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There’s something about a good manicure that makes everything in your life feel more put together.
Once upon a time, I could achieve that satisfaction simply by painting my own nails. Eventually I started visiting the nail salon every once in a while, mostly just to maintain my cuticles. But then gel manicures became a thing, and fun nail art started trending that really isn’t worth getting unless it’ll last. Before I knew it, my nails were thin and sad and breaking constantly.
As much as I hate looking at my bare, stubby fingers, I also don’t want to destroy my nails beyond repair, so there was only one potential solution left to consider: press-on nails.
Thankfully, press-ons made a comeback some time after the birth of the gel manicure, and there are far better options than those square-shaped stick-on French sets I got from CVS in middle school. However, now that there’s glue involved, I wanted to verify that they wouldn’t be just as damaging to my poor, frail nails.
How to optimize nail health
“The best thing you could do for your nails is absolutely nothing,” said Rachel Nazarian, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “Trim them and keep them away from harsh chemicals. Keep them out of water. Hydrate the cuticle.”
Not exactly what I wanted to hear, but on the plus side, Nazarian said that she would prefer press-on nails to gel manicures for the sake of nail health.
“Removal [of press-ons] is less traumatizing to the nail than removal of the gel manicure,” she said. “It’s still a little traumatizing because you still have to remove that adhesion, but you’re not destroying the nail that is required when you take off that gel. It weakens it so much more.”
Marissa Spagnoli is not a doctor or nail technician, but she is a full-time beauty content creator with lots of experience when it comes to nails, and she’s come to the same conclusion.
“I feel like honestly nothing is necessarily good for your nails, like anything you do is gonna somehow affect them, but I've seen the least damage using press-ons,” she said. “Honestly, the press-ons have been keeping my nails pretty healthy considering I'm gluing them on myself.”
While the damage caused by scraping off a gel manicure is not permanent (you can grow out your nails and the new ones will be healthy again), Nazarian is also not a fan of the UV exposure required to set the polish or any aggressive cuticle pushing and cutting that often occurs during manicures.
She explained that the nail matrix sits right under your cuticle, which is the area where your fingernails start to grow. Therefore, if you’re too rough with your nail beds or apply too much pressure, it can cause bad grooving, ridging, and other permanent damage to the nail.
The best press-on nails
Since Spagnoli refuses to go out without any nail polish on, she has tested a wide variety of press-on nails to find what looks the most natural. Along the way, she’s figured out some best practices when it comes to application and general tips to keep in mind.
As most instructions say, she advises applying the glue to both the fake nail and your real nail to avoid glue bubbles. Always keep the little tube of glue in your purse just in case one pops off in public (though if you apply them correctly, they should stay put).
For removal, although false nail removers do exist, Spagnoli thinks they’re a waste of money since you can just soak your nails in acetone or sometimes even warm, soapy water until the glue loosens. If the nail doesn’t detach on its own, you can use the small wooden tool that comes in most sets to pop it off.
There are tons of press-on nail brands on the market these days, but Spagnoli’s favorites include the Kiss line that you can buy at drugstores and the ones from Olive & June, which are available through the brand’s own site and at Target.
Of course, I couldn’t just take her word for it — this was my own nail journey after all, so I had to see for myself.
Olive & June Press-On Fake Nails
Spagnoli said that Olive & June’s press-on nails were not only the best bang for your buck, but also a great option for those who are new to the fake nail game. One set comes with 42 nails, which is more than most other brands, so you can potentially get two uses out of a single pack. She said they also require the least amount of cutting and filing.
The pack comes with nail glue, a mini nail file/buffer, a prep pad, a useful pamphlet with tips for application, and the small wooden tool that you can use to gently push back your cuticles, clean out under your nails, or pop them off when you’re ready.
Her only con was that Target doesn’t always have all of the styles in stock, so when she needs some nails in a pinch, she has to opt for another brand.
That was my experience when I went to purchase my Olive & June nails, so I ended up ordering a set directly from its website, which I would not recommend due to shipping cost and time. These are the ones I would have wanted from Target if they’d been in stock.
