Diamonds (decals and designs) are a girl’s best friend. Bedazzle your talons with something more intricate than a lick of block coloured varnish and turn heads as you turn pages on the train. Nail art is a way of making a statement with your mani and adding quirky (or extravagant) personality to your outfit without resorting to fancy dress.
Nail art can be incorporated into your manicure or pedicure whether you have natural or artificial nails, although depending on the motifs you’ve chosen, each type may involve different materials.
When it comes to natural nails, any of the following may be used:
As during a regular mani or pedi, the nail technician begins by tidying up and moisturising the cuticle area, gently pushing back any tissue covering the base of the nail. They will then file nails into shape, before applying a base coat to protect their surface and to help the polish last longer. Varnish (painted or sprayed on in a fine mist using a special airbrush art gun) or Minx is followed by the careful application of any additional elements such as diamante stones or decorative transfers (fixed using a dab of special nail glue or a small drop of varnish), before a hardwearing topcoat is used to seal in all the eye-catching extras.
If you opt for acrylics, your technician may be able to create more intricate designs as artificial nails can be decorated and shaped in advance ready to be applied to the client at a later date. After the nail bed has been filed to provide grip, the basic nail shape is fixed to the nail or quickly crafted and set (as with a standard acrylic manicure). As acrylic nails are more durable than natural nails, larger and heavier decals can be utilized and their uniform surface means that Minx and similar transfers are easily applied. They are also non-porous, meaning stronger glue and denser substances can be used to create 3D designs.
Some skilled technicians can even incorporate decals in the false nail structure, suspending stars, glitter and the like in the acrylic mix itself. Others cleverly craft 3D nail sculptures from acrylic, enabling you to sport an unimaginable variety of shapes on your fingertips, from dainty flowers to dangerous looking claws.
Gels are relatively new to the world of mani-pedis, but share some of the properties of both polishes and acrylic. Whether painted onto the nail in layers or used to add a bold relief design, gels are applied with a brush and usually set (hardened) under UV light. They can be mixed and used to create a wide spectrum of colours and are able to sustain more weighty decals like acrylics, but unlike acrylic and natural nail manicures, gel manicures rarely involve the use of airbrush art.
A nail art manicure normally takes longer than a regular manicure due to the creative processes involved and its longevity is dependent on the material used and how careful/rough you are with hands once you leave the salon. Generally, gel and acrylic manicures are more durable as the substances used in both are stronger than most natural nails. A typical Gel or acrylic manicure lasts around a fortnight (compared to a realistic 4-7 days for a natural nail manicure), although if your nails grow slowly then they may last longer. Solid acrylic nails are usually removed and replaced, whereas the life of gel or sculpted acrylic nails can be prolonged by the technician filling in gaps at the base caused by nail growth.
Sometimes acrylic nails and attached decorations can come loose and damage the underlying nail bed if caught or knocked and gel can apparently peel away from nails if your hands are frequently in and out of water. However, wear and tear is more likely when a return visit for infills or replacement is due and both types of artificial nails are unlikely to chip (unlike coats of conventional polish).
Nail art can be adapted to be as subtle or as out there as you like. If you’re bored with bog standard colours or want to wear your (he)art on your nails style-wise and lack the steady hand or skills to DIY, then there are plenty of options which will allow you to experiment. Acrylic nail art is best for those who have already dabbled in professionally applied false nails and are committed to their chosen motifs. If you’re not one to catch your nails on clothing, then more extravagant styles may work for you, but if you’re prone to snagging your tips then maybe relax a bit when it comes to relief designs.
Gels can provide a more durable artistic manicure, without necessarily involving the same level of nail bed preparation used during acrylic nail application. This is ideal for people who unsure whether they want to commit to false nails in the long term and are worried about possibly weakening already damaged or fragile nail beds.
Nail art manicures on natural nails provide a relatively quick and easy way to jazz up your fingertips. Your options are unfortunately limited by the size and condition of the miniature canvasses you present to the technician, but both the application and removal of patterns is much easier than with artificial nails.
One of the world’s premier nail art competitions is dubbed the ‘Nailympics’. Established in 2004, two competitions are held annually (one in London and one in Las Vegas) and each is a truly international event, attracting the most skilled technicians from around the world. Entries often involve outrageously intricate designs with multiple 3D acrylic elements.