For most of my life, I used to bite my nails and cuticles. Even after I eventually was able to break my nail biting habit, the only thing that helped me stop chewing or picking at my cuticles (for a while) was my mom's insistence that I join her for her weekly professional manicure appointment. Mom taught me the importance of bringing your own manicure tools and nail files for hygiene reasons (so you can be sure they have been properly sanitized), and she helped me choose the best set of nail care implements and related supplies to assemble my personal box of manicure tools to be used on my nails exclusively.
That was many decades ago. These days, we are even more health and hygiene conscious and cautious about the virulent spread of contagious diseases, and it's more important than ever for every member of your family to put together and maintain their own, personal, handpicked set of manicure tools to be used on their nails exclusively, whether for at-home nail care or to bring to a nail salon when they have a professional manicure.
I spent many years self-conscious about my unsightly, weak, flaking, peeling, and chipping nails and ragged cuticles. About 10 or 15 years ago, I finally decided to get serious about making my nails stronger, healthier, and more attractive. As a result of extensive research, dogged determination, and a lot of trial and error, I was able to educate myself about the most common causes of nail damage, the most effective ways to heal the damage, and the best tools and techniques for improving the health and appearance of my damaged nails and cuticles.
I have been surprised and grateful to see the slow but consistent progress these efforts have produced over time, and want to share the information, tools, techniques and tips that have helped me achieve such promising results with other people who might benefit from my experience.
This post, the first in a new series about my successful journey toward growing stronger, healthier, prettier nails and cuticles, focuses on the best types of manicure tools and pedicure tools for trimming and shaping your fingernails and toenails and grooming your cuticles. I'll also share the most important features to look for when choosing nail clippers, nail scissors, nail files, cuticle pushers, and cuticle nippers, as well as the best manicure tools and pedicure tools I have purchased, handpicked favorites that have stood the test of time and earned a permanent spot as go-to components in my manicure and pedicure kits.
|Some of the manicure tools that have helped me strengthen and heal my weak, ridged, peeling, splitting nails and ragged cuticles.|
Selecting Manicure Tools Individually vs. Buying a Manicure Kit
Before we talk about which nail implements you need and the ones I think are the best quality at a good value, let's talk about the pros and cons of buying a nail kit that has the most commonly used tools and, often, some kind of storage case.
- Having someone else assemble a set of nail care implements for you is an easy, convenient option.
- Having matching or coordinating tools (of any type) that are neatly organized in a fitted case is visually appealing. A set of manicure tools designed and assembled by (or for) a single brand, especially if they come in a fitted storage case, can look neater and more attractive than a box or storage case with tools from different manufacturers.
- Choosing this type of set also means having "a place for everything, and everything in its place" (as my grandmother, whose propensity for tidiness and order I unfortunately did not inherit, used to say).
- A preassembled nail care kit may be cheaper than the cost of buying the same types of implements individually, plus a storage case or box.
Unfortunately, there are also significant downsides to buying a these implements as a set, rather than selecting them individually, along with your own storage case or box.
- Preassembled kits often include items you don't need, even though you are paying for them.
- More importantly, they can come with implements that can damage nails, such as metal files. These are much too abrasive to be used on natural nails and can cause peeling, chipping and breaking. (They are fine to use on artificial acrylic or gel nails, however.)
- Conversely, many kits don't include all the tools I recommend for achieving and maintaining strong, healthy nails and cuticles.
- If you've ever shopped for a multifunction printer, you know that it's rare to find one that gets top ratings for quality and speed across the board for text printing, photo printing, fax, and copy functions. Many excel at more than one, but few excel at all. The same tends to be true when buying tools, whether for car or household repairs, crafting, or nail care. Even in manicure kits that contain one or two high quality implements, the remainder usually are of lower quality.
- Unless you are prepared to spend a lot of money, the quality of the manicure tools in a preassembled kit is likely to be inferior to the quality of tools you select individually.
|Having the right tools and making a commitment to daily nail care maintenance has enabled me to grow stronger, healthier nails, so I no longer have to hide my hands!|
Choosing the Best Manicure Tools
Choosing the components of your personal nail care kit means you can decide not only which items to include or exclude, so you can have everything you want, and aren't paying for anything you don't want or need.
