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I Can Use My Nails As a Box Cutter — Here’s How I Get Them So Strong

Illustration: Lyne Lucien

Some people have nails so brittle, they can barely withstand the pressure of buttoning jeans or opening a tight jar, and some people have nails so long and strong that they can use them as a box cutter. Danielle Odiamar has been blessed with the latter set. The former Allure editor, who currently works at brand-communications agency Citizen Relations, has been keeping her nails long and strong without gel, without extensions, and without any assistance from a professional for years. “People have always asked me what my nail secrets are, and I do have naturally very strong nails, but I also go out of my way to take care of them,” she says. So “other than using them to be a box cutter, I’m not using my nails for regular wear-and-tear type of things.” And with her tips — a mix of regular maintenance and conscious product selection — you, too, can have fingernails long and strong enough to handle everyday tasks.

One tip: It’s important to know when to cut your losses (literally) on your long-nail journey. “If you’ve got them to a point where they’re a little bit long, and they feel soft and bendy, I wouldn’t grow them long because if your nails are soft and you grow them long they’re just gonna crack,” Odiamar says. “So I always tell people, ‘If your nails are weak, don’t even try to grow them long. Just wait until they’re stronger, and you can get them into better shape before they grow longer.’” You can do that by following her tips, which she shared with us.

Nail Polishes

I really don’t do gel manicures. I pretty strictly just do regular polish. I feel like people will disagree with me on this, because people will say, It helps my nails last longer and stronger. But I honestly feel like getting them under that hot lamp and then the removal process of having to chip away at your nails makes your nail beds so weak. I notice a significant difference when I get them done. I think the secret is making sure that you’re using a nail polish that’s nontoxic. Before the past year or two, I never paid attention to the type of nail polish I was putting on, but I feel like I’ve really noticed a difference in using stuff like Zoya or Smith & Cult.

Top Coat and Base Coats

Photo: retailer

Whenever I do my own nails, I always use a base and top coat. I don’t really have one that I’m religiously tied to. I have tried a bunch of different ones, but the one I tried most recently from Sundays is pretty nice. It’s a base-and-top-coat combo, and it helps your nail polish stay really well. It’s been going on like two or three weeks, and usually the polish will chip, but these have not broken once. There has not been a single crack, so that’s a good sign.

I don’t recommend gel, but if you want to get the look of gel, I think Essie’s gel formula is actually really, really good. I’ve only tried it once or twice, but Essie’s gel polish with the gel coat on top really lasts, and it looks exactly like a gel, but you don’t have the harsh heat and removal process.


Photo: retailer

Unless I’m cutting them because my nail broke, I really don’t cut my nails. I just file them. I have a little vase filled with files, but one of the things that I always have on hand is a soft nail file. I think sometimes, when you have just hard, glass nail files, it makes your nails weaker, whereas a soft nail file will just smooth and prevent any jagged edges that could snag — but it will not ruin or hurt your nail.

Photo: retailer

When I do have to use clippers, I won’t really cut the tops of my nails. I’ll cut the sides to shape them, because I think the shape really dictates if they’re gonna break or not. I won’t even cut that much, just to the point that it’s shaped like an oval. This Brandless nail cutter is really sharp. A lot of other ones you’ll clip, and it won’t even fully cut it, but this one is very precise.

Cuticle Oils

Olive and June made this little cuticle serum pen, which is cool because you can directly put it onto your cuticles, and it makes them really soft. I use cuticle oil, too, but I’ve started to use this more regularly, just because it’s so quick. If you notice your cuticles are a little dry, grab it and rub it on really quick. It’s so mess-free. I apply this once a day, and I kind of just do it when I’m looking down at my nails, and I can see that certain parts or certain corners are kind of dry.

When I do use cuticle oil, I use Deborah Lippmann. I apply it when I remove my nail polish after a long period of time, and then a couple times a week during the down period when I don’t have nail polish on. That’s probably why it works, because of that week where I’m giving my nails time to breathe. That helps strengthen it between nail-polish coats.

Hand Creams

I’m really big on hand cream. I feel like it helps a lot because it keeps your hands hydrated, as well as your cuticles and nail beds. I always go back to the Kiehl’s Hand Salve. It’s very thick and heavy, so a lot of people don’t like it, but I personally think it’s really nice. I also really like L’Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream and Avène Cold Cream.

COVID-Specific Nail Care

I used to apply hand cream at least three or four times a day, but I feel like now that my hand-washing has gone up, with everything going on, it’s definitely increased to like five or six times a day. If I can avoid using hand sanitizer and just wash my hands instead, I will do that because hand sanitizer is very drying. There was a period of time during the early parts of COVID where I was using hand sanitizer constantly, and my nails chipped and broke, and the only thing I was really doing differently was using hand sanitizer. So I’m using hand wipes now if I need something on the go. I can get my fingertips and the tops of my hands and stuff, and control whether it touches my nails or not.

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My Nails Are So Strong I Can Use Them As Box Cutters