Make the best of your nail shape: A lesson in proportions

I’ve gotten quite a few requests for a tutorial on my nail care. But, honestly, I really don’t do anything special; my polish-changing routine goes like this: take off old polish – file nails if they’re too long – base coat – new polish, that’s it, nothing revolutionary.
For nice hands/nails, I think proportions are much more important than nail care: Hands with slender and feminine fingers are prettier than those with short and stumpy fingers, no matter how flaky their cuticles or how brittle their nails are. Now, while we are all pretty much stuck with the actual shape of our hands and fingers, we can manipulate the “extensions” of our fingers, our nails, and create more flattering proportions. Believe me, your hands can look totally different depending on how how you shape your nails and how you apply nail polish. Like dressing for your body shape, it’s all about proportions.
Fortunately, nail and finger shapes don’t vary as much as body shapes, there are only really two variables involved: length and width. These two measures are proportional because changing one affects the appearance of the other (longer fingers look slimmer and vice versa).
I created some before/after comparisons (sacrificing a few nails in the process :)) to show you four simple ways to use the power of proportions in your (hand’s) favour:

# 1: Nails should always be longer than they are wide
In order to make your fingers appear longer/slimmer you have to stretch them visually. Square or round nails (as or less long than wide), do the opposite and will make pretty much everyone’s fingers look a lot shorter. Short nails are fine, but your nails should be at least slightly longer than their widest point. Depending on the shape of your nail beds, this might be a given for you even with as-short-as-possible-nails (in my case only my thumbs’s nails can be square). But if your nail beds are wide/short, consider growing your nails at least until they have a slight rectangular shape.


# 2: The shorter or thicker your fingers, the longer your nails should be
This is essentially an extension of # 1: the longer your nails are, the thinner your fingers will look. Relatively slim fingers look fine as long as nails are a tiny bit longer than wide, but if you really want to elongate your fingers, try experimenting with longer nails. Obviously, there is an upper limit and super long nails are neither pretty, nor practical, but even a few additional millimeters make a big difference.


# 3: Avoid the inverted triangle shape
Some nails, mine included, naturally grow into the shape of a triangle past a certain length, where the tip of the nail becomes wider than the rest of the nail. This means that the flattering rectangular shape is lost, fingers appear wider and it’s just kind of a strange look in general. If your nails are like this, simply file down the edges, so each nail has the same width all-over.


# 4: Leave a gap on each side of the nail polish-free
Don’t apply nail polish all the way up to the sidewalls of your nails, especially if your nail beds are relatively wide/short (see # 1), as this will make your nails seem wide in relation to the width of your finger. It’s kind of hard to explain why but a thinner nail in relation to the width of your finger is a lot more flattering. My own nails are relatively narrow, so it doesn’t make much of a difference on them, but look at the little pink model on the pics: Although both “fingers” are the same width and length, the right one with the thinner nail looks slimmer. To get thinner-looking nails, simply leave out a tiny strip on each side when applying your polish, no one will be able to tell. Also, if your nailbeds are not naturally rectangular, (e.g. get wider towards the end) you can correct their shape by regulating the gap.

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49 comments

  1. I have almost the exact same problem. The only difference is the nail shape of the middle and index finger. My index has square nail beds and grows into a triangle. My middle finger has round nail beds. It is very frustrating. My pointer fingers grows the fastest and is the strongest. The other nails all seem to break right past the tip of the finger. I don’t know what to do about that either. It is bad enough to have short stubby hands, let alone different shaped nail beds.

  2. Hi! Thank God I stumbled across your post, my middle fingernail is slightly bent, it was never like that before I think (Image 4) Could you give me a little more information on how to go about filing the nail so it could be like the rest of my nails?! PLEASE AND THANKS

  3. Thx!!! I have wide finger nails, chubby fingers. I am 66, have a wedding ring to put on soon. I have worried about my nails/hands for months! You have taught me what I need to know. The shape, length, how to actually paint the nail. I cannot thank you enough. What genetics did not give me… I can recreate with your simple directions. Thx for sacrificing your nails. The pics really!!! help.

