Social distancing has left many acrylic and gel-polish wearers looking for alternatives. Some have chosen to opt for press-ons, which — fortunately — have undergone a sort-of renaissance as of late. Once unnatural-looking and frustratingly unsticky, in recent years they’ve become legitimate alternatives to more permanent extensions and, in the past few months, have become a way for nail artists to continue their businesses in the midst of a pandemic that limits in-person contact. Some of the pricier options can even be reused, meaning you can apply the same set a few times. Perfect press-ons will last at least a week, are durable (this means any gems and decals stay put) and won’t break in half. Rave Nailz founder Braelinn Frank recommends looking for sets that include at least 24 nails, which will ensure that there are enough sizes to fit your nails. This doesn’t apply to nail artists who make custom sets to fit your individual nail (more on that below), but is a good rule of thumb when purchasing mass-produced sets online. Once you’ve chosen a press-on nail you like, there are steps you can take to make it look ultra natural, like filing the nail to match your exact nail shape. As for getting it to stick for as long as possible, good prep is a must. Start by buffing the nail to rough it up a little and remove any oils or shine. This will help the nail adhere better, and ensure it won’t slip around. Next, use alcohol or acetone to cleanse your nail bed. Frank also recommends buying nail glue separately (you can find it at the drugstore or on Amazon) to use instead of adhesive tabs that generally come with the sets (these only last a few days); it will help the nail adhere and last up to two weeks.
We asked six people who wear press-on nails regularly — and whose taste we trust (nail, and otherwise) for the sets they love most.
Best Overall Press-On Nails
Three people we spoke to mentioned KISS press-on nails, which are an easy-to-find, accessible option with a wide variety of lengths, shapes, and designs. “I will never not sing the praises of the Kiss imPRESS Manicure Press-On Nails,” says Khalea Underwood, beauty editor at the Zoe Report and self-proclaimed “press-on queen.” This is the only brand that actually stays on, and actually looks like gel art or an acrylic set.” Women’s Health beauty director Kristina Rodulfo is a fan too, and has been wearing them on and off for about a year. She likes to wear them especially when her nails are short, to get the look of longer nails temporarily. She also insists that no one can tell the difference: “I once wore a set to a really fancy red-carpet film premiere where celebs were present (and surely had glam teams). No one had a clue!” I am also a fan of KISS press-on nails — they’re impressively sticky (although water loosens them a bit) and last about a week, making them a good choice for anyone just getting into press-on nails.
If you’d like to play nail artist for the day, or want to use some polishes you have on hand, Naomi Elizée, an assistant market editor at Vogue and host of the podcast So What Do You Do Again? recommends these durable full-cover nails that offer a blank canvas for you to create your own design. Each kit comes with 100 nails (hence the name) in a variety of sizes, and nail glue that bonds the extension to your nails in just four seconds, and can last up to two weeks.
Two people also also mentioned the KISS Press-On pedicure, which makes it easy to zhuzh up your toes without painting them. “I love them because they instantly cover up any unevenness, damage, or in my case as a runner, black toe nails,” says Rodulfo. “They have been my ultimate secret in warm sandal weather. One time, even a pedicurist couldn’t believe the press-ons on my toes weren’t actual gel.” Underwood agrees: “Don’t sleep on the press on toenails,” she says,” a game changer during the summer.” According to Rodulfo these stay put for at least a week, sometimes more.
Best Designer Press-On Nails
Two people we spoke with mentioned nail artist Sarah Nguyen, who recently launched her own collection of press-on sets. Dating in NYC podcast host Jourdan Ash is a regular customer of Nguyen’s, and typically goes to her for intricate gel manicures. She’s continued to support her during social distancing by purchasing her press-ons, which she says are “bright, bold and colorful.” Elizée also likes Nguyen’s sets, noting that they look much more expensive than they are. “Honestly, when you put them on they look like you just left the salon!” she says. Unlike drugstore press-ons, which tend to come with at least 24 nails in a box, Nguyen’s sets come with ten nails in your size (Nguyen has a helpful sizing chart on her site), along with adhesive and a manicure kit. The adhesive tabs will stay for two to three days, but for longer wear, Nguyen recommends using glue. She also sells a standalone sizing kit that comes with one nail in each size so you can get a feel for the look and fit of the press ons before you commit to a whole set.
Strategist writer Rio Viera-Newton likes these from Nail Mail, a U.K.-based press-on shop that specializes in long, cartoony designs (there’s a set with the Powerpuff Girls wearing masks, for example) and logo sets that last up to two weeks, and stay on through activities like showering. “They’re quite long and extravagant,” says Rio, “but the designs are so cool. I feel like if I’m gonna do it, I like to go big!”
“I like that these are affordable and black-owned,” says Ash of Lust for Nails, a press-on brand that offers semi-custom sets in both solid colors and trendy, embellished designs that last about a week or two. Every set can be fitted to your specifications, and there’s a choice between size, length (long, medium, short), and shape (almond, square, tapered square, coffin, and stiletto).
Elizée also likes the more affordable, easy-to-use Marmalade Nails. These are most similar to sets you might find at the drugstore, and come with 24 nails in 12 different sizes along with an accent nail you can wear or skip. Each set will run you a little less than $20, and are a good choice for anyone who likes the look and feel of longer nails. These will last you up to two weeks with proper application, meaning glue on both the nail and your natural nail, along with applying pressure to bond the two for at least 25 seconds.
Frank recommends Static Nails for your more classic press-ons — she says they are well made and accessibly priced. Static primarily stocks solid colored manicures (think nudes and French tips), but also has a few, more colorful options too. The nice thing about these is that they’re fully customizable, meaning you can reapply, repaint, and reshape using acetone and a nail file to fit your aesthetic. With proper application, these can last up to 18 days.
Rodulfo is partial to the Dashing Diva press-ons, which she says last up to five days, never chip, and don’t budge even with showering and opening packages. While Dashing Diva offers lots of sparkly, gem-encrusted options in a variety of shades she tends to stick with glossy, solid colored nails, that she says look the most like nail polish. These thin, flexible press-ons only come in short lengths and each box lasts up to five days, she says, and can be reused twice.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.