The Minimalist’s Guide To Good Nail Art

According to Madeline Poole, nail art was never not in. But that doesn't mean it didn't appear to take a bit of a hiatus a season or two ago. But as of last February, a new, more sophisticated take on graphic nails are back—so you can imagine Madeline is a happy camper. "I’m glad to see that people are into it again—because I was getting really sick of nude," she said. To celebrate its return, she stopped by the office with friends and bento boxes in tow and did some painting.

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves here, none of this is to say nude nails or minimalist nails are bad ("Everything is a color," Madeline clarifies. "And I like all colors!"), but why limit yourself to one color per manicure—or even one color per nail? Madeline's first look (demonstrated on Kiko Kudo, who brought her delicious Chi-So NYC bento boxes) took advantage of six colors plus some negative space—so your nude is built in there. “I really like a lot of bright colors at once," Madeline said—proving why she's been a Sally Hansen Global Brand Ambassador for a year with no plans of stopping (COTY is a damn fine matchmaker when it comes to partnerships). "With the skin coming through, it makes it a little less oversaturated," Madeline said. Also, file this one as nail art particularly well-suited for short nails. It looks better when there isn't grown-out nail showing in the negative space.

With slightly fewer colors at your disposal—and maybe a larger nail canvas thanks to Madeline's friend Suzette Lee—there's still plenty of room to do something graphic. For the second look, Madeline started by painting the light colors first, followed by a curved section of darker color—that way you don't have worry about the light color looking opaque enough over the darker color. The darker color got larger and larger on each nail giving it a movement your standard picto-nail art certainly doesn't have.

And it's always good to end on a note slightly less practical than the rest—this time with some press-ons purchased in Koreatown and stick-on crystals from Sally Hansen. While the nail can be opaque and minimal, the crystal stuck on the backside gives a little unexpected glitz. Plus it means you can ask other people to open your soda cans for you all week long. What's not fun about that?

All nail looks use Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Dry Fast Nail Colors with 01 Clearly Quick as top coat. Look 1: 422 Plummet, 424 Set Sail, 255 Quick Fire, 421 Cherry Fast, 250 Orange Zest, and 432 Re-teal Therapy. Look 2: 505 Clean Slate, 115 Tickled Pink, and 325 Big Teal. Look 3: 114 In Nude-tral. Photographed by Brayden Olson. This post is in collaboration with Sally Hansen.

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How Do You Pedicure?

I correlate my level of happiness with the shoes I'm wearing at any given moment. When it's rainboots, snowboots—any type of weather related boot, really—I don't feel particularly sunny. Sandals, on the other hand, mean all the obvious things that go along with warmer weather and elevated vitamin D levels. In a word, happiness.

For a while there, though it was officially spring, I was forced to continue with my cold-weather heavy boots. Growing up in year-round tropical weather has spoiled me. There’s never not a time to wear sandals when it’s 80 degrees in December. But living in New York means I'll take what I can get. So I'm just getting around to dusting off my sandals now.

Thing is, since my feet have remained largely unseen for months, I have no pedicure to speak of. This is easily remedied, by a salon or by myself—but I have to wonder, when do pedicures become practical again? At what point in the season do I have to wonder if my toes are readily presentable? (And do they have to be presentable all year 'round?)

Those questions aside, I now treat my pedicures the way I treat shaving my legs—only relevant if someone's going to see it. Which, of course, has it's own set of questions—mainly, what to paint?

Talk to any manicurist and the general consensus is the more fun, the better. That means nail art for toes exists and can look great. Take Madeline Poole's graphic approach:

"I'm really open when it comes to nails and toes, no rules. I do think, however, with toenail art, you should keep it as simple as possible so you can stand living with it. Just a stripe of color on the big toes or maybe alternating colors. And if you don't want to match your fingers and toes, it works best to have the colors be complimentary—not neon yellow and emerald green—more like coral and orange and navy or violet. Colors that have the same depth and vibrancy and look good together as a pair. Then try painting the second nail or the big toe a different color than the rest of them," Madeline said.

Alternatively, there's Deborah Lippmann's approach from this NYFW, when she painted models’ toes at DKNY with neutral polish shades. So many nails; so many options.

And this is where you come in. At the expense of sounding like your out-of-touch aunt, I want to know what colors you prefer on your toes. Neutral, colorful, complimentary? What if your toes are really tiny? The real questions—would you be opposed to wearing stick-on toenails? Crazy as they seem, it's a pretty great idea for the lazy and actually secretly kind of loved. Sound off below. This little piggy wants to know.

—Claudia Marina

Photo via Madeline Poole. For more Open Thread discussions, click here.

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Nail Polishes Go Non-Toxic

Still looking for a reason to stop biting your nails? In case your goal-oriented manicures aren’t working, here’s a fact that might get you to quit cold-turkey: Nail polishes have chemicals in them. They’re essentially miniature Behr paint cans for your nails (though Behr, please consider expanding into beauty—irresistible mini packaging could be in your future). And seeing that interior household paint options are trending non-toxic as of late, why not consider the same sort of options for your fingers?

The most convincing "why should I care?" argument here is just to do a quick primer on "The Big Three" chemicals—dibutyl phthalate or DBP, toluene, and formaldehyde—that are (or were, rather) finding a home in nail polish bottles everywhere and how they work. For example, dibutyl phthalate is used to make plastics malleable—essentially what your shower curtain is made out of (great for your nails in theory, not so good when it comes to clean living). According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, DBP could have harmful developmental and reproductive effects. While there’s no conclusive research on humans, it’s enough of a concern that the European Union has banned the chemical from cosmetics and skincare and California targeted DBP as toxic for reproductive and developmental growth. It’s also banned in children’s toys. Additionally, toluene is considered a high hazard by the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and is found in gasoline. Lastly, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and suspected environmental pollutant (and this is just the Reader's Digest version of this paragraph).

