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The Nail Shapes Dictionary: All the Need-to-Know Styles

For your next non-basic manicure.

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Treating yourself to a fresh manicure is undoubtedly a self-care staple. It’s the best way to care for the health of your cuticles and nail beds while experimenting with fun and exciting new nail trends. But while manicures should be a relaxing way to unwind, they can be riddled with decisions that are just too overwhelming to make in a massage chair. From deciding between a gel manicure or an acrylic set to choosing a nail shape—it's a lot! But choosing the best nail shape holds more weight than you think. You want to pick a shape that accentuates not only your nail length but also your finger shape and nail bed width.

To help nail which one is right for you (get it?), we consulted manicure expert Elissa Schell from The V Spot Nail Spa for a primer on each shape—from how to distinguish between styles to how to select the right angles for your nails. This, ahead, is the ultimate guide to your hand’s most flattering nail shape, so you can get back to enjoying that hand massage.

Square

Design by Monica Park

Basically, this is a perfect square with no soft edges. Sure, with a square shape you *do* run the risk of your hands looking stubby, but it's great for those with short nails and narrow nail beds. The straight edges are a lot more durable than other shape options and a lot less likely to break. Plus, this is the perfect shape for a low-maintenance manicure.

Squoval/Soft Square

Design by Monica Park

This shape is similar to square nails, but the edges are a lot softer. It's a good compromise between square and oval, so you get the best of both worlds. The soft square is easy to maintain on shorter nails and looks universally flattering on every finger shape.

Round

Design by Monica Park

Schell recommends round nails for clients who tend to think of their fingers as short or chubby. Similar to a square-shaped nail, round nails have straight sides but are rounded off at the edges. Round and almond shapes elongates your nail beds to make them appear wider and more slender.

Almond

Design by Monica Park

An almond-shaped nail is slender on the sides and wide on the base, coming to a peak—reminiscent of an actual almond. This slimming silhouette works best on medium to long nails and creates the illusion of extra length. Although it's a very flattering shape, the strength of natural nails tend to break easily when worn in this shape. Use a gel polish or try acrylics for extra reinforcement.

Oval

Design by Monica Park

Oval is very similar to almond-shaped nails, but the tip is soft and much more blunt. Sorry, nail biters—oval and almond shapes only work with longer nails. The oval shape looks most appealing on wider nail beds and serves as the perfect base for nail art.

Stiletto

Design by Monica Park

A big misconception is that almond is stiletto—it is not. Stiletto nails, popular amongst celebs, have a much more drastic point. Plus, the stiletto is not possible on natural nails because they don't have enough strength to hold the shape, meaning that the nail might very well break off in a couple of hours. If you want this look to last, opt for nail enhancements like acrylics.

Coffin

Design by Monica Park

Coffin-shaped nails are also similar to stiletto nails, but with a squared off tip, which makes it look like a coffin, or in a slightly less macabre description—a ballerina slipper. This is a favorite amongst those that prefer long nails and it's a cool shape if you want to try something different. You can certainly pull off the coffin look if your natural nails are long and sturdy, but nonetheless it will hold up better with an acrylic nail.


If you have barely-there nails

If your nails have been bitten down to nubs or cut super short, some of these shapes won't work, but that doesn't mean that your manicure can't look fab. Ask your nail technician to follow the shape of your nail–does it look more round or more square at the moment? And if you are looking to grow out your nails, here are Schell's top tips.

Put on cuticle oil every night.

When nails get moisture, they can grow and stay strong. Schell likes Hydrating Cuticle Treatment by Deborah Lippman. Or, for a full on nail care kit, try Arianna's nail kit with cuticle oil, a miraculous nail buffer that creates lasting shine, and a smoothing mineral hand treatment.

Get down with gel.

Gel manicures help nails grow out because they provide reinforcement that prevents nails from breaking as easily. If you're going to get gel, just make sure to never peel it off yourself, and get the color replaced every two weeks. MC Tip: If you want to cut down spending on gel manis, invest in a cheaper, easier to remove at-home gel solution like Essie's Gel Couture or OPI's Infinite Shine Long-Wear Lacquer polishes.


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