How to Tie-Dye Your Nails Without a Bowl

Think again before using a messy bowl technique to swirl together tie-dye nail colors.
Think again before using a messy bowl technique to swirl together tie-dye nail colors. (Image: Elizabeth Hachem/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Most nail designs feature one, maybe two, colors. However, there's no rule that says you have to stick to the basics, especially if you're looking to make a memorable first impression. Tie-dye nails incorporate a multitude of colors into a surprising and polished design that's much faster than it might look. Although many nail buffs apply tie-dye with a complex technique that involves a bowl and water, it's much cleaner and quicker to use some household items and your imagination to get tie-dye nails worthy of the 1960s.

Things You'll Need

  • Non-acetone nail polish remover
  • Cotton pads
  • White base-coat polish
  • 6 bright, differently colored nail polishes
  • Toothpicks
  • Clear top-coat polish
  • Cotton swabs

Pour a dime-sized amount of non-acetone nail polish remover onto a cotton pad, and buff away any old nail polish from all of your fingernails. Apply more nail polish remover to the pad as necessary.

Open the bottle of white base-coat nail polish, and make sure the brush is fully loaded. Sweep the color up the center of the nail, moving from the cuticle to the tip. Fill in the color on each side of the center stripe, working from the base of the nail to the tip. Allow your nails to dry for two or three minutes.

Line up the six bottles of differently colored nail polish in the order that you want to wear them. Pink, orange, blue, green, yellow, and purple are all eye-catching tie-dye choices.

Sweep the first color diagonally along the top-left edge of your nail. The stripe should only be about a 1/4-inch thick. Be sure to apply enough polish to be able to swirl it in the next steps.

Apply the second color directly below the first color, going in the same diagonal direction and applying a generous amount of polish.

Keep applying the rest of the colors all the way down to the bottom-right corner of your first nail, working quickly. All of the white base color should be covered. The colors can overlap slightly.

Pick up a toothpick and gently draw a diagonal line through all six of the colors from the top-left corner of the nail down to the bottom-right corner of the nail. Draw about three or four thin, clean lines diagonally across all the colors, working from the top corner of the nail to the bottom. Be careful not to push the toothpick all the way through to the white bottom polish; just press enough to swirl the colors. Allow the nail to dry completely before you begin on the next nail.

Repeat the painting and swirling process, working on one nail at a time. Use a new toothpick for each nail for a clean final product. Allow the final nail to dry completely before applying a top coat to all of the nails.

Dip your nail polish brush into a clear top coat, and sweep the polish from the base of the nail up to the tip. Cover your entire nail, always working from the base to the tip, to seal in the tie-dye manicure. Allow the top coat to dry completely before doing anything abrasive with your hands.

Soak a cotton swab with non-acetone nail polish remover, and use it to gently rub off any polish that may have gotten onto your skin.

Tips & Warnings

  • Practice the painting and swirling effect on a piece of paper before applying polish directly to your nails so that you can get a feel for the process.

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