How to Do Swirl Nail Designs at Home

February 15, 2023
Caitlyn Martyn
By: Caitlyn Martyn | by L'Oréal
A close-up of a hand with nails painted in swirls of blue, purple, pink and yellow polish, accented with nail gems.
There’s no shortage of trending nail art ideas to inspire us, from the soft and subtle (think Korean blush nails and minimalist flower designs) to the bold and daring (like eye-catching chrome and these fiery red nail designs.) Swirl nails rank as one of our current favorites because they’re versatile and easy enough to recreate without a trip to the nail salon. Whether you opt for vivid, ’70s-inspired swirls, a blend of soft pastel hues or another color combination of your choosing, there’s so much room to play when it comes to swirl nail designs. To help you get the groovy look at home, we tapped Gia Pham, a New Jersey-based nail artist. Ahead, find her tips and tricks, plus some of our favorite takes on the colorful trend.

How to Do Swirl Nail Designs

Step 1: Prep Your Nails 

Be sure to clean your hands of any dirt, dust or residue so that you’re starting off with a clean canvas. Have your inspo photo ready to reference while you’re working.  

Start off strong by prepping your nails with a cuticle oil. We love the easy-to-use rollerball format of the Essie On a Roll Apricot Cuticle Oil — the tube looks like a lip gloss, but the formula inside nourishes and hydrates your cuticles. Make sure to let the oil fully absorb before applying your base coat and nail polish — otherwise it could weaken the adhesion of the polish.


Essie On a Roll Apricot Cuticle Oil

Once the oil has settled in, it’s time to apply a base coat to your nails. One of our favorite base coat formulas is the Essie Here to Stay Base Coat, which helps prevent polish from staining your nails and extends the wear of your manicure.  

Step 2: Choose Your Shades

When choosing nail polish colors, Pham recommends choosing three or more shades, including complementary or monochromatic shades and a neutral. “It’s best that your base color is a neutral one,” says Pham. “The swirls will pop more.” The neutral nail polish shade you choose will vary based on your personal preferences and your skin tone, but if you’re looking for a good standby, try Essie Hi Maintenance, a translucent baby pink shade that will give your nails a subtle rosy shine. 

Feeling glam? Feel free to add a glitter polish to the mix, like Essie A Cut Above, for extra bling. 


Essie Hi Maintenance

Step 3: Apply Your Polish

Start by applying your neutrals shade to your entire nail (or whichever shade you choose as the base of your designs). You can apply one or two coats of your starter shade, depending on how opaque you want it to be. 

Once your base shade is fully dry and not tacky, it is finally time to get started on the swirl nail art. You’ll want to use a thin striping brush to paint on the swirls in long, curved strokes. This pack from Amazon costs only $5 and contains three brushes in varying sizes so you can vary the widths of your swirls. 


Tbestmax Professional Fine Nail Art Liner Brush UV Gel Painting Acrylic Nail Brushes

Pham says to use your lightest color first. “I use this trick daily for nail art,” she says. “If you make a mistake using your light shade, you can go over it and cover it up with a darker color.”

Step 4: Add a Top Coat

Once you finish your swirl nail art, wait at least 30 minutes to make sure they are completely dry — you don’t want to smudge all of your hard work. 

Lock in your swirls by applying two layers of a top coat, like Essie Good to Go! Fastest Drying Top Coat, for a shiny, gel-like finish. Pham says that she keeps a tiny bristle brush on hand to dip into acetone to clean up any mess-ups around the cuticle area. You can clean off one of the striping brushes you used for the designs and dip it in acetone for a quick and easy clean-up. 


Essie Good to Go! Fastest Drying Top Coat

Our Favorite Swirl Nail Designs

Need some inspo for your swirl nails? Check out 25 of our favorite swirly manicures from Instagram, below. 

Turquoise Swirl Nails

Turquoise, mint green and white swirl nails look spring-ready against a neutral pink polish.

Glitter Swirl Nails

These multicolored glitter swirl nails remind us of kinetic sand. Emulate the look at home with a variety of glitter polishes, like Essie Congrats!, JINsoon Bijou and JINsoon Fab.

