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, (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).

Medium Skin: Look for a bright coral orange, like Enflammee (opens in new tab).

Olive Skin: Look for a peachy pink, like Got Myself Into a Jam-balaya (opens in new tab).

Dark Skin: Look for a vibrant violet, like Bold & Unshaken (opens in new tab).

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 (opens in new tab).

Medium Skin: Go for a bright yellow, like Check Your Baggage (opens in new tab).

Olive Skin: Try another bright, rich orange, like Sweet & Gracious (opens in new tab).

Dark Skin: A true yellow, like Bright & Focused (opens in new tab).

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 (opens in new tab).

Medium Skin: Try an off-white shade, with just a hint of blue, like Kookie White (opens in new tab).

Olive Skin: Try a light lavender shade, like TT (opens in new tab).

Dark Skin: Try a crisp white, like HD (opens in new tab).

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 (opens in new tab).

Medium Skin: Go for a mauve, like Love Hangover (opens in new tab).

Olive Skin: Try a burgundy, like Complimentary Wine (opens in new tab).

Dark Skin: Try a deep navy, like HJ (opens in new tab).

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 (opens in new tab).

Medium Skin: Go for a subtle, sheer tan, like Tulle (opens in new tab).

Olive Skin: Try a pink-tinged beige, like Nostalgia (opens in new tab).

Dark Skin: Pick a milky toffee shade, like Dulcet (opens in new tab).

Chloe Metzger
Beauty Editor

Chloe Metzger is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, overseeing the editorial content and growth strategy of the hair, makeup, and skin space on digital, while also obsessively writing about the best hair products for every hair type (curly girl here; whattup), and the skincare routines that really, truly work (follow her on Instagram to see behind-the-scenes pics of that magazine life). She brings nearly a decade of writing and editing expertise, and her work has appeared in AllureHealthFitnessMarie ClaireStyleCaster, and Parents. She also has an unhealthy adoration for Tom Hanks and would like to please meet him one day, if you could arrange that. Thanks.