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Top Tips for Stylish Nails

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by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published April 6th 2014
Sparkling, interesting nails are a great way to cheer you up and even provide a talking point or show off an interest to the world. If you've got an hour to spare, watching television, chatting to a friend or listening to the radio, for example, then have a go.

nail, varnish
All set and ready to start

A good base layer is essential. It helps to protect your nails, but also gives the colours something to grip on to. Classic, well-done nails in any colour can make you feel chic, from red talons to muted beiges (apparently the most popular tone). If you want to be more adventurous, every year brings a new trend.

One style includes a magnet, with a shaped field which, when held over the drying varnish, brings out a pattern. It's a bit fiddly, but impressive. Put on one layer of the varnish, let it dry thoroughly then put on a second layer and immediately hold the magnet over it. You need to do this nail by nail otherwise they begin to dry and it doesn't work.

nail, varnish, magnet
It's only subtle, but spot the stripes caused by the magnet on one thumb

You can also buy machines which stamp pictures on your nails. They're a great idea, but quite hard to get a good result with.

Nail foils can be a good way to get shimmery effects. They're quite tricky to apply well. You need to cut good sized lengths, get them on to the adhesive carefully, and clean around the edges of your nails afterwards. Even with a good topcoat, they tend to wear off within 24 hours, so they're great for a party, but not for the week.

nail, varnish, foils
Nail foils

There are huge numbers of varnishes to go on top of your base layer. Straightforward glitters add sparkle, and if you apply several layers can give a dazzling holographic effect.

nail, varnish, glitter
Purple base layer with and without glitter

Shatters are amazing. You dollop on a much thicker layer than you would usually, and as it dries, it cracks, revealing the colour beneath. You get a unique pattern each time and might find yourself playing those same 'spot the shape' games that one does with cloud-gazing. They really benefit from a topcoat to bring out the shine, but let them dry thoroughly before applying this.

nail, varnish, shatter
Silver base layer with and without purple shatter

If you have the patience, then marbling your nails uses up colours you don't like as much to create spectacular effects. Get a small glass (like a shot glass) filled with water. Drop in varnish of different colours, drop by drop. Use a cocktail stick or similar to mix them if desired. Once you've achieved the combination you want, dip your nail in. You have to do each nail separately, and it makes quite a lot of mess, but the results are satisfying. It helps to use something like petroleum jelly on the ends of your fingers, to stop the varnish sticking, and you will need to tidy up both your fingers and the glass afterwards.

nail, varnish, marbling
A (messy!) attempt at blue / red / green marbling

Nail pens give you the precision to draw patterns on your nails. People with patience and talent create masterpieces, but even a basic design can be fun.

nail, varnish, pens
Drawing pictures with pens

My favourite brand for consistent quality is OPI. In particular, nothing beats the glamour of their designer series, where diamond dust glitters through the vibrant colours. This makes it very brittle, so it tends to chip relatively quickly. Building up a good base before applying it helps, as does a thorough topcoat.

nail, varnish
Even slightly chipped this purple OPI DS is amazing

One top tip is to paint over the tips of your nails, horizontally, so that the varnish is sealed all round. You can always use a cotton bud and some remover, or a remover pen, to tidy up afterwards.

Rimmel's 60 second varnish is great for drying quickly. Other varnishes take longer and it's worth leaving at least 5 minutes between layers. If you have the patience it is worth it. Carefully painted nails can last a week to ten days, even for hands under hard use.

Topcoat to seal and protect things at the end does make a difference. If you can face it, and you don't feel there are already too many layers on, a second layer can be worth it.

Lastly, make sure you've got a good remover, as chipped nails really aren't that elegant!
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Why? Jazzed up nails help you smile all week!
Where: in your sitting room
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