The Nitty-Gritty on Nail Files

by Rebecca Boneschans

The Nitty-Gritty on Nail Files

You don’t need a million different nail tools for at-home nail care. When it comes to filing and shaping your nails, there is one tool that beats the rest: the nail file. Depending on what type of file you choose, a nail file can either make or break your nail—literally. Read on to find the best nail file to use for your at-home nail care regimen.


The easiest way you can take care of your nails at home and save yourself a trip to the salon is by learning how to properly shape and file them yourself. For this basic nail care task, some women prefer emery boards while others use glass nail files. But which is best for you?


It depends on what type of filing you’ll be doing. Fine-grit files tend to be best for detailed filing and shaping of natural nails while the coarser boards tend to be used for filing away length or for shaping thicker nails such as acrylic or gel nails.


Nail file grits work like this: The smaller the number, the coarser the file. So, if you’re looking to really take some length off your acrylic of gel nails with a file, opt for an 80- to 100-grit file. But you should never use this low-count grit on your natural nails; it will rip and tear and cause more damage than necessary.


For natural nails or to give your nail a little shine, the higher grit counts work better. Best practice is to use a fine-grit nail file if your nails are prone to damage or break easily.


Here is the rundown on different types of files to help you figure out what works best for your nails.




Buffing Blocks:

These all-in-one tools contain different grits on each side of the block for every nail care need. They often come complete with step-by-step instructions on what side to use and what its purpose is. For an easy-to-use nail care solution, this is your best bet. There are a few disadvantages to using this block. First, it’s a bit bulky and it can be hard to get this tool into tight spots for precision filing. Second, the block sides aren’t typically labeled with the grit count, so you may not know if you’re using the right grit for your natural nails versus the right grit for fake nails. They’re pretty inexpensive, however, so I’d recommend having one on hand even if it isn’t your primary filing tool.




Emery Boards:

Available at any store selling beauty products, this is the most common type of nail file. Emery boards are typically made from cardboard and come either dual-sided with two different grits or single-sided with one grit count. If you pick up a double-sided emery board you’ll have two different grits that should take care of most of your filing needs. The only real downside to emery boards is their longevity. The newer the board, the better it will file nails like the more expensive files. As you use it, the nail file will wear down so be sure to pick up a new file every few weeks.




Glass Nail Files:

The glass file is definitely the most coveted because it allows you to do great detail shaping and cleaning up. It’s made of ground crystal, giving it a very fine grit that’s great for smoothing out bumps, discolorations, and for shaping the free edge of the nail. It’s not very effective when trying to file down a lot of nail length, however, so it’s best to use nail clippers or a nail file with a lower grit to get rid of length and then follow up with a glass nail file for refinement. The only downside to the glass file is that while it’s gentle on your nails, you have to be gentle with it. This glass breaks just like any other glass, so be good to it and it will be good to you.  




Metal Nail Files:

Metal nail files are great for thicker nails—like acrylic or gel nails—because they’re made of ground metals that are abrasive enough to file down the plastic. Because this is one of the most abrasive nail tools, using it on natural nails is not recommended. The coarse grit used in metal files tends to cause nail damage. So, if you’re using this type of nail file on your natural nail, we beg you to stop. There’s a reason this nail file never makes it through airport security: It really is a weapon.