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 Press-Ons: An Affordable Alternative to Salon Nails

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Riverside chapter.

This past November was my 22nd birthday, so I went to get my nails done at a local salon. I wanted gel extensions on my fingernails and regular gel polish on my feet. I asked for a couple other small services as well (some that seemed basically included), and was ready to spend a bit more money, since this was a treat for myself. However, when I walked up to the front, and the worker told me my total, my jaw dropped. Including decent tips, I was paying more than $350 for two nice sets of nails that would last a couple weeks at most.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love a salon day, and I think it’s especially important to support smaller nail techs. On the other hand, as a university undergraduate without a real job, paying anywhere from $50-150 for extensions or fills every few weeks isn’t possible. Even if I had enough money to set aside for an expensive self-care activity, the nails would have to be fixed or come off eventually, and I still wouldn’t be able to keep up with the cost. However, I didn’t want to ditch fun nails all together. Nail art allows for self-expression. Nicely done nails make me feel put together, like my outfits are complete and I’m ready for a productive day. Additionally, as someone who anxiously rips and pulls at my nails and the skin around them, having a strong “armor” to cover my natural nails protects them from my destructive habits.

This is when I discovered handmade false nails. I’ve always been a lover of press-ons; I’ve long been snatching kits of Kiss from the shelf at CVS or Olive and June at Target. And these are brands I would still recommend, especially for a newbie to press-ons. However, it was only upon my trip to Japan, where “deco nails” are more popular, that I understood just how cool press-ons can be — and just how affordable. The nails I picked up had tons of decorations and unique styles, all for around $15, and they lasted almost as long as nails I got at the salon.

Currently, my favorite place to get false nails is Etsy. I’ve purchased nearly ten total sets from my favorite shops, LeStarCo and SaltSodaStudio. Both of these stores have a wide variety of options for press-on nails, and they include application kits with their orders. I love these stores particularly because I can tell they’re made by hand — the nails are beautiful, but also imperfect; knowing I’m supporting real small businesses is important to me when shopping. 

If you’re adventurous, you can find many press-on stores on Instagram — cute false nails are especially big in Japan and Korea. Most of these stores also do custom nail sizing — you can choose from a few different sized sets, or you can include your nail measurements in the order. This means no more fighting to find the right size in a bucket of 24+ press-ons, and no extra waste from nails that will never fit. On top of fantastic designs, unique sizing for clients, and even reusability, these stores are almost constantly running sales that put each set at $10-15.

One common worry with press-ons is that they’ll fall off too quickly. That’s definitely a possibility! However, there are several ways to prolong the use of press-ons to two or three weeks — as long as salon nails go without needing a fill. Cleaning up the cuticle and skin around the nail, using ridge filler if you’ve got uneven nail texture (like me), buffing the natural nail for better adhesion to the press-on, and cleaning with isopropyl alcohol will help you keep your false nails secure for longer. I definitely recommend using a solid amount of nail glue on both your natural nail and the false nail. Those sticky tabs included in most kits aren’t holding anything on for more than a couple days — but if you need a quick set that can pop right off, use those instead of glue.

If you’re a fan of nails with decoration and/or creative designs, definitely check out press-ons, and especially those from etsy or other personal nail-design websites. Getting a set of nails that fits like it’s been tailored to your fingers (and it has!) is one of the best feelings for those of us who use nails as a means of expression. I’ll always feel ready for the day if I wake up with a nice set of personalized nails — especially if they didn’t cost me a fortune.

Caroline Lesser

UC Riverside '24

Hiya! I'm Cal, and I'm a fourth year Creative Writing major at the University of California Riverside. In addition to writing and editing for UCR's chapter of HerCampus, I'm focusing on my honors capstone project. I love cozy video games, tea lattes, crochet, and language learning. Aside from articles, I write horror and fantasy.