Of all the pockets of the beauty world that changed the most dramatically over the last year, the nail sector was arguably affected the most. Sure, haircuts and color slowed, and eye makeup is still the only makeup we're concerned with, but the way we do our nails has also evolved to include more at-home treatments. With this in mind, it's more important than ever to have a collection of nail polishes we love on hand in our own homes to make mani time as much fun as possible.
As much as we love the process of choosing from the infamous walls full of nail polish at our favorite salons, we don't recommend loading up on dozens of bottles just to have ample options to choose from at home. Instead, we advise honing in on the nail polish colors that are the most popular this year so your fingers can always be on-trend. We tapped two of our favorite nail experts in the game—Brittney Boyce, a consulting nail artist for Orly and founder of Nails of LA, and Aline Moreira, a Massachusetts-based nail artist—to spill the tea on the nail colors that are the most popular in 2021. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know.
1. Return of the Deep Reds
According to our experts, 2021 is the year of red. But it's not just any red that's taking off—it's the rich burgundies and Bordeauxs that skew deeper in hue than the cherries and orange-tinged shades that gained popularity in 2020. "A beautiful burnt burgundy never goes out of style," says Moreira. Boyce agrees, adding that the shade is suitable as a stand-alone color or in nail art as a statement color. "Think half-French tips, simple vertical lines down the center of the nail, or even dagger shapes using a deep, velvety red," she explains.
2. Updated French
The classic French manicure has seen an unexpected resurgence over the last couple of years, but innovation in the area is coming in hot. Moreira says one way this will manifest will be the pairing of richer colors—like the burgundy and jade color combination shown here—rather than the classic white tip. "By adding a pop of color, this could easily be a fashion statement," she remarks. With the endless color combinations available to experiment with, this could be just the source of whimsy we're all seeking in this year.
This dynamic color duo is just one of the many combos that would make for a perfectly modern French manicure. They complement each other so nicely, and either color could easily serve as the base or the accent.
3. Milky Nudes (With Minimal Designs)
Moreira says she reaches for natural nudes daily when working with clients. "It's a heavy hitter with an elegant, clean look," she says. While these milky nudes are pretty on their own, both artists concur that they're also the perfect base for the pretty, minimal nail art taking center stage in 2021. "I always love minimal nails with a lot of negative space, whether with a milky nude as a base or a completely bare nail as a base," Boyce tells us. "I think the new twist is to add gold accents to play up the nail art. I think this look will continue to trend in 2021 because people will be looking for classic, clean, and simple nail art after a somewhat chaotic year."
Boyce is so committed to the look that she included two different variations of it in the inaugural drop of her newly launched press-on extensions. "The Minimalist and The Muse press-on extensions from Nails of LA feature this look. I designed it because that’s what a lot of people were asking for, and every time I did a minimal nail art with a little gold fixture, it would end up being super popular on social media," she says. "Plus, it looks gorgeous on all skin tones, from the lightest to the darkest. It's just stunning."
Brown nail polish was the sleeper hit of fall and winter 2020, and the trend is continuing in 2021. From deep mahogany hues to lighter, almost-beige ones, this '90s-inspired shade won't be letting up any time soon. "They say blondes have more fun, but in this case, I beg to differ. This brunette shade will definitely steal the spotlight in 2021," says Moreira. "It can also be a beautiful nude for my melanated sisters."
5. Intermingling Finishes
"A mix of matte and glossy nails is another simple nail art that people can do at home," Boyce says. "You can play with a mix of matte and glossy on the same nail, similar to the look I did for Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox for the American Music Awards. The base was matte, while a black vertical line was glossy. You can also alternate your nails between matte and glossy, like a matte statement nail."
6. Dark Navy
If you're an OG fan of Rhythm by Chanel (the brand's beloved navy nail lacquer shade shown here), then this news should warm your heart. "Dark navy blues will also trend," says Boyce. "It’s another classic color, and in general, I see 2021 being a year where we lean on classic colors, things that we’re familiar with."
7. Blueish Gray
Moreira identified this one as another hue on the blue spectrum to look out for this year. The pro elaborates that the gray tinge gives this blue the perfect balance between a pop of color and a laid-back look. "If you are aiming for a little attention, this is definitely a 'hey girl, what color is that?' type of vibe," she jokes.
8. Shades of Green
"Greens started gaining traction this year, and I think they'll be huge in 2021," says Boyce. "Everything from Baby Yoda greens to The Grinch greens are everywhere in beauty." While there are tons of green shades to choose from, Boyce says leaning into a deeper forest green is the key to keeping things chic. The lighter the color, the more casual and playful the vibe.
9. Mustard Yellow
"Yellows always tend to make an appearance and are certainly a popular staple that works well any time of the year," Moreira says. If you’re looking to hone in on a particular shade of yellow, she recommends a good mustard yellow that's just a touch darker than the pastel or limoncello shades that tend to pop up in the spring. "It's great in a matte finish or a shiny gloss topcoat," she adds.
10. Glitter-Centric Designs
Boyce says that glitter is a great option for DIY manicures since there are so many easy design elements it can be used for, like ombré. "Even when it’s safe to go back to nail salons regularly, I think people will still like inexpensive ways to get nail art at home in 2021," she explains. "We’re all trying to save money and will likely go to nail salons for a big treat rather than weekly beauty maintenance."
It's always a good time to embrace Barbie levels of extra. This polish will get you there.
This article was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated.