This Product Is Often Overlooked, But It Could Be Why Your Nails Are Breaking

In a bid to save myself some money last year, I made it my mission to learn how to do my nails at home. No, I'm not talking about a quick stroke of polish, I'm talking about filing, shaping, cuticle work and more. I wanted to give myself the full salon experience without having to spend a penny. From watching YouTube videos to testing different tools and practising for months on end, I'd say I've gotten pretty good at giving myself a professional-looking manicure. In fact, the other day my friend asked me where I'd gone to get my nails done as she loved the way they looked. You can imagine her surprise when I said that I'd done them myself.

During this whole process, there's one thing that has stood out to me more than anything else, and that is the importance of a good nail file. When I started, I was spending no more than £2 on a nail file and I was using it until it pretty much fell apart. Safe to say that my nails weren't feeling (or looking) their best. However, once I invested in a proper nail file, I realised just how easy it was to get that salon-worthy finish.

@harrietwestmoreland Hermes nail files

(Image credit: @harrietwestmoreland)

Now, I don't know if you've ever bought a nail file yourself, but the options can be a little overwhelming. There's everything from emery boards, glass files, crystal files and more, and I was curious to speak to an expert to find out which one we should actually be using. Therefore, I reached out to award-winning beauty expert and nail guru Leighton Denny MBE to ask him all of my burning questions. Keep on scrolling for the ultimate guide to investing the the best nail file...

What Is the Difference Between an Emery Board, Glass and Crystal Nail File?

First things first, what is the difference between all these nail files. "The most important thing to note is that, as with any product, be it emery, glass or crystal files, not all nail files are created equal," explains Denny. "Every nail file is different as they’re made to each brand’s specifications so it’s always best to buy your nail file from a brand you trust. However, in terms of usage, all nail files are essentially the same thing but with different benefits."

"Emery boards are the most common type of nail file and are the most accessible. Typically, they are made from cardboard-like material with an abrasive surface. Emery boards wear easily and over time, the efficacy diminishes. If you’re using an old or poor-quality emery board, the coarse file can cause the nail to split, peel, flake and break if you attempt to file back and forth."

@paintedbyjools chrome manicure

(Image credit: @paintedbyjools)

"Glass and crystal nail files are not the same thing. Some glass files are one sided and sprayed with sand, making them more like an emery board with a coarser grit. Whereas crystal nail files generally have a superior, fine grit surface as the surface has been treated to toughen it."

What Are the Benefits of Each Nail File?

"Emery boards are usually the most accessible to customers, they are available everywhere and also very affordable. They can be versatile for different nail shapes and needs and come in a variety of sizes. They can also be used on thicker style manicures, such as acrylic and gel."

"Glass and crystal nail files are most suited to natural nails and are generally superior in terms of nail care and durability. They’re designed to last for years, therefore reducing waste and being a good investment in the long run. You can also easily clean crystal files in warm soapy water to keep them working at their best."

@paintedbyjools nail tools

(Image credit: @paintedbyjools)

Which Nail File Is Best to Use?

“A quality nail file is crucial for any nail treatment. The best nail file you can use at home for natural nails is a high-quality crystal nail file. Too coarse of a nail file can chip and damage the fragile nails so it's a worthwhile, long-term investment in your nail health."

However, if you have acrylic or gel nails, Denny recommends using an emery board style nail file due to its coarser grit. "You will find it to be better suited to the nail when it comes to shaping and refining due to the thicker surfaces of the acrylic."

How to File Your Nails:

So, now you know which nail file is best for you, I thought it was only right that I asked Denny how to actually file your nails correctly. "Always file nails first while nails are completely dry. When wet, nails are more vulnerable to damage, as the water works to separate the layers of the nail plate and can cause peeling," he explains. "File nails with your file tilted at an angle underneath the nail working straight across, rounding the corners to help prevent in-growing nails. You shouldn’t have to apply too much pressure when filing – the file should do the work for you."

@harrietwestmoreland black French tip nails

(Image credit: @harrietwestmoreland)

There you have it. Everything you need to know about nail files. If you'e thinking of doing an at-home manicure, I've rounded up some of my favourite nail files below for you to shop.

The Best Nail Files to Buy Now:

Grace Lindsay
Junior Beauty Editor

Grace Lindsay is the junior beauty editor at Who What Wear UK. At the age of 18 she decided to train as a makeup artist before going on to study english and media at Goldsmiths University. It was during that time that she explored her love for journalism by interning at a small beauty start-up based in Shoreditch. Since then, she has worked at a number of publications including Marie Claire and Hello!, where her love for all things beauty continued to grow.

As Who What Wear UK's junior beauty editor, she covers everything from the latest hair trends to the stand-out makeup products of the season.