I LOOOOOVE nail polish strips. I am obsessed with them. I love them so much I have a huge freezer bag full of them in my bathroom cabinet because I keep seeing and buying new designs before having the chance to run out of the ones I already own.
This summer I’ve been experimenting with lots of different brands and posting the results on my instagram.
Nail wraps (or nail strips, or nail decals, or nail appliques, or nail foils, or whatever you call them) have revolutionized the manicure for me. My nails are very soft and so I have never really been able to wear normal polish — it usually starts flaking off by the second day in the spots where my nails bend. Gel manicures are awesome, but I don’t have $30 to drop on those every two weeks, plus I am concerned about the effects of those chemicals and UV rays on my body.
Nail wraps make me feel fancy, because they look awesome. If I do the application right, I can get them to last 6-7 days. And I think they make my nails stronger because they protect them from chipping. They make me feel self-sufficient because I don’t have to pay a beauty expert to do them for me. In most cases, you can get a salon-worthy manicure for $10 or less. And they’re fun and funky. I ALWAYS get comments when I wear them.
Below is a round-up of some of the brands I’ve tried, and my tips for applying nail wraps on yourself. (Please note, I have not tried any of the gel-style wraps. These tips are for the basic wraps.)
Nail Wrap Brands
This is by far the best brand, in my opinion. Unlike the other brands listen below, Sally Hansen’s Salon Effects Nail Real Polish Strips are, as the name says, made of real nail polish. They come in two bubble packs of eight different sizes each, and actually “cure” when exposed to the air. More on this in a minute.
Sally Hansen offers more than a dozen different designs, and some are better than others. The designs appear to be printed, and some have streaks in them, like a printer running out of ink. But others look totally perfect. Be sure to check the actual strips in the box, and not the photo on the outside of the box. I also find that the strips with white backgrounds seem to have the color fade fairly quickly. The metallic designs seem to look best and last the longest. My absolute favorite is Kitty Kitty, the gold-ish leopard print design.
Because Sally Hansen’s strips are air-cured, I typically only open one bubble pack at a time. I keep my nails pretty short, so I can cut single strip in half and use it on two different fingers. I keep the other, unopened bubble pack for another time. But because they are air cured, you’ll have to work fairly fast to make sure they don’t dry too much before you apply them. I can easily do a manicure in 20 minutes.
My biggest beef with Sally Hansen is that they haven’t come out with any new designs in a while. I am starting to get bored!
I was pretty impresses with how long these lasted because they were basically really sticky stickers. And they looked pretty cool, since the silver was very shiny and the strips had a lot of 3-D texture. Revlon’s Nail Appliques designs seem to be very limited and seasonal, and the current designs are a little too Baroque for my tastes. With these strips, I noticed lifting on about day 4 or 5 and so tried to apply a coat of clear polish over them to refresh them a little. Instead, the strips shriveled up on my nails and looked even more nasty. So don’t do that.
Because these sticker-style wraps are not sensitive to air, you can save them for a long time and do a normal manicure with one single fancy nail, if that’s your thing.
I really loved the spring designs from Essie Sleek Sticks. These looked really cool and lasted a long time. Like the Revlon strips, they were just very sticky decals. And they were super textured — these looked like real snakeskin. The texture might bother you though — I kept thinking my nail polish was all chipped and janky because the nails weren’t smooth.
NCLA Nail Wraps wins the award for coolest and most varied designs. My first application with NCLA didn’t go so great but I think that was user error. This is the second application, and I love them. This might be my new go-to brand, because NCLA is always adding new collections. I especially love this peacock-and-python design, Fowl Play. I also love that each package include two manicures. That’s $8 a pop.
Considering this is a cheaper drugstore brand, I was super impressed with Kiss Nail Dress. They were very sticky and lasted a long time, and were very, very shiny. Almost glassy.
Scratch has an interesting concept. Each month, they partner with an artist or blogger to create designs for limited edition nail wraps. You can sign up for the Monthly Mani Box to get first crack at each month’s new designs, along with a special gift and some extras, like nail gems and tools. If you don’t want to subscribe, you can order whatever wraps remain after the subscribers get theirs.
The cool thing about Scratch is that their designs are limited, and very varied. You can opt out of the monthly box even if you’re a subscriber and not be charged, and their customer service is top notch. That said, I’ve found the quality of the strips to be lacking. They’re too thick and just don’t last very long. They are a new company so hopefully they’ll continue to improve on the formula.
These Studio 35 Nail Foils were adorable, but both applications I tried didn’t even last 24 hours. This is Walgreen’s generic brand.
Tips for Application
1. Make sure your nails are super clean. Wipe them with remover or alcohol to get rid of oils so the strips adhere better. Pay special attention to the area around the cuticle — this is where lifting happens the most often on me.
2. It’s up to you if you want to apply a base coat, but I usually don’t. Some brands recommend it, and some, like NCLA, even sell their own brand of base/top coat.
3. Pick the best size for each nail by holding the strip up to the cuticle bed. It’s up to you if you want to err on the side of too big or too small. If you have short nails, you can sometimes cut the strip in half lengthwise to get two applications out of one strip. If I am between sizes/shapes, I’ll usually opt for the smaller one. You can cut away any excess of the strip that goes over your cuticle, but I find it’s easier to get a better seal if the strips is a little farther away from my cuticle, especially on the sides.
4. Apply strip to nail, getting it as close to your cuticle as possible. Wrap the end over the nail and file in a DOWNWARD motion. This is important. It’ll help keep the end of the strip from lifting. I also like to use the softest side of the file to file them off. It seems to make a neater edge.
5. Use the flat side of an orange stick to smooth the strip down all along your cuticle. This is important to help prevent lifting. Don’t rub so hard that you snag the strip, but make sure it makes full contact with the nail. This is why it’s also important to not have oil on your nails — so these edges can seal. Do this after each nail application so you can get to it before the strips start to set.
6. Trim cuticle excess. Depending on the strip, I can sometimes use the sharp edge of the orange stick to cut away the excess. You can also use cuticle scissors or nippers.
6. Now take the orange stick. Use the round side of the flat end to smooth all the edges very, very flat against your cuticles. THIS IS ESSENTIAL. Otherwise those edges will harden and snag on your hair and be super annoying.
7. Some patterns seem to tear easier than others, so just beware. It’s also pretty easy to lift up and re-align the strip on your cuticle in the beginning if you only do it a few times (they begin to lose their stickiness after a while). With some patterns (especially those with straight lines), you’ll want to make sure the strips are really straight, or else they’ll look wonky. The more wild the pattern, the more forgiving — if you make mistakes or chip them it’s harder to tell.
I know this seems like a lot of steps, but they are pretty dummy-proof. Got questions or your own tips? Leave them in the comments.