The beauty industry is having an accessories moment with so many fresh takes on throwback trends like butterfly clips, hair tinsel, and press-on nails — yes, we said press-on nails. But, unlike the flashy, shabby nails of the past, the modern press-on manicure boasts salon-worthy quality and intricate nail art designs, plus these new and improved press-on nails are far less damaging than their ancestors.
Up ahead, we dip our toes (or, in this case, fingers) into the press-on nail trend and take a closer look at the history, the revival, and the logistics, including how to wear press-on nails and how to remove them.
A Brief History of the Press-On Nail
Fashion loves to recycle trends, giving things like mini purses and low rise jeans a modern moment with a Y2K twist — and beauty is no different. While press-on nails were once prominent from the ’80s to the early aughts, this manicure trend has been around for over 70 years. “Press-on nails were first invented in the 50s but didn’t get popular until the 80s when nail art became more popular,” says Brittney Boyce, a celebrity nail artist and founder of NAILS OF LA.
The press-on nail trend began to creep its way back into the zeitgeist shortly before the world shut down due to the global pandemic in early 2020. But, “once Covid hit, press-on nails took off,” says Boyce of the revival. With nail salons closed, many looked for at-home alternatives that require little expertise and fuss — and press-on nails fit that mold.
In addition to a desire to get salon-worthy manicures at home, press-on nails are also the answer to providing more access to some of social media’s most beloved nail artists’ work. “Some people thought the trend would not last once salons were opened,” says Boyce. Boyce is no stranger to receiving messages about her nail art “from people saying they wish they lived closer” to book a manicure. This showed the demand for creating press-on nails with unique nail art. “The trend continues because people want nicely shaped nails with cool nail art,” she remarks.
The Revival of Press-on Nails
Like anything, press-on nails have improved with age. And, after 70 years since their inception, the press-on nails of today “feature much better material and more modern designs,” says Boyce. Unlike the nails worn in the ’80s, modern press-on nails “are thinner, more flexible, and more comfortable to wear,” she adds, noting how the press-ons of the past were stiff, thick, and heavy. The designs are “more of the moment,” with everything from simple and solid to funky and floral.
Press-ons also address another major manicure trend: Nail art. Like tattoos, nail art (albeit much more temporary) is a great way to express ourselves and express our personal style. “Manicures can get expensive, especially when adding nail art,” says Boyce. “Press-ons are affordable and accessible and let everyone enjoy their favorite designs,” she adds.
The thing that makes modern press-on nails so great is that they aren’t nearly as damage-inducing as those that came before them. Some feature a safer and more gentle nail glue, while others have adhesive tabs, making it easier to remove them, swap them out, and even re-use them. This is a change-up from gel nails or acrylics (which Boyce does not recommend as they are “so damaging”), which require soaking in chemicals to remove. “If you remove your press-ons carefully and gently, it won’t damage the nail,” says Boyce. However, popping them off with force can “lift the nail bed,” so the key is to be gentle about it.
How to Wear Press-On Nails
First, consider what type of press-on nails you want to wear. Do you want a solid color, or are you more drawn to trendy nail art? And, what nail shape do you prefer? Once you have your pick (inspiration below!), follow the application instructions for an easy at-home manicure. Some press-on nails will come ready to wear, while others might require you to file them into your shape of choice for a more custom look.
How to Remove Press-On Nails
Press-on nails are easy to remove. And, you don’t need to wait until their lifespan is up (aka, until they are lifting on their own after a few weeks of wear) to remove them. You can remove press-on nails using a safe and straightforward technique.
The first step to press-on nail removal is to “soak your hands in warm, soapy water for 10-15 minutes,” says Boyce. Next, “rub an emollient like coconut oil, olive oil, or any cuticle oil to further loosen the adhesive,” she adds. The nails should begin to loosen up but might not fully lift on their own. To help with this process, Boyce recommends gently rocking the press-on nails back and forth on your nail bed until you start to see some lift. You might need to add a little more emollient or soak a little longer for more stubborn nails, but, overall, this should remove the nails with ease.
If you find you need a little extra help to remove press-on nails, Olive & June makes a great Press-On Remover that removes nails in 10-15 minutes with minimal effort. However, this remover uses the help of acetone, so if you wish to stay away from traditional nail polish remover, we recommend Boyce’s method.
The press-on nails are one of our favorite beauty trends because they make at-home manicures a breeze, are less damaging on nailbeds when compared to other types of fake nails, make gorgeous nail art more accessible, and are great if you’re in a pinch. “It’s a fun, easy, and inexpensive way to explore different nail lengths and nail art,” Boyce adds, and we agree.
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.