*Click Click Click* That’s the sound of my nails on the keyboard, on my coffee mug, on my phone, on my steering wheel… The point is, my nails go everywhere with me, and nice nails is one of my best accessories.

It’s why having strong nails is important, because they go through so much and I need them to last. It’s also why having nicely manicured nails is such a treat. During day-to-day activities your nails are right in the centre of your vision (not to mention, one of the first things someone will see when going to shake your hand). Beautiful hands – and nails – go a long way.

Nail maintenance is important for both girls and guys. Aside from looking pro, well-kept nails are a sign of cleanliness and can reduce the amount of bacteria harboring on our hands. For that, and so many other reasons, I enjoy putting time into taking care of my nails.

Lots of you have commented on my nails or asked me what products I use. I have a few favorites along with a couple tips (ha!) as well. So to answer your questions, I decided to weigh in on some major nail debates, and let you know how I keep my nails strong and beautiful.

Gel Polish (Shellac) vs Regular Polish

My Thoughts: I love shellac – but not all the time.

My Tip: Bring fingerless gloves along.

The modern age-old debate many of us face when seated at the nail salon: should you get Shellac or a regular polish manicure? Of course, there are pros and cons to both options. The obvious benefit of gel manis (which is a specially formulated polish that is cured under UV light) is the longevity. Shellac can last without chipping for up to a month! Choose nude shades so the grow out doesn’t look so obvious if you plan to set a world record. I hardly get my Shellac taken off for chips, rather, I’ll have it removed or redone because it has grown out and my nail bed is showing more than I’d like. That’s what makes it the perfect choice for travelling. If you are going to be on the move or working with your hands a lot after a manicure, Shellac will ease your chipping worries. I travelled quite a bit this past March through June, and had 4 Shellac manicures back to back (more on that later).

The down side? Gel manicures are cured under UV light, which can mean more UV exposure to your hands than you may want. That’s why I say bring fingerless gloves or at the very least, wear sunscreen on your hands before heading over to the nail salon.

If UV is a concern of yours but you still want the durability of shellac bring dollar store gloves to the manicure (I got a hideous pair of floral gardening gloves) and just cut the fingers off first. Before the manicurist starts the nail painting portion of the manicure, I’ll slip the gloves on. That way my skin is protected from the UV light while it is curing the polish. I might look a little silly (yes, people have laughed), but it gives me piece of mind.

While I love a good gel manicure, I try to give my nails a break every once in a while. I’ve noticed that after the Shellac comes off my nails feel thinner, weaker and can’t hold their length. I suppose that could be due to the acetone soak, scraping and filing done to remove it. So once it’s removed, I moisturize like crazy and I go about a week using a nail strengthener like OPI Nail Envy or a keratin treatment, like CND’s RescueRXX. After that week, I’ll start to paint my nails at home again. A word about nail strengtheners, I use them for a few days or up to a week about once a month to help my nails breathe and repair themselves. I’ve used Nail Envy for a long time. It’s a clear product that you apply like polish – 2 coats at the beginning and one coat every other day for a week. It’s full of protein so it helps nails out a little while they are growing and getting their strength back.

Nail thinning is even worse if you take the Shellac off yourself – avoid picking it off like the plague, and don’t try it at home. You can really harm your nail or nail bed. I always go to the salon to have my polish removed (it costs $5, literally, and is a great time for me to plug in a podcast).

Manicure Style

My Thoughts: Nail Shape Matters

The Tip: Know if your nails suit Round or Square

I used to find myself leaving the nail salon looking great, but then a day or two after (if I was that lucky!) the manicure was wrought with chips and hang nails – ugh. I thought the solution was to ask my manicurist not to cut my cuticles, maybe they were just over doing it? But I found out recently that it’s more to do with the end of your nails. Technique does matter, but this part is equally as important.

When they ask you “square or round” – as in, the shape you want them to file the tips of your nails into – your answer matters. Take a look at your nails, specifically your cuticles or the edge of your nail bed. That’s the spot where the skin meets the nail bed. Some people’s cuticles are more round shaped (half moon) and others are more square, or at the very least, don’t have a pronounced crescent shape. Your cuticles can serve as a guide for how the end of your nails should look. Matching your nail shape to your cuticle shape is supposed to prevent breakage, allow for healthier growth and stop hang nails. I’ve found that when I file my nails into round tips (my cuticles are round) my nails stay healthier, split and break less and I have less hangnails to deal with. Admittedly, I do miss a good square-with-rounded- edges look, but I’m adapting.

Moisturize Those Nails

My Thoughts: You can never moisturize enough

The Tip: Use moisturizing oil or body butter

What I’ve learned is that parched nails don’t hold up very well – the cuticles are dry and can’t support healthy nail growth, so nails become brittle. Moisturizing nails – specifically cuticles and your hands, will help with preventing hangnails, keeping cuticles moisture, nails healthier and of course, having soft, supple hands. I apply several types of treatments to my hands, it depends on what’s closest and what I feel like that day – there are many ways to achieve this. The key is to go with something deeply nourishing and natural; so sweet almond oil, coconut oil, olive oil works, and shea butter is a great choice too. These are all quite greasy, so you need to give your hands time to absorb all of the goodness. At times, I’ll even take some cuticle oil around with me (CND treatment) to further intensify these efforts, this is usually a move I pull off in the winter.

Now, aside from moisturizing my nails, I love my hands to look hydrated and as smooth as humanly possibly. One of my favorite products for this is a retin-based oil called Hand Chemistry Retin-Oil. Retinoid is a form of vitamin A; it’s concentrated, and its supposed to help with a ton of different skin issues (think: acne, wrinkles, discoloration, you get the idea). I’ve seen a difference in scars, and it has smoothed my hands like no other. I typically use it at night before bed. The best part is, it’s a dry oil so it is not greasy and you only have to use a drop or two each application.

Always be Prepared

My Thoughts: Preventing Nail Problems is the best solution

The Tip: Carry products with you

I always carry nail care items with me and I have a tiny little purse. You don’t need a lot to make your hands and nails look photo-ready. What I do is keep a small jewelry pouch in my purse that I’ve filled with a small sample-sized container of shea butter and a mini glass nail file. (Using a glass file is another tip – they file faster and smoother than any cardboard or metal file I’ve used and don’t harm the tips of your nails which leads to peeling). While I know this sounds a bit princess-y, at least this way my hands and cuticles are smooth and I’m prepared for any nail emergency.

Don’t laugh! Nail emergences are real. People may scoff when a girl gasps over broken nails – but it can physically (and let’s be honest, emotionally) hurt! Plus, it can ruin the look of your manicure. The best way to prevent broken nails is by having a file with you. If you notice any little notch or snag on your nails or one is growing a little out of whack, file it down. It will be less likely to catch on something and rip – ouch.

Well ladies (and gentlemen – you need nice hands and nails, too) – those are my top nail care tips. Of course, this goes a bit beyond trimming and filing and these tips really work for me. Nail care involves trial and error, finding what moisturizer is best for you and what products to carry with you that are the handiest (I just can’t resist the hand puns). I hope some of these tips will help you keep your hands and nails looking and feeling perfect.