What’s The ‘Italian’ Manicure?

Photo via @thehotblend.
TikTok is a hub of genius nail trends. Not long ago we came across nail slugging for fixing flaky and dry cuticles, a DIY hack for achieving French tips at home, and discovered the benefits of bond-building gels. This week, it's all about the merits of the Italian manicure.
Before we get into things, a caveat: all nails are beautiful nails. But if you have short nail beds and you're on a quest to make them appear longer, the Italian nail-painting technique might intrigue you.
The Italian manicure — a smart nail-painting technique — achieved viral status thanks to manicurist Alexandra Teleki, @thehotblendofficial on TikTok. In a video with an impressive 268.6k views and counting, the expert demonstrates the hack, which she says is usually done on nails that are short, square, or squoval (square oval). "It can be used for a full-color classic manicure or painted tips," says Alexandra.

What is the Italian manicure?

When painting a full color, 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 space 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.
Alexandra says she first saw this method in Milan a few years ago, although it wasn't as trendy back then. "I've also heard it referred to as the Mediterranean technique," she tells R29. London-based nail artist and technician Metta Francis of Nails by Mets 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.

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 that are not straight or parallel. "It can work really well on nails that are short," adds 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, the look can be achieved by using traditional gel or regular nail polish. On TikTok, Alexandra uses builder gel polish, 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.

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 color. "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 well-versed in this nail-painting hack. If you'd rather give this trick a go yourself, pick up a traditional nail polish, which can be removed with nail-polish remover. Nail experts like Metta aren't big on DIY gel polish for various reasons, including the potential for developing allergies if the gel touches the skin over time.
First, apply a base coat — especially if you're using a darker shade. R29 loves Nails.Inc Nailkale Superfood Base Coat. Nail artists recommend the 'three stripes' nail-painting trick: one swipe down the center to start, the one at each side to join up the color. Don't worry if the polish ends up too close to the edge. Invest in a tiny reusable nail art brush, like this one from Amazon, and dip it in polish remover to gently clean up the edges and to create that negative space. Try Cutex Nourishing Nail Polish Remover, which removes polish pigment without stripping nails.
Lastly, finish with a high-shine top coat to seal in the color. You can take this right up to the edge and over the negative space. Try Ciaté London Plant Pots Speed Nail Top Coat or Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat, both of which cut down drying time.
This story was originally published on Refinery29UK.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

More from Nails

R29 Original Series