bad; it's wrecking your nails. "Women don't realize that chipped polish is actually trashing their nails," says Perillo. As the enamel peels away, it takes a layer of your nail with it, says Perillo. Plus, things (like your clothing) can also get snagged on chips, promoting fraying and splitting.
While very necessary, the polish removal process itself can be extremely drying to nails. To counteract its dehydrating effect, choose a remover that contains nail-nourishing oils. Certain oils -- flaxseed, apricot seed, and perilla -- can penetrate the nail bed and strengthen brittle nails, says Busch. They go on as a liquid and dry semi-solid, leaving a protective shield on the nail. "The data shows nails break less when treated with these oils," he says. Find all three in Cutex Advanced Revival Nail Formula ($3, drugstore.com).