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A Dozen Tips for More Beautiful Nails

Long, strong, healthy nails are possible -- if you don't fall prey to myths and old wives tales! Three experts tell you what you need to know.

7. Avoid rough emery boards.

Those old-fashioned orange emery boards are too harsh for nails, causing small fissures and cracks that lead to breakage and tears, says Ravits. Instead, she says, file nails with a smooth, fine file and don't saw back and forth. Instead, Ravits says, file in one direction only, and do it slowly and evenly to reduce risk of breakage.

8. Don't overdo hand washing and limit contact with cleaning chemicals.

As healthy as it can be to wash your hands frequently, overdo it and you'll wreak havoc with your nails, says Stern. If you are in a profession where frequent hand washing is mandatory, she advises to use moisturizer as often as possible and rub a little extra around the cuticles several times a day.

When doing housework or laundry, Jamal says, minimize contact with harsh chemicals, including dishwashing liquid, by wearing rubber gloves whenever possible.

9. Change shampoos.

While most women know when a shampoo doesn't agree with their hair, many don't realize it may not agree with their nails -- even if their hair looks great. This, say experts, is particularly true of detergent shampoos, or those for oily hair, which are designed to strip lipids and other natural oils from the scalp. "If your nails are very dry and you are using any soap product that strips the oils, there is the potential to dry the nails," says Stern.

10. Choose nail tips over full extensions.

All our experts told WebMD that, in general, nail extensions are bad news for nails, frequently leading to fungal or even bacterial infections -- and, says Stern, sometimes to permanent damage. If you must wear nail extensions, she says, opt for just tips. While they can still cause problems, the potential for damage is less since the surface area covered is smaller.

Important warning:

The use of a liquid acrylic nail compound known as MMA (methyl methacrylate) has been banned in many states and has been the subject of an FDA hazard warning, due mostly to high allergic sensitivity and serious nail damage. However, because it is an inexpensive ingredient, there are reports some salons are still using it, sometimes in the form of black market products. How can you tell for sure? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if your nail products have a strong, noxious odor; if nail enhancements are difficult to file; or they don't soak off easily, they could contain MMA. Report any suspicions to your state health board.

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