Put your phone down, close your computer and allow yourself to drift away for a moment. Instead of sitting at a desk or in your apartment, you’re on the beach somewhere in, say, South Carolina. The weather is warm and humid, like a hug, and you’re strolling the sand in a breezy ‘fit, your hair blowing gently in the wind. As you walk, you keep your eyes peeled for sea glass, the beautifully weathered bits of colorful glass that have been smoothed down by salt water to a soft, frosted finish.
Okay, so you may not be able to escape to the beach for a sea glass treasure hunt, but you can easily channel those carefree oceanside days with a sea glass-inspired manicure. Instant beach day vibes are just a few brushstrokes away.
What Are Sea Glass Nails?
Sea glass nails are exactly what they sound like: a semi-sheer, cool-toned manicure with a matte finish like a piece of glass that has been swept around in the ocean for months, if not years. There’s a reason people collect sea glass from their travels and explorations—it’s pretty, simple as that!
Behind the Trend
Sea glass nails check all the boxes for summer manicures; they’re sheer, cool-toned and give all the ocean vibes, even if you’re landlocked. They stand out amidst popular summer trends like bright red and lemonade yellow, but they’re easy to DIY and customize to your liking with whichever shades spark your fancy. Just looking at a fresh set of sea glass nails brings back happy childhood vacation memories or imparts a sense of calm, like a summer Friday where all you have on your calendar is a trip to the beach with a good book. There’s a reason the trend keeps coming back again and again, much like a yearly family trip to the same beach town or cabin getaway.
How to Get Sea Glass Nails
To nail that enchanting sea glass texture of frosted, faded soda bottles and other tossed-off bits of treasure, your regular cream polishes may not cut it. Jelly polishes, which give nails a sheer, translucent wash of color reminiscent of Jello, are ideal for creating the see-through charm of sea glass.
“I love the sea glass nail trend because jelly colors are a favorite for the summer and with a matte topcoat it feels even more sophisticated,” says nail artist Erica Hipp. “Jelly colors are what makes sea glass nails unique from other pastel manicures. The finish is sheer so you can still see through it after two coats,” she explains, adding that Cirque Colors is her favorite brand for jelly finishes. For a perfect starter sea glass manicure, Hipp recommends Aqua Jelly, a shiny oceanic turquoise; Lime Jelly, a buildable fruity green; and Jade Jelly, a sheer pale green.
Resist the urge to paint on layer after layer for full coverage; you want that glass-like consistency where you can almost see through it, but there’s still some mystery—just like a handful of sea glass washed ashore. “Two coats are better than three for a sea glass look, then you’re still able to see some of the nail line and it looks like translucent sea glass,” Hipp explains. You can layer a few colors together, paint each finger a different shade or even do stripes of color if you have a particularly steady hand.
To get the frosted look that really screams sea glass, Hipp recommends adding a matte topcoat to your mani. “Orly makes the absolute best matte topcoat. It gets much more matte than others, and it’s easier to paint because of the paddle brush,” she shares of her top pick, Matte Top ($13). “For longer wear, always put down a layer of quick dry topcoat under the matte topcoat.”
Once you’ve mastered the sea glass manicure, you can give it an Ariel-approved spin with sparkle. “For a more mermaid looking approach, try layering a chunky glitter like Cirque Colors XX ($13) or Orly Anything Goes ($11) between layers of jelly polish so the sparkle peeks through.”