I know, it’s been a while since I posted about nail polish—but it doesn’t mean that I’m not full of nail advice for ya! Today’s topic: how to grow long nails. I keep my natural nails pretty short these days, and sometimes I can't believe how long I was able to grow my nails back in the day. Seriously, check this out:

Long nails painted with turquoise glitter nail polish

I can’t believe these were MY natural nails once upon a time, and honestly, I wouldn't believe it now if I didn't have these photos. I remember that I would get asked ALL THE TIME if I had acrylic nails, and people were always shocked when I said no, these are my natural nails! 

To grow my nails this long, I created good habits that encouraged nail growth and avoided doing things that might be damaging to nails. Now, I'm not saying that you need to walk around wearing silk gloves and not lifting a finger—but you've probably got some bad habits that are stopping you from having long natural nails! 

Content Menu

  1. Stop Using Your Natural Nails as Tools
  2. File Your Nails the Right Way
  3. Use a Nail Hardener
  4. Use Cuticle Oil Religiously
  5. Wear Gloves When Cleaning
  6. Stop Peeling Off Your Gel Polish

How to Grow Long Nails

These are all tips and tricks for growing long nails that don’t limit what you can do. I still keep a lot of these habits today—just because I keep my nails shorter these days doesn't mean these tips are only for long nails! They're a great guideline to keeping healthy nails, no matter the length. 

1. Stop Using Your Natural Nails as Tools

How to grow long nails starts with this major step—not using nails as tools. This was a huge one for me. It's not something you would think of as damaging to your natural nails, but once you realize how much you use your nails for, it makes so much sense.

You probably use your nails as tools more often than you think—lifting can tabs, peeling oranges, opening lids… There are so many ways I’ve seen nails used as tools and it has to stop if you truly want to grow long nails! Using your nails as tools is the number one way that you're going to break your natural nails. How?

When you use your nails as a tool, you subject them to pressure that makes them break easily. Some breaks are salvageable (but obviously not desirable), and some are incredibly painful when the nail breaks right down into the nail bed. Ouch! Luckily, breaking nails this way is easily avoidable if you know what to do.

You also potentially cause jagged edges that will cause your nails to split and break off easier—even if they didn't necessarily seem damaged or break at the time. Instead, grab a spoon to lift aluminum can tabs. Use anything other than your nails for picking at things and opening lids!

Neutral nail polishes in clear cosmetic pouch

2. File Your Nails the Right Way

How to grow longer nails also has to do with your nail filing technique. I know what you're thinking—there's a 'right' way to file nails?

There totally is. And if you can’t grow out your natural nails, I bet you’re filing your nails the wrong way.

The first step is using the right kind of file. Most of the old-school emery boards that most people reach for are incredibly rough—not what we're looking for when it comes to the right nail file.

Why?

If your file is too rough, your nails aren’t going to have a smooth edge. This matters because fingernails are made of individual layers of keratin. When the nail edge gets frayed, it’s easier for these layers to start peeling and separating, contributing to weak nails that never seem to grow long and strong. Looks like it’s time to throw out those old emery boards!

Keeping nail edges smooth and unfrayed is a crucial part of keeping nails strong, and a key to how to grow long nails. Instead of using an emery board, I recommend getting some high-quality nail files. These aren't hard to find these days, either! You can easily find them at pharmacies and drugstores, and they're almost the same as the ones that nail technicians are using on you at the salon.

How to Choose a Nail File

Just like regular sandpaper, nail files have grit ratings too. When it comes to shaping natural nails, the numbers you want to look for are anything between 180-220 grit. The lower the number, the rougher the file.

For example, see how these cardboard nail files* have 180/240 on them? That means one side is 180 grit, and the other side is 240—both grits are safe to use on nails. All files will have a numbering system on them so you can tell if it's the one you need.

Or, instead of buying disposable nail files that get thrown away, get a crystal nail file. My personal favorite is this one from an Australian Company called Manicare. I’ve only ever had three nail files since 2012, and I only needed to replace them because I broke them—not because they went dull.

However, not all crystal nail files are equal. If the price is too good to be true (just a couple of dollars) it's probably just glass with a fine-grit sandpaper stick on it, which will wear out quickly. Trust me, I've made this mistake before! A high-quality glass nail file* has the grit etched into the glass itself, so it'll take a long, long time to get dull.

There's actually a lot of conflicting information online about how often to replace them—as I said, I've never had one go dull on me before and I've had them for years!


How to Use a Nail File for Stronger Natural Nails

The second thing you need to do when filing nails is to evaluate your technique. If you have a good nail tech, pay attention to how they file your nails. They file your nails using little swipes instead of see-sawing the file on your nail, right?

