You’ve Heard Of Clean Girl Makeup. Now The Clean Manicure Is Here

The "clean girl" makeup trend was among TikTok's most popular (and polarizing) beauty trends of 2023. With an enormous 1.4 billion views and counting, the beauty movement consists of a mix of neutral shades on glowing skin, lending a highly sculpted yet barely there finish. With so many beauty enthusiasts giving the easy, natural makeup vibe a go, it didn't take long for the trend to make its way onto our nails.
That's right — the "clean girl" aesthetic, nail edition is here, and poised to be on everyone's fingertips this year.

What is the clean manicure and why is it trending? 

TikToker @niamhlynchxxxx went viral in 2023 with her roundup of clean nail looks, which has racked up 1.2 million views, while Google search for nude nails, simple nail designs, and nude nail art is taking over from bolder colors typical of summer. Think sheer shades in baby pink, apricot, and milky white, minimalist yet Instagram-worthy nail art, and immaculate cuticles.
Intrigued? We asked manicurist and minimal nail artist Georgia Rae how to achieve the clean nail look at home — and honestly, we're a little obsessed.
According to Georgia, clean nails are chic, minimal, well-groomed, and, most shockingly, low-maintenance. "My most requested look is 'my nails but better'," she says.
The newfound love of barely-there nails is quite a contrast to the over-the-top, embellished acrylics we were lusting after not long ago, and Georgia thinks the post-pandemic shift has something to do with it. "During the various lockdowns, we all experienced the inability to have our usual beauty treatments and it gave us a chance to truly embrace ourselves in our natural state — nails included."
Whatever the reason, the great news about the clean manicure is that you can try it at home and it's relatively easy. Essentially, it's all about giving your natural nails a boost. 

How to prep your nails for the clean manicure

As a self-professed nail lover, I couldn't wait to give the clean manicure a go. It's a trend I've tried unknowingly in the past, although there are a few TikTok-inspired additions to my routine. But the key to a great, clean manicure at home is nailing the prep.
I like the CND Cuticle Eraser, a gentle, moisturizing exfoliator that truly does all the work for you by sloughing off dead skin from cuticles. Squeeze roughly a pea-sized amount following the shape of your cuticle, rub it in, and leave it on for five minutes to allow it to get to work. Once the time's up, rub away the excess using a washcloth and carefully remove any obvious dead skin using good-quality nippers (I like the Tweezerman Cuticle Nipper,). Another option: Invest in a high-quality nail regimen like Bare Hands' Dry Gloss Manicure Kit, which includes a glass file and cuticle oil pen to buff nail beds and gently exfoliate rough skin for an immaculate finish.

How to paint your nails to achieve the clean manicure

The painting is the hardest part. Start by wiping your nail plate with nail polish remover on a lint-free wipe, which you can easily find on Amazon. Regardless of whether you're using a dark or a light shade, a base coat is necessary to protect the health of your nails. I used OPI Natural Nail Base Coat.
A classic clean manicure uses a sheer, milky base. Georgia recommends OPI Nail Polish in Put It In Neutral, or Chanel's La Base Camélia. I used OPI Nail Polish in Passion.
To get a perfect, non-streaky nail, make sure only one side of your brush is loaded with a generous amount of polish by wiping the excess off the other side on the top of the bottle. Then simply glide the polish over the nail. Georgia explains that being careful not to apply too much pressure will prevent streaks. You might want to start in the center of the nail and then 'join up' the polish with a swipe on each side.
Achieving the clean nail look isn't exactly a speedy process, but it's worth it. The trick to successfully building up flawless polish is keeping your layers thin. Since neutral polishes are often pretty transparent, it might take you two or three coats to build up the shade you want. For this manicure, I used two coats of color. Don't stress if the polish ends up outside of your nail plate lines — you can use a small, square brush dipped into nail polish remover to carefully mop up any mistakes.
Clean nails are high-shine so I followed my polish with Seche Vite Fast Drying Top Coat.

How do you do nail art on a clean manicure?

Photo Courtesy of Tori Crowther.
When it comes to nail art, keeping it simple also means it's much easier to recreate at home. That doesn't mean it has to be boring. If TikTok and Instagram are anything to go by, there are so many designs to choose from, including a minimal French tip, dainty hearts, accent dots, and even tiny, diamanté embellishments
I tried the reverse French manicure (flipping the tip so that it sits above the cuticle) with a silver shade (CND Vinylux in Steel Kisses, for a similar look). This complements rather than overpowers the sheer pink base. I guided the silver polish with a small nail art brush — which you can also get from Amazon — and cleaned up any excess that landed on my skin with another thin brush dipped in nail polish remover. It doesn't have to be accurate but practice does make perfect.
If you're feeling fancy or want your manicure to really last, head to your local salon for a gel manicure. The shine from this is unmatched and lasts for up to three weeks compared to standard polish, which might chip easily. Georgia recommends asking for OPI Nail Polish in Bubble Bath, or the aforementioned Put It In Neutral layered together.

How to nail clean manicure skincare

The clean manicure places a huge (we repeat: huge) emphasis on hand care, and Georgia is living for the luxury of it all. "For so long, I feel that manicures were viewed as a chore or something you quickly pop to the salon for," she says. "I like to make it an experience or a treatment you look forward to just as much as you would a massage or facial."
Georgia likes to dry brush the backs and palms of the hands, followed by an exfoliating scrub. This can be a hand scrub like Sidia's The Hand Exfoliant, but any body scrub will do. She does this once a week prior to adding a moisturizer and cuticle oil, depending on her client's wishes and the condition of their skin. "This process leaves the hands glowing and improves the overall result of the manicure," she says. If you're worried about smudging, you could always exfoliate after you've tended to your cuticles but save the hand cream for last as your polish might not adhere properly, resulting in chips.
I like to use Beigic Refining Hand Wash, Mirror Water Buff Body Exfoliator, and Beigic Classic Hand and Nail Cream, followed by a few spritzes of Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse Multi-Purpose Dry Oil. Finally, I top off my manicure with the most luxurious cuticle oil of all: Jinsoon Cuticle Oil. I apply this constantly (I keep one by my bedside and one at my desk) for soft, smooth cuticles. You're less likely to pick at them this way, too.

How inclusive is the clean manicure trend, though? 

Much like the clean makeup trend, which could alienate those with skin conditions such as acne and rosacea, those with bitten nails or a tendency to pick at the skin surrounding them might not feel included in the clean manicure trend. But minimalist nail art and hand care is for everyone, regardless of the condition or length of your nails. The Instagram account @allnailswelcome (curated by beauty editors Lucy Partington and Laura Capon) invites everyone to post their manicures and nail art, providing inspiration across the board. 
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