What Color Should I Paint My Nails? A Guide.

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For a very long time, the standard socially accepted nail polish colors ranging from nudes, pinks, and reds to maybe plum and coral, but that was about it. That was all that was available!

Any deviation from those colors was looked upon as a sign of rebellion and tolerated by younger people as an indication of going through teenage angst… but not so much for adults.

But there’s been a nail polish revolution in the past few years that’s opened up a world of color possibilities that weren’t generally accepted (or available) until just fairly recently.

While colors like navy blue and yellow or green would have been unheard of not so long ago, non-traditional nail polish colors have become mainstream. We now have so many choices!

This is great, but with so many options – how do you choose?

If you’re scratching your head, wondering – what color should I paint my nails? – you’ve come to the right place! We are going to show you how to choose a nail polish color that will look fantastic on you and look at some things you need to take into consideration when making the choice.


What Could Should I Paint My Nails?

At the end of the day, you can wear any color you want – there are no rules.

But if you want to choose a color that looks good on you, and don’t want to look out of place, or worst case, inappropriate, there are a few things you need to take into consideration when choosing a color to paint your nails:

  1. at home or salon mani
  2. your skin undertone
  3. the occasion
  4. the season

We are going to take a look at each of these considerations to see how they factor in when you’re choosing nail polish colors.

1. Are you Doing Your Own Nails or Getting Them Done At The Salon?

The reason this is an important consideration is that if you’re doing your own nails at home, you have a lot more leeway in that you can do your nails today one color, take the polish off and paint them another color tomorrow.

On the other hand, it is far more costly to get your nails done at the salon.

If you’re getting a salon mani, you are going to want that manicure to last as long as possible. The color you choose for a salon manicure needs to be appropriate for everything you are doing in the next couple of weeks.

You will also probably want it to match everything you are wearing in the next couple of weeks as well, so consider your calendar for the next few weeks, and do a little outfit planning.

See also:

Choosing a color that you’re getting done at the salon requires some forethought and planning.


2. Your Skin Undertone

Choosing the right color for your skin undertone can mean the difference between making your fingers look fabulous, long, and elegant, and making your skin look washed out, your fingers short and stubby, or your hands look older.

There are 3 skin undertones – warm, cool and neutral.

If you’re not sure which one you are, check out our complete guide to skin undertones to find out, so you can be sure you are choosing the colors that will look the best on you.

When it comes to the colors that look best on different skin undertones, it’s easy to remember: warm colors with warm skin undertones and cool colors with cool skin undertones.

When it comes to the colors that look best on different skin undertones, it’s easy to remember: warm colors with warm skin undertones and cool colors with cool skin undertones.

If you have neutral undertones, then consider yourself lucky! Because pretty much any color will look great on you.

It’s easiest to think in terms of warm colors being red, orange yellow and the cool colors being green blue, and purple. But as you know, there are more than six colors of nail polish out there.

So let’s get into a little color theory.

So let’s get into a little color theory.

The basic color wheel is made up of the primary colors red yellow and blue, and secondary colors green, purple, and orange.

Secondary colors are a mix of 2 primary colors – blue and red make purple, yellow and blue make green, and yellow and red make orange.

The secondary colors that sit on the border between warm and cool colors (green and purple) can actually go both ways. That’s to say they can be warm or cool because they are a combination of a warm color and a cool color. This is unlike for example orange, which is always a warm color because it’s a mix of 2 warm colors (red and yellow).

Any purple that has more blue than red is a cool purple. Likewise, any green with more blue than yellow is a cool green.

Any purple with more red than blue is a warm purple. A green with more yellow than blue is a warm green.

It’s like the difference between olives and cucumbers – both are green, but very different greens. And unless you have a neutral skin undertone, only one of them is going to look good on you!

Just remember: warm colors will look better on you if you have warm skin undertones. Cool colors will suit you better if you have cool skin undertones.


3. The Occasion

Are you attending a function, a business trade show, a job interview, going out for Sunday brunch with family, going on a date, going out with friends? Or maybe you just want your nails to look nice when you go to the office!

There could be a million other occasions to paint your nails for, so it’s hard to give suggestions as to which colors suit every possible event.

But the one piece of advice we do have when choosing a nail color for a specific occasion is to keep your nail polish more understated and classic, the more serious-formal or professional it is.

But the one piece of advice we do have when choosing a nail color for a specific occasion is to keep your nail polish more understated and classic, the more serious-formal or professional it is.