White Swirl Nails

Anyone can get in on the swirl nails trend, even those who love a minimalist manicure. Try simple white swirls (Essie Blanc is our go-to white polish) on top of a baby pink base for a soft and subtle spin on the trend.

Multicolored Swirl Nails

These multicolored and glittery swirls are like a party on your nails. They’re a great pick if you’re looking for your next birthday manicure.

Neon Swirl Nails

Combine eye-catching neon hues, a masterful blended ombre and funky swirls into one colorful manicure.

Pink Swirl Nails

Get into the Valentine’s Day spirit with this sweet pink-and-white set. The swirls, heart design and French tip make this a nail design we adore.

Short Swirl Nails

You don’t need extra-long nails to pull off this nail art trend. These baby blue swirls with a midnight blue glitter accent look right at home on short nails.

Jade Green Swirl Nails

Go soft and neutral with these jade green and white swirl nails. This viral TikTok nail art hack can help you recreate a French manicure at home too.

Gold Swirl Nails

For nails that look expensive (even if you painted them yourself at home), try painting your swirls in a bright, metallic gold. We love Essie Good as Gold.

Pink and Coral Swirl Nails

Your nails will look vacation-ready with this vivid color combo. For a similar look, try combining a fluorescent pink shade, like Lights Lacquer in Donna, with a soft, peachy coral, like Essie Peach Side Babe.

Accent Swirl Nails

Add some flair to regular manicure by painting a few accent nails with a swirl design. Here, the nail artist gave her client a BIAB manicure, which is a great way to grow out and strengthen your natural nails. 

Pink and Red Swirl Nails

These pink and red swirl nails have our heart all year round. We love the updated take they give on the French tip.

Neutral Swirl Nails

These nails epitomize quiet luxury. The neutral colors and subtle stripe of glitter enhance the soft glam vibes.

Complementary Swirl Nails

Blue and orange are complementary colors, which makes them a great pairing for the swirl nail art trend. Paint them on a sheer nude base to let the hues stand out. For more complementary color pairings, just take a look at a color wheel — the colors across from each other are complementary.

Chocolate Brown Swirl Nails

Rich brown and tan hues collide to create a neutral manicure that’s anything but basic. We’re bookmarking this swirly set as our fall nail inspo.

Blue and Purple Swirl Nails

Combine two trends in one, swirl nails and aura nail art, with this super cool set. Flashes of metallic polish accent jewel tones like deep purple and blue.

Matte Swirl Nails

Play with texture with these matte swirl nails. DIY a matte effect at home by topping your design with a coat of the Essie Gel Couture Matte Top Coat.

Berry Swirl Nails

If dark nail polish is your go-to, you’ll love this sultry berry set. Try painting your swirls in Essie Berry Naughty.

Purple Swirl Nails

Contrasting shades of purple make for a sweet and dreamy swirl manicure. We love the way design meets in a heart on the ring and middle fingers.

Sky Blue Swirl Nails

A pale blue nail polish shade, like Essie Bikini So Teeny, gives your nails a calming vibe alongside baby pink and white polish.

Holographic Swirl Nails

We can’t take our eyes off this holographic chrome set. For a similar look, try painting your nails with two coats of ILNP Mega (X), then painting your swirls with a black nail polish, like Essie Licorice.

Peachy Swirl Nails

This mix-and-match peachy swirl set is a ’70s daydream-come-true. We’re obsessed with the mix of soft neutrals and warm tones.

Red Swirl Nails

Go bold with these fiery almond nails. The bright red color pops against the glittery accents. One of our new favorite red shades is Essie Send a Message from the Word on the Street collection.

Pastel Swirl Nails

A mix of pale pastel hues and gold glitter is an adorable play on swirl nails.

Teal Swirl Nails

For a similarly deep teal polish shade, choose Essie Gel Couture in Jewels and Jacquard Only.
Photo Credit: Melissa San Vicente-Landestoy, Nail Art: Gia Pham

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