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When you’re ready to switch up your winter manicure, it’s tempting to resort to the standards like poinsettia reds and glittering metallics that tend to define the season. But according to mani experts, the best winter nail colors for 2021 may not be quite what you think.
“Conventional wisdom says go-to colors for winter are burgundy or navy, but my favorite winter colors are gray, deep slate blue, deep mustard and pewter,” says Shani Evans, a New York City-based nail technician who’s an artist at Paintbox and instructor at the American Beauty Institute.
Gray, explains Evans, is more of an “umbrella” color than a singular hue. It’s a versatile shade with more depth than meets the eye, making it a must-have for winter manicures. The right gray works with any ensemble, from everyday loungewear to a boardroom-ready business suit.
“There are grays as dark as a thundercloud and as light as a robin’s feather,” Evans says. “I love a dark, pigmented slate gray with either a blue or violet undertone.”
If you’re searching for cute winter nail colors that add some much-needed warmth to the season, you can channel that sunshine with the right polish. “Mustard yellow often gets slept on, but it’s gorgeous, keeps color in play during the dreary winter and looks good on every skin tone — though it pops stunningly on darker skin,” she says.
The same goes for slate blue, one of the best winter toenail colors. It’s a nod to the cool tones the season is known for, but feels more grown-up than its icier, brighter counterparts.
For those on the hunt for dark winter nail colors, Evans has the answer. “Pewter, not silver,” she says. “In the winter, silver can read ‘too holiday,’ but pewter has edge. It’s metallic without being twee, youthful without being juvenile. It slays.”
And, as the industry continues to see advancements in the clean beauty space, the best winter nail colors also offer longtime nail polish wearers a new assortment of healthier and safer formulations that are free of harsh chemicals and damaging additives.
Of course, no winter manicure can survive without proper nail care. Keeping your cuticles in check is especially key for ensuring that your nails stay in tip-top shape throughout the cooler months. Evans recommends applying cuticle oil regularly, at least twice a day in the morning and evening.
“Cuticle oil doesn’t have to be luxurious or expensive,” she says. “A small bottle of vitamin E oil from the aches and pains section of your local drugstore is just as good as a high-end brand alternative — possibly even better, as it’s free of dyes and fragrances.”
She advises against nipping at dead skin around your nails, unless you have an especially bad hangnail or peeled skin. This may be easier said than done for some, which makes cuticle care that much more critical.
“People prone to biting or picking must be especially vigilant about using cuticle oil regularly,” Evans says. “When the skin is supple, there’s nothing tempting to pick at. When the cuticles are dry, they retract and split, leaving temptation to pick and tear at them.”
Another essential for your everyday nail care? Hand cream.
“In these times of frequent hand washing, hand cream has become a staple of everyone’s daily routine,” says Miss Pop, an editorial nail artist in NYC. “I’ve found cuticle oil to be a lifesaver for staving off hangnails. You can easily keep your cuticles in shape by gently pushing them back right after the shower. That’s when I also recommend using hand cream and cuticle oil for maximum absorption.”
So, are your nails calling for a wintertime upgrade? Keep reading to discover the best winter nail colors that effortlessly work for every skin tone and manicure style.
1. OPI Nail Lacquer Nail Polish in Suzi Talks With Her Hands
Call it the perfect shade of gray. This steely shade functions as an everyday neutral, seamlessly transitioning between work and play time. Pair it with an all-black look to channel those mysterious monochromatic vibes.
2. J.Hannah Nail Polish in Eames
This retro-inspired chartreuse nail polish is ideal for adding a touch of color to your look during the dead of winter. It’s eye-catching, yet muted, and really makes a statement against darker skin tones. With just enough warmth and vibrance, it’s a clear frontrunner for date night.
3. Essie Nail Polish Glossy Shine Finish in Cause & Reflect
Metallic blue runs the risk of being too loud, but this high-shine shade strikes all the right notes. This navy-tinted, silvery polish is one to reach for when you want your mani to have interest and dimension. Plus, with its ultra-glossy finish, a top coat isn’t necessary.
4. Côte No. 95 Shimmery Slate Grey Nail Polish
A little sparkle goes a long way, so be wary of overdoing it. With hints of shimmer instead of an all-out metallic finish, this timeless slate gray works well for occasions throughout the season, from office happy hours to wrapping holiday gifts at home.
