Before we get into things, a caveat: all nails are good nails. But if you have short nail beds and you're on a quest to make them appear longer, this trick might intrigue you.
What is the Italian manicure?
The Italian manicure — a smart nail-painting technique — achieved viral status thanks to manicurist Alexandra Teleki aka @thehotblendofficial on TikTok. In a video with an impressive 268.6k views and counting, the expert demonstrates the hack, which she says is usually used on nails which are short, square or squoval (square oval). "It can be used for a full colour classic manicure or painted tips," says Alexandra.
When painting a full colour, Alexandra gets as close as possible to the cuticle without touching the skin and uses a thin nail brush soaked with acetone (or nail polish remover) to create a small line between each side of the nail and the polish. While minuscule, the negative space at each edge gives the illusion of elongated nail beds, making the nail look a lot lengthier than it is.
"The Italian technique can be used as a full colour manicure or as tips to help the nails appear longer," Alexandra told R29. "It's basically a French manicure with a twist. I've also heard it referred to as the Mediterranean technique." Alexandra says she first saw this method in Milan a few years ago, although it wasn't as trendy back then.
The Italian manicure seems new to TikTok but award-winning nail artist and technician Metta Francis says she was taught this trick during her original nail training over 10 years ago. "It can be done with traditional nail polish and gel polish to create the illusion of a more slender and longer nail bed," she says.
Alexandra believes the Italian manicure is the answer to chic and wearable nails, as it's elegant and subtle. "It's actually the most popular technique to use as it can be mixed with nail art to make it more unique to you."
How can you make short nails look longer?
Metta explains that the Italian nail-painting technique is most effective on wider nails which "fan out" or have sides which are not straight or parallel. "It can work really well on nails that are short," added Metta, "but it's not necessarily limited to a specific nail shape." For example, she says it can work with both rounded and square-oval nails. "Most manicurists will have this skill in their back pocket, if needed."
Alexandra adds that this method is especially popular among clients with a busy lifestyle or a job where long nails might be impractical.
Can the Italian manicure be done using any type of polish?
Yes, it can. On TikTok, Alexandra uses builder gel polish (otherwise known as BIAB, or Builder In A Bottle), which is more durable than your typical nail polish. "With this gel you need to ensure that you avoid any heat (such as long, hot showers or baths, saunas and so on) for the first 24 hours, as the gel takes time to fully set," says Alexandra. This, she adds, is one of the main reasons that gels might not last as long as they should. It's also important to keep your cuticles and hands hydrated using oils and creams daily, says Alexandra. This will help to prevent lifting and will keep the manicure in perfect condition.
Happily, the look can be achieved by using traditional gel and also regular nail polish.
Are there any downsides to the Italian manicure?
While Metta thinks the Italian manicure is a good technique for some clients, most will still prefer full-coverage colour. "Sometimes, not painting up to the side walls can look unfinished," says Metta. "As the nail starts to grow out — unless you're oiling with cuticle oil regularly — it can start to look untidy at the side walls. What with that extra space, clients might also be more tempted to pick or peel the polish."
How can you do the Italian manicure at home?
For the very best results, visit your local nail technician, who is likely a dab hand with this nail-painting hack. If you'd rather give this manicure trick a go yourself, pick up a traditional nail polish, which can be removed with acetone. Nail experts like Metta aren't keen on DIY gel polish for various reasons, including the potential for developing allergies if the gel touches the skin over time.
Firstly, apply a base coat — especially if you're using a darker shade. Nail artists prefer the 'three stripes' nail-painting trick: one swipe down the centre to start and another at each side to join up the colour. Don't worry if the polish ends up too close to the edge. Invest in a reusable nail brush, and dip it in acetone to very gently clean up the edges and to create that negative space. Try a nail polish remover that removes polish without stripping your nails. Lastly, finish with a high-shine top coat to seal in the colour. You can take this right up to the edge and over the negative space.