3 Types of Nail File and Which is Best?

There’s a nail file out there that’s been getting a lot of attention lately. You may even own, have tried, or at least heard of; the glass (aka crystal) nail file.

It’s definitely sleek, and very chic (I like to rhyme whenever possible) but is it worth the higher price tag and is it better than all of those emery boards we have laying around? What about the good old metal file? Let’s see if we can figure this out.

Emery Board Nail Files

Emery boards are basically strips of cardboard with small grains of sand stuck to them.  Think of them as sandpaper because that’s pretty much what they are.

They work by tearing the end of your nail as you slide it across the tip of your nail (ouch). It produces a rough edge which is sometimes obvious depending on the grit (yes grit, as in sandpaper) of the emery board…kind of nasty if you think about it. You’re supposed to choose the coarseness of the grit dependent on whether you have weak, thin, fragile nails or hard, strong, thick nails. I always thought it depended on how much filing you needed to do.

The reason you should file in one direction with an emery board is to minimize damage to the nail during the filing process…makes more sense to me now.

Unfortunately, in doing their job, emery boards actually cause more harm than good. Here’s why: With an emery board, you leave the tip of the nail open or exposed because remember, you are just tearing the tip off.

An open nail edge invites dirt, moisture, and all kinds of stuff inside the nail itself which contributes to chipping, cracking, peeling, and general weakening of the nails. Who knew?

If that’s not enough, here’s another thing. Because emery boards are porous, they have glue and sand, dirt, and debris imbedded into the file allowing fungus and bacteria to have a party.

There’s is no good way to sanitize an emery board and that’s why they say you should discard your emery board after each use. Do you toss your emery board after using? I never did before but I will now. This is actually an FDA mandated practice in professional salons.

Lastly, the emery board is not exactly environmentally friendly. At least one whole football stadium can be filled annually with discarded emery boards (if we all actually tossed them I guess). And it takes years for one board to completely decompose in the ground. Yikes, that’s something I would never even have thought about! I might already be converted.

Metal Nail Files 

Here’s the scoop on metal files. Tiny, minuscule bits of metal flake off while filing your nails. While metal is a lot stronger and more durable than sand granules (the emery board), the metal used to make the files is usually of a lower grade and actually quite soft as far as metals go.

But metal files just like emery boards also grind the nail and leave the nail tip exposed. Because there are metal bits on the file, dirt and debris can also be trapped between the tiny little metal “teeth” on the file.

Metal is non-porous so bacteria growth is not a big issue, but the metal file still doesn’t pass FDA standards for professional re-use in a salon setting. With that in mind, now I would be hesitant to re-use them myself without at least trying to clean them.

Metal files are a bit more environmentally friendly than emery boards because no trees are murdered in their production. But of course, they take a lot longer than emery boards to decompose in landfills.

Glass Nail Files (also known as crystal files)

There are two types of glass nail files, in one, tiny glass filings are adhered to a glass stick using super-glue like stuff combined with heat. In the second, the files are cut from actual pre-treated sheets of thick glass. Then the surface of the crystal is treated to roughen it, creating the filing surface. The latter is supposed to be a higher quality.

The glass nail file glides over the nail tip. The big advantage is that it doesn’t tear the nail like the emery board or metal file, so you can file in both directions and it smooths out the nail tip as it files (yay). No jagged edges to smooth out.

Better yet the glass file is designed to close the nail tip and actually seal it, preventing water etc. from getting into your nails.

Glass is non-porous and hygienic. So no bacteria or debris can grow on the filing surface, nor get trapped in the roughened surface of the crystal file.

They meet all of the sanitization requirements of the FDA and can be sanitized in alcohol, under UV light, and even baked in an autoclave.

Glass nail files will last years and are environmentally friendly because they last so long and are recyclable!

My nails are weak, short, and split easily. I think they would be good candidates for a glass file (which I’ve never used). I am going to try the glass file for a month and see if there is a difference. I’ll come back here and post about it.

Update 6 weeks later – I love, love, love the glass nail files. It could be my imagination but I honestly feel like my nails are not splitting as badly as they were before. I haven’t changed anything else about my nail routine except I started using the glass file. But the other thing I like is that it just seems to file my nails better. It’s not rough yet it does the job. I love that I don’t have to worry about bacteria and it’s supposed to last a very long time. The drawback? I can totally see it breaking if you drop it, especially on a tile floor or outside on concrete. I would still buy them though.

Have you tried them? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Dino Violante

    It got my attention when you said that one of the advantages of the glass nail file is the idea that it will not tear the nail so that the person can file in both directions. If so, then I will get this one for my sister. I will have it decorated and customized like the one she saw on the internet. She has the tendency to file her nails in whichever direction she pleases even though it damages them. At least, this one is safe.

    1. prettychicnails

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve been using a glass nail file for a few months now and I love it. I really think it makes a difference. I love the idea of decorating it for a gift!

  2. Dolly

    Hi there! Such a wonderful post, thank you!

  3. Angela Waterford

    I think I will buy some Czech painted nail files online because I’ve heard that they’re crystal files. Thanks for pointing out that glass is non-porous and hygienic which is something I’ve always wanted. Since they can be sanitized in alcohol, I’m sure that I can reuse it over and over again if I get one for myself as a birthday gift.

    1. prettychicnails

      You’re welcome! Yes I would definitely recommend them. I love mine and don’t want to use anything else now. I think you are right about the Czech files too.

  4. Kate S.

    Wow! Thank’s for review! I‘ve heard abt Mont Bleu brand on Etsy. Glass or crystal nail files, if I’m not mistaken. Do you know anything about it?

    1. prettychicnails

      Hi Kate – Thanks for your comment. I’m not familiar with that particular brand but I’m sure if they are glass or crystal they will work.

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