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How To Mix Nail Polish To Create Your Own Unique Shade

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Just like art, beauty allows for the freedom to get as creative as you wish — especially with nail polish. And despite there being thousands of shades to choose from, sometimes, every nail polish in your arsenal can feel not quite right. Instead of gambling and buying another new shade, get creative and learn how to mix nail polish to make your own color.

"Mixing shades provides a great creative outlet in order for you to play or revise your old nail polishes," Elle Gerstein, a celebrity nail artist who works with Blake Lively and Katie Holmes, tells TZR. "And it's a way to expand your beauty closet." Since you're taking the time to mix, you might as well follow all the steps as you would if you were at the salon. "If you have the time and tools, performing a full manicure is the best way to ensure the longest wear time," Chelsea King, celebrity and editorial manicurist who works with clients like Sam Smith and Hunter Schafer, tells TZR. That means properly prepping, applying the polish (or, in this case, polishes), and sealing your work in. To learn the best procedure to mix nail polishes, find eight steps to follow below.

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How To Mix Nail Polish: Prep Your Nails

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Prepare for your polish the same as you would with other beauty products. "You’ll want to treat your nails much like skincare, where you would wash your nails with soap and water," Gerstein explains. "I use an antibacterial, always have and always have will. It makes the surface clean without residue." Next, she says to use an alcohol. "I'll use a professional product, but you can use an alcohol at 70%. But you really don’t want to go more than 70%." This is similar to using a face toner, as it gets the nail up and ready for proper pH. "Your nails are like a sponge, so after you wash them, they are filled up with water. You need to get this water out. The alcohol dehydrates and gets the nail ready for a proper pH level so that you can apply your base coat."

How To Mix Nail Polishes: Grab Your Tools

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"Surprisingly, there’s a lot you can do without having all the proper tools," King notes. "When pushing back cuticles, I use a cuticle softener with a pusher. But if they aren’t too overgrown, even pushing them back with your nail right out of the shower works in a pinch! Also, a high grit nail file is what I always recommend, if you feel the file is tearing at your nails, then it’s probably too harsh. A higher number grit means it’s smoother. I like 180 to 240."

How To Mix Nail Polish: Consider Sticking To The Same Brand

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"Do try to stick with one brand of polish when mixing shades as the formulas will be the most compatible," Jin Soon Choi of JINSoon Spa in New York City tells TZR.

How To Mix Nail Polish: Picking Your Shades

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"For me, when I’m mixing to find a specific shade I usually pick the next lightest and then darkest to get a color in between," King explains. "A white and black polish are also really useful when mixing colors. I typically use a 'base' color for the majority, and then add drops of varying shades to get the exact color I want."

And knowing basic color theory will come in handy as you're choosing your shades. "If you want to mix, you’ll need to know your color principals," Gerstein notes. "If you put certain colors together, you’re just going to get a brown mucky mess." In this case, you'll want to have a few shades in reach. "This depends on what color you are looking to create, but it is helpful to keep shades like white and primary colors such as true red and blue on hand to adjust the shade and tone as you mix," Choi notes.

How To Mix Nail Polish: Know The Formulas You're Using

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"Also take note of the polish type," Choi explains. "If a shade is sheer you will need to add more of this than the opaque color you are mixing it with." Additionally, you can create a new formula. "If you wanted to create a cream into a metallic, just add a white opal to it and that will give you some sheen into it," Gerstein states. But one formula to avoid is glitter. "I wouldn’t add glitter, like true chunky glitter, because all that’s going to do is float and leave rocks in your nail polish," she notes. If you want to use glitter, Gerstein says it would be more sufficient to apply it by layering.

How To Mix Nail Polish: Mix Together In A Bottle

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"If you’re making your own custom color, you have to put that in a bottle, Gerstein notes. "You wouldn’t put that on a tile to mix it, because it’ll get gloppy, and you want get the same color continuity. You can keep creating in that bottle until you get what you want to achieve, and then you can make your look. This way, it’ll keep the air going out and spread much nicer than if you would have mixed it on a tile." On the other hand, Gerstein says if you're just doing simple nail art (like dots or stripes), you can use a metal spatula, mix it on a tile, and then use your nail art brush to dip in.

How To Mix Nail Polishes: Be Light Handed

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It comes down to trial and error while trying to achieve your anticipated shade. "When mixing, add in drops at a time and mix until it’s just right," King notes. "It’s easy to accidentally add in too much of a color." But be careful not to get too heavy handed, as it could lead to unnecessary waste. "When I mix up a color, I try to mix up just enough so I don’t waste. But don’t mix up too little either or else it’s really difficult to remake that color for the rest of your manicure!"

How To Mix Nail Polishes: Seal It

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"Always apply top coat," King notes. "It will seal in your polish, smooth out any bumps, and overall help your polish stay on longer." There are lots of options of the market, but consider one that's celebrity nail artist-approved. "My favorite top coat right now is WOW It's Dry Top Coat by ASP," Gerstein recommends. "It’ll dry your nail polish in four minutes flat with an ultra shine that’s like a gel, but doesn’t have to be removed like a gel. And it's a great nail art sealer because it doesn’t pull the color if you’re mixing."