Shell nails: why pearl polish is this summer's biggest manicure trend

Posted by for Beauty

Between the fiddly nail art shots, Instagram is home to plenty of genuinely achievable manicure ideas. Case in point: shell nails, the new nail trend Stylist’s beauty director Shannon is backing for summer.

Despite being terrible at painting my own nails, I bookmark a hell of a lot of manicure photos. Sometimes they’re easy nail art ideas, other times it’s new nail colour trends, but either way, my Instagram saved folder is always full of photos and videos of aesthetically pleasing fingertips.

However, I have recently started to notice a bit of a trend in the manicures that appear on my Explore page. What is it? Well, many of the manicures feature this ethereal, pearly, opalescent finish, a bit like the mother-of-pearl-insides of a mollusc shell. So there, I’m calling it: shell nails are about to be the next big manicure trend, even if I have to make them a trend myself.

So what exactly are shell nails? Well, this trend involves using a pearlescent finish nail polish in pared back pastel or neutral tones. And the result is nails that look as though they’ve been dipped in highlighter.

A paint-and-go manicure trend, there’s no fiddly nail art required (ideal) and it’s also an wonderful nail look for summer — the way the light reflecting particles catch the sun’s rays is rather pleasing.

Of course, pearlescent polish isn’t anything new. But as new flashier nail varnish trends, like muted mattes or high-shine gel have come to the fore, pearlescent polish fell out of favour. Now I’m calling for its come back. Why? Just take a look at nail artist Chelsea King’s take on a half-moon mani using shell-shimmer polishes and you’ll understand.     

She’s not the only one to experiment with shell nails, though. The queen of the Instagram nail art scene Melanie, aka @overglowedit, has also tried her hand at the trend, pairing pearlescent polish with tiny gold stars.

Don’t worry, you needn’t delve into the back catalogues of nail polish brands to find suitably pearlescent shades; nail care giant Nails Inc’s recently launched What the Shell polish collection was — quite literally — made for the trend, featuring four neutral-toned polishes in opalescent finishes. 

Plus, cool-girl nail brand J Hannah has been well ahead of the curve with its translucent shimmer-laced nail polish, Akoya, which is a perfect companion to a piece of pearl-encrusted jewellery.

In fact, I’m so very much into this trend, I’ve even already trialled it out for myself.

So, ready to help me make shell nails a thing? I’ve rounded up the best pearlescent nail polishes available online right now.

  • J. Hannah Nail Polish in Akoya


    So subtle, just a single layer of J Hannah’s understated pearl polish is all you need to create an ethereal look.

    £17, Cos

  • Essie Nail Polish in Pure Pearlfection


    Use it on its own, or as a top coat over your favourite coloured polish to add a touch of pearl. 

    £7.99, Superdrug

  • Maybelline Colorshow Nail Varnish in Electric Mermaid


    Want something a little bolder? Maybelline’s polish swirls together lilac and turquoise tones.

    £3.99, Superdrug

  • Cienna Rose Nail Lacquer in Clean Slate


    This slate grey polish by Sienna Rose comes flecked with pink pearlescent shimmer.

    £9, Cienna Rose.

  • Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Nail Polish in Out of This Pearl


    A true classic, Sally Hansen’s pink pearl has a high-shine, gel-style finish.

    £9.99, Superdrug

  • Nails Inc Nail Polish in Call Me on Your Shell Phone


    Nails Inc polishes are known for their excellent colour payoff and durability, and the new shell-style polishes are no different. 


Sign up for our essential edit of what to buy, see, read and do, and also receive our 11-page Ultimate Guide To Making Your Home Feel Bigger.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Getty/ courtesy of brands.

If you’re an avid Stylist fan, you’ll know it’s not always possible to find an issue of our magazine. Often they’re gone before you head into work (they disappear fast!), or you live in a part of the UK where you can’t get your hands on a copy. Add to this the fact that millions of us are not commuting right now, and we wanted to ensure you don’t miss out on the magazine any longer.

Which is why we’re delighted to let you know that Stylist magazine is now available in a digital format, both for Apple and Android users, allowing you to download the full magazine directly to your smartphone or tablet, wherever you may be.

Pricing for our digital magazine starts at just 99p for a single issue, or £21.99 for a full year’s subscription – that’s less than 50p a week! Simply click on the link to activate your Stylist app download from either the Apple store or Google Play and enjoy!

Share this article

Recommended by Shannon Peter