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Experts Share How They Really Feel About the TikTok “Red Nail Theory” and Which Shades to Try

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Experts Share How They Really Feel About the TikTok “Red Nail Theory” and Which Shades to Try featured image
Emilie Heathe & IG: avrnailswatches

Once something catches fire on TikTok, it won’t soon be stifled. The app is filled with young people creating viral trends and theorizing why they work. The most recent trend? The red nail theory. We asked experts to explain the background behind it and whether it really works or not. Bear with us because it’s a bit bizarre.

“The red nail theory as it stands on TikTok is that straight men notice women with red nails [more frequently] because it’s a shade that they saw their moms wear in the ‘90s,” says celebrity nail artist Sonya Meesh. “It seems like people are trying to diagnose men with this theory, but it’s not rooted in any science or reason.” Hoards of women have been putting the theory to the test by heading to the nail salon and getting a red manicure to see if they attract more men that way. However, there is more to the power of red nail polish than that, according to experts.

The power of red nail polish is as old as time

“While many may deem the red nail theory a trendy return of a classic shade, the practice can actually be traced back to ancient times where it was used by the ruling elite to denote status and affluence,” says director of product development and product testing at ORLY, Colleen Foxworthy. 

Celebrity nail artist Julie Kandalec, who shared a TikTok on this topic, says the color red often represents “power, femininity, love, seduction, strength, and confidence, so when worn on nails, it exudes those same characteristics in the person wearing them.” She adds that red nails date back to ancient Egypt. “It’s been said Cleopatra wore red from plant extracts to represent blood and signify power.”

Does the red nail theory really work?

The experts are split on whether this theory holds up. Foxworthy believes the red manicures of today “likely attract attention through subconscious hardwiring by communicating vitality and magnetism.” Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton, founder of Chillhouse, equates the phenomenon “to how traditionally red sports cars were this glossy item men fawned over. Red nails have a similar effect for attracting a mate.”

Although Ramirez-Fulton knows it’s a silly trend and “who is meant for you won’t care about your nail color,” she thinks there’s some merit to the theory. “When it comes to attraction and drawing the eye, red nails have that appeal. It’s the sexiest color and the color of love for a reason. What else is red? Blood. It’s animal instinct at its finest.”

Meanwhile, Kandalec recalls the women she grew up with in the ’90s wearing more mauve than red, so she doesn’t feel like the theory applies across the board. “While red has been scientifically proven to be attractive to men, wearing one nail color over another will probably not make or break a man’s opinion of you, nor should it!” says Emily H. Rudman founder of Emilie Heathe. Since confidence is truly the most attractive thing, the color you feel best wearing on your nails is what is most likely to attract another person.

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Length might play a factor

“In general, I find that people are more likely to comment on nails if they’re longer because it’s more obvious,” says Meesh. She notes that in many of the TikTok videos, people are “adding extensions with the red and not just wearing short red nails.”

Expert-loved red nail polish shades

“Reds are particularly nuanced. Even slight variances in the shade can communicate completely different energy,” says Foxworthy. Here are some of the experts’ favorite red shades to choose from if you want to try the trend.

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Lights Lacquer Ace ($11)

Kandalec suggests this shade for anyone looking for a true apple red manicure.

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Dior Vernis Longwear Gel Effect Rouge 999 ($30)

Both Rudman and Ramirez-Fulton recommend this luxe classic red shade.

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Emilie Heathe The Perfect Red ($30)

“It really is that perfect,” Rudman says of the shade. “It’s neutral, bright and super shiny.”

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Chillhouse 90’s Supermodel Press-On Nails ($16)

If you prefer a press-on, Ramirez-Fulton says this is the perfect shade of red.

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Les Mains Hermes Nail enamel Rouge Amazone ($45)

For a warm brick red color, Meesh recommends this shade from Hermes.

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DND Ferrari Red ($12)

Meesh says this shade of red is the “classic, most accessible red price-wise.”

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ORLY Wild Wonder ($11)

The muted deep red of Wild Wonder “brings a sense of groundedness,” says Foxworthy.

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OPI Big Apple Red ($12)

Kandalec loves Big Apple Red from OPI. The brand describes it as “bright, shiny red nail polish, ready to take on the world!”

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ORLY Haute Red Nail Polish ($11)

Foxworthy says the tone of Haute Red reads as “fiery passion.”

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Pear Nova Kissu Miss You ($14)

Rudman says this shade is her go-to when it comes to “something more budget-friendly and also female and POC-founded.”

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ORLY Crawford’s Wine ($14)

If you like a more reflective look Meesh recommends this candy shimmer shade of red.

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