How To Buff Nails: Your Guide to Nail Perfection

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Are you ready to step up your nail game?

If you want gorgeous, salon-quality nails, you need to learn how to perform essential nail care steps at home. One of these is nail buffing! 

Knowing how to buff your nails properly is one of the most important steps to achieving healthy nails that are ready for nail polish, nail art, and more.

A woman's hands are raised up holding a blue nail buffer on a pink background.

But what is nail buffing, and why should you do it?

In this article, we’ll look at the basics of nail buffing, including how to prep your nails for buffing, how to buff nails correctly, how often you should do it, and why buffed nails look better and stay healthier longer.

What Is Nail Buffing?

Nail buffing is the process of rubbing or polishing your nails with a special nail buffer or sanding block made of fine grit to help make them smoother and shinier.

It’s typically done before a manicure to help make the surface of your nails smoother and cleaner, making it easier for your nail polish to adhere to your nails.

But it can also be done as part of regular nail maintenance to improve the appearance of your natural nails. 

Why Buff Your Nails

Buffing your nails is an essential step in doing manicures.

If you don’t buff your nails before painting them, the natural oils in your nails may build up and create a residue on the surface of your nails. 

This residue makes your nails look cloudy and ruins manicures by making it harder for the polish to stick to the nail’s surface.

However, if you aren’t adding polish to your nails, is it still essential to buff them? 

Yes, absolutely!

Here are some benefits of buffing your nails:

1. Improves Blood Circulation

Buffing nails stimulates blood circulation under the nail bed. 

Not only is this good for your nail’s health, but it also provides color and shine to the nail’s surface — it’s just like pinching your cheeks to get the blood flowing for a natural rosy cheek color. 

2. Removes Surface Stains

Products like nail polish or hair dye can leave stains on your nails. Buffing can help clear these stains.

3. Adds an Attractive Sheen

Buffing helps remove residual oil and debris on the nails, making them clearer and shinier. 

4. Smooths Out the Nail’s Surface

Nail buffing helps smooth the ridges and jagged edges of your nails, creating a smoother surface. 

5. Promotes Nail Growth

Because buffing helps improve blood circulation and removes buildup and residue on the nail, it helps improve nail health, which, in turn, promotes nail growth.

Tools You Need To Buff Your Nails

So now that you know what nail buffing is and why it’s important, the next step is learning how to buff nails correctly.

Before you start, it’s crucial to have all the tools you need, including the following:

Nail Buffer

A nail buffer is a nail care tool meant to smooth the surface of the fingernails and give them shine. These tools often look similar to nail files, although they are distinctly different.

One side is coarse, and it’s used to sand down the ridges and nail imperfections. The rough side is usually similar to a 180-grit nail file or higher. This means it’s less coarse than most nail files used to shape nails.

The other side is smooth because it’s used to buff and polish the nail to perfection.

Some nail buffers may look different from others, but they all serve the same purpose. 

There are two typical types of nail buffers:

1. Buffer blocks 

Buffer blocks are usually 3-way or 4-way buffers that give you several coarse sides with varying grits for sanding and a smooth side for the final polish. 

This is a good choice if you want to take your time buffing your nails slowly.

Here are a few buffer blocks you can try:

2. Buffer files

Buffer files typically give you one coarse side and one smooth side. They’re easier to transport and use on the go. 

Some buffer files have 4-way buffers and nail files in one easy tool.

Here are a few buffer files you can try:

There are also some uniquely shaped buffers like buffer pads which are oval versions of the files, and fun block shapes like stars, hearts, and more.

Nourishing Cuticle Oil

A good cuticle oil, like the OPI ProSpa Nail and Cuticle Oil, makes the natural shine of your buffed nails last longer. It also keeps your cuticles and nails healthy.

You can use cuticle oil to moisturize your nails when buffing without painting your nails or apply it after using nail polish.

Cotton Cloth or Dust Brush

A soft cloth or dust brush will help remove excess dust or debris after buffing your nails.

