If your nails are in bad shape, bad habits could be to blame. Here's some easy, at-home advice for shiny, beautiful nails that won't break


The solution to brittle, breakage-prone nails may be as simple as what you're doing (or not doing) daily. We break down the basics for stronger enamel. (Don't know how to tell if your nails are healthy? Check out 7 Things Your Nails Can Tell You About Your Health.)

Do: Stock Up on Cuticle Oil


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Polish removers, freezing temperatures, and other external factors can dry out your nail plates-upping your chances of a hangnail (you know, the painfully torn, dried up skin on the side or at the root of your nail). Believe it or not, keeping your cuticles hydrated can prevent the all-too-common winter problem, says Skyy Hadley, celebrity manicurist and owner of As "U" Wish Nail Spa in Hoboken, NJ. "Using cuticle oil regularly is the best way to soften the surrounding area and prevent hangnails," she says.

Don't: Skip the Base Coat


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It may seem like an unnecessary step-you paint over it anyway, right? Wrong: Applying polish directly to the nail can leave behind a yellow or grey tinge afterward. "Base coats prevent dark colors from staining your nails," says Hadley. "You need them so they look healthy when you go au naturale." Even better, these clear coats also provide an even surface for your polish, so you don't have to worry about bubbles or bumps ruining your mani.

Do: Take Supplements


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Four out of 5 women experience brittle nails, skin, or hair, according to a national survey by Wakefield Research. And if you fit within that category, it may be time to try a beauty supplement. It makes sense: Just like drinking milk helps keep bones strong, taking vitamins can also keep your nails healthy. The key is to look for a product with biotin, a B complex vitamin that can increase the thickness of nails. "Biotin helps activate protein and amino acids, which stimulates nail growth," says David Bank, a dermatologist in Mt. Kisco and a Shape advisory board member.

Don't: Cut Your Cuticles

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One manicure no-no you shouldn't overlook is cuticle cutting-even if it's by a pro. "Your cuticles act as a barrier against bacteria, protecting you from infection," says Hadley. "Cutting them leaves the area exposed, so it's easier for germs and fungus to get inside." Instead, ask your manicurist to push back your cuticles (or if you prefer to DIY, apply cuticle oil to each nail and use an orange stick to push them back yourself). And don't miss these 5 Sneaky Nail Saboteurs.

Do: Reapply a Topcoat Every Other Day


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Everyday wear and tear causes your polish to lose its luster, says Deborah Lippmann, celebrity manicurist. "Applying a clear topcoat every two days keeps the sun and constant hand washing from fading the color." We like her Hard Rock Nail Strengthening Base and Top Coat ($20; deborahlippmann.com).And be sure to match your strong tips with these 5 Healthy Nail Polishes.