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If you follow no other piece of advice, follow this one. Seriously—stop picking, biting, peeling, and all manner of destructive fussing that you might be inflicting upon your nails. In particular, stop picking and peeling polish. The topmost layer of the nail plate contains cells that keep the nail lubricated and strong, and when polish comes off in sheets, that important layer of cells tends to come off, too
Leave Your Cuticles Alone
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It’s especially important not to cut your cuticles, which leaves you at risk for bacterial and fungal infections, but even pushing them back before a manicure can cause damage. Cuticles do have a purpose, after all; they bridge the gap between skin and the nail plate, creating a waterproof barrier that keeps germs out of the nail bed. The only reason cuticle cutting and pushing is popular at all is that a shorter cuticle makes the nail itself seem longer. Not exactly worth it.
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A nail that’s coated with polish is a nail that’s sealed against damage and allowed to grow and repair itself in peace. Even if you don’t want to wear crazy colors, a regular coat of clear polish works. Bonus: a nail that’s polished is probably not being picked at. (See rule #1.)
Take it Easy on Polish Remover
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Most nail-polish removers contain acetone and/or formaldehyde, which are harsh on nails. They sap moisture away, making it more likely that the dried-out, brittle nails will split, peel, or crack. If your nail polish is wearing or chipping away after only a day or two, it’s healthier to touch up the manicure with more polish than it is to start over. Try to limit your use of remover to once per week, and use an acetone-free formula to be even gentler.
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The nail bed is comprised of hardened keratin—the same stuff that makes up your hair—and it needs moisture, too. Treat your hands to a rich, emollient lotion often, especially after getting hands wet, working with cleaning products, or removing polish.
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There are two cardinal rules of filing: the first is that you should never file your nails in a back-forth motion. Nail technicians might do it, because they use professional-grade files and know the proper pressure to exert. But at home, it’s safer to pick one direction and file in long, broad strokes to help prevent nails from splitting. The second rule is to always make sure nails are completely dry before filing. If you file your nails when they’re wet, they’re more susceptible to damage.
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Your nails are not made of titanium; they’re not substitutes for pliers, hammers, wedges, or scrapers. Don’t try to use them to open soda cans, remove batteries, pry off duct tape, or do anything else that could be more easily accomplished by using an actual tool.