Nail files are a great way to shorten your nails while getting a clean, precise shape. And though it's easy to get nail files for cheap, they're not all created equally. When shopping for the best nail files for natural nails, celebrity manicurist Julie Kandalec says to look for files that list their "grit" number on the label.
A file's grit number is basically how coarse its grain is. The higher the number, the smoother the file and the better it is for natural nails. Using a nail file that's too coarse can cause serious damage to your nails, explains celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippman. "If you are using a nail file with a very high grit count on natural nails, you can cause damage or tear the nail and damage the pores and the structure within the nail which makes the nail more susceptible to developing a nail fungus," says Lippman, who is the founder of an eponymous nail-care brand.
Kandalec, author of Nail Art Design Book ($24), says if a file doesn't list grit at all, "it’s probably a cheapie that is not regulated and therefore is too sharp or coarse." She says to source files that are 240 grit or higher. "I love a 400 grit file personally—efficient at both shaping the free edge and smoothing the nail plate without causing damage. Anything that is 180 or below should never be used on the natural nail—they are designed for hard gel, gel removal, and acrylic enhancements only." If you prefer glass files, she says grit will be listed in fine, medium, or coarse. Go for fine.
6 best nail files
“The best nail file for natural nails is a glass nail file, like this one from Germanikure,” says Kandalec. “Glass files are etched instead of glued, so they never dull and can be used for many, many years.” To clean a glass nail file (and keep it fresh for years to come), use a firm toothbrush along with soap and warm water to remove residue, then immerse it in a 91 percent alcohol solution as an antibacterial measure.
This file “will outlast 500 uses, and at $30 is a total steal,” says Kandalec. “Diamond files are thinner than traditional files, which allow better dexterity when I want to file the sidewalls and not risk nicking the skin with a traditional paper file.”
If you often wear gel polish and want a file that works for both gel and natural nails, Brittney Boyce, celebrity manicurist and founder of Nails oF LA, suggests this Orly file. “Orly’s Black Board is a 180-grit file that can be used for both natural and gel nails,” She says. “It’s a workhorse in so many nail artists’ kits. It files super quickly and it’s also a very durable board.” Once it gets dull, though, you’ll want to replace it.
“This is the newest in my collection and it sold out,” says Lippman. “The long 7-inch diamond-ceramic and nickel-free nail file has abrasion-resistant PTFE coating and is semi-flexible to adapt to the curves of the nails. The thin profile reaches tight areas that regular files generally cannot.”
Rachel Apfel Glass, founder of nail salon and product line, Glosslab, only uses the file available in this kit (which is also what’s used at all Glosslab locations). “Glosslab prides itself on being hygiene-focused, so we are always aiming to keep our nails shorter, and more natural—and the nail file in this kit is perfect for doing just that,” says Glass. The file is small so it can fit perfectly in your purse, is easy to use and is great for natural nails.”
2 nail-filing tips you want to keep in mind
1. Don't file at an angle.
"Instead of holding a file at an angle, you want it perpendicular to your nails so that the tip stays as thick as possible," says Boyce. "If you file at an angle, it can thin your nails out and weaken the edge, causing it to be more prone to bending and breakage."
2. File from the edge of the nail to the center
"Everyone always says 'file in one direction,' which is a myth," explains Kandalec. This simply that you file from end to end in one motion, which can make it tricky to get your desired shape. "Instead, file from one corner to the center, and the other corner to the center finishing in the middle, not on the opposite edge."
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