Thanks to our time spent at home, 2020 (and much of 2021) saw a lot of DIY manicures. As such, many of the trending nail designs included press-ons, stick-ons, or beginner-level manis. But now, come our gradual emergence from home in 2021, the best nail trends come with a little more umph. Read: negative space nails, velvety, light-reflective shimmers, and more variations of French tips.
But above all, the experts insist that nail health should be at the top of your list before deciding what color or design to don on your nails. "Cuticle oil, cream, and lotion is great for our hands, particularly during the cold weather," Molly Romah, lead nail tech at Chillhouse, tells TZR. "These help to keep our nails and cuticles from drying," agrees Elle, celebrity nail artist to Blake Lively and Chrissy Teigen. "Most importantly, use gloves when exposed to the cooler temps," she says. She also suggests trying skincare-specialized hand coverings under your actual gloves. "They are fingerless and have [an] SPF barrier for [the] salon or driving in your car to protect you from sun exposure," she says. "A woman’s hands age faster than our faces — avoid sun exposure to maintain moisture in your hands as well!"
Once you've properly hydrated and moisturized, you can turn to these looks for inspiration on the latest nail trends and shapes of 2021.
Encasing In Gel
“This is the biggest trend right now,” Elle says of encasing objects into gel nails. There are really endless options to what you can place in the nails, from glitter to lace to crystals. “We’re talking about particles, we’re talking about pressed flowers, mylar, silicon, things like that — that are putting creation into the nail.”
“Tortoise shell nails … that’s big,” Elle says. The versatile caramel print that blew up on TikTok isn’t going away. Each design is totally unique, so there’s really no wrong way to make them.
The latest nail trends are nothing if not textured, and sugaring is a gel technique people are loving in 2021. When creating sugared nails, Elle says she puts a matte top coat on the base color, then uses a detail brush with a shiny top coat to build her design. “And then I’m going to throw either acrylic or glitter in it and it’s going to give me that textured effect,” she says, “and then I cure the nail and it’s done.”
“It’s not about that crisp French anymore,” Elle says. One of 2021’s favorite French tip variations involves ditching the untouchable clean-cut lines. Whether that’s letting designs overlap the lines, or opting for a dripping tip effect. “I think it’s more about now creating an abstract or a swirl-French,” Elle says, adding, “The trend now likes to take it further and extend your art past that French line.”
Soothing Heather Blues
"Opt for a deep blue that casts navy and heather blue grays. These shades are trending because of [their] calming effects," Elle says. “Orly and their Wild Natured collection have a great example of these [colors].”
"I'm seeing a lot of embossed nails," says Aja Walton, a celebrity and editorial nail artist. "I've been particularly seeing them for various designers: Telfar, Chanel, and I recently did one for Givenchy. They're so cool and three-dimensional."
Elle suggests a mix of gloss and matte to create the embossed texture. She is particularly loving frosted nails, created with a white matte base and shiny matte designs.
“Lately really popular [are] wavy designs with negative space,” Romah says. A favorite for experts and amateurs alike, there's no steady hand required to make this design work.
“The squiggly nails are all over,” Elle says. “What is now coming into the [squiggly nail] trend is using burnt orange and chocolates, creams, and lattes.” Play with different colors and varying line placement for extra dimension.
“Everyone is going to love it. You can do every shade,” Walton predicted in December 2020. The prediction was spot-on as 2021 continuously obsesses over textured nails. “Texture is the actual trend that’s taking place,” Elle says, explaining that the 3D crocodile nails are another form of texture and embossing. “Now that the fashion houses aren’t using real animals, they’re embossing the prints.”
“I mean, when doesn’t glitter take a play? I think even now, even making your glitter textured has made it really big,” Elle says, adding that the gradient can be done in hundreds of ways. “You could gradient different color glitters and get like a tie-dye kind of ombré effect ... or you could use it in a French [tip].” The glitter fade technique has been around for a while, and according to Elle, it’s staying big.
Romah suggests choosing a neutral color as your base to keep it understated. “You can use the polish brush from the bottle,” she says. “Apply [the] base coat first then start the glitter gradient by applying at the tips of the nails — eventually, little by little, to the cuticle.”
Just like our lives in the previous year, our manicures were all over the place. The great thing is, however, is that nail designs don't require continuity. A circle here, a rectangle there — layer patterns and shapes together for a look that will appear both abstract and intentional. “Who doesn’t love an abstract? I think it’s a way to bring a color collection and understand it and how colors work well together,” Elle says.
“This is more about personalization and customization. That is the trend,” Elle says. “It’s your expression.” Making statements aren't relegated to Instagram posts and tweets. These days, with much to say, statements will be made through messages on nails. The minimalist style is understated yet powerful.
French tip variations have been everywhere this year. And now, they're taking on a new form with barely-there lines draping the top. It's also easy to recreate at home. Simply take your nail polish brush and trail the uppermost part of your nail.
"Skin and nail health is always a trend,” Elle says, “Just taking care of yourself is a trend — self care.” That's why many are skipping the energetic designs and vibrant colors, opting for a bare look.
"Shimmers are perfect for nailfie junkies everywhere," Elle says, and yes, it "can be done without looking like your typical, cliché manicure." One particular shimmer technique that has taken over the internet is velvety magnetized gel nails, aka cat eye nails. “It blows up when you put a flash to it, which is why you’re getting that effect,” she explains.
While this look is flattering on anyone, it’s especially gorgeous on darker skin. “The coffees and the lattes and all those colors, the cocoas, they’re more about making a statement,” Elle says. “But on darker skin, it’s almost making it a nude manicure. It’s beautiful.”
Molly Romah, lead nail tech at Chillhouse
Elle, celebrity nail artist
Aja Walton, celebrity and editorial nail artist
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