Missing your mani? Time to go tonal!

Missing your mani? Time to go tonal! The trend for graded colours means you can DIY with your old varnishes

  • Claire Coleman revealed tonal nails are this season’s most must-have trend
  • Trend involves painting each nail in a different co-ordinating colour
  • She suggests looking to Gigi Hadid and Kylie Jenner for inspiration  

Cooped up indoors, self-isolating with nothing to do, and a box of half-used nail varnishes that haven’t seen the light of day in months?

Unlikely as it might sound, you have everything you need to try the season’s hottest nail trend. Admittedly, you’ll have to showcase it on social media instead of out on the town — but your risk of chipping the polish is surely reduced as a result.

Tonal nails, otherwise called gradient or ombre nails, involves painting each nail in a different, but co-ordinating colour, resulting in a perfectly Instagrammable look with minimum effort.

It’s ideal for indecisive types — after all, why pick one colour when you can have five?

Plus, with the current trend to ‘make do and mend’ for the sake of the planet, it doesn’t require you to buy a thing. And unlike many looks that call for a skilful hand and specialist tools, this is one that you can easily do yourself.

Claire Coleman shared her advice for embracing the tonal nail trend, as seen on Gigi Hadid and Kylie Jenner (file image)

Tonal nails have been seen on the catwalk and on the hands of many big-name models from Gigi Hadid to Kylie Jenner.

Nail expert Emma Welsh, who works with Rimmel London and has painted the nails of Angelina Jolie, Blake Lively and Salma Hayek, says when it comes to colours, anything goes.


If you’re a nudes type, then graduated shades of peach and pink work a treat. Whereas if brights are more your thing, go wild, with ever bolder shades of turquoise or green, blues, reds or oranges.

Perhaps predictably, some nail brands are offering sets of coordinating colours — check out Nails Inc’s Keep It Tonal set of four polishes in shades from beige through to dark chocolate (£22, nailsinc.com), or create your own set from Rimmel London’s Super Gel Nail Polish; usually £6.99 each, they’re currently on a three-for-two offer at superdrug.com.

But the likelihood is that you already have what you need at the back of your cupboard.

‘“Colour cocktailing” allows you to achieve different shades from different colours,’ explains Emma.

You can do this by applying one coat on top of another, or by mixing them together in a small dish before painting, in the way an artist makes up a colour on their palette. ‘You could use a pearlised colour or an iridescent colour over the top of a shocking pink, or other strong colour, to give your nail polish a completely different look,’ says Emma.

Or, you could take it a step further. ‘I am known for mixing colours to find the perfect shade and am often asked to match a nail shade to an outfit for an event or fashion shoot.

Claire claims the trend can be switched up easily, unlike committing to hair dye or new clothes (file image)

‘So instead of searching through hundreds of colours, I will mix it myself.’

Drip a few drops of different colours into a little dish and mix together to make a whole new colour, or just add lighter shades to darker shades to make new colours.’

It sounds daunting, not to mention messy, but when I put it to the test I found it surprisingly straightforward. I used a bit of aluminium foil as my palette and a matchstick to stir my shades together. Bear in mind you’ll need a fresh brush to apply your newly mixed shade — I used brushes from some old polish colours that had gone a bit lumpy, cleaning them thoroughly with nail polish remover first.

I made my base shade a bright coral and then adjusted it using a white polish that was initially designed for painting the tips of a French manicure, and an inky black shade I had lying around from Halloween.

It was a bit of trial and error, but varying the proportions of the colours gave me a range of shades that ran the gamut from a pale-ish pink through to a Rouge Noir-style maroon.

You need a surprisingly small amount of polish to paint each nail so I used just a drop or two of each colour mixed together, and worked a nail at a time, starting with my little fingers, applying two coats in quick succession so that the colour I’d created didn’t dry up.

Unlike the long-lasting commitment of hair dye, or an investment such as new clothes, this is one trend you can switch up easily, with just a swipe of nail varnish remover.

And it’s the perfect way to give a new lease of life to the polishes lurking in your bathroom cabinet.

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