Why Red Nails Are The Perfect Timeless Manicure

Bold, fiery and classic. Make way for the red mani...

red nails

by Sameeha Shaikh |
Updated on

In terms of nail designs, red nails have long been a beauty classic. Historians say you can look as far back as Ancient Egypt and see evidence of a red lacquer adorning the nails of women. Queen Nefertiti and Cleopatra are said to have painted their nails a shade that resembled rubies or blood - an indicator of status. Experts record Chinese royalty in around 3000BC using beeswax, egg whites and vegetable dyes to colour their nails red, too.

Nowadays it's a look that still speaks to being polished, and it's become evocative of both old Hollywood glamour and French girl effortlessness. More recently, the #rednailtheory hashtag on TikTok saw women painting their nails in order to put the seductiveness of the manicure look to the test. It is no surprise red nails remain a popular choice of nail, thanks to their bold and classic nature.

Why are red nails so attractive?

Red nail theory aside, 'red is a shade that can suit any nail length, shape or style,' says Nail expert Alexandra Teleki. 'People can opt for a simple classic red block colour, French or Italian style tips or even an exciting nail art set. A red manicure can be as simple or as intricate as you want. Everyone can find a style that suits them,' which makes it an attractive choice for all.

red nails
Zendaya attends The 2024 Met Gala ©Getty

Need proof? Look to the roster of A-Listers who routinely fall back on the hue. The 2024 Met Gala's enchanting green carpet boasted noteworthy red manicures, including Zendaya's deep, reddish aubergine nails that mirrored her rich vinyl lips and Teyana Taylor's ruby encrusted look which was a guaranteed eye catcher.

Then there was Selena Gomez's manicure at the SAG Awards 2024. Created by celebrity nail artist Tom Bachik (who also counts Rachel Zegler and J Lo as clients) it's a look that's been pinned, liked and shared the world over suggesting we're about to enter a serious red revival. The inspiration? 'Old Hollywood glamour but with a modern-day twist focusing on magenta and plum shades to pop against Selena’s stunning Versace dress.' The exact shade used was only available in the U.S, until now: Essie's Gel Couture in V.I.Please, £8.99, is the perfect pink-meets-red polish.

Scroll on for all the inspiration you need ahead of your next red manicure appointment.

The best red nail designs to try now

If you've always erred on the side of caution with the fiery hue, we have rounded up the best nail designs that prove red nails are too hot not to try! You can remix red nail designs in the form of a classic French manicure, you can try red with durable BIAB nails or even play around with some funky nail art (abstract lines are always a good option). This lot will quickly debunk the myth that red nails are only for Valentine's Day or Christmas, and they suit all types of nail shapes, too!

Dark red nails

red nails

Call it what you will – vampy, bold, chic – dark red nails, like @gelsbybry says, screams mulled wine, berries and all that is associated with the colder season. Shades of deep merlot, maroon and crimsons dominate this category which has established itself as the Quiet Luxury answer to the classic red nail. To recreate this look, try Nailberry's L'Oxygene Nail Lacquer Noirberry, £15.

This what I'd describe as a true vampire red.

Red French tip nails

red nails

A French manicure is a subtle way to introduce red to your nail game. This time, nail wizz @gelsbybry opted for square shaped nails that alternate in a block colour and classic French tips. Want an easy way to wear red French tip nails? Try these brilliant press ons Elegant Touch Salon Edit in Level Up, £7.

This is the quickest way you can achieve a red french manicure.

Red acrylic nails

red nails

The appeal of acrylics? You can achieve any nail look you want, with the addition of longevity and without the need of a UV lamp. These red French tip nails sport a shiny, glossy finish and plenty of sparkle, just because. Use Nails.Inc Ring Light Ready HD Glitter Polish, £9, for that all important glittery finish.

Try Nails Inc for that stunning glitter finish.

Red glitter nails

red naiils

Glitter nails but not how you know them. This red glitter nail set by @evebettsbeauty_ has been given a deeper than usual tone with the help of an initial coat of black polish, which sits beneath the chosen berry red hue atop. For a lick of opaque black on the nails, try essie's Nail Polish in 88 Licorice, £8.99.

To achieve the dark touch, make a play for this.

Red Christmas nails

Red nails are synonymous with Christmas and this set is as festive as it gets. With a mix of block colour nails and French tips, nail guru @thehotblend finished each nail with snowflake motifs. For intricate artwork, try Manucurist’s Nail Art Brush, £16.

For those tiny intricate designs.

Red and black nails

red nails

Festive nails need not be traditional. Case in point: this set by @nail.art.by.tea, which proves red and black continue to be a popular combination of colours, as do avant garde styles. Usually found blended in an ombré fashion, this take on the look is fresh, modern and far more subtle than a full block of lacquer.

Red BIAB micro manicure

red nails

BIAB was one of the hottest nail trends of 2023 and will continue to be so, if you haven't joined the BIAB tribe already, this is the perfect manicure to start with! @_by_shelley's 'skinny French' take is delicate, chic and wearable come any occasion. Achieve similar results with Mylee's 5-in-1 Builder Gel Clear, £13.

Red gel nails

red nails
©@gel.bymegan/ @the_gelbottle_inc

Red nails are not just for the festive season. This classic shade of red paired with this cute length is great for every day wear. Try it in a gel formula for a high-shine finish, with the Mylee Gel Polish French Cancan, £8.

A heavyweight when it comes to nails, just know this polish is very hard to chip.

Red swirly nail art

red nails
© @glossytipped

Red nails don't have to be fully red. If you only want touch of red, @glossytipped's accent swirly nail design would be a perfect choice for you. To recreate this look at home, you'll need the perfect milky base coat like Kure Bazar's Beige Milk, £16.

