Professional nail art is the practice of painting and decorating nails with colourful designs, materials, and gemstones to brighten up the traditional manicure and accessorise an outfit. In recent years nail art has boomed - breaking into high fashion and popular culture - and becoming a key asset for a new generation of women who want to express their individuality and personal style through their manicure.
Whilst traditional pillar-box red and ballet-shoe pink shades used to dominate the nail art market - symbolising classic feminine elegance and maturity - today our nails are used as a canvas for freestyle artistic creativity. Beauty stores are brimming with a wide variety of attention-grabbing nail polish colours and seasonal stickers, foil and 3D designs, while beauty salons are providing specialised nail art services.
This page will explore professional nail art in more depth, including the history of nail art as well as the different types of nail art techniques and designs currently offered by nail artists.
The history of nail art
Humans have been painting their nails for thousands of years, and the ancient Chinese and Egyptians were among the first to get creative with their fingernails. The Chinese would apply enamel to theirs, which would create a pink finish after several hours, whilst the Egyptians used nail colour as an indication of social status. Those in higher classes tended to wear deep, rusty shades of red, often with overtones of gold. These were decorated using the juice of a henna plant and aimed to starkly contrast the paler shades worn by those in lower ranks of society. The Inca civilization are also recognised for their eagle-print nail art designs.
Modernisation of nail art
The modernisation of nail art techniques is most synonymous with the 19th century, when manicures really took off - generating business opportunities and a market for beauty salons. With the industrial revolution came a wide variety of nail paints and lacquers - many of which were made from high-gloss automobile paints.
This was the revolutionary idea of French make-up artist, Michelle Manard who used the automobile formula to produce a shiny nail lacquer. Using Manard's original idea, savvy businessmen, Charles and Joseph Revson and Charles Lachman joined forces to create a non-streaking, opaque nail polish. They went on to launch their company, Revlon in 1932 which was the first ever beauty brand to sell modern nail polish.
Throughout the 20th century the nail art market continued to thrive. In the 1930s the 'moon manicure' and smokey shades reigned, until the 1950s when bright red nails took centre stage. In the 1960s nail colours were more neutral until the 1980s when colour returned in the form of floral fuschias, neons and bright reds. By the 90s women were sporting darker, moodier nail colours - in particular Chanel's iconic Rouge Noir/Vamp shade.
Nail art today
In the last 10 years the demand for statement nails has really taken off, and today nail trends are changing every week. Whatever the occasion, mood or outfit, there is a nail polish, tool and technique to complement. Never has it been easier to express creativity and individuality in such an affordable and very powerful way.
Professional nail art techniques and tools
Beauty salons offer a range of professional nail art services to suit every budget and occasion. Although you can buy DIY nail art kits, making an appointment with a professionally trained nail artist opens up the opportunity for better quality and longer-lasting nail designs that can be difficult to achieve on your own.
Below is a list of some of the most popular nail art techniques and treatments offered by beauty salons:
Gel nail art
The gel manicure is a very popular form of professional nail art that is offered in a number of salons in the UK. Gel nail art involves the application of a special gel polish to the nails, which is then set using a UV light. Here at Beauty Resource we recommend Bio Sculpture Gel, which is available in a range of different colours and is specially designed to strengthen and protect the nail.
One of the most eye-catching nail art designs of recent years is foil nails - a unique, multi-dimensional manicure created by foil transfers. These come in a range of colours, patterns and metallic shades, and tend to last as long as a standard manicure. Your nail artist will begin by making sure all foil transfers are cut to match your nail shape and size exactly. They will then apply a special foil glue to your nail which will hold the transfers in place. After peeling off the protective top layer, your nail artist will apply a top coat of clear polish to set the foil.
Nail piercing is exactly as it sounds. A nail artist will create a small hole in your nail near the outer edge using a nail plate, and will insert a decorative accessory. This is a quick and easy way to update your manicure, and can be carried out on both natural and acrylic nails.
Nail art pens
Nail art is advancing every year and one of the best inventions of recent times is the nail art pen. Nail artists use this handy device to decorate nails with all kinds of images, patterns, colours and textures - creating a completely unique manicure every time.
3D nail art
These days it's not just voluminous locks that are in demand - women everywhere are lusting after volumetric nail art! Using various nail techniques and tools - including special gels, glues, colours and materials - a nail artist can create an array of 3D nail designs. Popular 3D designs include beaded nails, feathers and ombre.
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