  4. Thanks for the wonderful post. I have stubby, wide at base nails. Do you have any tips to grow them out or make them look better? thanks

  5. This is really the best guide ever. most are like blah blah blah and I like how you added pictures, and thats a nice nail polish colour btw.

  6. Some really great advice here! However I caution leaving an unpainted gap on the sides of your nails, as it makes it look even more like a messy at home manicure and may not be the best choice in a professional environment.

  7. I’m a recovering nail biter, and am almost able to grow my nails past my finger tips without them breaking. Thank you for posting this, the tips will be useful since I have been trying to keep my nail painted for strength and as a deterrent from biting.

  8. Amazing post, I absolutely *hate* my nails. What would you suggest if nails are different shapes from finger to finger? My thumb, ring and little fingers all have square nails, the index fingers are quite round, and the middle finger nails honestly grow in a natural inverted triangle, it’s as though they do it on purpose to look ugly :(
    I try to just file them into vague neatness and hope for the best!

  9. BTW I wanted to swing by and compliment you on your blog design and layout. I’ve been monitoring your blog for the last few weeks and wanted to reach out and say “Hi”. Granted, as a guy, I may not be your target demographic, however from one blogger to the other….Great Job! Content is fresh, easy to follow and pics are perfect for sharing your message. Vaughn Berger (Las Vegas)

  10. Great post, this is amazing! Do you have any advice on nails splitting, like the top layers splitting from the bottom? I used to get acrylics all of the time but stopped nearly a year ago, and I’ve been having problems with my nails splitting like this. It keeps me from growing my nails out, and so they are stubby :[. I’ve tried strengthening polish and all of that but it doesn’t seem to help any. Wearing nail polish and changing colours regularly seems to weaken them a little, so I haven’t coloured them since January. If anyone has any advice to get my nails healthy again, please help this girl out! Haha.

    Here’s an example of what I mean. It’s totally gross looking, but I wanted to find an image online to help clarify the situation.

    http://www.czech-glass-nail-files.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/splitting-nails.jpg

    • I get split nails too sometimes and I think wearing nail polish might actually help prevent them because it protects your nails from external factors. Your nail might be naturally dry, but they split because of everyday tear when you touch stuff, open cans, etc. Nail polish itself isn’t bad for your nails, it’s just an extra layer. maybe you can try wearing polish for a longer period of time, say a week, because that way your nails get a break from both external stuff and any filing/polish remover.lso, make sure your nail polish remover is super gentle and definitely acetone free.

    • Kelli, I had the same problem as you with brittle, splitting nails. I also pick at nail polish if I wear it. What worked for me was applying almond oil (the kind you use for cooking) to my nails and cuticles. The results have been amazing; even after just two weeks they were stronger than any nail hardener ever made them. I keep a small cup with a tsp of oil at my desk and use a cotton bud to rub fresh oil on just my cuticles and nail bed every time I wash my hands. Very inconspicuous while at work and mess-free. Good luck!

  11. This is all good to know, I need all the help I can get with my nails. Do you have any tips on how to keep polish from chipping right away or what to do if you’re just terrible at applying it in the first place?

    • It takes a lot of practice to become good at applying nail polish, like any other skill. When I was 15 it took me ages to paint my nails, now I can do it really quickly. Also, some nail polishes are just easier to apply because their formula is smoother, so avoid really old or cheap ones. Get the Seche Vite top coat if you have trouble with chipping, it’s really thick and smells like super glue, but it makes your nail polish last for at least a week.

  12. Great tips! I always find painting my finger nails to be very frustrating, because they don’t look the greatest and the nail polish always chips after like two days, so I usually stick with just painting my toes!

  13. This is great! I’ve got some “fat” nails that grow into that “Triangle” shape. Thanks for the tips. I’m gonna file down the sides and leave a gap either side now when painting my nails :D

  14. I love beautiful nails. I get mine looked after regularly every 2-3 weeks. I have worn colour for a solid 9 years now and could not imagine going without anymore. It’s just who I am. Great post, very informative.

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