5. MiniLuxe Nail Polish in Bali Break
“Emerald green is trending as a more unexpected shade that’s more contrary to the usual warm tones we see,” says Julie Kandalec, celebrity manicurist and owner of Julie K Nail Artelier in NYC. “I see it having lasting power throughout the colder season, [like] this custom-blended emerald shade I did on Jessica Chastain this week.” She recommends MiniLuxe’s Bali Break hue to achieve a similar look. Bonus: It comes in a luxe, display-worthy bottle.
6. Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Nail Polish in Waking Up In Vegas
Not quite ready to let go of your summertime nudes? Stay in the same neutral color family but step out of your comfort zone just a little, suggests Kandalec. “I see nudes turning cooler as the days get shorter, à la more taupe,” she says.
7. Chanel Le Vernis Longwear Nail Colour in Golden Sand
If you’re going to go for glitter during the holiday party circuit, eschew lighter polishes in favor of bolder choices with more warmth, like this option from Chanel. “Shimmer is a classic finish for winter,” said LA-based manicurist Bana Jarjour. “But this season’s tones are more of a deeper bronze than a traditional champagne.”
8. Essie Nail Polish in Bordeaux
According to LA-based nail artist Chelsea King, burgundy isn’t going anywhere this season. In fact, a deep, rich red is one of her all-time favorite nail colors for winter. “It’s a classic that’s always on-trend every year, but be on the lookout for different variations, like a deep red with a hint of purple or a red so dark it’s almost black,” she says.
9. Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Nail Polish in Dirty Little Secret
One of King’s other cold-weather standards is anything with iridescence. “I think of it as a highlighter for your nails, and it’s a great choice if you love nail art but need something quick,” she says. “I love that these polishes look like different colors depending on how you look at them, and they’re great as a sheer coat on their own or layering over other colors.”
10. 786 Halal Nail Polish in Karachi
This rich evergreen hue is reminiscent of a holiday garland. It’s actually inspired by and named after the city of Karachi, Pakistan, and a similar shade can also be spotted on the Pakistani flag.
11. Glam & Grace Non-Toxic Nail Polish in Mustard
This is as close to true mustard as you can get. With a creamy satin finish, this deep yellow is a year-round must-have that pairs flawlessly with multiple skin tones.
12. Londontown Lakur in Skyline Reflect
Paging Olivia Rodrigo. We have a feeling the “Deja Vu” singer would keep this Y2K-inspired combo of silver, purple, and blue in frequent rotation throughout winter.
13. Zoya Nail Lacquer in Nahla
Gold is standard for the holiday season, but for winter 2021, it gets reimagined with multi-colored glitter, giving it all sorts of added dimension. With chic golden tones and sparkly elements, this shade practically says, “Let’s meet under the mistletoe.”
14. Nails Inc. Plant Power Nail Polish in Swear By Salutation
Classic red will always be a wintertime go-to, but with so many to choose from, how do you know which is best for your next mani? Lean toward deeper berry tones that feel burgundy-ish, without being too dark and purple-based.
15. Olive & June Nail Polish in Stellar
White is one of the most timeless polish hues, so why not up the ante this winter? To really steal the show at Friendsgiving or at your next networking mixer, go for a powdery, snowy white complete with starry, shimmery undertones.
16. OPI Nail Lacquer in Gingerbread Man Can
Sometimes, your mani needs a dash of spice. This soft brown hue operates like a neutral, even with hints of iridescence throughout. It’s sure to become one of your winter nail color favorites.
17. Deborah Lippmann Iconic Treatment-Enriched Nail Polish in Blue Orchid
Not all blues are created equal. While darker tones often reign supreme during winter months, there’s more than enough room for a baby blue shade that’s equal parts elegant and demure.
18. Smith & Cult Nail Lacquer in 5th Ave Fortress
Say hello to your new neutral nail polish for the winter season. This chrome mauve can turn into smoky white depending on the light, so it complements just about every color and texture in your wardrobe. You’ll feel no no shame reapplying this one for weeks on end.
19. Holo Taco Nail Polish in Gift Receipt
When the event on your calendar calls for unapologetic boldness, this striking silver polish packed with metallic foil will do the trick. It takes a couple coats to get full coverage, but there’s no glitter in this formula, so it’s actually pretty easy to remove.
20. Static Nails Liquid Glass Lacquer in Indigo
This moody midnight blue looks jet black from certain angles, making it a versatile addition to your winter nail polish collection. Plus, the formula contains marula oil to help moisturize your nails when they need it the most.