I loved the bright cherry red color and shape of the ones I got, but they definitely looked and felt cheaper up close than they appeared in the packaging. I’m definitely no pro when it comes to gluing these nails on, but they didn’t feel as sturdy as others, and one thumbnail popped off within hours. They were also much longer on than they looked in images (labeled as medium length, oval shape), and they did not file down easily, so they ended up feeling way too long for my liking.
My least favorite part, however, was the removal. The whole nail dissolved after being soaked in acetone even though the instructions stated you could use that method for removal. I assume this has to do with the fact that they are made from “94% post-consumer recycled materials,” which should be a plus, but they ended up sort of melting into my real nails.
It was almost impossible to get all of the melted red material off my nails after much soaking and buffing, leaving them stained and littered with hard chunks of fake nail for days. For that reason, I would only recommend these if you’re committed to the existing shape and length and you buy the brand’s press-on nail remover to hopefully avoid my catastrophe.
You can buy Cherry Crush Press-On Nails from Olive & June for around $10.
You can buy Olive & June ice blue medium almond press-on nails from Target for around $10.
KISS Salon Acrylic French Nail Manicure Set
I had the best experience by far with the Kiss Salon Acrylic manicure set. Kiss is the brand that Spagnoli buys the most, and for good reason. The brand boasts several subcategories depending on the style you like and your preferred application process, including the imPress line that requires no glue at all.
These French nude nails are her favorite for a subtle, natural-looking French manicure (her runner-up is the Classy plain ombré set), and I have to agree based on my trial.
They came with about half the amount of nails as the Olive & June set, but were less expensive and included all of the same accessories (glue, file, prep pad, wooden tool, instructions). Despite the fact that they were way too long and not my desired shape, I ended up loving the look and feel.
Spagnoli mentioned that they’re also too long for her, so she cuts them down and files them to suit her style, and I did the same. After cutting them shorter, I was easily able to file them into more of an oval shape. No matter what I did, from cooking to washing dishes, to opening cans, they never felt like they were going to fall off, and nobody could tell that they were fake.
The removal process wasn’t seamless, as I still had to soak in acetone for a long time and use some force to pop them off (which the company doesn’t recommend), and there were still remnants of the nail glue, but Kiss remained the winner for me.
You can buy KISS Salon Acrylic French Nail Manicure Set from Amazon for around $7.
Klaw Beauty Angel Energy Press-On Nails
I started seeing Klaw Beauty nails on my social media, and after browsing its site, I thought the company had the coolest art and designs of the three brands I tried. I love a neutral vibe and ultimately decided to go with Angel Energy. That was my first mistake.
Klaw press-on nail packs come with 24 fake nails, glue, and a mini file (no wooden tool or prep pad), but they were relatively comparable to the others. The biggest issue really had to do with my choice of design, since the base ended up being completely translucent. You could fully see the glue and my natural nail underneath, which did not make for the best-looking manicure. But I’m sure that wouldn’t be the case with other options that have colored bases.
Though I loved the oval shape, they were advertised as medium length but, again, were way too long. I have now accepted that medium nails are what I consider to be very long nails, and very long nails are not for me. I was, however, able to clip them and file them without too much of a problem, just not quite as easily as the Kiss nails. Removal was on par with Kiss.
These were the most expensive of all the nails I tried, and given that you can only buy them directly from the Klaw website, there was an added cost for shipping. But considering that it can be hard to find trendy, somewhat natural-looking art for press-on nails, I wouldn’t rule out Klaw if you’re OK with the aforementioned drawbacks.
You can buy Press-On Nails from Klaw Beauty for around $19.
Overall, my nails didn’t feel remarkably healthy after gluing on any of these sets, but they didn’t start in the healthiest place, so that’s to be expected, I suppose. I will say that my natural nails do not feel as weak or breakable as they do after a few gel manicures in a row, plus that would’ve cost me significantly more than these three sets, so I’ll consider it a win for press-ons. ●