Press On Nails 101: The Ultimate Guide

What are press-on nails and are they any good?

Let’s find out!

In the ’90s, fake nails had a bad rep.

Sizes were limited, color choices were basic, and you only had to look at them the wrong way and they’d pop right off.

But press-on nails have come a long way since then.


Nowadays, you can get jaw-droppingly creative designs in a wide range of shapes and sizes.

Plus, the glue industry picked up a few tricks to get press-ons to stay on much longer.

Now, let’s nail down exactly what press-on nails are in the 2020s.

What are press-on nails?

Press-on nails are artificial nails that are placed on top of the natural nail.

Glue or adhesive tabs hold the fake nail in place.

Press-ons are usually plastic, but can also be made from acrylics or hard gels.


They come in a wide variety of shapes, lengths, sizes, and finishes.

For example, you can get plain unpolished fake nails to paint yourself or you can get ready-to-wear nail designs dripping in gems.

Types of press-on nails

Let’s take a closer look at the main types of artificial nails you can buy.

There are literally thousands of brands of press-on nails.

To make life easier, I’ve broken fake nails down into 4 broad categories.

They are:

Plain plastic nails

This is often the cheapest and best value option for artificial nails.

A pack of 500 clear plastic nails like these almond-shaped ones should set you back around $10.

They come in a huge variety of shapes and lengths.

I found coffin, stiletto, and tapered square as well as the usual square, round, and oval.

These press-ons are cheap and beautifully shaped, but they don’t come with nail glue and you will need to paint them yourself.

If you already have gel polish or kick-ass nail art skills then this is a great option for you that allows you to flex your creativity.

Drug store nails

I’m calling this second category “drug store nails” because these are the types of press-ons that you are most likely to find in drug stores.

This category includes popular brands that are widely available and that are sold at competitive prices.

Brands like imPRESS, Kiss, Lottie London, la colors, and Dashing Diva fall into this category.

These press-ons are very affordable and come in solid colors as well as a huge range of cute and festive designs.

Luxury nails

This third type of press-on is a little more upmarket.

The quality of the nails may be better, or the designs may be more current, desirable, and/or exclusive.

A lot of these sellers are independent business owners who use Instagram to sell their creatively designed nails.

As you’d expect, they come with a higher price tag. Usually between $15 and $60.

Some example brands include Kuticle, Naileditbychelsea, and nailz_by_dev.

nailz by dev

Handmade or handpainted nail sets

Have you ever wanted to design your own set of nails?

Buying handmade or custom-designed nails is the most expensive option for press-ons.


This type of press-on nail set is usually acrylic, with designs that have plenty of wow factor.

Luxury sets may also be handpainted or fully customized to your liking.

Of course, this is more expensive because of the more elaborate nail art and how exclusive the nail designs are.

Prices start at $60 and the sky is the limit!

Swarovski crystal-covered coffins anyone?

Now that you know the different types of nails that are available, let’s talk about fake nail pros and cons.

What are the pros of press-on nails?


Why would anyone want to try out press on nails?

Here’s a list of the benefits of choosing press-on nails for your next manicure:

  • Saves you time – applying them is much quicker and easier than any other nail enhancement method.
  • Easy to apply – no drying time, no filing, no smudges, no hassle.
  • Cute designs – with no nail art skills needed.
  • They don’t chip – plastic is fantastic!
  • Can (sometimes) be reused – wear your favorite designs 2 or 3 times!
  • Kinder to your nails – no need for vigorous filing that can cause damage.
  • Easy to remove – they come off way easier than gel or acrylics.
  • Cheap – the cheapest nail enhancement option out there.

What is bad about press-on nails?


Press on nails can’t be all rainbows and unicorns, so what’s bad about them?

Here’s a list of the cons:

  • They pop off – at random times, in random places. Never leave the house without nail glue!
  • They’re not sustainable or environmentally friendly – well they are made of plastic.
  • They don’t last as long as acrylics or gel nails – If you can get them to last longer than 2 weeks you’re doing great!

This last point brings me to my next question. How long do they last for?

How long do press-on nails last?

10 days to 2 weeks is the average length of time you can expect to get from your press-on nails.

I can tell you from personal experience that some of your nails, maybe 1, maybe 5, or 6 are going to pop off at some point.

This is just something that you have to accept.

Your fake nails will require regular “maintenance” so keep some nail glue in your bag, car, and or office drawer.

Having said that, with proper nail prep and a good quality set, your press-on nails could last you for up to 3 weeks.

