Tortoise shell nails seem to be everywhere at the moment, championed by Kendall Jenner and influencers alike. Here’s what one writer learned from the pros at Selfish Nail Salon about doing it perfectly at home.

After two years of interacting with others via screens and mobile phones, it’s no wonder we’ve vigorously taken back the fun of dressing up – right down to our nail art. 

Now, playing with make-up is great and all but, speaking as the self-proclaimed poster child for the lazy girl lifestyle, doing a full face of glam only for it to be smudged by a face mask or blurred by the murky blue light of my laptop screen and poor-quality webcam, isn’t exactly appealing. Even more so if I add up the time it takes to take it all off again at the end of the day (I’m a reluctant skincare addict, friends, and though I swear by double cleansing, willing myself to actually do it in the evening is a struggle).

As such, my only consistent dose of beauty luxury leans heavily on my nails: low maintenance, high value, and gives the very subtle (read: misguided) impression that deep down I’ve got my shit together.

Now, it’s no secret that most of our nail inspiration comes straight from Instagram. And if you follow as many beauty influencers as I do, you’ll have spotted one particular nail trend over the last few months: tortoise shell.

No longer reserved for cute bags and sunglasses, tortoise shell designs made their way to our nail beds in a big way this year and, naturally, in a lowkey attempt at making an effort, I wanted in on the trend.

Tortoise shell nails are one of the biggest manicure trends of 2020.

I went to visit the pros at Selfish, a gorgeous nail salon in Shoreditch with a reputation for painting the most enviable of nail designs. And, if you’re looking to try the trend yourself or want to request it at your next appointment, I’m delighted to share with you everything I learned from the team about how it’s done.

A little goes a long way

Tortoise shell is not a subtle design. And though I’d marched into the salon ready to have all 10 digits painted in the distinct black and brown print, my nail technical kindly reminded me that it’s a very bold print and that, despite my excitement, perhaps I’d prefer to tone it down a little bit on my first foray into animal print nails.

She was right, of course, and this is how we arrived at the merging of two of Instagram’s hottest trends – tortoise shell and negative space.

It’s all in the layering

When it comes to application technique, a heavy dose of patience is required. To achieve such depth to the final result, the nail technician applied gel paint one colour at a time, and set the paint in between each application.

After applying a base coat, we started with a burned yellow nail paint applied in careful blotches across the nail bed, using the edge of the nail paint brush. This layer was then dried underneath a UV lamp before repeating the process with a dark orange, then brown, then black paint.

Contrast is key

To create definition, the nail technician framed the nails completely covered in the tortoise shell design with a black rim, and used gold flakes to separate the tortoise shell from the negative space detail on the other nails. Because, who doesn’t want a bit of extra drama with their mani?

What we learned from the manicure experts about achieving tortoise shell nails.

Be generous with the topcoat

Though most of us are very aware of the benefits of a high-quality top coat, don’t underestimate just how much of a difference it’ll make to the longevity of your nail art.

At the salon, we applied two layers of clear top coat to the finished design to make sure every element was secure and glossily locked in. Nevertheless, I was advised to top up my top coat myself at home (just with a regular polish, not necessarily a gel one) every two or three days to make it all last longer and avoid any pesky chipping.

Main image: Kendall Jenner

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