The Right Nail Polish for Your Skin Tone

Whatever the season, we've got you covered.

A black woman holds her fingers to her face, showcasing her white nail polish.
(Image credit: Selin Alemdar/Getty Images)

If you’ve ever taken a picture of your hands, like after a manicure, or maybe while holding a big ol’ donut at brunch (hey, what do you take pictures of?), then you know how, uh, ugly hands can be in the wrong lighting, or with the wrong polish, or with a bad donut. (Just kidding—there are no bad donuts.) Which is why we’re really into the idea of nail-polish contouring, which is basically just picking specific colors for your skin tone to give your hands a bit more oomph. No, we’re not saying that this is a required step for any human being, because we realize that hands are just hands, but if you’re planning to wear nail polish anyways, why not make it purposeful?

To help you decode your digits, we asked the very brilliant manicurist Jin Soon Choi to break down the best shades for your skin tone and dream hand look. Because that’s a thing, right? Right.

Nail Colors That Make Your Hands Look Younger

When looking for your next shade, look for colors that accentuate your hands without coming off too bright. "Choose colors that are not too immature or too neon-like," says Choi. "They should be more elegant and have sharp color pigmentation to make your skin look vivid."

Fair Skin: Try a soft, blush-y pink, like Bubble Bath.

Medium Skin: Look for a bright coral orange, like Enflammee.

Olive Skin: Look for a peachy pink, like Got Myself Into a Jam-balaya.

Dark Skin: Look for a vibrant violet, like Bold & Unshaken.

Nail Colors That Make Your Hands Look Tan

No matter your skin tone we can all appreciate a bronzy glow. "Try to use colors that make your hands look a bit more bronzed, like orange, yellow, green, or opaque pastel colors," says Choi.

Fair Skin: Try a subtle orange, like Check In To Check Out.

Medium Skin: Go for a bright yellow, like Check Your Baggage.

Olive Skin: Try another bright, rich orange, like Sweet & Gracious.

Dark Skin: A true yellow, like Bright & Focused.

Nail Colors That Make Your Nail Beds Look Bigger

It's important that you choose colors that make your nail beds stand out, especially if you prefer short nails. "Opaque whites and pastel shades give your nail beds a bigger appearance in contrast to your skin," says Choi.

Fair Skin: Go for a blush-y pink, like Ballerina.

Medium Skin: Try an off-white shade, with just a hint of blue, like Kookie White.

Olive Skin: Try a light lavender shade, like TT.

Dark Skin: Try a crisp white, like HD.

Nail Colors That Make Your Nail Beds Look Smaller

Deep colors are perfect for the colder months and the perfect approach to a toned-down, neutral manicure. "Darker shades tend to make nail beds look smaller, so make sure that you choose deep colors that naturally compliment your skin tone, especially in the winter," she says.

Fair Skin: Look for an oxblood red, like Single Ladies.

Medium Skin: Go for a mauve, like Love Hangover.

Olive Skin: Try a burgundy, like Complimentary Wine.

Dark Skin: Try a deep navy, like HJ.

Nail Colors That Make Your Hands Look Slimmer

"Use more natural, subtle colors that don't draw attention to your nails, so your nails can become an extension of your fingers," explains Choi.

Fair Skin: Look for a super-sheer pink, like Muse.

Medium Skin: Go for a subtle, sheer tan, like Tulle.

Olive Skin: Try a pink-tinged beige, like Nostalgia.

Dark Skin: Pick a milky toffee shade, like Dulcet.

Lauren Valenti
Beauty Editor

Lauren is the former beauty editor at Marie Claire. She love to while away the hours at coffee shops, hunt for vintage clothes, and bask in the rough-and-tumble beauty of NYC. She firmly believes that solitude can be a luxury if you’ve got the right soundtrack—that being the Rolling Stones, of course.