If you feel like you're seeing more come out of the nail-art world than ever before, you're probably spot-on. With visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok dominating our app libraries, we're seeing, sharing, and creating content around nails in a way that just didn't exist a few years back.
In lockstep with the visibility and consumer interest in both nail polish and design, there have been a few key innovations born out of the past year. Ahead, we break down some of the biggest changes and evolutions we've seen in today's manicure, to take a look at what's new and what we can expect to see in the future.
Recently, I tried Clockwork, the world's first nail-painting robot. The engineering and machinery is innovative and speaks to a larger trend of using an algorithm to streamline the traditional manicure. Celebrity nail artist Tom Bachik, who has 30 years of industry experience, says that there are a few companies currently looking to come out with nail-painting machinery, but it's a slow process to scale. "There is a number of hurdles in place to bring that kind of technology to the consumer," Bachik explains. "Everyone has a different curvature, so it's very difficult to create an algorithm to learn how to paint a nail perfectly. The technology isn't there yet, but it's promising to see people trying to innovate."
For the salon-goer, the Shellac manicure has evolved to include gel extensions and "nail plumpers." Earlier this year, CND released its Plexigel system, which I tried and loved for a good three weeks. Nail artist Julie Kandalec describes the technology as a "semi-hard gel." Not only is Plexigel more durable than a Shellac or soft gel, but it also acts as a coating or a pliable mold that can plump, lengthen, or repair the natural nail.
Over the past few years, press-on nails have gone from questionable to low-key chic. "Today's press-ons are more flexible, and they're formulated to fit a wider range of natural nails," Bachik says. Nail brands like Chillhouse and Dashing Diva offer press-ons with art that could pass for hand-painted. "The nail art looks that we see on press-ons are trend-based," Bachik continues. "Most would be really expensive and time-consuming to get at a salon."
Harry Styles paints his nails; musician and TikTok creator LilHuddy came out with his own collection of press-on nail stickers. "We're seeing so many men wear nails," Bachik says. "Musicians have always kind of done it, like that rock and roll thing, but now there's more color and expression with it. Creatives like gamers and programmers are wearing designs that mean something to them — maybe it's nail art with bitcoin or crypto signs."
Of course, we can't speak to innovations or trends coming out of 2021 without touching on the pandemic. The salon industry was shut down, which means that people were doing their nails at home, not simply out of habit but to maintain some semblance of self-care and hygiene routines. "Through COVID-19, people wanted to take care of their nails at home," Bachik says, adding that tool kits, like his own set with Tweezerman, were in high demand. "DIY kits were great to help with at-home gel removal, cutting, and shaping. Also, coming out of the pandemic, people are going back to salon for self-care, but they're bringing their personal nail kit to make sure that the tools are their own."