Here’s the deal—filing in the same direction prevents your nail from splitting and peeling. If you have a habit of see-sawing back and forth, it might be hard to break that habit. The thing is if you manage to, it’s so worth it—your nails will be way less prone to splitting and you’re on your way to growing strong natural nails.

3. Use a Nail Hardener

There are a LOT of nail strengtheners (also known as nail hardeners) out there that can help with how to grow long nails. These nail strengtheners work by literally hardening the keratin in nails—perfect for soft, flimsy natural nails that peel often. Different nail strengtheners use a variety of different ingredients to help the keratin harden and encourage nail growth.

The best way to use a nail strengthener is to use them as a basecoat. Some of them come with initial instructions to reapply for a certain number of days in a row at first—it's important to follow these instructions at first for the best results! I've followed these instructions, and then eventually tapered off to using the strengthener as a base coat every time I do my nails. In my experience, this is the best way to ensure that you're consistently using it!

The one that I’ve used for at LEAST five years is the Duri Rejuvacote 1*. Technically, it's a two-step strengthener but I've never felt the need to go to the second step. I also find it's a marvelous base coat and helps to keep my polish on for at least a week, totally chip-free. I don't know what kind of sorcery they put in these bottles at Duri but I live for it.

However, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing—nail strengtheners may make nails too hard, ultimately making them brittle. Luckily, there’s a really easy way to stop this and still strengthen your nails—cuticle oil. 
Cuticle oil, glass nail file, and nail hardener

4. Use Cuticle Oil Religiously

Despite its name, cuticles aren’t the only thing that benefits from cuticle oil. How to use cuticle oil the right way is also a pretty confusing issue, so let’s start with the basics—what does cuticle oil do?

Cuticle oil conditions and moisturizes the skin around your nail and your nail plate. Remember how we said nails are made of keratin? Hair is also made of keratin, and can absorb oils into its structure (this is how deep conditioners work, FYI)! These absorbed oils strengthen hair and moisturize it from within—and a similar thing happens with your nails.

Just like hair, dried nails show signs of damage—splitting, feeling rough, and generally, just not looking nice. However, going back to how oil deep-conditions hair—it does the same thing to nails. Cuticle oil benefits nails by making them stronger and moisturized, so they can bend (with strength) and won’t break.

You can buy ready-made cuticle oils*, but cuticle oil DIY is a great option too. While there are suggestions that some oils work better than others, pretty much any plant-based oil will do wonders. If you have a facial oil that didn’t work out in your skincare routine, a great way to repurpose it is as a cuticle oil—just use a half drop or so on each nail and massage in. I like doing this while watching a movie (or binge-watching my current favorite tv show).

Just like with using a nail strengthener, consistency is key to how to grow out nails with cuticle oil. Cuticle oil pens* like this are great stashed all around the house, so your cuticle oil is never out of reach! I prefer the empty ones so you can fill them up with whatever oil you prefer.

5. Wear Gloves When Cleaning

This tip has TWO benefits for your nails—first off, it helps make your manicure last longer! Second, it helps to strengthen nails by preventing soaking them in water. If you've ever soaked your hands for a LONG time (while swimming for example), you probably noticed that your nails become soft while they are wet.

When your natural nails are this soft, they’re vulnerable to damage, such as nail layers splitting and breakage. Luckily, it’s easy to avoid this just by wearing gloves while cleaning—especially while washing dishes.

6. Stop Peeling Off Your Gel Polish

This is a BIG one and I’m pretty sure everyone can relate to this one. I know what you’re thinking—is gel polish bad for your nails?

Nope!

When applied and removed correctly by a skilled nail technician, gel nail polish does not damage your nails in any way, shape, or form. Healthy nails are possible if you are a gel manicure fanatic! The only reason I don't use gels is the safe removal process is a pain (in my opinion) and I change my nail color often enough that the long-wear of gel isn't worth it.

So why do people think that gel polish is bad for their nails? If it's not the nail tech and not the product, there's only one answer—people are damaging their natural nails themselves.

Hear me out—most people damage their healthy nails by peeling off gel nail polish. Here’s the thing—gel polish is made up of polymers cured to the surface of your natural nails. Put simply, when you get a gel manicure, the polish isn’t just painted over the top (like with normal nail polish). When it goes under the UV light to cure, the polymer solidifies and attaches itself firmly to the top layers of your nails.

And if you follow what I’m saying—it’s these same upper layers that get peeled off when you peel off your gel manicure. Ouch! No wonder people complain about gel polish damaging their nails—peeling off these layers leaves nails weakened and in extreme cases, sensitive and painful. And that’s not even the worst part!

IMO, the worst part is that it's completely preventable if people just wouldn't peel off their gel polish manicure! (Thanks for coming to my TED talk).

There you have it—my six best tips for how to grow your nails longer (and get healthy nails in the process). All of these habits add up and you’ll have long, strong nails in no time!

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