Indulge in ‘90s Nostalgia With the Jelly Nails Trend

July 01, 2024
Gillian Fuller
By: Gillian Fuller | by L'Oréal
12 Jelly Nail Ideas To Save for Your Next Mani

Where ‘90s beauty trends are concerned, there may be none as wistfully nostalgic as jelly nails. Though the trend first emerged in the ‘90s (likely inspired by another one of the decade’s favorites, the jelly sandal), the throwback look continues to remain a favorite among nail art enthusiasts seeking a playful twist on the classic mani. But what we love most is how easy it is to DIY jelly nails at home—all you really need to nail the look is a jelly nail polish and a little inspiration.

Naturally, we’re here to help on both fronts. Ahead, we’ll explain what a jelly manicure is and share a step-by-step guide teaching you how to do jelly nails like a pro. Plus, we’ll share a few of our favorite jelly nail ideas, from simple yet chic red jelly nails to ombré nails and more. Find it all, below.

What Are Jelly Nails?

In contrast to classic nail polish, which is opaque, jelly nails are translucent, though the level of sheerness can vary depending on the nail polish used and how many layers you apply (more on that in a bit). They typically boast a high-shine finish, which helps emphasize the see-through quality of the polish. Jelly nails can be worn in any color, but pastels are especially popular for this type of manicure. Soft hues like baby pink, sky blue, and lavender lend themselves especially well to the jelly nail trend.

Jelly Nails Are Back: Here Are 12 Ways To Embrace The Playful Look

How To Do Jelly Nails At Home

Getting the perfect jelly nail manicure is easier than you might think. All you need is a jelly nail polish, like the Essie Nail Art Studio Jelly Gloss Nail Polish, plus the base and top coat of your choosing. Read on to learn how to do jelly nails in four easy steps.

Step 1: Prep your nails

To prep your nails for your at-home manicure, start by removing any nail polish you already have on. Then, soak your hands in warm water for a minute or two and use a cuticle stick to gently (gently!) push back your cuticles. If your nails are uneven or you want to shape them, now’s the time to do that, as well—we recommend using a medium or high-grit file, which tend to be gentler than coarser low-grit options.

Once you’re satisfied with the length and shape of your nails, apply a base coat, such as the Essie Here to Stay Base Coat. The clear nail polish dries in under a minute and helps prolong the wear of your manicure—jelly or otherwise.

Step 2: Apply a thin coat of jelly nail polish

Next, apply a thin, even layer of your Essie jelly nail polish in whichever shade you prefer. Blue jelly nails, pink jelly nails, and purple jelly nails are all classic takes on the trend, but if you want a more vivid look, try a bright orange hue. We’re fans of Essie Nail Art Studio Jelly Gloss Nail Polish in Apricot Jelly—the warm, vibrant color pairs perfectly with the juicy-looking finish of a jelly manicure. Keep in mind that this first coat will be pretty sheer—that’s to be expected.

Step 3: Add a second coat of polish

Once your first coat of jelly nail polish dries, you can go ahead and apply another thin layer. This will help add more pigment to your jelly manicure and give it a semi-translucent finish. The more layers you add, the more opaque your mani will be, but we’d advise not doing more than three coats—you don’t want your nail polish to be too thick.

Step 4: Finish with a clear top coat

Once your jelly nail polish is completely dry, seal your mani with a high-shine top coat. We love the Essie Gel Setter Top Coat, which leaves the nails with a plump, glossy, gel-like finish.

Jelly Nails Are Back: Here Are 12 Ways To Embrace The Playful Look

12 Jelly Nail Designs To Inspire Your Next Manicure

If you’re ready to swap out your traditional mani for a semi-sheer jelly manicure, keep scrolling—below, we’re sharing 12 of our favorite ways to rock the jelly nail trend.

Classic jelly nails

A classic jelly manicure is both playful and understated, making this look a great pick for those who don’t want to spend too much time on their at-home manicure. You can use any jelly nail polish you want to achieve this understated look, but we love the peachy-orange hue used here—it’s not quite nude, but not neon, either.

Jelly Nails Are Back: Here Are 12 Ways To Embrace The Playful Look

Jelly French nails

For an unexpected twist on the traditional French manicure, paint your nails with a semi-sheer pink jelly nail polish, then use an opaque polish to create French tips. You can do your tips with white nail polish for a classic look or try a vivid hue—such as neon pink or electric green—for a brighter, more playful vibe.