But the good news: Nearly all consumer-available nail polishes are at least three-free—so no need to chuck your OPI, Essie, Wet 'n' Wild, American Apparel, or Sally Hansen. Just be wary of your wholesale or generic brands, if that's what you're using.

But why stop at three? There are the nail polish lines that have gone above-and-beyond to consider, too. Coming in on five-free are brands like Priti, Tenoverten, RGB, Chanel, Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, Deborah Lippmann, and Zoya, which remove formaldehyde resin and camphor from their ingredients in addition to the Big Three mentioned above.

But if you really want to commit to toxin-free, escalade up to the Big Kahuna of the fewer-harmful-chemical pack: Butter London. With their new Patent Shine 10x collection, the brand went from being the original three-free nail polish to the first to ring in the age of seven-free options. Not only is the new collection (as well as a reformulation of all their other lacquers) free of DBP, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, and xylene, it’s also the answer to vinyl-shower-curtain-shine nails. Turns out, you can have it all.

Photographed by Tom Newton. For more on nail polishes, click here.

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Thing To Try: Five Different Pink Polishes

Consensus around the office is that the five Dior pink nail polishes pictured above are as about as close to perfect as we've seen. So when they made their way to our desks last week, the question became: Which to wear first? In order to assuage any decision fatigue, it's recommended you wear all five at once, in ascending color saturation. Call it a "tonal manicure." For best results, swipe on a healthy top coat of Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat and get a week's wear out of a spur of the moment mani.

From left: Dior Vernis Gel Shine & Long Wear Nail Lacquer in Glory 660, Corail 899, Pink 599, Rose 499, and Lady 294. Photographed by Tom Newton. See more pink nail polishes in our shade slideshow.

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How To Remove A Gel Manicure

So you got a gel manicure. It was great! Never have you maintained good-looking, growing nails for two-plus weeks without so much as an impulse filing session. But now you want it gone—and you'd rather not visit the salon again (unless maybe if they offer free Prosecco). The good news is you can do it yourself, at home, with stuff you already own. Here's how:

Get a gritty nail file. Nothing gentle—almost sand-papery. Start to buff off the first shiny layer of polish so that the nail looks matte and a little sandy. (Remember that there are several layers of gel between your file and your actual nail, so don’t be afraid of scraping off your nail—that’s not going to happen.) Once your manicure has its first layer sanded off, you actually might want to keep it around for a day or two—very deconstructed, very Derelict-chic. Anyone?

For those who want to move ahead with the process, get out your 100 percent pure acetone, cotton rounds, and aluminum foil. No, this isn’t a student production of Breaking Bad, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do this in a well-ventilated area.

Douse a cotton round in acetone—and I mean douse. The rounds are best because they don’t absorb too much acetone. I’ve tried this removal method with cotton balls, and it doesn’t seem to go as speedily. But if all you’ve got are cotton balls, it’ll work. It just might take longer.

Place the cotton round squarely on your fingernail. You can put a balm over your cuticles for a little protection if you want. Wrap that finger and pad about as tight as you can in aluminum foil (the foil relaxes a lot, so the tighter you can get it, the better). Do that to a whole hand. If you’re super dexterous, do it to both hands at once. If not (and you’re like me), just do one at a time.

Perhaps here’s a good place to mention: this is an ugly process. Please don’t mistake the polish flakes for flakes of your actual nail. That’s not going to happen. Stay calm and soak on.

After about 30 minutes, check to see how much you’re flaking. Some polish will flake right off. Others might require a little encouragement—I use my thumbnail, and it’s great. Push the polish off your nailbed horizontally and gently, and don’t dig in on stubborn spots—just douse another round in acetone and rub a little. Your nail is going to look dry and destroyed, but it’s really an illusion created by the residual polish and acetone. After a round of nourishing cuticle oil, your nails will be gleaming and healthy.

Now, to quote the Bard of our time, maybe if you’re reading this it’s too late—you likely already have a gel manicure you want to get off, and it’s too late to talk about initial pre-mani prep. (Just like one of those very unhelpful “how to get rid of a hangover” articles that starts with—and is almost solely comprised of—“Well, maybe you shouldn’t get so drunk, you know?” And you’re sitting there dying like, why did anyone ever bother writing this?) But it is worth mentioning for next time anyway: If you want to protect your nail (and actually make it stronger and better post-gel), you need a pre-gel treatment known buy the very Ian Fleming name of IBX. It strengthens the nail all while the gel atop is on. So, it's really like doing your nails a favor every time you get a manicure. Ask for it at your friendly neighborhood salon.

And if you remember one thing from this, please for your sake and your nails, don't peel the gel off. It's so tempting. It's occasionally satisfying, but it also can take off layers of your natural nail in the process. "I compare nails to hair a lot," says Julia Kandelic, creative director at Paintbox, the salon where I got the initial mani you see in the post. "If your hair is damaged and you color your hair yourself, then it won’t look so great. If you have virgin hair and you color it yourself, then it’s fine. Same thing with gel nails. If you’re trying to take gel off a damaged nail then you’re going to have trouble with it yourself and you should let a professional do it. If you have healthy nails and you do it at home, it’s fine." So there you have it. How to end a gel manicure the safe, at-home way. Try and report back please.

—Trace Barnhill

Photographed by Tom Newton.

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