A nice milky base for your cute nail designs.

Metallic red nails

red nails

Metallic nails are an enduring trend thanks to their iridescent finish and have evolved into what is now known as the chrome mani (which is all the rage right now). Take @pegi_nails' set as clear proof. Why not make a play for high-sheen red with Nailberry's L'Oxygéné Nail Lacquer in To The Moon and Back, £16.50.

For an easy spin on the metallic look above.

Red ombré nails

red nails

Ombré nails are always a fun way to blend different shades together. You can mix light and dark shades of red to create a distinct gradient effect or jazz it up even more with some extra sparkle, with Beauty Pie's Wondercolour™ Nail Polish in Gold Drops, £7.

Add a few gold drops for a gorgeous finish.

Red Valentine's Day nail art

red nails

@pressedbycharlotte_ makes a serious case for press on nails with this set, which is the perfect way to get creative and spice up your mani, sans the month-long commitment – it makes perfect sense given V-Day lasts for well, the day.

If you're brave enough to recreate the look, you'll need a gorgeous and reliable deep red like this.

Heart tips

red nails

@thenaillologist'stake on red nails should be saved to your nail board (if you have don't have one, you should have one). Hearts aren't just reserved for Valentine's Day people, enjoy them in February and beyond – this set proves exactly why.

Cherry nails

red nails

Among the many red-coloured fruits, cherries are a hard and fast manicure design idea. @sheenailss_' iteration of the style shows us red nails need not be completely red – cherry nail art is fun, playful and yet simplistic. Use Orly White Tips Nail Polish, £12.99 for the tips.

For all your crisp white details and fine lines Orly has got you covered.

Red croc print nails

red nails

Showing this to your nail technician means you're going to be sitting in that chair for a while. These bad boys are extra long, fiery red, and textured with croc print. If that's not enough, there's charms, too. @nailedbyleilani's creativity knows no bounds.

Pink and red nails

red nails

If you didn't know now you know, red and baby pink are an elite combination. This flame heart set by @nailedbyleilani are rock chic. Essie's Spring Collection Nail Polish, £6.39 is the perfect shade of pink.

Essie Spring Collection Nail Polish
Price: £6.39 (was £7.99)


The prettiest pink base for all your red nail sets.

Classy manicure

red nails

Short, sweet and classy. The style of block colour true tone red will never cease to be in vogue. The good news? thanks to its popularity, most brands will offer their own version of the shade. Making it perfect for salon appointments or DIY treatments. @morellolondon created this look with BIAB and gel polish.

Red heart French manicure

red nails

This deep round French manicure boasts a square shape and red hearts for a cute take on a red manicure. @morellolondon used BIAB and medium level art work to create this style.

Oxblood French manicure

red nails

@monmayernails' deep toned oxblood mani manages to be subtle thanks to a delicate French tip and carefully placed central dots which boast an abstract yet elegant finish.

This is ultra-fine, all you need is a steady hand.

Ribbons and cherry nail art

red nails

Coquette aesthetic but make it red and appropriate for nails. According to @heluviee, all you'll need is rhinestones, cherries and bows (and red polish, of course).

Red and gold star nails

red nails

@ceesclaws is a fan of this season's biggest nail trend: 3D nails. Case in point? This star studded set is made up of a red French manicure, gold embellishments and white stars.

Coral red nails

red nails

Incorporate block nail colour with pretty florals for a simple and elegant take on a usually fiery hue. @by_hannahtaylor used The Gel Bottle in Hot Lips and Daisy to create this spring-ready set.

Pearl red nails

red nails

Telek's burgundy set is formed with a deep almond French mani, cherry red tips and perfectly placed micro pearls. While striking, it manages to look dainty and works any time of year.

Tie dye red nails

It seems anything is possible as far as nail designs are concerned. This tie dye art work boasts a bohemian style and if you look just that bit closer you can see @ognailsuk has used 3D gel to create ripple textures on alternating nails.

What are the best at-home red nail polishes?

Take a leaf out J Lo's book and opt for a Merlot-like deep red. Attending the Ralph Lauren spring/summer 2023 show, Lopez showcased the perfect wine-level shade. Keen to emulate the look? Try Essie's appropriately named Nail Colour 50 Bordeaux Nail Polish, £7.99.

Telek recommends red shades from Dior too, including Sisterhood, Rouge, RedRed, Rouge Cinema & Nuit. 'These gel effect nail lacquers are highly pigmented making it easier to work with at home, the formula also provides a long-wearing manicure.'

A luscious glossy true red with a gel effect hold.

An award-winning rich red formula all you need is two coats!

What are the best red gel polish shades to ask for in a salon?

Many of Telek's own clients routinely request red gel polish shades and she prefers opting for formulae from The Gel Bottle in the shades IconicCoutureExclusive AccessPrivate Collection and Velvet Red. 'These gels all have highly pigmented formulas that make the application easy and lend the finished look impressive longevity,' adds Telek.

How to pick the right red nail colour for you

If you're feeling overwhelmed at the sheer volume of different red nails polish shades on offer, try picking one according to your skin tone. Telek often chooses a nail polish based on the undertone of her client's skin, 'if you have a cool skin tone, the perfect shade of red would be cherry red, brick red crimson or raspberry red. If you have a warmer skin tone, I recommend leaning more into the ruby red, scarlet, rouge and velvet red shades.'

Renee Washington, Grazia's Digital Fashion and Beauty Assistant, lives online. With a penchant for wispy lashes and streetwear, she writes about the worlds of fashion and beauty from the viewpoint of the modern fashion girlie.

Main image credit: Instagram @monmayernails, @glossytipped, and @gelsbybry

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