Rainbow pastel jelly nails

This colorful look takes inspiration from one of the best jelly snacks around: jellybeans. And, it’s super simple to achieve: Rather than painting each nail the same color, you’ll paint each a different hue. We recommend using at least three different jelly nail polishes for this candy-colored look, though you can certainly add more if desired.

Jelly Nails Are Back: Here Are 12 Ways To Embrace The Playful Look

Striped jelly nails

Striped nail polish looks tedious, but it’s actually fairly simple to achieve with the right technique. Start by coating your nails with one to two coats of your favorite jelly nail polish. Once your nails are completely (and we mean completely) dry, use tweezers to overlay each nail with a few evenly spaced pieces of nail tape—the thinner, the better. Be sure to leave some overhang on each side of the nail so you can remove the tape when you’re finished. Then, use an opaque polish to paint over the tape to create your stripes. Carefully remove the tape and wait for your nails to dry before adding a clear top coat to seal in your striped look.

Ombré jelly nails

Jelly nail polish lends itself especially well to the ombré nail trend, as the semi-sheer polish can be more sheer or opaque depending on how many coats you apply. To achieve this tonal purple jelly nail look, apply one coat of lavender jelly nail polish to your pointer finger, two to your middle finger, three to your ring finger, and four to your pinky nail (leave your thumbnail bare save for a layer or two of clear polish). The gradient effect is subtle yet eye-catching—and looks like a lot more work to achieve than it actually is.

Jelly Nails Are Back: Here Are 12 Ways To Embrace The Playful Look

Half-moon jelly manicure

A half-moon manicure is similar in some ways to a French tip, only instead of the accent being at the top of the nails, it’s along the bottom. Start by painting your nails with the jelly polish of your choice—two coats should be good. Once dry, use an opaque nail polish to draw small semi-circles (or half-moon shapes) at the base of each nail for a pop of color.

Spotted jelly nails

We love polka dots—the retro pattern is truly timeless. To get a polka dot jelly nail look, start by coating your nails with two coats of jelly nail polish (any color—or colors—you want works). Once those first two coats dry, use a dotting tool and an opaque nail polish to add small polka dots to each nail. The combination of semi-sheer and opaque makes this jelly nail design look almost three-dimensional.

Jelly Nails Are Back: Here Are 12 Ways To Embrace The Playful Look

Tortoiseshell jelly nails

Jelly nails don’t have to be candy-colored to make a statement—in fact, the semi-sheer polish lends itself exceptionally well to a classic tortoiseshell look. Just dot light brown and black jelly nail polish onto each nail, lightly swirl the dots together with a nail tool or toothpick, and let dry. You should be left with a tortoiseshell-like design with very little effort required.

Oceanic jelly nails

If you’re willing to invest a bit more time into your at-home manicure, try this cool, beachy nail design. To create the underwater effect, you’ll need three polishes: a green jelly nail polish, a blue jelly nail polish, and an opaque white or silver nail polish. Start by brushing the green polish onto the bottom half of your nail, then swipe the blue polish onto the top half (before the green has a chance to dry). Use your nail polish brush to lightly blend the boundary between the two colors together for a subtle gradient effect. Once dry, add another coat, following the same process, then draw ultra-thin lines along the length of each nail with your white or silver polish. Top it all off with a high-shine clear top coat for an under-the-sea vibe perfect for days spent beachside (or poolside).

Jelly Nails Are Back: Here Are 12 Ways To Embrace The Playful Look

Black jelly nails

Combine two ‘90s trends into one with semi-sheer, ultra-glossy black jelly nails. The translucency of jelly nail polish makes for an unexpected (and surprisingly grungy) take on the black nails trend—we suggest applying two to three coats for a pigmented yet still distinctly see-through finish.

Sparkly jelly nails

As far as we’re concerned, there’s nothing that can’t be made cooler with the addition of a little (or a lot of) glitter. Paint your nails with any jelly nail polish of your choosing, then swipe on a translucent glitter polish to add sparkle and dimension. Once you’re sufficiently glittery, let everything dry, then add a high-shine top coat to ensure your glittery jelly manicure goes the distance.

Jelly Nails Are Back: Here Are 12 Ways To Embrace The Playful Look

Floral jelly nails

Flower nail art designs look like a lot of work, but creating a simple flower—like a daisy—is deceptively simple. Start by applying one coat of green jelly nail polish, then let your nails dry fully. Next, use a dotting tool to place one opaque yellow dot in the center of each nail. Clean off the tool, then surround the yellow dot with equally spaced white dots to create a simple flower design. Feel free to use any colors that speak to you—at the end of the day, half of the fun of nail art is letting your creativity shine.

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