It also allows you to decide how important the quality of each implement is to you which ones you are willing to spend more on vs. those you can economize on without damaging your nails or achieving inferior results.
Since everyone has different needs, the best set of implements for you will depend on factors such as whether you wear natural or artificial nails (such as gels or acrylics), your budget, and what, if any, issues you need to address, such as brittle, weak, chipping, peeling, ridged or splitting nails.
Following are the best implements I have found for my own nail care kit that I can recommend highly based on personal experience and results. These are the tools I use on a regular basis, whether I'm giving myself a full manicure or just doing routine nail care maintenance.
Sharp Nail Clippers
I have always envied my sister's lovely, slender hands and long, slender fingers. My own tend to be a bit on the wide, stubby side, so when I'm not working on a jewelry making, crafting, or other project that requires short nails for the sake of practicality, I prefer to wear mine with a bit more length to create the illusion of slightly longer, thinner fingers.
Before I learned how to improve the health and strength of my fingernails, as soon as I started to achieve any length at all, one or more of the tips would split, chip, or break (usually at or below the quick - ouch!), and I had to take them all down to the same, very short length and start again from scratch to grow them out to a more flattering (or, at least, not exceptionally short) length.
When I finally learned that using files or salon boards to do this was actually contributing to my problems with brittle, weak, breaking, flaking, and peeling nails, I tried switching to nail clippers, one of the two recommended manicure tools for removing excess length before shaping the tips. (The other is curved nail scissors.) Unfortunately, I hated the first few clippers I tried! Here's why.
My fingernails have always tended to curve in at the sides. Also, when I need to repair a split or tear, the most effective solution I have found is the Orly Nail Rescue Kit, which includes brush-on super glue and a small container of fine acrylic nail powder to reinforce the glued repair area, which is them sanded or filed down as level as possible with the surrounding area. (As I mentioned, it's fine to use a file or salon board with acrylics.) Unfortunately, the cutting jaws on most of the fingernail clippers I tried were too close together to accommodate either the natural curve of my tips or the extra thickness created by the cyanoacrylate glue and acrylic powder patch. Also, the combination of my small hands and decreasing hand strength and dexterity made controlling the clippers somewhat challenging.
I even tried toenail clippers designed with widely spaced cutting jaws to accommodate thicker toenails, and an ergonomic design. Unfortunately, toenail clippers have straight jaws instead of the curved jaws recommended for trimming fingernails, and the clippers were much larger, bulkier, and more difficult to control and maneuver. So, eventually, I went back to using salon boards to file down the excess length instead of trimming it.
However, I knew this was exacerbating the existing damage to my fingernails, and I continued to look for a viable solution. Finally, in 2013, I found the right tool for the job!
I highly recommend the Seki Edge Nail Clippers (SS-106), which feature:
- Well crafted, precision cutting jaws made from high quality Japanese stainless steel.
- Extremely sharp, curved blades that meet perfectly, with no gap, offset, or overlap.
- Efficient, clean cuts that won't crush or damage nails and leave smooth edges that need only minimal refinement to the desired shape.
- A generous 2 mm wide opening that can easily accommodate even curved or thick fingernails.
- An ergonomic design that fits my small hands perfectly, yet also provides plenty of leverage to give me excellent control.
Sharp Nail Scissors
An alternative to nail clippers is to use a small pair of nail scissors with sharp, curved blades for trimming excess length prior to shaping the tips. They're actually better for your nails, since they are less likely to crush rather than cut cleanly. The downside is that they tend to be difficult to control when held in your non-dominant hand.
I picked up a pair of inexpensive Revlon nail scissors just to see if I could get the hang of using them in my non-dominant hand, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. So, instead, I use them to cut the nails on my left hand, and use my Seki Edge SS-106 nail clippers to clip the ones on my right hand.
