How To Shape Your Nails Better Than Your Manicurist

DIY tips from the pros.

Originally Published: 
Here's how to shape your nails at home.

There are some nail services that are trickier to do at home, such as perfecting a gel manicure that doesn't bubble or recreating one of Betina Goldstein's breathtaking designs. But achieving the basics, like knowing how to shape your nails, is nearly foolproof — as long as you have some expert guidance. Whether you prefer rounded, almond, or the recently trending square nail look, soon enough you’ll be shaping like the pros at home. After all, doing your nails should be a fun and true expression of yourself.

“Manicures are a form of self-expression, and I think that regardless of having long nails or short nails, there’s something that can work and compliment you,” Iram Shelton, celebrity and editorial nail artist who has worked on projects for Gucci, Richard Malone, and Mulberry, tells TZR. “Since the pandemic, there had been a huge shift from the long talons to a shorter, natural nail look as people were unable to visit salons. I think this has then encouraged people to try and paint their nails at home, which I think is great — it’s a form of self-care, and I personally find it quite therapeutic.”

That being said, where do you begin when it comes to knowing how to shape your nails? "Examine your hands, fingers, and nails to get an idea about their relative proportions, then choose the nail shape that suits you best," Jin Soon Choi, celebrity manicurist and founder of JINsoon nail salon in New York, tells TZR. She says you'll position the nail file at a different angle according to the nail shape you're hoping to achieve. "I like to file the tip of the nail first for square and squoval, and from side to side for round, oval, and pointed shapes to balance the shape better."

For your tools, all you need is a sharp nail clipper and good nail file, according to Chelsea King, celebrity and editorial manicurist who works with stars like Sam Smith and Taraji P. Henson. "Nail clippers come in different shapes, straight or curved edges, and it’s all a matter of preference," King says. If you like your nails super square, she suggests using a straight edge clipper. Otherwise, a curved edge will suffice. "As for nail files, I like to stick to around a 180 or 240 grit — the higher the grit, the smoother the file," King says. "If it’s too rough, it will tear the nail and can cause future breakage."

When it comes to current nail trends, nail artist Aistė Plechaviciute, known as @heygreatnails on Instagram, tells TZR that simpler and smaller nails are in. “Oval, short, and extra-short square nails are going to be very popular in 2022, as well as almond shape,” Plechaviciute says. “Minimalistic designs, classy and simple artwork, [and] chic and good old French manicures are making strong comebacks.”

Whatever nail shape speaks to you and your personal style best, be your own nail tech by following the steps for shaping nails below. Have a pretty polish nearby and ready to go.

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Almond Shaped Nails

Almond shaped nails are showing up everywhere these days, from celebrities to Instagram and TikTok. From the shape’s practicality to versatility and ability to make your fingers look long and slender, nail experts are calling it the trend gaining popularity at the moment. “It’s fairly easy to maintain your regular life and daily routines while wearing almond shape,” Plechaviciute says. “Since this shape is very elegant and sophisticated, it works perfectly when you want to go for some glam nail art. It’s a very versatile shape.”

To achieve the shape at home, Shelton recommends growing your nails out a little first. “If you struggle with growing out your nails, my advice would be to start looking at what might be causing yours to break,” she says. Once you have the length to achieve the almond shape, she recommends using a 240 grit nail file to start from one side and file in one direction. “To reduce your time filing your nails, you can use a nail clipper to clip the sides of the nail,” Shelton says. “You want to hold the clippers to form a slight angle. Then use your file to file the sides toward the center of the nail. Do this slowly and alternate between both sides so that they’re as even as possible.”

Square Shaped Nails

"First, use a straight edge nail clipper to trim your nails as straight as you can. It’s best to not trim the nail in one clip, but rather clip across the nail a couple of times," King notes. "Then, use your file perpendicular and 90 degrees flat on the nail and file in one direction." King says she likes to finish off a square shape by softening the corners by gently filing, so they won't catch on anything.

“A top tip for shaping your nails at home is to move your hand around so that you can view your nails at every angle,” Shelton adds. “This will help you get the perfect shape.”

Round Shaped Nails

Timia Knox, a nail artist in Colorado and owner of Prissy Bee Nails, says that round nails are usually the easiest shape to achieve, as most people have naturally round nails. To start, grab a curved nail clipper to achieve your desired shape. Then you'll round the corners of the nail by using your nail filer, filing in a curved motion from the side wall to the center of the free edge on each side. Lastly, remove any ragged edges under the nails.

Oval Shaped Nails

Choi explains that an oval shape is somewhere between round and pointed, and good for someone with long nails. Achieve the shape by filing in one direction toward the center of the nail. Go from left to center, then alternate right to center. "Do one to three strokes at a time, stopping to check to make sure both sides are even," Mimi D, a celebrity manicurist and nail artist who works with Ciara and Beyoncé, tells TZR.

To prevent damage, stay clear of filing the sides down to the stress points of your nails (the sidewalls of the nails where the nail plate starts to extend from the bed), because in turn, it can make your nails weak. "Always file your nails in one direction to prevent shredding and splitting," Gina Edwards, a celebrity nail stylist who works with Tracee Ellis Ross and Gigi Hadid, says.

Stiletto Shaped Nails

If you have strong, long nails, or if you have acrylic or gel, you might be able to do a stiletto shape, according to Elle Gerstein, a celebrity nail artist whose clients include Jennifer Lopez and Blake Lively, tells TZR. "It's all about how you keep tapering that file, and you would just go from a little bit underneath the nail," Gerstein explains. "You don't want to go straight on, you want to get that file going from underneath on a diagonal." Pulling off the edgy stiletto shape is definitely a statement look — just remember that it’s one of the harder ones to maintain.

Knowing how to shape nails is an art, and you’ll definitely need practice before you get the knack. Still, with a little bit of time and while using these tips, you should be flaunting your well-manicured nails to everyone you know in no time — they might even ask you where you had them done.

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