If you have a celebratory-formal occasion like a wedding: still keep it elegant, but you can bling it up a bit more.

This also comes back to the at-home vs. salon mani. Forethought has to come in if you are getting your nails done at the salon and planning to keep the same color for a couple of weeks.

Thinking about your night out on the town with the girls tomorrow night, but not thinking about what else you’ve got going on after that, no matter how good it looks? Something bright and flashy may not be appropriate if you also have a job interview, attending a court hearing, or someone’s funeral, for example, within that next two weeks.

But there are a few nail polish colors that are appropriate for all occasions, in any season, and will match everything. If you are looking for colors with versatility that won’t have you having to redo your manicure tomorrow, neutrals & nudes are the way to go.

There are a few nail polish colors that are appropriate for all occasions, in any season, and will match everything.

Nudes

A nude nail is always on point and will take you anywhere you need to go.

Credit: Instagram / jennyssnails

Just a couple of things to think about when choosing a nude color:

  • A nude color is any color that is close to your skin tone. So ‘nude’ for someone else may be different than ’nude’ for you.
  • Stick with nude colors that are either a shade or two lighter or darker than your actual skin tone if you don’t want to look like you have weird, creepy mannequin hands that have no color difference between the nail and the skin.
  • Some nude shades can either veer toward pinkish or peachy. If you have cool undertones, go with a nude that has more pink in it. If you have warm skin undertones, choose one that has more of a peachy base.

Neutrals

Any color in the spectrum from beige to taupe to tan to brown can work with just about anyone and with just about any outfit and occasion.

Credit: Instagram / nails_by_pame_garcia_

Other neutrals that you may not have thought to consider are grey and black.

Grey

There are so many shades of grey. According to E.L. James, there are at least 50!

Grey can range from light to dark and from warm to cool.

Credit: Instagram / iramshelton

Just a couple of things to think about when choosing a grey nail polish:

  • Stick with your undertones. Choose a warm grey for warm undertones and a cool grey for cool undertones.
  • If you have fair skin, medium greys will suit your coloring better.
  • Those with a medium skin tone should opt for either a darker or a lighter grey. You want to avoid a grey that’s too close to the shade of your skin.
  • For all of you that have darker skin, grey is a color you have to be careful with if you have cool undertones. Cool greys can be harsher on darker skin and make your skin look a little grey and washed out. But, if you have warm undertones, a warm grey will look fantastic on you in any shade, from light to dark, but just make sure that the grey you choose is at least a shade or two lighter or darker than your skin tone.

Here are just a few of your options for different warm and cool grey nail polish colors.

Black

Black is everywhere right now.

It’s chic and elegant and it’s black, so it goes with everything. But when it comes to black, because it’s such a bold, dark statement, it may not be for everyone.

Credit: Instagram / nailsbyxandra

Just a couple of things to think about when choosing a black nail polish:

  • Black nail polish will look great on those with medium to dark skin tones.
  • For those with pale skin, black nail polish can make pale skin look paler and it will also highlight any imperfections in your hands, like lines and veins.

You can get black nail polish in glossy, matte, shimmer, and metallic finishes.

Nail Polish By Wet n Wild Wild Shine, Black Crème, Nail Color
Nail Polish By Wet n Wild Wild Shine, Black Crème, Nail Color
Purse Pride - New improved formula and packaging
$6.45
ZOYA Nail Polish, Raven, 0.5 fl. oz.
ZOYA Nail Polish, Raven, 0.5 fl. oz.
Does not contain Doetoluene or dibutyl phthalate (DBP); Chip-resistant; Long-wearing; Formaldehyde free
$10.00

4. The Season

Now regardless of whether a color looks great with your skin undertones or amazing with your outfit, you may seem a little stylistically out-of-touch if you are wearing, say, turquoise nail polish in the middle of winter.

Each season has its colors that are generally associated with that time of year.

We’ve put together some color swatches and matching nail polish for the different seasons to give you an idea of what you should be aiming to coordinate with.

