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Nail Shaping Basics

Shaping your nails is an important piece of a manicure.  Filing your nails primarily is a step in the grooming process, but the friction of the file also preps your nail for polish, much like sanding helps paint adhere to a wall.  The way your nails are shaped can also give added character to your nail design.

First, choose a file.  There is some debate over which type of file to use, but each has its benefits and disadvantages.

emery boards

Emery boards are the least inexpensive and the most popular, but have the shortest life.  Always file upwards with an emery board; downward motion can tear your nails.  The coarser side of an emery board is for shaping, and the other side should be used to smooth.  Once the surface begins to wear or peel off, change to a new board.

foam core emery boards

Metal files will last longer, and can be cleaned better than an emery board, preventing bacteria.  The more expensive ones coated with fine dust are less harsh than their cheaper counterparts, but still can cause rough, torn edges.

metal file

Glass or crystal files are the most expensive, but they are the best for hygiene and the environment, since they are the most durable.  Rather than leaving an “open” tip, glass files seal, preventing chipping, cracking, peeling and overall thinning of your nails.

glass files

Once you choose your filing tool, shape your nails.  Your natural nail bed determines what shaped nail will best compliment your fingers.  Look to the lunula, the half-moon shape at the base of your nail, and copy its shape for the tip of your nail.  Remember the more you file, the shorter your nails will get, so focus on the shape.  After you file, scrape underneath your nails so the residue falls off, and wash your hands in warm water.  Don’t soak your nails prior to filing or file your nails after a shower since your nails will be soft and weakened in this state.  Always file dry nails.  Remember that filing should never be painful and can weaken nails if overdone.  If you are shortening your nail length, trim them with small embroidery scissors before filing down.

Although your nails have a natural shape, you can file them differently.  The benefit of square ends (and why they are so popular with salons and as fake nails) is that painting French manicures is easier – just paint a straight stripe across rather than an arc.  The Squoval shape is close second option if you have a more pronounced arc on your nail bed, and the square tips make your fingers look wide.  In both the Square and Squoval shapes, the nails are stronger at the sides of the fingertip.

In the Oval shape, the sides round up, which can weaken the side area and cause breakage.  Yet, rounded nails appear more natural.  The Round nail shape can grow out and be filed into either the Oval or Squoval.

The Pointed nail shape is the least common, but is effective for certain nail art, or for costuming.

After you’ve finished shaping your nails, you should buff them, especially if you’re not planning to add polish.  Buffing adds smoothness and shine to natural nails, and further preps the nails if you are planning to polish.

buffing block

Now hopefully you will have beautifully groomed nails, regardless of which shape you prefer.  Although filing can be a tedious process, taking your time (rather than vigorously sawing) can save the health of your nails.   Fix those jagged broken edges for homework – class dismissed!

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Priya Mohanty September 2, 2011, 11:20 am

    Wow…these nails shapes r really nice…i like to do my nail round……thank u

  • Lyn August 19, 2012, 1:42 pm

    Thank you so much for this info. It is so useful.

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