Fairly brown skin. Hot cocoa. Desert sand. Sweet like wheat honey. Dense and deep like midnight.
Whether you come from the United States, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa or elsewhere, your melanin gives you a special beauty that is just waiting to be highlighted, until your fingernails.
So where do you start when choosing nail colors that work for, not against, your shade of brown? How to make your nail color really pop? When to switch to gloss or matte? When should you keep it neutral?
This article features black nail salon owners who are intimately familiar with industry color trends across the full spectrum of dark skin tones.
Here are their recommendations for choosing a color that highlights the beauty of your skin, as well as Black-owned nail polish ranges that feature colors and finishes designed to make you shine.
Knowing your skin’s undertone — the color beneath your skin’s surface — is an important first step in choosing a flattering nail color.
Know your undertone
Jasmine Requena from jazzy nail studio in Decatur, Georgia recommends looking at the underside of your wrist to see if you have warm or cool undertones.
Do you see golds and yellows? In this case, you probably have warm undertones. Pinks, reds and blues? Your undertones are cool. If you can’t tell, you’re probably neutral.
Another trick is to hold a piece of gold and silver jewelry against your skin. If the gold is more beautiful, you have warm undertones. If you stun in cash, you’re probably cool.
With warm undertones, a safe bet is to choose a nail color that has a warm undertone. If your undertone is cool, opt for cooler colors.
Skin texture and hydration
Also, be sure to pay attention to the moisture level and texture of your skin.
Kim Jackson from Legacy Nail Salon in West Palm Beach, Fla., warns that pearly or shimmery colors can result in ash on dryness-prone skin.
“Always go with colors that make your hands look younger and fresher,” she says.
Likewise, if you want to reduce wrinkles, try more subtle colors to reduce their appearance.
The four color categories below are the experts’ top picks for plenty of pop on dark skin.
Neutral nail colors (aka nudes) are a good base for understated looks that always grab attention. Requena sees many of its customers choosing a range of beiges and tans.
“I think it’s because those colors pop on melanized skin,” she says. “It shows it more.”
Nude nail colors add to the natural beauty of your skin. Plus, with names like “Wealth” and “Diana Boss,” they’re hard to resist.
Experts also suggest going into purples for a pop of color and a pop of contrast to flaunt your skin tone.
“I’m a big fan of purple! I tend to wear a lot of purple tones on my nails, but my closet is never purple, so it pops the colors every time,” Jackson says.
“I love purple! All shades – from lavender to dark plum,” says Requena. “I love them all and feel like they all have uses.”
Embrace your beauty with a hint of royal purple or soothing lavender.
One of the superpowers of brown skin is that color is always your friend! So go big and bold with neon nail colors that are as spicy and vibrant as our cultures.
“Don’t be afraid to try something new! Just because you’ve never worn a neon orange color doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it,” says JoEtta Little of claw nail salon. “Remember that this only lasts [for] a few weeks !”
shades of red
The boldness of red polish can be intimidating to some. Luckily, the wide range of red tones makes it a color anyone can wear on their nails, especially if you have dark skin tones.
“Some people say, ‘Oh, I can’t wear red.’ I disagree with that,” Jackson says. “You have to find the right red. It could be a pinkish red, a purplish red, a blue red, a mauve red with a purple undertone.
These aren’t the red polishes of your grandmother’s generation. We’re talking bigger, deeper, meaner reds that range from sleek to street chic.
After selecting a color that matches your personal style and style, be sure to get your nail work noticed.
While experts agree that the rigid nail polish rules of yesteryear are long gone, they do have some tips for maximizing your nail’s beauty beyond just the right color.
“The shape of the nail also makes a difference – almond, square, square,” says Jackson. “Long fingers, longer nail base. If I’m going to go for a nice, vibrant Ferrari red, then I want to make sure the shape I get will go well with my fingers and hands.
How to do that? Opt for shapes that accentuate the fingers and fingertips. For example, long fingers and nails look better with longer, longer shapes.
If you’re planning on showing off your nails on camera, Little recommends using natural light to your advantage.
“You get the true color aesthetic with natural light,” she says.
If you have brown skin and are looking to try different nail colors, you’re in luck! Almost any color can work with your rich complexion for maximum impact.
And with more colorful nail polish lines launched by people of color, colors are continually created with your skin pigment and versatility in mind.
So whether your skin is dark and beautiful or café con leche, flaunt your melanin and let your nails lead the way.
Zahida Sherman is a diversity and inclusion professional who writes about culture, race, gender and adulthood. She is a history buff and a beginner surfer. Follow her on instagram.