Pretty brown skin. Warm cocoa. Desert sand. Sweet like honey wheat. Dense and deep like midnight.
Whether you hail from the States, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa, or beyond, your melanin gifts you a special beauty that begs to be shown off — all the way down to your nails.
So where do you start when picking out nail colors that work for, not against, your shade of brown? How do you make your nail color really pop? When do you go glossy or matte? When should you keep it neutral?
This article features Black nail salon owners who intimately know the industry trends for color on the full range of dark skin tones.
Here are their recommendations for choosing a color that showcases the beauty of your skin, plus Black-owned nail polish lines that feature colors and finishes designed to make you shine.
Whether it’s a tried-and-true skin care regimen, how often you wash your hair, or the cosmetics you’re curious about, beauty is personal.
That’s why we rely on a diverse group of writers, educators, and other experts to share their tips on everything from the way product application varies to the best sheet mask for your individual needs.
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Knowing your skin’s undertone — the color underneath your skin’s surface — is an important first step for selecting a flattering nail color.
Know your undertone
Jasmine Requena of Jazzy Nails Studio in Decatur, Georgia, recommends looking at the underside of your wrist to see if you have warm or cool undertones.
Do you see golds and yellows? Then you likely have warm undertones. Pinks, reds, and blues? Your undertones are cool. If you can’t tell, you’re likely neutral.
Another trick is to hold a gold and silver piece of jewelry against your skin. If gold looks better, you have warm undertones. If you stun in silver, you’re probably cool.
With warm undertones, a safe bet is to choose a nail color that has a warm tone. If your undertone is cool, go with cooler colors.
Skin texture and moisture
Also, make sure to pay attention to the moisture level and texture of your skin.
Kim Jackson of Legacy Nail Lounge in West Palm Beach, Florida, warns that pearly or shimmery colors can translate as ashy on skin that’s prone to dryness.
“Always go with colors that make your hands look younger and fresher,” she says.
Similarly, if you want to play down wrinkles, try more subtle colors to reduce their appearance.
The four color categories below are the experts’ top picks for a lot of pop on dark skin.
Neutral nail colors (aka nudes) are a good base for understated looks that are still eye-catching. Requena sees a lot of her customers choose a range of beiges and tans.
“I think because those colors pop against melanated skin,” she says. “It shows it off more.”
Nude nail colors add to your skin’s natural beauty. Plus, with names like “Wealth” and “Diana Boss,” they’re hard to resist.
Try these neutral options
- Wealth by The Bernadette Thompson Nail Collection
- Cashmere by The Bernadette Thompson Nail Collection
- Dianna Boss, Classic Lacquer by Pear Nova
- Benin by Triple O Polish
Experts also suggest getting into purples for a splash of color and dash of contrast to flaunt your complexion.
”I’m an avid purple fan! I tend to wear a lot of purple tones on my nails, but my closet is never purple, so it makes the colors pop every time,” Jackson says.
“I love purple! All of the shades — from lavender to a dark plum,” says Requena. “I love them all, and I feel like they all have uses.”
Embrace your beauty with a hint of royal purple or a calming lavender.
Try these purple-hued options
- Grimey by Breukelen Girl
- Galactic Girl by Law Beauty Essentials
- 16 Lush by Habit Cosmetics
One of the superpowers of brown skin is that color is always your friend! So go big and bold with neon nail colors that are as spicy and vibrant as our cultures.
“Don’t be afraid to try something new! Just because you’ve never worn a fluorescent orange color doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out,” says JoEtta Little of Clawed Nail Salon. “Just keep in mind, it only lasts [for] a couple weeks!”
Try these neon options
- Boom Chakra-Laka by La Pierre
- Pepper Sauce by Ginger Beauty Lab
- Comida Frita, Hecho con Amor by People of Color
Shades of red
The boldness of a red polish can be intimidating for some. Fortunately, the wide range of red tones makes it a color everyone can wear on their nails, especially if your skin is brown.
“Some people say, ‘Oh, I can’t wear red.’ I disagree with that,” Jackson says. “You have to find the right red. It could be a pinky-red, a purply red, a blue-red, a mauve-red with a purple undertone.”
These aren’t the red polishes from your grandma’s generation. We’re talking bigger, deeper, and badder reds that are everything from elegant to street chic.
Try these red-hued options
- Coral Sand by Àuda.B
- Swear by Salutation — Deep Red by Nails Inc.
- Favored by Rooted Woman
After you select a color that fits your personal style and flair, make sure to get your nail job noticed.
While the experts agree that the rigid nail polish rules of yesteryear are long gone, they have a few pointers for maximizing your nail’s beauty beyond getting the colors right.
“The shape of the nail also makes a difference — almond, boxy, square,” says Jackson. “Long fingers, longer nail base. If I’m gonna go with a nice vibrant Ferrari red, then I want to make sure the shape I’m getting is gonna complement my fingers and my hands.”
How to do that? Go with shapes that accent fingers and fingertips. For instance, long fingers and nails look best with longer, lengthier shapes.
If you’re thinking of showing off your nails on camera, Little recommends using natural light to your advantage.
“You get the true aesthetic of the color with natural light,” she says.
If you have brown skin and are looking to try different nail colors, you’re in luck! Just about every color can work with your rich skin tone for maximum impact.
And with more color-inclusive nail polish lines being launched by people of color, colors are continuously being created with your skin’s pigment and versatility in mind.
So whether your skin runs dark and lovely or cafe con leche, flaunt your melanin and let your nails lead the way.
Zahida Sherman is a diversity and inclusion professional who writes about culture, race, gender, and adulthood. She’s a history nerd and rookie surfer. Follow her on Instagram.