Why Press-On Nails Are Your New (Old) Secret Weapon

Forget the drugstore faux French manicures. Press-on nails have gotten a major update—here's how to make the most of them.

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Step No. 1: Clean Off Your Nails

Your manicurist may buff your nails before applying a fresh coat of polish, but doing so before applying press-ons can actually weaken your nails. Instead, just clean them up. "If you have very oily nail beds, that's the only time I'll ever recommend using a tiny bit of nail polish remover—not even acetone, just simple nail polish remover, to dry up the nail beds a little," says Alexis Irene, founder of Static Nails. Wash your hands, and dry then thoroughly—then you'll be good to go.

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Irene recommends applying press-ons to a completely bare nail, but they can also be applied over a gel manicure, which actually does require some buffing. "You have to buff down the gel so the nail has something to bond to—this can double the wear time," she says. "You can pop them on as an accent nail. You can put them on as your gels and acrylics start to grow out. But after a few days, be sure to have your gels removed by a professional so your natural nails can breathe."

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Step No. 2: Find Your Shape

Press-on nails should fit perfectly over your natural nail, so before applying, align each fake nail with your cuticle and push down. "If you see a bit of your natural nail on one side, the press-on nail is too small," says Irene. "If it's too big, the nail will expand past both sides of your natural nail." If you can't find your perfect size, use a nail buffer to file down the sides of a too-big press-on nail.

Nude Peach, $16, staticnails.com.

Pink Edit, $16, staticnails.com.

Pop On Nails in Black Magic by Lime Crime, $14, urbanoutfitters.com.

All In One Pop-On Manicure Kit: Fireman by Static Nails, $16, sephora.com.

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Step No. 3: Perfect Your Gluing Technique

Gluing down press-on nails requires a bit of strategy. The amount of glue you use determines how long your nails will stay on. For a few days of wear, Irene suggests spreading a thin layer of glue from base to tip of the natural nail, and holding down the press-on for about 20 seconds. For a week of wear, a pea-sized dot of glue will do the trick. For even longer, glue should be applied to both your natural nail and the press-on.

Application technique is also crucial to getting the most natural-looking manicure possible. "You never want to put the glue right up against your skin, because when you push the press-on down it's going to spread," says Irene. "Push it under the cuticle just a little bit—it won't feel uncomfortable, and it will make the nail look natural and seamless."

In the event a nail falls off (that trendy boxing class might result in a casualty), all you have to do is re-glue—don't worry about buildup! To prevent your glue bottle from getting accidentally sealed shut, just remember to wipe it off with a damp paper towel after use, then allow to dry and put on the cap. Store it upright to prevent it from drying out or leaking.

Step No. 4: File Them Down

If extra-long nails aren't your thing a bit of strategic filing (or even clipping) can help you to personalize your press-ons. "A lot of people don't think about this, but you can take a stiletto nail and just clip the tip with a normal nail clipper, and you instantly have a coffin shape or a square shape," says Irene. For more rounded shapes, wait until your nails are completely dry, then use a file.

Step No. 5: Wear Them Out

If you apply them correctly, press-on nails should stay put, even when they get wet! "When you want to remove them, soak them in a bowl of hot water—the hotter, the better," says Irene. "Gently lift up the sides, and they'll pop off when they're ready." If they won't budge, leave them on a bit longer (and use less glue next time).

Unlike acrylics, press-ons will leave your nails as strong as they were before application. Just use a wooden stick or cuticle clipper to nudge off any glue residue, and your nails will look good as new. Go forth and give yourself an at-home press-on manicure.

Pop On Nails in Oyster by Lime Crime, $14, urbanoutfitters.com.

Holographic False Nails by Elegant Touch, $15, topshop.com.

Savage, $16, staticnails.com.

Rose Gold Edit, $16, staticnails.com.

Mink Nude Nails by Elegant Touch, $15, topshop.com.

When you've taken the plunge and tried press-on nails, Snap me your manis @rebeccadecz!

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