Spring

Pastels, pastels, pastels – the light, airy colors of blossoming trees, blooming flowers, and pretty songbirds. Pastels don’t look good on everyone, so if you find yourself among that group, go for a medium shade of these colors in a muted tone, rather than the fully saturated bright version.

https://pixabay.com/photos/bird-branch-perched-feathers-2295431/

Summer

Summer is all about bright, fun colors, especially the ones that accentuate your tan! We’re talking about the blues and greens of the ocean, tropical flowers, sunshine, and watermelon!

https://pixabay.com/photos/beach-sea-costa-booths-sun-2188486/
Maybelline New York Color Show Nail Lacquer, Sapphire Siren, 0.23 Fluid Ounce
Maybelline New York Color Show Nail Lacquer, Sapphire Siren, 0.23 Fluid Ounce
Runway ready colors; Show-stopping shine; High fashion finishes
$4.99
L.A. COLORS Color Craze Nail Polish, Sea Foam, 1 Ounce
L.A. COLORS Color Craze Nail Polish, Sea Foam, 1 Ounce
Long-lasting; Chip-resistant; Shiny, smooth finish; Available in a variety of colors.
$1.49
Sale
Orly Baked Summer Nail Color Collection, Neon Heat, 0.6 Ounce
Orly Baked Summer Nail Color Collection, Neon Heat, 0.6 Ounce
This is a bright happy cheery cherry red.; Ultra-smooth application; Maximum color; Nourishes and protects nails with Vitamins A, E and B5
$7.48
Sale
Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy Longwear Nail Polish, with Built-in Base Coat & Glossy Shine Finish, in Red/Coral, 640 Jokers Wild, 0.4 oz
Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy Longwear Nail Polish, with Built-in Base Coat & Glossy Shine Finish, in Red/Coral, 640 Jokers Wild, 0.4 oz
Outrageous shine and rich, long lasting color, that won't fade in one at home formula; Delivers high impact, salon-quality color for up to 7 days
$6.51

Fall

Now it’s no surprise that fall colors mirror the color of the changing leaves. Anything red, gold, orange or brown falls under autumn colors.

Deep plums and wine reds are also great fall colors, as are metallics, like gold and copper.

https://pixabay.com/photos/autumn-leaves-border-frame-foliage-1649362/
Sale
ZOYA Nail Polish, Autumn, 0.5 Fl Oz (Pack of 1)
ZOYA Nail Polish, Autumn, 0.5 Fl Oz (Pack of 1)
Big 10 Free; Long Wear Formula; Vegan Friendly; Professional Salon Formula
$11.33
Sally Hansen Color Therapy Nail Polish, Exotic Acai, Pack of 1
Sally Hansen Color Therapy Nail Polish, Exotic Acai, Pack of 1
Color that cares while you wear; Intensive Nourishment for healthy looking nails; Up to 10 days fade-proof, Chip-Resistant Wear
$5.23

Winter

Winter colors are all about cool blues, grey, dark red, dark green, silver, and gold… basically the colors of the Christmas season.

But any dark, rich color, like burgundy and deep plum, are also great colors for winter.

https://pixabay.com/photos/alps-snow-panorama-mountains-trees-2700403/
Revlon Nail Enamel, Chip Resistant Nail Polish, Glossy Shine Finish, in Nude/Brown, 020 Pure Pearl, 0.5 oz
Revlon Nail Enamel, Chip Resistant Nail Polish, Glossy Shine Finish, in Nude/Brown, 020 Pure Pearl, 0.5 oz
Gorgeous color goes on smoothly and bubble free; Choose from 64 sheer, opaque, shimmer, metallic, and chrome shades
$9.19
ella+mila Nail Polish, Dream Collection - Mistletoe Magic
ella+mila Nail Polish, Dream Collection - Mistletoe Magic
Mistletoe Magic; Vegan & Animal cruelty-free; Made in the USA; ella+mila polishes are certified by PETA!
$11.39
ILNP Say Love - Ruby Red Holographic Nail Polish, Chip Resistant, 7-Free, Non-Toxic, Vegan, Cruelty Free, 12ml
ILNP Say Love - Ruby Red Holographic Nail Polish, Chip Resistant, 7-Free, Non-Toxic, Vegan, Cruelty Free, 12ml
VIVID RUBY RED SPARKLE - Deliciously red holographic nail polish with incredible depth
$10.00

Final Thoughts

You can paint your nails whatever color you want – there are no rules! But if you want to choose a color that looks great on you, match your nail color to your skin’s undertone.

If you are looking for a versatile color that will go with everything that doesn’t have you having to redo your manicure every time you change your outfit or go somewhere different: nudes and neutrals are your best friend.

If you want to opt for more of a pop of color, then apart from matching your skin tone, you also need to consider the occasion – is it casual, celebratory, serious, or professional? The more serious or professional, the more low-key you should keep your nails.

And lastly, as the season change, so should the color of nail polish. Though we’ve given you a few color suggestions for each, there’s always a new color trending every season, so don’t be afraid to try something new!

Written by Kayla Young

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