The Revlon scissors were fine for a while but, predictably, they have begun to dull, and it is cheaper to replace them than to have them sharpened. When I do, I'll be buying better pair that will hold their sharp edges and alignment for considerably longer. I'm leaning heavily toward these highly rated GERMANIKURE Professional Nail Cutter Scissors, handmade from FINOX high carbon stainless steel in Solingen, Germany (renowned for its finely crafted blades, knives, and cutting tools). They come with a leather storage case to protect the razor-sharp blades. The manufacturer, GERMANIKURE, stands behinds its tools, which are guaranteed for life! The company is also committed to ethical business practices, refuses to participate in child labor or worldwide pollution, and manufactures all its handcrafted products in socially and environmentally responsible facilities.
Nail Care Tips:
- Always choose nail scissors with curved blades, not straight ones.
- Avoid buying manicure scissors intended for trimming cuticles. Their blades are too short to cut fingernails smoothly or efficiently. They also are not strong or sturdy enough to be used for cutting nails, which would likely cause them to loosen, become out of alignment, and lose their sharp edges prematurely.
Glass Nail Files
Emery boards, metal files, and coarse salon boards are best reserved for use on artificial nails. And while fine grit salon boards (and even medium grit, in a pinch) can be used to do the final shaping of your fingernails, the best thing to use for this step is an etched Czech glass nail file, sometimes called a crystal nail file.
Here are they key advantages that make etched glass nail files superior for achieving and maintaining strong, healthy nails.
Safer and More Hygienic
Unlike those made from other materials, glass nail files can be cleaned, sanitized, or sterilized in a variety of ways without negatively affecting their performance or shortening their useful life. They can be washed with soap and hot water; soaked in a solution of Barbicide concentrate (the iconic, Environmental Protection Agency-approved germicide, pseudomonacide, fungicide, and viricide that is effective against HIV-1, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, which is widely used in beauty and nail salons); cleaned with another strong chemical disinfectant; or sterilized with an autoclave or a UV light, among other methods.
Gentler and Less Damaging
Did you know that using emery boards, salon boards, or diamond coated files to refine the shape of your nails not only can exacerbate peeling, flaking, chipping, or splitting in weak, damaged nails, but also can cause new damage to healthy nails? These types of nail files are coated with abrasives that have tiny, sharp edges or corners that can create friction and drag, potentially catching or snagging on the exposed edges of the keratin protein layers along the "free edge" of each nail.
Czech glass nail files have the exact opposite effect, thanks to their etched glass filing surfaces that, unlike glued-on abrasives, have no sharp edges or corners to catch or snag on the nail's vulnerable free edge. The first time I used a crystal nail file to shape my just-trimmed nails, I was very surprised at how different it felt compared to the fine salon boards I had been using for this purpose.
Helps Seal the Vulnerable "Free Edge"
The etched glass surface enables the file to glide across the free edges much more smoothly, so shaping them is practically effortless. More importantly, the filing surfaces can help to smooth out peeling or rough edges and, in the process, help seal the edges of the layers together.
If you are lucky enough to have strong, healthy nails, using glass nail files will help keep them in good condition. If you have weak, peeling, chipping, or splitting nails, switching to etched Czech glass files can help make them stronger and healthier.
Faster and Easier
After feeling how smoothly and effortlessly the Mont Bleu file glided over the edges of my newly trimmed nails, I assumed that significant reduction in friction or drag meant that the glass file was removing less material per stroke than the abrasive-coated files, and that shaping my nails with the crystal nail file would require either more strokes or more pressure compared to using a salon board.
Imagine my surprise when, after just two or three strokes, I discovered that the etched glass filing surface had removed much more of the nail than I had intended! After having to trim the rest of my nails (again) to match the unintentionally shorter length of the nail I had been filing quickly taught me two important lessons about using glass nail files for shaping:
- Use barely any pressure, and allow the file to do the work.
- After each stroke, take a moment to check your progress. (It takes only a second to file off a bit more, if you need to, but once you have removed some of the length, you can't put it back!)