Nail File

If your nail buffer doesn’t have a file built in, make sure to get one. 

A close up photo of a woman using a nail file on her fingernails

You’ll use this tool to grind down long nails or fix chipped nails. 

It’s also important for shaping your nails into your desired nail shape. A nail buffer, on the other hand, is for smoothing and polishing the nail’s surface. 

You can use your nail file to shape your nails before buffing or for smoothing out any prominent rough ridges.

Prepping Your Nails for Buffing

Once you have all your nail buffing tools, you’re ready to start prepping your nails.

Before picking up your buffer, ensure your nails are clean, dry, and properly prepped. You don’t want any oils or dirt getting in the way of a smooth buffing session.

Here’s how you can prep your nails in three quick and easy steps:

  1. Wash your hands and nails.
  2. Remove old nail polish with nail polish remover.
  3. If you have rough edges or ridges, smooth these with a nail file.

Once you’re done, your nails are ready to be buffed.

How To Buff Your Nails: A Step-by-Step Guide

An infographic featuring how to buff nails in a step by step guide process

Now that your nails are prepped and you have all your tools, you’re ready to go!

Here’s an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to show you how to buff nails to a high shine:

Step 1: Shape Nails With Nail Clippers and a Nail File

Start by using nail clippers to trim your nails to your desired length. Then use a nail file or emery board to file them into your preferred shape.

If you want, you can also use a cuticle nipper here to clean the cuticles and the sides of your nails.

Step 2: Buff the Nails With the Coarser Side of Your Nail Buff

Grab your nail buffer. Start by using the coarser side to remove the ridges and smooth out the surface of your nails. 

Holding the buffer parallel to your nail surface, gently and quickly buff your nails in circular motions or X-shaped patterns.

Apply ample pressure, but don’t push too hard to prevent oversanding. 

Step 3: Buff Nails With the Finer Side of Your Buffer

Once you’re done using the coarser side of the buffer block, it’s time to switch to the finer side of the buffer. 

Gently buff each nail with the fine side to smooth out the surface and add shine.

Step 4: Apply Cuticle Oil To Nourish Your Nails and Skin

When you’re done buffing, it’s time to nourish your nails with cuticle oil. Simply massage the oil into your nails and cuticles. 

Remember: if you apply your cuticle oil pre-manicure, wait for it to dry completely, then wipe your nails with a cloth before using your nail polish.

Step 5: Apply Base Coat, Color, and Top Coat for Added Protection

If you are doing an at-home manicure, the final step is to apply color to your perfectly buffed nails.

Apply a base coat to your nails, paint them with your chosen color, and end with a top coat for added shine and protection.

That’s it! Just follow these few simple steps, and you’ll soon be buffing your nails like a pro!

How Do You Buff Your Nails With a Nail Drill?

You can also buff your nails with a nail drill like the Fancii Complete Portable Nail Drill System, which comes with a buffer attachment to help you achieve smooth and shiny nails faster and with less effort.

Here’s how you can buff your nails with a nail drill:

  1. Sanitize your nails, the drill bit, and any other tools you’ll be using.
  2. Shape your nails using nail clippers and a nail file to your desired shape.
  3. Choose the appropriate drill bit attachment for buffing and attach it to the nail drill.
  4. Turn on the nail drill at low speed and gently hold it against your nail, moving it in a back-and-forth motion from the cuticle to the free edge.
  5. Once you’re done, use a finer drill bit attachment to add shine to your nails, again buffing in a back-and-forth motion from the cuticle to the free edge.
  6. Finish by applying cuticle oil and moisturizing your hands to maintain the health of your nails and skin.

It’s important to take your time when buffing with a nail drill, especially if you’re new to this method. 

Be extra cautious of how much pressure you apply as well, as too much pressure can damage your nails.

It’s important to note that nail drills are made primarily for filing and not buffing. It’s still advisable to use a traditional nail buffer regularly and only use the nail drill for quick results occasionally.

