The "Red-Nail Theory" Is Viral on TikTok, But I'm Not Buying It—Experts Weigh In


(Image credit: @betina_goldstein)

Let’s be real—I’m a TikTok obsessive. Now that might sound like a bad thing, but it’s had its benefits. The endless scrolling has changed my life. My hair has never looked healthier, my makeup has never been better, and I’m the first to know about nail color trends that are taking over the internet. I’ve never seen a color take the nail world by storm like red in recent months. It’s all thanks to something that TikTok creators are calling the "red-nail theory.” Without much explanation, creators were going viral for simply showing their nails and commenting on the theory. After a deep dive into the search engine, I found the most concise explanation possible. Basically, by wearing red nails, you’ll be more confident and also attract some romantic attention. It’s been a while since the theory has launched, so now that the dust has settled, let’s investigate it. 


(Image credit: @_sierramayhew)

My initial reaction to this color theory was to shut it down immediately. I didn’t believe in it because of my own personal experience. For about a year or two, I had red nails nonstop. On a monthly basis, I would head to the salon and request the same color over and over. At the time, my dating life was chaotic and unsatisfying. Randomly, I went with pink one day, and within the month, I met my current long-term boyfriend. We can’t base our opinions on just one person’s experience, so I decided to call in two color-theory experts to help me investigate. Color therapist Constance Hart, Founder of Conscious Colors, and Laurie Pressman, the vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, gave me their expert opinions. 


(Image credit: Constance Hart and Laurie Pressman)

As a color theorist, what does the color red mean to you? 

Constance Hart: Our eyes’ light receptors pick up red, orange, and yellow colors faster than other colors in the visible light spectrum, so the red hue attracts our attention quickly. Bright red naturally produces a feeling of excitement, as its physiological effects include increasing circulation and raising blood pressure.

We’ve been trained in our society to respond swiftly to the color bright red. Red gets us to stop at stoplights and stop signs. We know the color red through fire trucks and emergency vehicles.

Laurie Pressman: This is a color family that is truly the color of life (color of our heart and blood), so [it's] one we connect to our deepest feelings/emotions—love and passion for example. Anger too. At the same time, [it's] a color family we associate with danger due to its association with fire.

Personally, I see both sides of this—the excitement and energizing qualities of red, the positivity, the passion, the power of red. These are my first reactions, and for those who have participated in our ongoing consumer research, the sentiment is the same. Keep in mind that red is an advancing color, one that immediately draws you in and is the second-longest color in our visual wavelength, one that is highly visible. 

Color is a nonverbal language. Color plays into sexual attraction, as this nonverbal language of color is something we can use to visually express who we are as well as to engage others.


(Image credit: Constance Hart)

How does color play into sexual attraction? 

CH: The brightest, loudest color is going to indeed attract more easily. Plus, society has influenced us to connect to red as a sensual color due to Valentine’s Day, sexy red lingerie, red hearts, and red chocolate boxes. We know red as "the color of love” and sensuality. Fire at certain temperatures is red, thus the color red is depicted as a fiery, sultry energy. All of these influences are affecting both women’s and men’s psyches and our responses to the color.

LP: Color is a nonverbal language. Each color conveys its own unique message and meaning, influencing ourselves as well as the perceptions of those around us. We all have emotional reactions to color, many of which are unconscious. Color plays into sexual attraction, as this nonverbal language of color is something we can use to visually express who we are as well as to engage others. And while there are colors that are more known for their ability to engage (i.e., reds, hot pinks, oranges), each of us individually is uniquely attracted to certain colors, and this can change over time.

Do you believe the "red-nail theory” is accurate?

CH: With regard to the red-nail theory, universally, we understand the bright-red color as an activator. It is as if it has a built-in "call to action.” I feel this is partly what’s at play with bright-red nails and their built-in attracting energy.

LP: I absolutely believe the red-nail theory is accurate. Red denotes love, passion, desire, sensuality, etc., so it would only make sense that it would be a color that attracts male attention. It is a color that is associated with life. The warmth of red energizes us, helping us to feel more powerful and, from there, more confident. That feeling of confidence also helps to attract the attention of others, both male and female.


(Image credit: Constance Hart)

What nail polish colors do you recommend trying if you’re looking to give yourself a confidence boost?

CH: As for my confidence-boosting nail polish color suggestions, I always suggest aligning with your own personal favorite colors. Tune into those colors that put a smile on your face and a little light in your heart center. Any color that makes your spirit shine internally is going to project a good feeling from the inside out and boost your confidence.

LP: On a general level, we would recommend nail polish colors that are bold and attention getting as colors that would give you a confidence boost. [We] would veer toward the gregarious bright-orange tones, theatrical hot pinks, and bold reds. These are uplifting tones that energize and excite. But one could also get confidence from wearing a less expected shade that could also stand out—e.g., a vivid yellow-green or shocking electric blue. And then there is the feeling that whatever color makes you personally feel good about who you are … would be the one to wear to give yourself a boost in confidence.


When it comes to my doubts about the red-nail theory, I stand corrected. Hart and Pressman have officially convinced me to add red back into the rotation at my next nail appointment. If you’re a DIY kind of person, scroll on to find everything you need to get the look at home.

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Associate Editor

Sierra Mayhew was always destined to work in fashion, but she didn't know it at first. Growing up with no choice but to wear a rotation of school uniforms and activewear, her love for fashion really blossomed when she moved away for college and was able to finally define her very own personal style. Shortly thereafter, she interned at Elle magazine and instantly knew that editorial was for her. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, she worked for ShopBazaar, contributing regularly to, and finally made her way to Who What Wear, where she is an associate editor. When she’s not working, you can catch her always trying to catch a flight, rollerblading through New York City traffic, or exploring the latest luxury vintage boutique.