Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

The three things you should do before you select your nail polish colour


Pick the perfect polish colour every time with our ultimate guide to nailing the salon manicure…

Whether manicures are a non-negotiable part of your beauty routine or a one-off treat, few of us are immune to ‘mani-xiety.’ The rabbit-in-the-headlights moment when you come face to face with a seemingly monolithic wall of colour staring back at you. The pressure is epic as you debate gothic black vs play-it-safe neutral, all the while aware that the manicurist is getting twitchy. It’s all too easy to panic choose a colour you’ll regret. Once I opted for a crisp white because it was all over the catwalk, only to look like I’d been through a particularly over-enthusiastic Tippex session. And it’s taken me years to realise glossy red will never work with my short, often stress-chewed nails. In a bid to put an end to this indecision, we’ve assembled a crib sheet with all the expert tips and insight you need to make sure you never suffer from colour regret again…

Work out your skintone

Burgundy looks glossy and polished on dark skin

Burgundy looks glossy and polished on dark skin

You wouldn’t wear any old foundation without checking that it’s the right shade, and the same applies to polish. Your skin’s undertone is what makes certain shades appear dull on some and vibrant on others. It’s not as simple as skin colour; pale skins can have warm undertones and darker-skins can have cool undertones. Bluey-red polishes suit those with warmer tones [60 Seconds Nail Polish in Rapid Ruby, £2.99, Rimmel London], whereas a brighter red like Nail Polish in Soup Can, £15, Nars, is best on cooler skins. That said, there are some universally flattering shades. Rimmel London nail expert, Adam Slee says, “On dark skins, black looks glossy, on fair skin it’s gothic whereas on olive skin it’s rich and warm.” Work out your undertone with our tests:

Step 1: Check your veins. Look at the veins on the inside of your wrist. If they look bluer, you’re likely to have cool undertones. If they look greenish, you’re warm.

Step 2: Look at your jewellery. Which metals make your skin look more radiant and awake. Those with cool undertones look better in silver and warm-toned look best in gold.

Step 3: What do you wear? Do you suit bright white or ivory and tan? The former means that you’re probably cool-toned and the latter that you’re warmer.

Check the state of your nails

Pale tones flatter short nails

Pale tones flatter short nails

It’s a myth that you have to have inch-long nails to make a manicure worthwhile. In fact, short, neat and squared-off nails with rounded edges are far more chic. But as Slee points out, “If your nails are short because they’re bitten, you’re better off with soft paler colours that won’t draw too much attention to ragged cuticles and sore patches of skin.”

If your nails are weak, you’ll find polish chips straight off, which is costly, frustrating and much more obvious when wearing a bolder colour, so choosing paler colours is savvier. Skip the cerulean blue or the bright coral for something a little softer – just think of all the time you’ll save not needing touch-ups. Ballet Slippers, £7.99, Essie is an excellent first port of call. On fair skins, it looks a feminine sorbet-pink, while on dark skins it gives nails a healthy glow. If you’re looking to grow your nails, Slee recommends cuticle oil to strengthen the nail bed. Try Superfood Repair Oil, £15, Nails Inc.

When it comes to concealing ridges and bumps, muted shades are best, as any kind of pearlescent finish will reflect light off the grooves making them more prominent. You might want to avoid glitter for the same reasons. And if you do have long nails, a lighter colour is much more flattering: “Long, brightly painted nails look quite talon-like,” notes session manicurist Lucy Tucker, which is great if it’s the look you’re going for but it’s not always work-appropriate for the vast majority of us.

Think about your style

Nails are the ultimate accessory

Nails are the ultimate accessory

If you’re planning your polish choice around your outfit, think ahead. If you’re wearing metallics, keep things simple on the nails and pair with a nude polish. If you wear a lot of black, a neat manicure in a classic red is the most chic accessory. Complement this season’s mauve and mustard yellows with a bright colour on the nails. This can still be office-appropriate as long as you know your limits. A navy blue, forest green or burnt orange whispers rather than shouts.

However, few of us have the time – or the inclination – to repaint our nails to co-ordinate with every outfit so on the whole, utilitarian shades are the way forward. A nude “is the denim of nail colours,” says Slee. “It goes with everything.” For a twist on the classic shade, ‘greige’ is the polish of choice on the beauty desk or plump for this season’s stand-out polish seen at Philip Lim, Jenny Packham and Ashish – a metallic chrome that goes with everything.

With over 35,000 hits on Instagram, #mirrornails are the latest manicure craze to sweep the nation. Nails Inc now offer a chrome manicure service at their salons nationwide or try The Reflectors nail polish in Kings Cross Road, £14, Nails Inc.

Words: Daniela Morosini. Photography: Pixeleyes, Republic of Photography



Read my lips: Stylist pays homage to the high-impact lip trend


These are the most popular beauty products bought every weekend


15 chic upgrades to the classic French manicure



Edible manicures are a thing and they’re crafted from chocolate

You’d be forgiven for biting these.

by Amy Lewis
06 Dec 2016

The 30 best beauty buys for every Christmas party

From sparkly eyeshadow to glittery lipstick

by Sarah Biddlecombe
05 Dec 2016

Jessica Alba reveals the budget products that give her gorgeous hair

Her regime's not for everyone though...

by Anna Pollitt
05 Dec 2016

These are the top 10 cities where tattoos are given as gifts

And two of them are in the UK...

by Sarah Biddlecombe
30 Nov 2016

Alicia Keys speaks out about impossible beauty standards

“It’s sad that girls can’t be themselves”

by Harriet Hall
28 Nov 2016

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche: “Women can like make-up and be intellectual”

“I think it’s time to really stop that ridiculous idea that somehow if you’re a serious woman you can’t and should not care about how you look.”

by Harriet Hall
23 Nov 2016

Model Winnie Harlow speaks out against beauty ideals

“My skin doesn’t define me”

by Harriet Hall
22 Nov 2016

It’s now possible to digitally design your own nail art

Get you nails WAH did

by Anna Pollitt
21 Nov 2016

Scientists have discovered an “uncombable hair” gene

Mystery solved.

by Moya Crockett
21 Nov 2016

Stylist's beauty team try homemade multi-masks

Treat your skin to a custom face mask

by The Stylist web team
18 Nov 2016