Galaxy Nails Are Back—But Not How You Remember Them

The Tumblr darling gets a 2023 makeover.

Galaxy nails

Cirque Colors

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (Okay, it wasn’t that long ago, and the galaxy was a little website called Tumblr), a celestial trend called “galaxy” took hold of our consciousness and wouldn’t let go. The starry, otherworldly print was plastered on everything. From leggings to dresses, it even made it to our hair color choices and manicures.

When you see the galaxy print today, you may flash right back to the 2010s—it’s that evocative of the era. However, a new type of galaxy manicure is here to take you on a trip to another dimension.

Camila Cabello galaxy nails

@tombachik / Instagram

The Trend

Incorporating elements of the outdoors into your manicure is nothing new. Nail looks inspired by ocean views, night skies, and summer sunsets have always been popular, and many nail brands have released celestial concoctions of their own. For example, Essie’s now-discontinued Starry Starry Night polish, a deep midnight blue with starry silver flecks, was so popular and lusted after that fans begged the brand to bring it back, which they did for a limited time in 2015. 

So why is this shimmery, otherworldly manicure style making a comeback a decade later? “As they always say, everything that is old is new again, and this applies to nail trends too,” explains Mazz Hanna, CEO of nail agency Nailing Hollywood, adding that her team recently created a galaxy-inspired nail look for a client attending the Grammy Awards.

“Part of me thinks that they are becoming popular because people are more and more interested in astrology and outer space.” Hanna also cites recent snapshots from space, like the photos taken by the James Webb telescope in 2022, as inspiration for the look. “The thing that's so fun about this look is that there are so many ways to get it, and its abstract nature makes it simple enough for the at-home nail enthusiast to achieve.”

So how does the 2023 galaxy manicure differ from the Tumblr-era version? The 2010s manicure was a more faithful recreation of the actual galaxy print. The 2023 version is generally a more abstract take on the cosmos, like the duo-chrome set manicurist Natalie Minerva created for Addison Rae or the shining multicolored chrome mani Tom Bachik designed for Camila Cabello

How to DIY It

If the deeper, darker hues of the night sky are compelling to you, the look is pretty easy to recreate at home with a steady hand and a healthy dose of patience. “The galaxy nail look can be described as a dimensional layering of bold metallics over a dark base to create the look of outer space,” says Hanna. “It can be as simple as a black nail with varying colors of blue and purple-toned metallics sponged on top. Sometimes people use glitter or paint tiny starbursts to enhance that ‘galaxy’ look.” 

Hanna likes a layering technique to sculpt a night sky on nails. First, she paints nails with a deeply pigmented black polish like Sally Hansen Insta Dri in Back to Black. Then, she layers thin coats of three different polishes atop the dried black polish, wiping most of the color off the brush for a sponge-like effect. Look for polishes with a shimmer, chrome, or duo-chrome finish for celestial sparkle, depth, and dimension.

“Starting about one-third of the way down the nail, gently dab on the first color to create your first abstract band across the nail. Repeat this on the rest of the nails. Feel free to make it feel more abstract by not putting it in the same exact location on each nail,” she explains. Once each coat is fully dry, move on to the next color using the same technique, overlapping just slightly with the first shade. Repeat the same technique with the third color.

Need shade inspo? Hanna loves ORLY’s on-theme Nebula, a shimmery metallic purple, Comet Relief, a glimmering bronze, and Forward Momentum, a frosted metallic lavender. Once you’ve finished painting your galaxy masterpiece, seal the deal with a plumping top coat for more dimension. Hanna likes Seche Vive Gel Effect Top Coat.

What to Ask for at the Nail Salon

Prefer to have your nails painted by a pro? Hanna advises bringing in lots of photos of your desired manicure style. “It's always nice to share inspiration photos rather than just ask your artist to copy a design,” she shares. “This allows them to put their own creative touches on it, and it usually lends itself to a better result.” You can also try nail strips, like Color Street’s Celestial Waves print, for a stick-on manicure with no dry time.

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