Nailing It: How To Get Through The Stress Of Choosing A Nail Polish Color

Olive & June Nail Bar Stress of Choosing Nail Polish Color

My friends will tell you I take major pride in my hands. From semi-serious hand model aspirations to hand hygiene being at the top of my dating requirement list, it’s definitely a thing.

Not everyone subscribes to regular mani/pedi self-care, and I get it. Some of my friends think it’s an unnecessary luxury; or they’re creeped out about someone else dealing with their nail beds and cuticles; or they consider it simply a time suck, a prolonging of the unviewed Instagram feed.

For me, getting my nails done is literal therapy.

I love sitting back in the pedicure chair, being propped and pushed by the massager’s vibrations, prevented from using my phone by my foiled fingers, pampered to the nines. There’s something about submitting to the manicurist’s control (once you find “the one,” of course).

Speaking of “the one,” let’s talk about the most important one — THE nail polish color. How do you choose?

I have a process for choosing a nail polish color. And by process, I mean I make myself a little crazy.

Nail Polish Bar

Nail Polish bar


So it’s not a tattoo, but nail polish is semi-permanent. It’s an outfit for your fingernails. You don’t wear the same outfit every day for two to three weeks straight!

There are so many things to think about. What season is it? What occasions are coming up? What cycle is the moon in? Will I still love this color in four days?

I once made the risky decision of a bordeaux red for a winter wedding in Tulum. Tough choice – it was February after all, but in a beachy destination. I broke a nail the first day in Mexico so I was doomed either way. (I’ll save the retelling of that trauma for another day.)

Besides the fact that a fresh manicure keeps your look consistent, choosing a nail polish color is so imperative because, joy! When you’ve got lady times in town, and you’re feeling bloated and cranky, can your almond-shaped gel-lacquered beauties fail to make you feel pretty? If you’re going in for a new business presentation or on a first date, will your pristinely-filed half-mooned winners let your confidence down? For me, the answer is always no.

Here are some of my tactics — and woes — on nailing nail therapy:

1. Take it from Cher Horowitz — proactively catalog your faves


A typical pre-nail-appointment ritual is reviewing my Instagram ‘Nails’ and iPhone ‘Nails on fleek’ folders. Yes, I have both:


nail inspiration


Insta accounts like Chelsea King and NAILS by MEI are essential references for incredible nail designs I will never be brave enough to request. But, man if they aren’t inspirational! I also take pictures of my satisfied nail jobs and catalog them in my phone, sometimes with the forethought of adding the color name or number.

This step frequently happens in my car parked outside the salon while panic sets in. As if I hadn’t been cataloguing colors all week long in anticipation of this very moment. Commitment issues much?

nail inspiration


And don’t worry, the manicurists don’t mind! We talked to Chelsea King, queen of nails, herself about it:

“Most of my clients request completely custom works of art, so its not unusual for a client to come in with screenshots or bring in a item of clothing to get inspired by. We sit and brainstorm for a while and I’ll draw out the design!”

2. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

I get to the salon and approach the table with the massive selection of polish colors. Thumb through each palette, that fluttering feeling returning. What is that girl over there getting on her nails? I have been wanting to try the chrome effect. Do I have something important enough coming up to warrant splurging for nail art or callus removal? This break-up does hurt just enough to treat myself to that $5 extra pink and white ombre situation. Why did I dare look at these colors in the first place? Chelsea King told me what to do!

3. It’s OK to go with your go-tos

I usually settle my heart rate by landing on a shade within the same family of pinky nudes I literally always go with. (So I mostly play it safe.) Every now and then I’ll get a little fancy with it and go more peachy than pink. I’ll go seasonal too, if I feel like it. Darker greys or reds in Winter, softer shades in well, every other time of year. Let’s remember I live in LA, so what is Winter, really? (Like I said, safety).

4. When the gut fails, go with new releases for that on-trend feel

It’s normal for me to turn my relaxation ritual into a headache. There was the time I was faced with the nail-biting decision between ORLY’s Cyber Peach and DND’s Havana Cream:

Close call, huh? I ultimately went with the ORLY color and felt just peachy about it.

I recommend researching the shades your favorite brand is launching, and letting them be your nail spirit guides. ORLY even offers a Color Pass subscription box (hello color options!) where you receive four color collections per year, at just under $5 a polish. When you can boldly bring your own polish to the salon, it’s a winning day.

5. Let nail polish names inspire you

Sometimes I go in and wait for a nail polish color name to speak to me. Admit it, you do too! On those less than confident days you pick up a bottle and see ‘world is your oyster?’ Why, yes, it is! Feeling heart sick and stumble upon ‘you, me & the sea?’ Daydream away! Need a quick pep talk, and your esthetician hands you ‘don’t be salty?’ This is what nail polish color picking dreams are made of!

Thanks to the goddess herself, Rebecca Minkoff, who is essie’s global color designer and namer of all of the polish shades, including the summer 2018 seaglass shimmers collection.

6. If it’s a risky technique, learn how the pros do it

If you’re like me, the fear doesn’t only set in when I’m getting them professionally done. Thankfully, some nail brands feature tutorials on their websites or social media for those of us who like to do our own nails. Olive & June, who make some super rad nail decals, recently posted this helpful glitter nails tutorial on their Instagram:

With the right research, the sky’s the limit when it comes to your nail color. (Oooh, cloud nails sound fun, don’t they?)

My final take on choosing a nail polish color is that ultimately, like anything in life, the vibe of the whole ritual matters.

Go to a place, a person, a particular chair that makes you feel good about your nails, and the right color will come. That’s a saying, right?

I think a place like Olive & June really takes this point to another level. At their salon in LA, you take a nail survey so they can refer to your preferences on cuticle removal, nail shape, massage pressure, and a fav color if you’ve got one. Founder Sarah Gibson Tuttle recently chatted with wellness podcast “That’s So Retrograde” about this and how the brand takes nail care to another level of easy breezy for you.

I admit I belabor choosing a nail polish color to the point of actual momentary stress. I know I may be over the top nail fanatic, but hands are our instruments, our offers of greeting, our extensions of emotion.

Look good, feel good. Now that’s a saying. Choose wisely! 🙂

Annette Cirelle is a writer torn between two coasts but mostly based in Los Angeles. Most days she's a jeans and t-shirt kinda girl, but you will never find her without a manicure. Instagram & Twitter @annettecirelle

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