Do you imagine your classic wedding-day photo of perfectly manicured fingers wrapped around your bouquet, only to look down and see a mangled mess? Or do you simply want the beauty of the salon look for your special day without the chemicals and expense? Try these tips to care for your nails in a natural, sustainable way.

Nails Are Not Tools (or Chew Toys)

While our ancestors needed to use their nails for many prying, digging, and slicing tasks, we do not. Scraping, scratching, opening mail, and typing with our nails all cause damage. Use a screwdriver, razor blade, letter opener, and/or tweezers, not your nails. I have gotten in the habit of using real tools instead of my nails, and it has made a big difference.

And keep your nails out of your mouth! Chewing on nails and cuticles is both destructive to the nails and potentially dangerous for your health because of the bacteria that lives under the nails. If you must chew on something, get sugar-free gum, or better yet get plenty of sleep and nutritious food to reduce your likelihood of falling into nervous habits.

Manicures Are Not for the Faint of Heart

Do not be lured by the pictures on nail spa windows. Most nail spas are the last places you want to take your precious digits. Many manicurists use toxic chemicals that wear down your nails. There is also a high risk of infection from the reused tools.

If you must get a professional manicure, be sure the spa uses natural, preferably organic nail care products. Do not let them apply nail hardener or any other chemical quick-fix products. Stay away from nail-polish remover that contains acetone. Either take your own tools, or check that the spa sterilizes tools between clients. And its a good idea to frequently sterilize your own clippers, as well.

Resist the temptation to get nail extensions. They create a seal that can lock in moisture and bacteria, causing serious infections. Tips are less dangerous if you really need something temporary. But it is much better to get your nails healthy and grow them out than to use artificial extensions. And natural nails feel so much better.

And whether you are caring for your own nails or getting a manicure, be careful with filing. Do not grate your nails with a harsh emery board. Instead use a smooth file. Always file in one direction only, not back and forth, and use slow strokes.

Let It Be

Leave your cuticles alone. Cutting or pushing the cuticle opens it to fungi or bacteria, which can cause chronic infections. If there is a hangnail or piece of cuticle completely separated from the nail, you may carefully trim that off with sharp, clean clippers (dont pull on a hangnail or separated cuticle, that will just make it worse). Otherwise let the cuticles be.

Clean and Soft

Keep your hands as clean as possible, but be careful with the type of soap you use. Some soaps, and even shampoos, can strip the essential oils off the nails and dry them out. Use natural soaps that do not contain harsh chemical ingredients. And, once again, the gentle natural products just feel better (and smell better).

Wear rubber gloves when you are washing dishes or cleaning. Do not soak your nails, as they can become waterlogged and weaken.

Moisturize your hands often. Apply a nice thick moisturizer in the morning, before you go to bed, and after every time you wash your hands. I like a moisturizer that has cocoa butter and shea butter in it.

Massage cuticle oil, or even something simple like almond, castor, or avocado oil, into your cuticles a few times per day. This is one of the best ways to create strong, flexible, healthy nails.

Our hands are one of the ways we present ourselves to the world. We want them to look radiant, healthy, and attractive, especially on such an important day. Following these simple care tips can help you have gorgeous nails on your big day.