Precautions and Tips on Nail Buffing

Buffing itself is pretty straightforward, but it’s also important to take note of some precautions and safety reminders when buffing your nails. 

Here are a few guidelines to follow: 

Avoid Overbuffing

Overbuffing your nails can weaken and damage them. So stick to buffing each of your nails for no more than 10 to 15 seconds.

Also, you should only buff your nails once a week or every two weeks to prevent sanding them down too much and making them overly brittle as a result.

You can also give your nails a break from buffing every once in a while to let them rest and recover.

Sanitize Your Tools Regularly

It’s important to sanitize your nail buffer after every use. This will help prevent the spread of bacteria and fungus. 

Don’t Buff Damaged Nails

If your nails are splitting, peeling, or breaking, try giving them a break from buffing for a few weeks and focus on nourishing them with cuticle oil and moisturizer.

If the problem persists, it may be a sign of an underlying health issue, and it’s best to seek advice from a doctor or dermatologist.

Use Gentle Products

You should only buff healthy nails, so be sure to avoid using nail products with harsh chemicals that can dry out and damage your nail beds and cuticles. 

These include excessive use of acetone polish removers and certain nail polish products with harsh chemicals like dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and camphor.

If you need a polish remover, opt for an acetone-free nail polish remover like the Mineral Fusion Nail Polish Remover and gentle, non-toxic nail polish like the ella mila Professional Nail Polish.

Additionally, make sure to moisturize your nails and cuticles regularly to keep them healthy and strong.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Buff Your Nails for Gel Polish?

Buffing your nails before using gel polish helps ensure smooth, even, and long-lasting gel nails.

But you don’t need to buff your nails in a special way to prep them for a gel manicure. You can simply follow the same steps above to achieve this.

However, take extra steps to avoid overbuffing.

A gel polish manicure already exposes your nails to filing, UV light, and more — no need to add further potential damage by buffing your nails for too long or applying too much pressure on them.

How Long Does Buffing Last?

Nail buffing is permanent. It lasts for as long as the buffed part of your nail is on your finger. However, new growth will eventually replace the buffed area.

Should You Buff Your Toenails?

Yes, you can and should also buff your toenails. If you’re not sure how to buff toenails, don’t fret. You can still follow the same procedure for buffing your fingernails above to successfully buff your toenails. 

That said, it’s best to have different buffers for your hands and feet to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Buff Your Nails for Smooth, Shiny Perfection

When you buff your nails regularly, you help make sure that they stay glossy and healthy.

Doing it once a week or every two weeks can help smooth your nails and make them shine naturally.

A manicurist buffing the nails of a woman in a salon

And if you buff your nails as a prelude to painting them, you won’t need to head to the parlor whenever you want to get your nails done. 

You can create the perfect base that allows you to achieve professional-looking manicures in the comfort of your own home.

Just follow our simple step-by-step guide to buffing, and you’ll soon be buffing your way to gorgeous, glossy, and smooth nails!

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  • Michelle Alejandro

    Michelle has had a lifelong love affair with makeup. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Communications /Journalism, she began an illustrious career as a writer. Michelle penned a beauty and lifestyle national newspaper column for over a decade and became the Beauty Editor for Chalk Magazine and Editor-in-Chief for Metro Weddings for over nine years, working with some of the biggest makeup artists and trusted beauty brands in the business. During this time, she also completed a course in Creative Artistic Makeup Design and worked as a freelance makeup artist, beauty editor, and writer.

  • Jasmine Moore

    Jasmine Moore, a licensed nail technician with 3 years of expertise, offers specialized services in Acrylic, Gel X, and Dip Powder applications. Trained by Lena Fam and a graduate of NexGen Nails and Beauty School, Jasmine's accolades include nominations for "Best New Nail Tech" (2021) and "Best Nail Artist" (2023). As the founder of Jazzy Belle Beauty she stays updated on the latest nail trends.

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