If you love having your nails done but can't always head to the salon, it's time to put press-on nails on your radar. While these might seem like relics of the past, the cheap press-on nails you remember from childhood have gotten a rather luxe update for modern-day wear.
Whether you want to wear your nails long or short, polished to perfection or accentuated with gems, there's a press-on nail kit for that. Since it may have been quite some time since you last ventured the world of press-ons, ahead you'll rediscover what they are, how they work, and how to ensure they look their best for as long as possible. Happy DIY-ing!
Meet the Expert
Braelinn Frank is an Austin-based nail artist and the founder of beloved press-on brand Rave Nailz.
What Are Press-On Nails?
While this largely depends on the brand you choose to move forward with, Frank says that many press-on nails are acrylic resin false nails that can be applied in minutes, but have a near-perfect resemblance to a salon-quality acrylic mani.
Beyond their high-quality appearance (so long as you use quality press-ons, that is), they come in a variety of shapes, styles, and colors, not to mention a range of budgets. Where some press-on nails can be snagged for just a few bucks, others—like Rave Nails which are built to last and made with runway-quality nail art in mind—ring up for as much as $25 a pair.
How Do Press-On Nails Work?
Press-on nails typically come in a kit that includes the nails, a cuticle-pusher, a file, and nail glue. The nails themselves are usually divided into a five-compartment container with multiple sizes for each nail so that you have a good chance of finding a press-on that perfectly matches your nail shape. And, if they’re a bit off, that’s where the file comes into play.
Once you select your press-ons, you glue them on. It’s as simple as that. (But, if you’re fretting over the process, no worries! We take you through a full run-down of how to apply press-on nails at the end of this article.)
How Long Do They Last?
Again, this comes down to the quality of press-ons you purchase, but Frank says that a good application can last up to two weeks with proper care. “If the nails themselves are durable, you can reuse them too,” she says. “My rule of thumb is: More glue equals longer wear. The cool part about press-ons is that you actually can wear them for very short periods of time too!” Just look at Beyonce's 2018 Coachella performance. “There's no salon backstage,” Frank says. “She just switched out her press-ons!” So, whether you want flashy nails just for the weekend or you’re hoping for a longer-lasting mani, press-ons might just be the answer to your prayers, especially those that come with adhesive tabs (which you should use if you want to swap out immediately like Beyoncé).
Are Press-On Nails Safe For Your Natural Nails?
Thank your lucky stars because press-on nails are one of the safest options for extensions in the book.
“Compared to the alternative, acrylic extensions, press-ons are a lot safer,” Frank emphasizes. “Damage to your nails comes in the form of erosive substances like acetone and in order to remove acrylic extensions, you have to soak your nails for at least 15 minutes—your nail beds are crying!” Plus, she points out that in order for the acrylic polymer to stick, technicians have to buff your natural nail, making it paper-thin, which, as you can imagine, isn’t exactly good for your nails.
Static press-on nails don’t require any excessive buffing or soaking. “To remove [static] press-ons, all you need to do is soak in warm soapy water for 15 minutes until they loosen naturally—no chemicals needed,” Frank exclaims. However, other brands do require you to soak them off, but for a shorter period of time, at which point they should loosen up quickly. For nail adhesive tabs, you can take a small amount of nail polish remover around the edges of the press-on and slowly lift it off, according to manicurist and Byrdie Advisory Board member Evelyn Lim.
How to Apply Press-On Nails
1. Clip your nails. “For the longest-lasting press on mani, clip your natural nails short,” Frank starts.
2. Clean your nails. Frank says to remove all polish and clean your nails well with soap and water to ensure a clean base for your press-on mani.“If you have it on hand, clean them with rubbing alcohol using a cotton ball too,” she says. From there, dry your nails completely and move to the next step.
3. Pick out your nail sizes. Frank says choosing your nail sizes before you start applying them is a must so that you aren't trying to find your size with wet glue on your hands. “For an even more perfect match, file the sides of the press-on nail to fit your nail beds,” she says.
4. Apply one nail at a time. “One finger at a time, cover your whole nail with glue, then align the press-on with your nail bed and press down firmly for 20 seconds,” Frank instructs. “Enjoy your mani for up to two weeks!”
5. Optional: Paint your nails. If you opted for clear press-ons (as opposed to pre-painted ones), you can paint them to your liking once the glue is dry. Don’t forget topcoat so that your polish lasts as long as your press-ons.
5 Ways to Make Your Press-On Nails Last Longer
- Make sure your nails are totally clean before applying your press-ons so that dirt, oil, or other debris doesn’t prevent the glue from fully adhering the press-on to your real nail.
- Apply your glue with how long you want your press-on nails to last. If you’re hoping to switch up your nail look just for the weekend, Frank says to only use a couple of drops of glue; if you want your press-ons to last for a week or more, cover your entire nail in glue.
- Opt for shorter nails. As fun as long coffin, stiletto, and almond-shaped nails are, the longer the length, the more likely they’ll be to snag on something and accidentally pop off.
- Consider using a different glue than the one that comes in your kit. Some of the top-reviewed nail glues include KISS PowerFlex Max Speed Glue ($3) and Mia Secret Nail Glue ($10).
- Skip baths or just remember not to submerge your nails underwater. Since press-ons are designed to come off with just soap and water, letting them sit under soapy suds for long periods can shorten their wear.
The Best Press-On Nails to Try
Press-on nails are particularly great for weekends where you're looking to drastically switch-up your manicure without it affecting your day-to-day look. That's why we love these fluffy cloud nails. While we might not wear them every day of the week, they'd be a fun addition to any festival 'fit.
If you love an almond-shaped nail look, you'll swoon over these minimalist nude nails. They feature embellished statement nails that are dotted with real Swarovski crystals for a slightly elevated, glam end look.
ICYMI: French manicures are back in a big way. With this easy-to-use set, you can accomplish the classic design with a hint of glitter and glam.
Some press-on nail kits come with a variety of colors so that you're able to get in on the gradient nail trend. This Dashing Diva set features a mix of pink press-on nails so that you can play with how you want to shift your gradient.
If you're looking for length but still want to paint your own nails, consider this best-selling 100-count press-on nail set. It comes with a variety of press-on oval nails so that you can do your own nails over and over again.