If you’re lucky.

What are press-on nails made of?

Most press-on nails are made from plastic.

But they can also be made from acrylic or hard gels.

Are press-on nails re-useable?

There’s a lot of debate about this.

My opinion? Yes, you can reuse press on nails but only once or twice before they start to look worn.

Of course, you’ll need to be careful with your nails, and be very patient, especially during the removal process, if you want to wear them again.

Make sure that the backs are completely free from old glue residue before you re-use your fake nails.

Do press-on nails ruin your nails?

Not at all.

If you apply and remove your nails properly, you shouldn’t have any problems with damage.

Be sure to use glue that is specifically designed for fake nails.

If you use super glue or any other adhesive that hasn’t been designed for nails, you will tear off the top layers of the nail plate which is very damaging.

If you want to avoid causing damage during the removal process, use hot soapy water instead of acetone.

Acetone is very drying to the natural nails, causing them to become brittle and split.

Try switching to an acetone-free nail polish remover if you have any of these problems.

Are press-on nails bad for your nail bed?

No, press-on nails are not bad for your nail beds.

If you experience any pain or discomfort when you are pressing down on your nails, it is probably a good idea to seek medical advice.

Do press-on nails come off easily?

Yes, press-on nails do come off easily.

This is a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, you will need to keep nail glue handy in case you have a little accident.

But when it comes time to take your fake nails off, you should find that it’s quick and easy.

Are press-on nails safe?

Yes, press-on fake nails are safe to use.

However, the glue that is used to hold them in place can contain chemical nasties that can sometimes cause allergic reactions.

If this is a concern for you, try a non-toxic nail glue like this one.

How to avoid nail fungus with press-on nails

Fungus is another safety concern with this type of nail.

This can happen when you re-use your fake nails, so it’s a good idea to sterilize them before a second application.

You can easily do this by rubbing them with a wipe soaked in rubbing alcohol.

other tips to avoid nail fungus with press-ons are:

  • Use an antifungal spray or powder on your hands before you apply the nails
  • Make sure your nails are completely dry before applying artificial nails
  • Apply glue to your natural nail and the fake nail to ensure there are no air bubbles for bacteria to thrive in

These tips should help you to avoid nail bacteria and fungus when using press-ons.

Do you need a topcoat?


You don’t need to use a topcoat with press-on nails.

However, if you are using nail strips like color street, then adding a topcoat can help your nails to stay on longer.

If your fake nails are plastic, you don’t really need a top coat, but you can always add some if you want to.

Adding a top coat can give a glossy finish and could help your press-ons to last.

Can you shower with press-on nails?

Taking a quick shower in your press-ons is no big deal.

But if you’re washing your hair, you may find these tips useful:

  • keep it brief – short showers equal happy fake nails!
  • Cool it down – hot water and steam can cause your nails to come off.
  • Don’t scrub your scalp with your nails – get a scalp scrubber instead.

Can you do dishes with press-on nails?

No, you absolutely can not do the dishes with your press-on nails.

At least, that’s what I tell my husband!

Truth is, you can, but you might wanna change up your technique.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Don’t dunk your hands in hot water – soak the dishes first then run the tap to rinse them.

Can you wash your hands with press-on nails?

Yes, you can and you should. No one expects you to go 2 weeks without washing your hands!

Can you swim with press-on nails?

Submerging your hands in water for longer than 20 minutes while wearing fake nails is asking for trouble.

Add that to the water pressure from swimming and you have yourself an anti-nail recipe, unfortunately.


What products can you use under fake nails?

You can use a nail primer, dehydrator, and nail glue under fake nails.

Can you put gel polish on press on nails?

Yes, you can put gel polish over the top of press-on nails.

But you don’t need to use a base coat underneath.

Do you need a base coat under press on nails?

No, you don’t need to use a base coat, however, if you want to add a basecoat to protect your natural nail, then you can.

Wiping your nail over with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol is all you need to do before applying the glue.

Can you use nail glue with press on nails?

You should always use glue that is specifically for applying fake nails.

This is because regular glue (especially superglue) is too damaging to the natural nail.

There are lots of different brands of press-on nail glue, so you can pick one that suits you best.

Can you put press on nails over gel polish?

Technically it’s possible, but not without damaging the gel manicure underneath.

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  • Phoebe Meadows

    Phoebe Meadows is a self-proclaimed nail addict, always on the lookout for the latest trends and techniques. When she's not creating stunning nail designs, you can find her researching the latest nail care products or experimenting with new techniques.