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How to Do the Prettiest (Yet Subtle!) Nail Art at Home

A festive look from Color Camp that works year-round.
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A few weeks back, I was at an engagement party and became obsessed with one of the guests' polishes. From across the room, it looked like she was wearing a subtle nude, with little hints of glitter. When I went over to say hi, I realized the glimmers were from some of the subtlest, classiest nail art I've ever seen: sporadically placed, barely-there holographic pastel stars over a sheer blush polish. While I fully embraced nail art back in the day, I've found myself pulling back recently since it started to feel a little too busy. When my nails are over-the-top, I tend to avoid things like a bright lip or glittery shoe, because any bold details compete with my nails for attention. These days, I like things to be more straightforward and almost always wear the same color, but that doesn't mean I don't occasionally want a party on my nails. That being said, similar to how I feel about perfume, I believe nail art looks best when you don't notice it as soon as you walk into a room, but only when you lean in closer.

When I called the salon where my friend had gotten her manicure, I was thrilled to learn that they're one of the only salons in the city to carry soak-off gel that's five-free (a.k.a., free of harmful chemicals like formaldehyde), and in-line with my growing interest in healthier beauty options. "We don't say non-toxic," the founder of Color Camp Lauren Caruso told me, "because it's nail polish—you wouldn't drink it—but we've done our research to find the best products and we're constantly thinking about every step of the process. For example, we use LED light instead of UV light to cure the gel, and steam-off machines instead of wrapping fingers in Acetone for a gentler removal process."

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"It's important for you to not be exposed to harmful chemicals, but even more important for us, on the other side of the table, as we're dealing with these products all day long," said Lauren, who also explained that Color Camp doesn't offer pedicures because they're all about elevating nail artists from a position of service. While I got my manicure done in gel, we asked Lauren and Hannah Smith, my nail artist, for their tips on recreating the look at home with regular polish. Here's how:

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After nails have been prepped (cut, filed, shaped, buffed), wipe nails with alcohol to clean the nail bed and again with acetone to dehydrate the nail. This will help the polish adhere better to the nail. 

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The gel Color Camp uses (Bio Sculpture Gel) doesn't require any dehydrating primers or bonders, so we started with a coat of their nourishing clear gel. For an at-home manicure with polish, Lauren suggests using this one from Deborah Lippmann

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Carefully paint each hand with one fewer coats than you prefer—while I went with two coats here, I often opt for three with a light polish. Hannah uses the Deborah Lippman shade 'Baby Love' when creating the look with traditional polish.

Pro Tip: If you ever notice mini bubbles forming after painting with a nude color, it may mean you're painting your nails too quickly, or not allowing them enough time to dry.

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Hannah used a dotting tool dipped in clear polish to pick up individual star sequins and place them randomly on the nails. To create a more subtle look, she added three stars at most to each nail in a random sequence, using different colored stars. Once done, repeat on the other hand. Note: If your coat of polish dried too quickly, add a sheer swipe of top coat—just enough to set them in place. 

Pro Tip: The stars Hannah used are from Elegant Glass Nails (Style: NA 1542), but are no longer available online. You can find a very similar version on Amazon here. Just mix the pastel shades to get the same look.

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"With the gel you can really encapsulate the stars but with the polish," Hannah said, "I'd recommend two layers of top coat to really hold the stars in place." 

Pro Tip: "Seche Vite is the best polish top coat—it's really shiny, lasts a lot longer, and dries quickly," said Hannah.

Create the look at home:

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