Press-on nails are no longer just a drugstore beauty hack — top nail artists are giving them their stamp of approval (and artistic twists) too. Celebrity nail artist Elle Gerstein, whose clients include Blake Lively and Emilia Clarke, says that press-ons are great for “when you don’t have the time to sit for extravagant nail art (or the money)” and can even be “blank canvases for DIY nail art.”
Mei Kawajiri, also known by her Instagram handle @nailsbymei, is a New York-based nail artist who has worked with top fashion designers and celebrities including Gigi Hadid, Penélope Cruz and even Seth Rogen. While her own intricate designs incorporate 3D elements and advanced techniques, she says that press-ons are perfect for getting “professional-looking nails without needing to go to a salon.” They simplify at-home manicures, allowing you to get a full set with minimal skills required. For press-ons, you don’t need the steady hands required for painting your own nails or the time to let coats of polish dry. Plus, you can switch up your nails as often as you want — from classic French manicures to bold nail art, endless options are literally at your fingertips.
Here, Gerstein and Kawajiri share their advice for the best press-on nail application and removal.
How to apply press-on nails
Prepping your nails for press-ons is similar to a traditional manicure. “Pushing back cuticles and making sure the nail is free of oil, lint and dust is important,” Gerstein shares. Most press-on kits will come with a small cuticle pusher and nail file to help you prep the nails. Having a nail clipper, nipper and cuticle remover on hand is also a good idea if you’re planning on trimming your cuticles and shaping your nails. For the best results, a prepped nail bed should be clean and short, according to Kawajiri.
In addition to making sure your nail bed is prepared, you’ll also want to prep the press-ons. “The fit of your nail tip is very important for long-lasting wear,” Kawajiri says. “Each nail tip size should match your nail beds closely in order for the tips to look realistic and to prevent them from falling off.” When you’re fitting the tips prior to application, make sure that they don’t overlap with the side grooves of your nails. Laying out the tips in the order you’re planning on applying them will also help you stay organized during the process.
Once your nails are trimmed and your press-ons are selected, lightly buff the nail with a nail buffer for a stronger bond. After buffing the nail, make sure to wipe away any dust or dirt. “Using an alcohol wipe is the easiest way to make sure you have a clean canvas for your nail tips,” Kawajiri says. Let the nails dry before applying any adhesive.
Press-ons may come with tabs and/or glue. “Tabs are for temporary wear, while glue, if applied correctly, can get up to 2.5 weeks of wear,” Gerstein says.
Each set of press-ons may have individual instructions for the specific glue and tips, so follow the directions closely for the best results.
How to make press-on nails last
Besides following the basic steps for applying press-ons, there are a couple things to avoid that can help your manicure last. “Try not to submerge the nail tips in hot water for too long as it’ll loosen the adhesive over time,” Kawajiri advises. Other products like lotions and oils can also weaken the glue, so the nail artist recommends avoiding the nail tip area when moisturizing your hands.
If one of your nails does pop off, thankfully most press-on nails are reusable, so you can simply start over, buff and prep the nail again and re-glue the rogue tip.
How to remove press-on nails
While press-on kits will have instructions for removing the nails as well, Gerstein and Kawajiri have some pro tips that will make it even easier. Both artists recommend clipping off the tips to the length of your real nail. Then, if you’re not planning on reusing the nails, you can soak the nails in acetone for 10 to 15 minutes. (If you want to save the nails for future use, soak them in hot water until the adhesive loosens.) Kawajiri’s preferred method is to apply cotton soaked in acetone to each nail and then wrap each finger in foil until the tips soften. You never want to force or pull the nails off. Instead, wait for them to soak until you can gently push the tips off with a wooden stick or cuticle pusher.
Alternatively, Gerstein says Kiss Glue Off, a product specifically made for press-on removal, is a wonderful alternative to soaking the nails.
If there is adhesive residue left on your nails, Kawajiri says you can carefully file it off, “but do not file the nail bed too much. You don’t want to start filing off your nail’s natural layers.”
The best press-on nails
$8.99 $8.27 at Amazon
The Kiss Gel Fantasy Collection nails are some of Gerstein’s favorites. “[They] make for a really quick manicure when you don’t have time to go to a salon,” she says. The pastel shades of this set are on-trend, according to the nail artist.
$22 at Static Nails
Static Nails makes some of the best natural-looking press-on nails that I’ve tried. With a number of nail shapes (round, square, almond and coffin), lengths and colors to choose from, you can get a customized French manicure at home. This short set is great for everyday wear and lasted for weeks before I removed them.
$6.97 at Walmart
Gerstein says the collaboration between celebrity manicurist Chaun Legend and Lottie London makes “expert nail art accessible.” With designs like this Y2K-inspired “Baby Girl” graffiti set, the press-ons are perfect for getting a trendy manicure on the fly.
$22 at Ulta
Add a nostalgic touch to your nails with this cherry red French tip set that features heart-design accent nails and a cute Hello Kitty graphic.
$10.99 at Beyond Polish
Kawajiri says the Nailboo press-ons “wear like a professional manicure — the material is very durable and they are the perfect length for every day.” This summery set features an ombre background with daisy prints.
$16 $9.99 at Urban Outfitters
For funky nail art and graphic designs sans the salon, Chillhouse’s Chill Tips are a great option. Four fun colorways, from trendy checkerboard print to these retro waves, are currently on sale for under $10 at Urban Outfitters, and the brand is also available at Target.
$8.99 $7.24 at Amazon
The jelly look is one of Kawajiri’s favorite nail trends. This hot pink translucent set boasts the jelly style with the added touch of sparkly accent nails. Plus, you can apply them with adhesive tabs or glue, depending on how long you want to wear them.
$24 at Static Nails
These stiletto nails come in a versatile nude shade that looks salon-worthy. You can customize the length and shape by clipping and filing the nails before gluing them down for an even more natural look.
$16 $14 at Nails of LA
A simple gold curve elevates this subtle set of press-ons for a chic and minimalist manicure.
$16.50 at Ulta
Add some flair to your mani with these semi-translucent press-ons that let the wavy blue design shine.