6 Tips I Learned About Strong, Healthy Nails At A ‘Nail Facial’

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For someone who writes about beauty for a living, my nails are pretty worse for wear. While my bedtime ritual consists of binge-watching Charmed for the fifth time, my beauty editor friends (I imagine) are diligently oiling their cuticles, treating their nails to a slick of strengthener and filing away any jagged edges with a crystal file.
A dermatologist once hinted that I only have myself to blame. I'm a chronic cuticle picker, hate the greasy feeling of hand cream, often forgo base coat out of laziness and gravitate towards heavily scented hand soaps (even though fragrance dries out my skin). It's no wonder that my nails are often weak, flaky and polish-stained.
@jacquelinekilikita Inspired by @💉 Dr Charles MD 💉 @lovefreshpaint @MyTrendyNails #beautyinatik #nailslugging #slugging ♬ Summer Love - Sole Sole
If you're an R29 regular, you'll know that I've come across multiple smart TikTok hacks for strengthening and moisturising brittle nails. First, there was nail slugging: applying cuticle oil followed by something thick and occlusive, such as Vaseline. Taking the time to massage both products into your nails and cuticles, then tissuing off the excess, is a great quick fix for parched hands (and it's dermatologist-approved).
Then came nail exfoliation. It has been reported that glycolic acid is beneficial for nail rejuvenation, while Dr Dana Stern, board-certified dermatologist, nail disorder specialist and founder of Dr Dana Nail Care, recently told R29 that removing the damaged layers on top of the nail can boost the absorption of ingredients, which may help to hydrate and strengthen the nail. These ingredients might include any moisturising cuticle oils and hydrating hand creams you like to use.
These hacks work a treat but I'm always on the lookout for the next best thing and I think I might've found it in a 'nail facial', the brainchild of nail and beauty expert Leighton Denny MBE. Just as you'd treat your face to a deep cleanse, a clarifying mask and a cocktail of protective serums, the nail facial floods cuticles and the nail plate with ingredients that strengthen, moisturise and smooth dry, flaky patches.
It sounds promising so when I received an invitation to meet Denny, I (and all 10 ailing nails) jumped at the chance. Here are all the tips and tricks I learned in a 15-minute appointment with the pro himself, including how you can adapt the helpful advice for your own nails at home.

Sealing your nails with a crystal file makes them stronger

I hadn't heard of 'nail sealing' until I met Denny but according to the pro, it's a must if you're prone to flaky, peeling nails. So how do you do it? "I always seal the edge of the nail with a crystal nail file, which is great for all nail types," Denny told me. He swiped a crystal nail file gently along the tip of the nail once or twice. It's basically like filing but there's another serious benefit besides tweaking the shape or getting rid of jagged edges.
There are three main nail layers, said Denny: dorsal (the uppermost layer), intermediate (just beneath this) and ventral (the last layer, which contains the newest, softest nail cells). "When water gets into your nail," said Denny, "it can cause peeling at the tips. The unique surface of a crystal nail file is smooth and it seals the edge of the nails, so that any treatment you do next is going to stay inside." In other words, sealing your nails in this way is going to keep nourishing ingredients from hand creams or cuticle oils under lock and key, and any potentially damaging water out. Not sealing your nails regularly is a bit like "leaving the back door open and letting the rain in," said Denny. "You'll find that your nails grow a lot better," he added. "This is the most important part of the nail facial."
Dehydration is the main cause of peeling nails, Denny told me, but he said that it's super common at this time of year. Just make sure you opt for a tool made from crystal or glass. "You can go back and forth with a crystal nail file," said Denny, whereas you might want to avoid this seesaw filing motion with a coarse, gritty nail file to avoid damage.

Get into the habit of buffing your nails

Buffing your nails will help impart a top coat-esque shine, all without having to paint them. Denny likens this step to microdermabrasion in a traditional facial, which exfoliates and lifts away dead skin cells to uncover shiny new ones. Denny prefers something with multiple sides for smoothing, exfoliating and lending shine, like the OPI Brilliance Block File, $8.95. The first side minimised the appearance of any ridges in my nails (a result of picking my cuticles too much). "This also helps to remove any staining on the nails [from nail polish] and helps to seal that tip," said Denny. But it was the fourth side of the buffer that made the most difference to how my nails looked...

Invest in a nail cream

Hand and nail creams more or less do the same thing but if you want to treat your nails in particular, rather than the surrounding skin, Denny has a great hack. "Blob a little [cream] on one nail [he started on my pinky finger] and that will be enough for you to massage onto the rest of your nails," he said. "Once you've massaged the nail cream in, buff it in with the soft side of the buffer. This will make them super glossy and shiny." Denny's nail cream comes alongside his buffer. I also love Caudalie Vinotherapist Hand & Nail Repairing Cream, $18.
My nails were so brilliantly glossy, I didn't think I needed any polish on top, but Denny insisted on a strengthening base coat to protect my nails further (more on that later). So aside from aesthetics, what are the health benefits of nail buffing? "Buffing causes blood to come to the surface of the nail, so it's good for circulation and encourages nail growth," said Denny. "A lot of people are frightened of buffers," he continued, "but that's because I've seen people use the types that are designed for acrylics." The Duplex Buffer is much kinder to nails. Combined with the cream, it gave my nails a natural, high-shine finish.

Cuticle oil is a nail's best friend

This is what Denny calls the "hydration stage" and it's all about cuticle oil — but not too much. "Don't pull the brush straight out," said Denny, "otherwise it's way too much and possibly even enough for a week!" His tip is to wipe the brush on the rim of the bottle, just as you would nail polish. Instead of applying it directly onto the nail, Denny pooled a little into what he calls the "well area" at the base of the nail, just above the cuticle. "Simply let this sink in," said Denny. (You might not want to pick up your phone or touch your keyboard for a moment.)
Oiling is a great ritual to prevent dry skin on your cuticles, which is ripe for picking, but the buffer is also great for exfoliating the skin here, as it's so gentle. After cuticle oil, Denny suggests applying a nourishing hand cream to skin and nails. "You can never over-moisturise," said Denny, "but you can under-moisturise."
To avoid parched hands in general, Denny has a great piece of advice, which is often overlooked by many — including me. "Make sure you're drying in between your fingers properly after you've washed your hands," he told me. "I have lots of clients who come to me with dry skin here, and it's simply because none of them are doing this properly."

How to 'tone' your nails

The above steps are Denny's nail facial in a nutshell but if you can't bear to go without polish, the next moves are a must. First of all: treat your nails to a swipe of nail polish remover to get rid of any excess oil or dirt that might mean your polish doesn't dry properly. Denny likens this to a facial toner, but for your nails.

A base coat is the key to better nails

Though Denny's nail care collection isn't available to shop in Australia, they recommend opting for a base coat that contains avocado oil, moisturising panthenol and vitamin E, to nourish nails and protect them from colour staining. "This is equivalent to a barrier cream or an SPF but for your nails." Denny applied two coats to my nails and again 'sealed' the tips by painting slightly over the edge. He suggests doing this with base coat, nail polish and top coat so that your manicure lasts longer.
Since then, I've been sealing the edge of my nails using a crystal file and oiling my cuticles once a day. As someone who has been slothful when it comes to nail health, I hate to say that I'm impressed by how much better my nails look already: hardly any flaky bits or unsightly white ridges.
Denny certainly knows what he's talking about, and it's safe to say I'm sold on the DIY nail facial.
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