Finger Painting

Until recently, sporting art on your nails would probably mean one of two things: either you were young enough to pull off Barbie stickers or you were a die-hard acrylics fan. But nail art has gone mainstream in a major way. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly it started. Was it Beyonce’s American flag nails in the Telephone video? Or the stunningly gilded Minx nails that Alexander McQueen had custom-made for his Spring 2011 runway show? We’re not sure, but all of a sudden our standard polish is looking a bit ho-hum. To get to the heart of the trend we spoke with Valley NYC co-founder and nail art advocate, Nina Werman. Here’s everything you need to know.

Lesson 1: What is Nail Art?

Nail art used to be associated with die-hards who swore by acrylics and airbrushed designs. No longer. Werman’s salon, Valley, has been serving a dedicated nail art clientele since they opened in 2006, but over the past year, their client pool has rapidly expanded. “We've definitely seen a spike in clients requesting nail art as an accessory: designs on each ring finger or something to make a statement. We have a smaller circle of die-hard fans who come to us every two to three weeks for a full set of elaborate and high concept nail art.” Today, nail art can mean traditional 3D designs, free-hand drawing, gems or crystals, glitter, color gradations, or the celebrity favorite, Minx. While salons have expanded to meet the increasing demand this year, mainstream brands have also stepped up their DIY offerings.

Lesson 2: The Don'ts

The only nail art don’t (for Werman and for us): is acrylic nails. Not only are they a commitment to maintain and smelly to apply, they are incredibly damaging. The one exception to Werman’s rule is using acrylic resin to create 3D designs over your nail polish. Unlimited design options include flowers, bows, cartoon characters (Hello Kitty, anyone?). The acrylic smell is still an issue so Valley applies these designs in a separate part of the salon.

Lesson 3: Your New Base Coat

Unlike acrylic nails, gel manicures actually strengthen nail beds over time. Even though they’re more expensive than polish, gel devotees swear that they’re a better investment because they stay chip- and peel-free for up to two weeks. They’re also the ideal base for nail art. With gels, a special formula is applied just like regular polish and then dried under ultra-violet light. You can go basic, or add color fades/gradations and sparkles between layers of gel for a snazzy update.

Lesson 4: Minx Manis

If you haven’t heard of Minx manicures, you haven’t been keeping up on your celebrity gossip. When you spy pictures of Katy Perry and Rihanna traipsing around Hollywood with nails that look too metallic to be true — that’s Minx. The space age product is a flexible polymer that is applied to your nail like a sticker. In addition to a metallic chrome-like effect, Minx comes in thousands of designs, from houndstooth to customized drawings. They’re mess-free, with no drying time and a smaller environmental impact than nail polish.

A few caveats: at between $55 and $75 an application, they’re a bit of a splurge. Werman also cautions that everyone will have different success with Minx manicures depending on the natural oils on your nails. While many women’s Minx manicures last up to ten days, some may experience peeling within a few days. Although the high cost and staying power can be prohibitive, Minx is really the only way to get a truly metallic nail or flawless pattern. Happily, mainstream brands are getting into the game. Sally Hansen’s Salon Effects Nail Polish Strips come with everything you need to try out a pattern effect at home for a fraction of the price.

Lesson 5: DIY

Beyond nail strips, there are plenty of other ways to play with nail art at home, starting with free-hand drawing. Nail artists use an acrylic paint, thicker than nail polish, to create designs but you can achieve similar results with Sally Hansen Nail Art Pens. Even the most artistically challenged can make cute designs with minimal effort: start with polka dots and work up to a chevron motif. Don’t forget to seal your designs with a clear topcoat.

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