I took very little time to get a feel for how these wonderful Czech glass nail files perform compared to emery boards or salon boards, and how light a touch I to use to achieve the results I want. After having used them for many years, after I have trimmed my nails to just slightly longer than I want them to be with my nail clippers and/or nail scissors, it usually takes me about a minute (maybe two, if I'm being fussy) to file all 10 nails to the round/oval shape I usually prefer.
Extremely Long Lasting
The etched glass surface doesn't wear out, unlike salon boards or emery boards. This means that, unless you lose them or break them (which can happen if you accidentally drop or knock them onto a hard surface, or don't store them in a protective hard case), once you purchase them you can use them indefinitely.
The Best Value for Money
Since the filing surfaces never wear out, as long as you take care of them and wash them regularly (to prevent the etched surfaces from clogging with nail filing dust), these Czech etched glass files will work as well decades from now as the day you received them. In fact, both the sets I am recommending are backed by a lifetime guarantee against the filing surfaces becoming dull (provided the files are used as intended and not abused, and that reasonable care has been taken to protect them, such as storing them in a protective sleeve, pouch, or hard case).
Mont Bleu is one of the largest and best known manufacturers of Czech glass nail files. Their Mont Bleu Premium Set of 3 Crystal Nail Files in Velvet Pouch is a terrific value: a set of Czech glass nail files in three different lengths (3.54”/90 mm, 5.31”/135 mm, and 7.68” / 195 mm) for less than $10, as of this writing. Their high quality crystal nail files are made from dual-tempered glass, so they are significantly more durable than products made by companies that don't use a dual-tempering process to add strength. This Mont Bleu premium set of three crystal nail files is being offered in a choice of 22 colors, including some extremely attractive color combinations with ombré shading. The only drawback is that each glass file is protected only by a sleeve made of black velveteen fabric and clear plastic, which may or may not provide sufficient protection, depending on how, and where, they are stored.
I keep several small glass nail files on hand, including one in my purse or handbag, another in the glove compartment of the car, and a third in my travel toiletry and makeup bag. I also keep a larger size in my box of manicure tools. I started with this set of three premium Mon Bleu crystal nail files, which are wonderful. Unfortunately, I can bit a bit of a klutz sometimes, which caused two of them to meet premature ends. One of the smaller ones snapped when I accidentally sat on my soft fabric purse when I got into the car, and another broke when it accidentally fell out of my travel toiletry bag, which was sitting open next to the bathroom sink at our hotel, and landed on the hard tile floor. So, for me, keeping my glass nail files in protective, hard plastic cases is a high priority.
When I researched possible replacements for my original set that would come with cases that offered better protection against breakage, I was thrilled to discover that Mont Bleu also makes the Czech glass nail files sold under the Bliss Kiss brand, which are available in only two sizes and one color choice (a pretty ruby red), but come with not only the soft velvet and clear plastic sleeve, but also an elegant looking, durable, protective hard plastic case.
I now own three of the 3.5" (9 cm) long Bliss Kiss Simply Crystal Nail Files (small), which have a 2.25" (5.71 cm) usable filing surface. I also have one large Bliss Kiss Simply Crystal Nail File, which is 5.38" (13.7 cm) long and has a usable filing surface or 2.5" (6.4 cm). Note: An extra 0.25" of usable filing surface may not sound like much, but the difference definitely is noticeable when I'm using the larger size.
I recommend having at least two types of cuticle pushers, a set of silicone-tipped cuticle pushers and a wooden cuticle pusher, also called an orange stick.
I also have a metal cuticle scraper that I use only when necessary. If you decide to add one to your box of manicure tools, be very careful to use it sparingly and be extremely gentle, since it is very easy to cause potentially serious damage to your nails, cuticles, and nail bed with this hard, sharp metal tool
When choosing cuticle nippers, look for a pair that has:
- Very sharp blades on the jaws.
- Properly aligned jaws with no gaps; you shouldn't be able to see any light shining through between the edges when you hold the closed nippers up to a bright light.
