How to Exfoliate Your Nails (and Why You Should!)

by | Updated: December 15th, 2020 | Read time: 4 minutes

Exfoliation is one of the ‘not-so-secrets’ to healthier, youthful skin.

By removing dead and damaged cells, you unclog pores and allow fresh, new skin cells room to breathe, grow and shine! The result is a softer, brighter complexion overall, so it’s a must for your whole body.

However, your skin isn’t the only part of your body that can benefit from this treatment – your lips, haireven your fingernails – can too.

Woman Who Learned How to Exfoliate Nails Using File to Smooth Fingernails |

Whether you’ve noticed a roughness to your nails recently, or you want to make sure you’re doing all you can to help those nails look their best, nail exfoliation is the next great step in nail care!

What is nail exfoliation?

Because your nails are technically ‘dead’, exfoliating them carries a slightly different meaning from exfoliating your skin – although the benefits are largely the same.

Exfoliating your nails simply means buffing away any damaged, misshapen cells on the surface of the nail, exposing the healthy new cells – or nail bed – below.

Why should you exfoliate your nails?

Our nails are made of keratin, a tough, fibrous protein that helps build and maintain healthy cell structure.

With all the wear and tear our nails see on a daily basis (from water and temperature swings to chemicals like polish remover and harsh soaps), the keratin can suffer damage and degradation in the form of:

  • Roughness (lifting and detaching)
  • Brittleness (peeling, splitting)
  • Ridging
  • Discoloration

The result is comparable to the dry, rough and scaly skin we experience on the rest of our bodies. But, paired with a proper nail care routine, nail exfoliation can help remove that damage and allow your nails to grow healthier.

Nail exfoliation benefits

Deemed ‘essential exfoliation’ by Dr. Dana Stern, a New York-based dermatologist specializing in nail care, exfoliating our nails can help to restore:

  • Nail color: reveals the healthy, natural pink nail bed
  • Nail texture: buffs to a smooth and shiny surface
  • Nail structure: makes way for healthy keratin formation

How to exfoliate nails

Though you can head to the salon for a mani/pedi, with the right tools and a bit of time, you can exfoliate your nails to a healthy glow right at home.

In general, there are two ways to exfoliate your nails: physically and chemically. You can also opt for a combination of the two.

Physical nail exfoliation

Physical nail exfoliation is simple enough that you can do it with your young daughter or grand-daughter, while you enjoy a hot cup of Slow Cooker Cinnamon Spice Apple Cider!

For this type of nail exfoliation, you have two options:

  1. An emery board and buffing system
  2. An at-home scrub (using baking soda or rolled oats)

Emery board and buffing system

This is the fastest, easiest way to exfoliate your nails at home, and you can pair it with other activities – like watching a show or listening to an audiobook.

For this method, it’s important to have a variety of emery boards on-hand (excuse the pun), each with a different grit.


  • Start with a coarse-grit emery board to buff away dead and damaged cells
  • Switch to a medium-grit emery board to smooth out any ridging
  • Finish with a fine-grit emery board and polish to a silky shine

At-home baking soda nail scrub

This is a great step to add to your ‘at-home mani-pedi spa-day’! Baking soda works well to smooth the nail, soften the cuticle and even help remove nail staining.


  • Create a paste by mixing together 3-parts baking soda with 1-part water
  • Apply the paste to nails, rubbing gently in a circular motion (and massaging into cuticles)
  • Continue for about 5-minutes, then rinse nails and cuticles with warm water

At-home oatmeal nail scrub

Perfect to apply during a relaxing bath, this scrub will help to both exfoliate nails and soothe your surrounding skin.


  • Heat ½ cup milk with 1 cup rolled oats on the stove, stirring occasionally until cooked
  • Once cool, massage oatmeal mixture into nails and cuticles
  • Leave on for 5 – 10 minutes, then rinse off with warm water

Chemical nail exfoliation

Working much the same as physical exfoliation, chemical exfoliators dissolve dead and damaged nail cells, revealing the healthy, pink nail beds beneath. However, the ingredients needed are not quite so simple or easy to get.

Glycolic acid, a popular ingredient in facial exfoliators, is showing promising results as an effective nail rejuvenator. However, it’s best to be careful when exfoliating your nails this way, as the solution needs to be around 70% glycolic acid, almost twice as much as typical facial exfoliation products.

An at-home chemical nail exfoliator kit might be difficult to find at your hometown drug store, however, there are a few options available online, including Dr. Dana Stern’s Nail Renewal System that incorporates glycolic acid.

Finish with a cuticle oil

Once you’ve finished your at-home nail exfoliation – be it chemical or physical – be sure to hydrate, and seal in moisture on those shiny, fresh new nails.

Choose an ultra-hydrating cuticle option like Earthly Body Miracle Oil, then, for the cherry on top, hydrate your hands and feet with Sukin Hand & Nail Cream!