How to Apply Press-On Nails, From Someone Who Swears By Them

I'm a big fan of at-home manicures — DIY gel, regular polish, and even press-on nails. The first two varieties are not so surprising (who doesn't love an affordable at-home gel mani?) but the last one always seems to stump people. I can't tell you the number of times I've been asked where I got my nails done, only to inform them that they're th best press-on nails on the market. If you could see the looks I get . . . The next thing out of their mouth is usual, "But wait, how long do press on nails last?" And then I get to tell them all about my favorite beauty hack.

I started wearing press-on manicures for the first time since middle school last year. I had a few packs in my beauty stash that I was saving for a rainy day when I suddenly needed a nice mani for a photoshoot at work the next day. Instead of scrambling to get to the nail salon, I decided to give the fake nails a go and I haven't looked back since.

Because nail art is having such a major moment right now, many of the press-on nail sets are perfectly on-trend. Considering there are so many great options at the drugstore, it's a great way to get an intricate nail design that would have cost a pretty penny at the salon for under $10. Now, whenever I have a big event or honestly just want to take a nice picture and can't make it to a nail appointment, I stick a set on. Game-changer. If you've been thinking about testing them out for yourself, you might be wondering how to apply press on nails. Ahead, I've rounded up everything to know about the fun manicure option, including tips on how to make them last.

How to Apply Press On Nails

If you're curious about how to apply press on nails, the first thing you should know is that putting on press-on nails is easier than you may think. You want to start with clean, dry nails that are free of any nail polish. It's always a good idea to give yourself a basic manicure, such as pushing back your cuticles and filling your tips, before starting.

Most press-on nails come with instructions for how to apply them, as well as all of the supplies you could need inside the kit. There's usually nail glue, a set of nails with extras, and sometimes a nail file and alcohol wipe. Before busting open the glue, find the nail that best fits each finger. Then, starting with the pinky and working your way inward toward the thumb, apply some glue and firmly press on the fake nail.

How Long Do Press On Nails Last?

The next question I find people ask most often is how long do press on nails last? However, how long your press-on nails last depends on a multitude of factors. First, how well you apply them will affect their longevity, as will how rough you are with your hands in everyday life. The type of adhesive you use to secure the fake nails to your fingertips can also play a role. The adhesive tabs that come with many press-on kits will only last you a few days, while nail glue can keep your nails secure for up two weeks, give or a take a few days.

How to Apply Press-On Nails and Make Them Last
Courtesy of | Chaunte Vaughn

How to Apply Press-On Nails and Make Them Last

STEP 1: Prep Your Nails

The key to applying press-on nails and making them look, well, not like press-ons, is giving yourself a nice little manicure before hand. This entails removing any old polish, trimming and filing the edges, and most importantly, pushing back your cuticles. Once you finish with your prep work, make sure your nails are clean and dry.

STEP 2: Find the Correct Nail Size

The KISS press-on nail sets (my personal favorite) come with teeny, tiny numbers of the back of each nail to indicate the size. Once you find your perfect fit on one hand, you can locate the matching numbered nails for the other. You want the press-on nail to cover your entire nail-bed without hanging over on either side. I find laying all ten fake nails out in finger order on the table in front of me the easiest way to work.

STEP 3: Glue Them On

When it comes to the application method, you can use the adhesive nail stickers that come with certain kits or acrylic nail glue to apply your nails. I've tested both — the stickers are faster but the nail glue gives a better hold; it's a matter of personal preference. If you go with the adhesive stickers, tweezers are a big help in peeling off the plastic and sticking them to your natural nail; for the acrylic glue, just be careful not to get too much on your skin because it's hard to remove.

One finger at a time, match the press-on nail up with your nail-bed before pressing it into place; hold for about ten seconds to really make it stick. Work from your pinky fingers in and leave the thumbs for last — this will make your life so much easier.

STEP 4: Shape the Press-On Nails, If Needed

My biggest tip for making press-on nails look real and making them last: shape them. Many fake nail sets are very long or very pointy. If you're not used to nails like this or you want a different style, all you have to do is take a pair of nail clippers and a file, and shape them the way you like. Plastic press-on nails are surprisingly easy to cut.

STEP 5: Paint Them (Optional)

If you opt for a plain set of press-on nails but aren't in love with the color, you can paint them. Or, if you want long nails for your next professional salon appointment, you can bring your own press-on nail kit and ask the manicurist to apply and paint them for you.

This, along with practice applying them, will help your fake press-on nails look real and last longer.