Korean nail art has been blowing up our Instagram and Pinterest feeds—and it's impossible to look away. South Korea has been serving up the most mesmerizing manicures we've ever seen, offering up a captivating collection of nail aesthetics from the shattered-glass nail phenomenon to stone nails to bracelet nails to Aurora nails. The trends don’t stop evolving.
So we turned to the experts, asking what we can expect to see in the world of Korean nail art. After speaking to leading nail artist Jin Soon Choi, founder of JINsoon Nail Lacquers and JINsoon Hand & Foot Spa and beauty experts Sarah Lee of Glow Recipe as well as Peach and Lily's Alicia Yoon, we’re more convinced than ever that innovative nail art isn’t going anywhere.
They shared the hottest trends, and what new directions we can expect in the future. All three experts cited the influence of South Korea's premier nail artist Eunkyung Park, owner of Seoul's Unistella Salon, while Choi also mentioned a handful of innovative artists she likes.
While Park seems to be the mastermind behind many of these otherworldly creations—and you’ll find many of her looks below—we’ve also rounded up a few additional (and equally mesmerizing) nail looks throughout the industry. Get ready to obsess and don’t forget to bring these to your next manicure appointment.
Choi has been seeing a lot of syrup nails (a trend that was popular years back in Japan) and says they’re actually very adaptable and easy to execute. Similar to a drip of syrup, this look gradually melts from translucent or clear to your shade of choice. Choi recommends painting thin layers for a gradient effect. After the base coat, apply a “really thin” layer of color below the cuticle, then continue applying thin layers of color below until the top of the nail (or vice versa, depending on which direction you prefer), which should be the darkest.
She says you don’t have to mix multiple colors together to achieve the look—by using one color and the transparent finish, you’ll get your look down pat. (Don’t forget your top coat, too).
"There are a few super-renowned nail artists in Korea who set some of the trends. However, ultimately, customers end up picking the trends that they like," notes Yoon, speaking of the democratization of beauty that she loves. "I see some of the famed nail artists doing a lot with blinging out nails in the form of stone nails, with actual huge rhinestones all over the nails."
Now you can get blinged out without donning a single piece of jewelry (or 3D adhesive). Lee and Yoon both agree that diamond nails are currently the reigning trend. Created by Park, this is a more intense version of the viral shattered-glass nails, giving off a more holographic effect. The striking style is created "with chunks of a slightly different cellophane that reflect light like facets of a diamond," says Lee, resulting in a "delicate yet edgy" look.
Nail art is always expanding into new spaces, surpassing even the nail itself. Lee predicts that moving forward, we'll be witnessing more and more decorative elements that go beyond the outline of the nail. This rendition, coined under the phrase "the futuristic nail," uses thin metal pieces to extend past the cuticle for a daring caged effect.
Choi notes that using a variety of tonal shades has become popular, especially with a mix of either pastel or nude tones. She points to manicurist JJOO and her designs, which often incorporate different muted shades within the same color family in her creations, saying her designs are “wearable for any age group” and include pretty accents (which we'll get to later).
“I love her simple yet modern style and how she combines colors, textures, and finishes such as matte vs. glossy,” Choi says, mentioning that when she went to Korea, she had the opportunity to work with Jjang and saw firsthand her clean and minimalist designs that can easily be recreated at home. Thanks to its simplicity, the matte nail aesthetic has quickly taken hold around the world, and you can now achieve the look with most polishes by simply adding a top coat.
Negative Space Nails
One Korean nail trend that Yoon says we'll continue seeing more of is the use of negative space. More and more designs are leaving sections of the nail blank to create unexpected geometric designs that deserve a double-take. Not only does negative space look great against otherwise bold graphics, but it's also "totally doable without a gel manicure," notes Yoon.
Choi says marble-like finishes continue to add an additional intrigue to every nail look. The design imitates a texture you can’t get with regular polish, so for an easy look, you can pair your favorite color with this unique finish.
Emphasis on the cuticle has been a trend for a while, but we can expect to continue to see craftier renditions. "Giving cuticles tiny metallic tabs, also known as 'nail shadows,' embellish cuticles versus [screaming] for attention with allover sparkle," observes Lee, continuing that cuticle nails are "best suited for short nails" and that the minimal approach "gives just the right amount of accent with almost zero drying time."
Yoon notes she's already seeing a lot of color blocking and negative space used to create fun graphics—the former demonstrated here with these half-and-half nails. "The fun part of these color-block nails is that each nail might have a different color block, so on all 10 fingers, there could be 20 different colors, with each nail being different," she says.
Accent Nail Art
It’s time to reconsider the accent nail. Choi says accent nails usually incorporate glitter, crystals, or jewelry into the overall look. While not every nail gets a specific design or accent, there’s usually one add-on per hand that includes an extra detail or two, like the glitter mentioned earlier, or fun cartoon art.
This version of cuticle nails also makes use of negative space to recreate the look of a high heel. As nail art progresses, we're always seeing clever retakes on the hottest nail trends for synergistic results.
At-Home Gel Nail Stickers
There’s also a focus on at-home nail looks, Choi says. Instead of going to a salon, gel stickers and press-on nails have gained popularity for their easy access and inexpensive price tag. Choi does note that individual press-ons and gel nail stickers shouldn’t be too thick for an overall better look. (Bonus: they’re available in the popular syrup style mentioned earlier.)
Last but not least, Yoon calls out tattoo nails as a street trend set to explode. With this approach, "some nails don't have any color but [instead have] tattoo stickers glued on with fun graphics and illustrations." People have even gone so far as to get their nails themselves tattooed, but we're going to leave it at stickers for now.