I Tried “Milk Bath” Nails, The Understated Manicure Trend Invading Salons

Welcome to the era of nude nail trends. While previous major trends have typically called for creamy pastels and bold neon shades, this year has seen a significant shift: When it comes to manicures, we're gravitating more towards a neutral colour palette.
Take the "French fade" nail trend, for example, an ombré twist on the classic French manicure that's taken Instagram by storm. Then there's the "modern French" manicure, a contemporary version of the white-and-pink classic that enlists an ivory polish to imitate the tip of a natural nail. Their popularity makes sense: Trends like these suit all skin tones, work for any occasion and they can even be cost-effective, seeing as growth is virtually imperceptible.
The neutral nail trend shows no sign of slowing, and that's exactly why you're likely to spot "milk bath nails" on your FYP — if you haven't already, that is. On TikTok, the manicure trend has 17.5 million views and counting, with everyone from qualified nail technicians to everyday nail enthusiasts on board.

What are milk bath nails?

The semi-transparent shade takes its name from the milk bath, a cleansing ritual that spans centuries. (Cleopatra, for instance, was said to have bathed in donkey milk for the skin-care benefits.) As for how that manifests on the nails, "milk bath nails are a softer version of a white manicure," says manicurist Ami Streets. "They are achieved by applying a semi-sheer white polish to paint a more subtle wash of colour, emulating a 'milky' appearance." One of the benefits of an in-between shade like this is that it looks great on any nail length, adds Streets, whether long or short. Take cues from pro nail artists Julia Diogo and Alexandra Teleki on Instagram. "The neutral colour looks clean and polished. It's so perfectly understated, that it complements anything you choose to wear," Streets says. You might even see some nail artists adding flower nail art into the mix, because what is a milk bath without a handful of dried petals?

What's the difference between milk bath nails and cloud nails?

If you ask me, it's highly likely that the milky nail trend has derived inspiration from skincare, namely the recent abundance of lightweight, milky and hydrating essences. That said, the visual aspect of milk bath nails isn't new. In fact, the manicure trend is hot on the heels of "cloud nails" or "overcast nails": an off-white manicure with a similar semi-sheer finish that's reminiscent of the opacity of clouds, as Streets explains. On TikTok or Instagram, you might even see nail artists using "cloud nails" and "milk bath nails" interchangeably. Regardless of what you call them, both are a contemporary take on the classic solid white or nude polish — and they're twice as chic.

How do you achieve milk bath nails?

You can totally DIY milk bath nails at home (more on that later), but I decided to pay a visit to a nail salon for a much longer-lasting gel polish. The technician, Jen, fashioned my nails into a short almond shape and proceeded to apply two fine coats of CND Shellac Nail Polish in White Wedding. The first coat was so sheer, it was almost inconspicuous on each nail. However, the milky colour came together beautifully once cured and the second coat was applied.
Jen used a minuscule nail brush to build the gel polish in certain areas so that the finish was a tad more uniform, rather than uneven, as can be the case with many sheer gel and regular nail polishes of this hue. That said, this manicure doesn't have to be perfectly opaque. Much like a milk bath, these nails are meant to be slightly translucent, so even if you do catch a glimpse of your nail bed underneath, it simply adds to the effect. Jen finished off with a top coat, which is the key to achieving the glossy liquid effect of a milk bath.
If you're doing milk bath nails at home, Streets says that a good, even painting technique is imperative when applying sheer shades, but it's how you handle the bottle that counts the most. "Pre-painting, make sure you gently roll the nail polish between your hands for a few seconds," she says. "This will mix the polish without creating bubbles and ensure an even, streak-free coat of colour on application." Proper prep is also important to ensure the nail plate surface is clean and buffed so that colour application will be smooth. Consider a nail polish remover with acetone to remove any debris or oils from your nail bed, and a gentle buffer.
"Always start with a base coat, and when adding colour, use the three-stroke painting technique," says Streets. "Apply polish down the centre of your nail, then each side in one application to evenly distribute the product." Streets says that two thin coats of a sheer polish colour should give the perfect consistency to achieve the milky manicure look. Then, all you'll need is a cookie.
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!

More from Nails