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. This theory is for those having a hard time finding a summer fling. Did you know your luck can be easily reversed by painting your nails? Well, according to TikTok, anyway.
What is the red nail theory that’s popular on TikTok?
The red nail theory began when TikTok user GirlBossTown took to the app to explain why men are attracted to red nails, noting that every time she paints her nails red, a guy comments on it. “In the ’90s, when we were growing up, women had red nails a lot, especially like our moms,” she explains. “I weirdly think guys are attracted to red nails because it reminds them of their moms when they were growing up taking care of them,” she adds. As a result, #rednailtheory on TikTok has garnered over 197 million views.
“It seems like people are trying to diagnose men with this theory, but it’s not rooted in any science or reason,” says celebrity nail artist Sonya Meesh. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Hoards of girls have been putting the theory to the test and heading to the salon to see if it attracts more men.
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.
Red is notoriously a color that draws attention. “ It’s said that if you drive a red vehicle, your insurance goes up a little…red lipstick, red dress, and red bottoms are known to be sexy. Red is hot and associated with sexy, and in my opinion, one of the boldest shades in the primary colors,” says LECHAT Nails Brand Educator Syreeta Aaron. “The bottom line is when most people see a nice, bright, red polish on your nails—they’re drawn to the color, which causes major compliments.”
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, noting “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. Therefore, 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.
Red nails can boost confidence
Rocking red nails and realizing you’re attracting attention may be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the best way. “In my experience, red nails are for extremely self-confident ladies,” says LECHAT Nails Brand Educator Anastasia Totty. self-confidence is the key to success in one’s personal life,” with love and beyond. She adds that she believes men and women alike see it as “a symbol of success, sensuality and self-care.”
TikTok user Georgiaedavies documented that the power of the red nails went beyond attracting men. “I’m not kidding when I say ever since I started getting red nails, I have felt unstoppable. She claims red nails are a lifestyle helping you overcome breakups, moves and new jobs. If you’re feeling in your power, it’s not surprising that men will then be more attracted to you.
Length might be 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.
Lights Lacquer Ace ($11)
Kandalec suggests this shade for anyone looking for a true apple red manicure.
Both Rudman and Ramirez-Fulton recommend this luxe classic red shade.
“It really is that perfect,” Rudman says of the shade. “It’s neutral, bright and super shiny.”
If you prefer a press-on, Ramirez-Fulton says this is the perfect shade of red.
Both Totty and Aaron recommend this iconic shade of red. Totty describes it as “a robust red.”
For a warm brick red color, Meesh recommends this shade from Hermes.
DND Ferrari Red ($12)
Meesh says this shade of red is the “classic, most accessible red price-wise.”
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!”
Foxworthy says the tone of Haute Red reads as “fiery passion.”
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.”
LECHAT Cherry Cosmo ($6)
Totty says this shade is a true red and one of the brand’s bestsellers.