Ask an Expert: How to Fake Perfect Nails

Backstage at Brandon Maxwell; Image: Courtesy of Deborah Lippmann

Nails Backstage at Brandon Maxwell; Image: Courtesy of Deborah Lippmann

It’s hard to hide your nail sins, especially when you haven’t treated your tips too kindly (we’re looking at you, gel manicures!). While opaque polish can camouflage surface flaws, it won’t solve deeper issues like staining, ridges and brittleness. Thankfully, savvy nail care companies are catching on by developing products that go beyond aesthetics.

“Nowadays, base coats and treatments contain vitamins and minerals that strengthen and improve nail health,” explains Deborah Lippmann, founder and creative director of her namesake line. Her nail polishes are 7-free and contain unique nutrient and vitamin blends (such as biotin and green tea) for continued nail health.

Aside from practicing proper nail care and choosing products with good-for-you ingredients to help improve the health of your nails, read on for a few smart ways to make your nails look better instantly.

Get Familiar With Color Correcting

Based on the science of the color wheel (and RYB color model), certain shades effectively cancel others. Oftentimes, these formulas micronize color pigments and optical diffusers that cancel out underlying undesirable shades.  

“We know from cosmetic dermatology that to cover red areas on the face, like rosacea, the makeup often has a green tint,” explains Dr. Dana Stern, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center and founder and CEO of Dr. DANA. Stern says you can apply this same color-correcting principal to nail polish. “Many polishes leave the nails with yellow discoloration, which is why so many of the color-correcting [products] have a violet-purple tint. Those with a greenish undertone should lean toward crimson-scarlet-red family.”  


Deborah Lippmann All About That Base CC Base Coat ($20 at Sephora) and Genie In a Bottle Illuminating Nail Tone Perfector ($20 at Sephora) help color correct and conceal nail imperfections.

Avoid Nail Discoloration

According to Stern, yellowing occurs because “the porosity of the nail is variable and certain people [who] have more porous nails are more prone to this phenomenon.” If you have a soft spot for rocking darker shades like red, stained nails may be a commonplace issue for you. Other factors like dye content and removing polish effectively also play a role. Lippmann, who’s no stranger to working backstage at NYFW or with high-profile clientele (like Amy Schumer and Lupita Nyong’o), swears by this easy-to-follow polish removal hack.

“Starting with the first hand, take a small piece of cotton and saturate it with nail polish remover. Press the wet cotton down onto the first nail, so that the cotton/remover completely covers the nail and let it set. Continue to do the same for each of the other nails, letting each sit on the nails. When you are done, all five nails should have their own pieces of cotton swab treatments sitting on them.”

Unlike other harsh removal methods, her system eliminates damage usually inflicted by pressing down too hard and rubbing your nails and cuticles (which ultimately causes weakened nails and breakage). Still have polish that won’t budge? Try lightening stained tips with a dilution of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). “Combine three to four tablespoons of H2O2 and one-half cup of water and mix well, then soak nails for two minutes,” advises Stern. “Using a soft toothbrush, gently scrub the surface of the nails. Rinse with water. Repeat two to three times per week as needed.” Alternatively, she suggests using a whitening toothpaste as they are often formulated with H2O2 as well.

Dr. DANA 3-Piece Nail Renewal System, $39.95 at QVC

Dr. DANA 3-Piece Nail Renewal System, $39.95 at QVC

Find the Right Nail Shape

The shape of the nail can help to elongate one’s hands and improve its overall appearance. “I love a slightly longer, almond-shaped nail — it’s very slenderizing, quite sexy and still very strong,” shares Lippmann. “A short, more rounded style is always a classic go-to shape, especially for buffed, bare nails.” She also advises everyone to stay away from a super square-shaped nail. “It’s not the most flattering and makes fingers appear shorter.”

Going Nude Is Easy

Finding the perfect nude for your skin is like finding the perfect T-shirt — it requires trying on a bunch. The same way you try on clothes before you buy them, you should try on lacquers to find the perfect shade. When it comes to nudes, Lippmann suggests looking to your cuticles for answers. “If the nude lacquer isn’t right for your skin tone, your cuticle will actually look red or ‘dirty.’ Lacquers like Fashion are most appropriate for women with yellow undertones and bare beiges, like Naked, are best for those with pink undertones, like myself.”


Care for Your Cuticles

When it comes to cuticles, cutting is not an option. “The cuticle is the nail’s natural protective seal and the key to overall nail health,” shares Stern. “Trim any overt hangnails with a good quality cuticle nipper, but never intentionally remove that amazing anatomical structure! Liquid removers that are often used in salons should also not be used for the same reasoning.” As an alternative, she recommends gently pushing them back after a warm shower or bath with a washcloth (or a cuticle pusher).

Nail Fungus Myths

More than just a cosmetic problem, fungus can serve as a reservoir for other fungal infections — think athlete’s foot (aka tinea pedis) or even cellulitis (a bacterial infection of the skin). Plus, having nail fungus can also cause permanent damage to the nail plate, which is quite common among those with complicated health issues, such as diabetes. “I never recommend dealing on your own with anything on your nails that looks infected or is painful,” mentions Lippmann. “Go see a trained nail technician and/or doctor for treatment.”

Stern states that prescription strength anti-fungal medications are more effective than over-the-counter options. “Remember, not every yellow or abnormal nail means fungus! I see many patients in my office who have spent thousands of dollars on laser treatments, who don’t actually even have fungus. Treatment will depend on the severity of the infection/extent of the infection as well as your medical history.”