Nail Health

Courtesy of ulta.comCourtesy of ulta.comSophia Panych, Allure magazine

Length, shape, and health are even more important with intricate designs.

Protect yourself. A good base helps polish last and keeps it from staining. "Many bright colors stain the nails because the color molecule is smaller and the dyes have a great affinity to the keratin in the nail," says cosmetic chemist Joseph Cincotta. Nail artists advise starting with two thin layers of basecoat, especially if you're using glue. "Applying glue to bare nails is one of the most damaging things you can do," says manicurist Charlotte Knight, creator of Ciaté nail polishes.

See more: The 10 Commandments of Mascara

Top it off.
To make nail art last, stick to a basic, dedicated topcoat, like Essie Everyday Top Coat. "Fast-drying topcoats create a more brittle film, which can cause chipping," says Cincotta.

See more: Top 21 Drugstore Beauty Bargains

Keep them short.
"Long, talon-like nails are great on Lady Gaga but don't look elegant in real life," says manicurist Jin Soon Choi, in the beauty understatement of the year. The prettiest shape is slightly rounded. "Square nails make your fingers look stubby and clumsy," says nail artist Julie Kandalec.

See more: The 6 Most Flattering Haircuts for Round Faces

Coddle your cuticles.
The constant removing of polish and stickers can dry your cuticles, along with the nails. To keep them pristine, stash a cuticle-oil pen in your purse and use it after you wash your hands, massaging it into the whole nail. While you're at it, slather on a rich hand lotion before bed and go to sleep wearing cotton gloves on days your nails feel extra dry.

See more from Allure:
The Top 14 New Summer Hair Ideas

The 12 Best Eye Creams

2012 Readers' Choice Awards
10 Hairstyles That Make You Look 10 Years Younger