- It is especially important to check that the last millimeter or so of the pointed tip is sharp and is perfectly aligned, since that it the only part of the cuticle nippers you will be using to nip off the tiny bits of hangnails neatly, without tearing or cutting too much. When using cuticle nippers to nip off a tiny hangnail, it's far too easy to make it worse instead of better.
- A robust spring-loaded mechanism that is properly centered and doesn't slip easily when you close the jaws.
- A silicone cover to protect the jaws when the cuticle nippers are not in use.
Keep a Separate Set of Pedicure Tools
It is a good idea to use your manicure tools only on your hands (which are washed frequently throughout the day), and assemble a separate pedicure tool kit reserved exclusively for use on your feet (which usually are washed only once a day, are enclosed in hosiery and footwear all day long, and are more prone to fungal infections).
A good set of pedicure tools should be very similar to your manicure tools. Mine includes duplicates of the same Czech glass nail files, cuticle pushers, and cuticle nippers I use for grooming my fingernails.
The main difference is that, instead of fingernail clippers or nail scissors, you will need a set of high quality clippers designed specifically for cutting toenails. (I would be wary of nail clippers that claim to be for both fingernails and toenails.)
To avoid ingrown toenails, your toenails should be cut straight across. When shopping for toenail clippers, I recommend looking for the following features:
- Very sharp blades that make efficient, clean cuts through toenails, which are thicker, tougher, and (in the case of the big toenail) significantly larger than fingernails.
- Jaws and blades made from high quality metal, such as high-carbon stainless steel, that will not only take a sharp edge but also keep it for a long time.
- Straight jaws (unlike fingernail clippers, which should have curved jaws) that meet perfectly along the entire length of the cutting edges, and are precisely aligned.
- An ergonomic design, including a handle with a good, comfortable grip and good leverage, to prevent your hands from becoming strained or fatigued after several minutes of use.
- This is especially important if your toenails have thickened or become tougher, which often happens as we age.
- Jaws that open wide enough to slide along your big toenail, especially if it is thick, tough, or curved at the edges.
Like my fingernails, my toenails curve inward a bit (which might have been exacerbated by my foolish insistence on squeezing my very wide feet into B-width shoes during my "salad days," since fashionable shoes in wide widths didn't exist back than). As a result, I need toenail clippers (as well as fingernail clippers) with jaws that open quite wide.
My grip strength is also much weaker than it used to be. This meant finding toenail clippers that, in addition to being a precision tool with very sharp jaws and a wide opening, also would allow me to grip them securely and comfortably in my small hand and provide superior leverage to compensate for my weak grip strength, so that I would be able to make sharp, clean cuts through my thick, brittle, curved toenails without painful strain and cramping.
As with my earlier search for the best nail clippers for my fingernails, finding the best toenail clippers to meet my needs required investments of more time and money, as well as more trial and error, than I had hoped it would. Fortunately, my stubbornness and persistence eventually paid off.
My BEZOX Toenail Clippers are some seriously heavy duty nail clippers. They are designed specifically for cutting tough, thick, and ingrown nails, and are substantial and sturdy without being heavy. The jaws open wide enough to easily accommodate even the thickest or most curved nails. The long blades are extremely sharp, and I have learned to treat them (especially the super-sharp, pointed tips) with the respect they deserve! The long, well cushioned handles have an ergonomic design, and despite their unusually wide profile, they fit my small hand very comfortably, which was a pleasant surprise. Most importantly, perhaps, they also provide enough leverage to enable me cut my thick, tough, slightly ingrown big toenails without having to ask my husband for help!
These awesome BEZOX toenail clippers are very reasonably priced, given the high quality, thoughtful design, and attention to detail. I appreciate the sturdy metal storage box with a velvet-lined fitted interior. And although the color of the handle did not factor into my purchase decision, I have to admit that I love the pretty red cushioned grips.
The Best Manicure Tools for Strong, Healthy Nails product review by Margaret Schindel
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