Hear the word "airbrush," and you might envision designing your own T-shirt on a boardwalk back in the day. "We are seeing a resurgence of everything from the '90s, so it's only natural it would apply to nail trends too," says New York City-based celebrity manicurist and Julie K Nail Academy founder Julie Kandalec. "When an era trends, all parts of that era tend to show up—down to the way we did nail art."
But in the case of airbrush manis, there's a new and improved twist. "The first time I saw it was in the mid-'90s when nail pros would layer stencils to create ornate ocean scenes, bouquets of foliage, or their boyfriend's name," Kandalec says. "This time around, it's less literal—like with the aura nails trend I recreated. I'm really into it—it's not a '90s stenciled airbrush anymore. Airbrush really creates looks that can't be done with brushes easily. And it's an easier way to do an ombré nail, too."
So what exactly is an airbrush mani? "The airbrush nail trend gives you a flawless, smooth nail look," says nail artist Phoebe Cascarina. "It creates this hazy effect on the nails that can be styled and layered in so many ways; it's a great base for any nail look."
Aside from the '90s everything resurgence, Cascarina believes there are other reasons it's trending. She says it can be created by pretty much anyone, regardless of skill level, by "using eyeshadow, like I've done, right the way up to using an actual airbrush machine. "It [turns] what might be considered a simple look into something with a bit more flair. It creates a softer look, which might appeal to those into the clean girl aesthetic."
Simply put, it's also stunning. "I just love how delicate and seamless it looks on the nails, a really soft design that can be added to or left simple but still achieves a beautiful manicure," Cascarina says. "[There are] so many color combinations out there that blend so well, and up until this trend, I'd have never thought about creating looks like it."
How to Get the Look
Luckily, all you need is a tacky base layer and eyeshadows in different shades of the same color to get the look. Follow Cascarina’s steps to create the airbrush mani using eyeshadow:
- Start with a tacky base layer. "I used Nude BB Cream ($19) by Gelcare," she says. "Cure this gel layer, and don't wipe away the tacky/sticky layer left on top."
- With any eyeshadow color of your choice, use an eyeshadow brush to dab the product onto the nail. The tacky surface is what the eyeshadow will stick to. "I did about three layers, slowly building up the eyeshadow product," says Cascarina.
- Using a lighter shade of your chosen color, go around the edges and seamlessly blend it all together.
- Add a topcoat to secure it all in place.
"A lot of people tried it with blush first, and this seemed to give a very soft and subtle gradient on the nail, but I knew I wanted the color to be a lot brighter," Cascarina says. "I don’t own any blush, so I thought eyeshadow was the next best thing and found a way to make it work for me. From then on, I saw hundreds of people do this [with] blush nails, aura nails, and airbrush nails."
To recreate Kandalec's aura nails, use a Mini BeautyBlender ($18) to apply the gel before curing to get an airbrush effect. "I use it with polish, too, but dip it in acetone-based polish remover first to soften the blender," she says.
"I think the airbrushed trend is one of my favorites so far and one I'll continue to create for a while," Cascarina says. "I love how it has the potential to be created by all different levels of nail creators. There are so many variations to the trend, and you can see how each person's personality shows through [the] designs they pick. I love that."