I’ll hold my hands up to it – my nails are more shabby than chic. They’re weak, flakey, rough, unkempt and a whole lot of other adjectives that would make for an unsavoury dating profile.
My past solution has been to disguise them in the darkest, thickest polishes I can find, which is a bit sixth-form sloppy but I can’t say it’s something that’s really troubled me much. Until now.
I defy any beauty lover not to be swayed by the current vogue for ultra-pretty nude nails, whether that’s the delicate milky manicure worn by JLo for her wedding(s), the exquisitely slim-tipped French polish from A-list nail artist Harriet Westmoreland, or the “glazed doughnut” finish gleaming from Hailey Bieber’s Instagram feed.
Yup, the whole “clean girl” aesthetic has made its way down to our fingertips, from the neutral palette to the perfectly smooth and glowy finish. “It’s all about a fresh, minimalist, dewy manicure that looks effortlessly pulled together – think the ‘no makeup makeup look’ for your nails,” says celebrity nail guru Leighton Denny MBE.
Which is obviously great for those with the time, money and lifestyle for acrylic nail upkeep, but what I’m keen to know is this: can even grubby, short, natural nails clean up their act? Yes, absolutely, assures Leighton. “You don’t have to have long nails for a beautiful, barely there manicure! Groomed nails look great, no matter their length.”
Give your nails a glow-up
Like any #cleangirl regime, the new minimal mani is founded on moisturise – and not just hand cream. “I can see a huge difference in clients that oil their cuticles versus those that don't,” says celebrity nail artist and Essie ambassador Michelle Humphrey. “The oil nourishes the skin around nails, preventing hangnails, and also helps keep the nail nice and flexible.”
While you don’t need talons to pull off this look, you want whatever length you have to be in the best possible condition – so hold fire on varnish while you bootcamp weak nails with a strengthening treatment. Leighton says: “You can turn even neglected, damaged, dry nails around in 14 days by using my Nail Rebirth Capsules, £25 here. Apply daily on polish-free nails, massaging into the nail bed.”
If your nails are prone to breakage and also looking dull, Michelle recommends Essie Hard to Resist Nail Strengthener Purple Tint, £9.99 here, as a great flash fix. “The purple tint balances yellow tones, a bit like hair toner for blondes – so it's perfect for anyone with nail discoloration.”
Strengthen from within
Getting enough vitamins really can make a difference to the condition of your nails. In the past I’ve been inconsistent about taking them daily but gummy vits like Vitabiotics WellWoman, £15.95 here, have been a game changer. They taste like sweets, which makes them easy to remember. While my nails haven’t become miraculously steel-like, they’re less bendy.
Maximise your canvas
A great neutral mani starts with shapely nails. Michelle and Leighton swear by glass or crystal files as these are gentler on the nails and help seal the free edge, reducing the chance of fraying, chipping and breakage.
“Before you paint, use a nail brush to exfoliate around the nail and clean any debris from underneath,” says Michelle. “I love Hydrea London Beechwood eco-friendly brush, £6.99 here.“
Roni Dawkins Alder from the Nails Inc pro team adds: “Even if your nails are short, you can create the illusion of a longer, more elegant nail bed by gently pushing back the cuticles and nipping off any hangnails. Buffing your nails adds shine, helps remove staining and make your manicure last longer but don’t overdo it, as it can make them weaker.”
Paint nudes like a pro
Neutral polishes show up flaws more than darker shades so always use a base coat to smooth over ridges before you paint. “Avoid applying polish too thickly,” says Leighton. “You’ll end up with dragging, streaking, indentations, bubbling and/or smudges. Also, thick coats are more likely to chip at the tips.”
Find your ideal shade
The term “nude nails” covers such a broad neutral spectrum, as it’s more about what flatters your skin tone than a literal match. For the purist #cleangirl look you’re looking for a sheer polish that enhances your own nail plate below. “If you have cooler toned skin, opt for a neutral with blue undertones. If your skin tone is warmer, opt for something pinker like Essie Ballet Slippers,” suggests Michelle. Or for a “glazed doughnut” spin, look for a polish with a gleamy iridescent finish.
Leighton says finding your ideal shades is mostly down to what you love the look of on your fingertips. However, as a starting point, he loves creamy almonds and dusty pink for olive skin tones, creamy nudes with pink or peach undertones for medium tones, and milky pink on pale skin tones. “Pretty much all shades will flatter a dark skin tone but for a ‘your nails but better’ look, try deep, beige and caramel shades, or a warm chocolate with red/orange undertones.”
Hot nudes (from l-r): Bear Hug Needed by Nails Inc £15 here (from Totally Teddy duo set), Supermodel by Leighton Denny £12.50 here, Ballet Slippers by Essie £7.99 here, Honesty by Nailberry £15 here and Metallic Composition by OPI, £9.30 here.
If in doubt, experiment
Being a nudes newbie, I found it really helpful when Nails Inc Bar technician Emma Tyndale-Brown quickly painted on a few trial shades to pinpoint the most flattering. (What looks great on some skin tones looked a bit “granny tights” next to my purple-ish fingertips)
“There are no set rules, but generally some contrast looks good. If you have a nude polish that’s very similar to your own skin tone it can look like you have no nails, not nude nails,” Emma advised. We opted for the pinky-nude Bear Hug Needed from Nails Inc’s Totally Teddy duo which I thought made my nails look surprisingly un-stumpy.
Fake it until you make it
Even if you have truly dire-looking nails, a quick gel manicure will make them look a thousand times better. If you want to copy the full gleamy Bieber effect, book an OPI salon – find your nearest here – and ask for their Chrome Effects powder to be patted onto your nails. Just make sure you soak off any gel polish properly instead of picking it off, to ensure your nails stay nude AND improved.
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