How to File Your Nails Like a Pro

Achieve whatever nail shape you're after with these tips from a nail artist.

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Closeup of filing nails
Photo: Lukasz Soltan/EyeEm/Getty Images

If you're trying to make an at-home manicure look like a salon job, learning how to file your nails is key. Look at any talented nail artist's work and you'll see a set of perfectly uniform and symmetrical "almonds," "coffins," or "squovals." Achieving that as an amateur can be deceptively tricky.As with trying to cut your own hair, you can end up taking off more length than intended just trying to get everything even. No need to struggle to achieve a halfway decent result; here's how to file your nails for a result that would impress any perfectionist. (

How to Choose the Best Nail File

To master the art of nail filing, you may need to rethink not only how you're filing, but also what you're filing with. You should always use a file with a grit of 240 or higher to avoid a file that's too harsh and more likely to cause tiny tears at the edge of your nail, says celebrity nail artist Pattie Yankee. The lower the grit number, the more course the file. (

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Ideally, you'll actually go with a glass file rather than an emery board, says Yankee, and not just because they look fancier. "I really recommend glass files because they seal the fibers of your nail plate together when you file," she says. "So it doesn't leave so many straggling ends, those little frays on the edge of your nails when you file them." Look for a file labeled "crystal" or "glass" such as OPI Crystal Nail File (Buy It, $10, amazon.com) or Tweexy Genuine Czech Crystal Glass Nail File (Buy It, $8, amazon.com).

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Once you've secured a file that's not overly abrasive, you can proceed to use it to shape your nails to perfection. But even if you're using a high-grit (finer) file, resist the urge to saw the file back and forth. Instead, you should swipe from one side to the other before lifting the file away from the nail and starting at the beginning.

"I always advise against going back and forth, because that can weaken your nails and the stress area of your nail plate," says Yankee. (The stress area of your nail refers to anything that's past your finger.) Yes, it takes more time, but it's less likely to cause splitting and peeling.

Here's a step-by-step of how to properly file nails, according to Yankee:

How to File Nails Correctly

  1. Position nail file so that it meets nail at a 45-degree angle, with the file almost under the whites of your nails rather than directly on top of the tip of the nail. You want to hold the file at this angle throughout the process rather than positioning it perpendicular to the nail. Pinpoint the center of your nail. Begin to repeatedly drag the file from one side of the nail to the center point, rounding off the corner as desired. The degree to which you tilt the file from side to side will help determine its shape. For example, for a square shape, you don't want to tilt the file much at all while for an oval you'll tilt the file to round off the corners. For an almond, you'll file on the sides even more. Again, be sure to lift the file off of your nail each time you reach the center, rather than sawing the file back and forth.
  2. After a few swipes, repeat the process on the opposite side until both sides look even.
  3. Flip your hand to look at your nails from various angles to assess whether you need to make any adjustments.
  4. Repeat steps one through three until you've reached your desired length and nail shape.
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