Black Nail Theory Is TikTok’s Key to Instant Confidence, Unlocked


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black nail theory woman spreads hand across her face. her fingernails are painted black
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Black has been back ever since the resurgence of Indie Sleeze in 2021. Soon after, the success of Netflix's smash hit, Wednesday, had everyone clamoring for the beloved anti-hero's soft goth aesthetic. Currently, “unapproachable makeup” is all the rage on TikTok. And now everyone is trying their hand at the “black nail theory.” So why are we obsessed with these dark, intense tones lately? PureWow sat down with nail expert Michelle Nguyen to talk about this latest trend—and how you can get the look for yourself.  

Meet the Expert 

Michelle Nguyen is a nail expert and the founder and CEO of PLA, a beauty supply company specializing in lash, nail and aesthetic products. Nguyen has worked in the beauty industry since 2008, and PLA nail polish has been worn by celebrities such as Ice Spice, Jennifer Lopez, Blake Lively and Selena Gomez.  

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What Is Black Nail Theory? 

Black nail theory is the idea that painting your nails black imbues you with a cool-girl confidence. As makeup artist Monina Wright says about the unapproachable makeup look, a coat of black nail polish is meant to be powerful, commanding and a little bit intimidating. “The look is meant to evoke confidence and empowerment. It gives women the opportunity to be comfortable in their own skin and beauty choices, while not letting others (mostly men) ruin it,” PureWow associate editor Chelsea Candelario writes.  

And, as Nguyen notes, black is a timeless and versatile color. “Black nails are one of the easiest ways to incorporate a little edge and sophistication into your everyday life, even if you don’t wear a lot of dark colors. As with the unapproachable makeup trend, black nails are bold and eye-catching, adding an air of rebelliousness to an otherwise simple look.” Because it’s such a striking color, it gives the wearer an automatic confidence boost. After all, who doesn’t feel a bit bolder and more assertive with a coat of nail polish so dark it seems to suck out all daylight? 

How to Get the Look 

If you want to try black nail theory, know that some black nail polishes can be a tad translucent and will likely require multiple coats. Nguyen adds “Some black polishes lean a little on the purple or blue side, especially in direct lighting. Finding your perfect black shade can take some trial and error, but once you find it, you’ll never look back.” 

For best results, Nguyen recommends starting with a base coat, which provides a smooth surface for the polish to adhere to and prevents stains. The real trick is applying the color itself. Because it’s a bold shade, mistakes are more obvious. “Take your time, apply even coats and go in with a small brush dipped in nail polish remover to clean up the edges if needed,” she advises.  

As is the case with any trend, the best thing you can do is experiment to make it your own. We’ve seen everything from glossy and matte finishes to gemstones and unique patterns that add a little pizazz to the inky neutral.

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