The word negative has a bad connotation—unless it’s being used to describe the negative space mani, a super-simple nail design that makes a major statement. Then it means something so, so good. If you’re unfamiliar with the trend, the idea is to create a graphic design, while leaving some areas of your nails unpainted. Think the French manicure, only instead of a sheer pink or white base, there’s nothing but natural nail beyond the painted tip. Or, nails are painted a bold black or white hue and have geometric stripes of bare nail. The minimalist simple nails design looks are unexpected, but also incredibly chic—and best of all, they’re really easy to DIY. No artistic ability required, we promise.
We’ve mostly been seeing the nail trend on fingernails, but experts say negative space toenail designs are an easy way to elevate your pedicure this summer, too. We know what you’re thinking, “Nail art? On my toes?” But hear us out. The simple toe nail designs are far from over the top and look fresh peeking out from a hot pair of sandals. “There’s just not enough room on toes for crazy designs,” says New York- and Miami-based celebrity manicurist Erica Marton. “I love doing simple ones on feet,” she says.
Ready to dip a toe into the trend—literally? We asked Marton to create five, anyone-can-do simple nail designs for your toes, and share her step-by-step instructions—along with everything you need from the perfect polish shades to the right tools. Plus, tricks on getting your nails pedi-ready. The word negative has never seemed so positive.
Instead of wearing a traditional French pedicure with an opaque white tip, swipe black or a cute, neon pink polish across the top, says Marton.
What you’ll need: Scotch tape and a bright pink polish. We like essie Nail Color in Off the Wall.
Step 1: Place the Scotch tape across all your toenails, leaving just the tip of the nail exposed.
Step 2: Once you’re all taped up, paint the tips of your toe nails with the pink polish.
Step 3: Let it dry for five minutes. Then remove the tape.
Step 4: Apply a clear top coat on each nail. (Need one? Try essie Call It Even.) You’re all done—it’s that easy!
Placing a few small polka dots on an otherwise bare nail is crazy simple, yes, but it also looks incredibly cool and playful.
What you’ll need: a clear base coat and a bold, summery color such as lime green. Try L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche Nail Color in New Money. Plus, grab a toothpick or metal-tipped dotting tool.
Step 1: Paint all your toenails with the clear base coat.
Step 2: After your base coat dries, use the toothpick or dotting tool to place three dots going down the center of your big toe nails.
Step 3: Then place one single green dot on each one of your little toes.
Step 4: Let the dots dry for at least five minutes.
Step 5: To finish, swipe each nail with a clear top coat.
You can make an uber-chic negative space mani just by painting two clashing lines on your toes, says Marton.
What you’ll need: a clear base coat, two punchy shades such as essie Nail Color in Éclair My Love, a bold pink, and Fondant of You, an apricot orange. Plus, a striping brush, which is an ultra-fine brush meant for creating lines on nails.
Step 1: Apply the clear base coat on all your nails.
Step 2: Dip the striping brush in one of the bright polish shades. Then paint a line down the center of your nail, from tip to the base. Do this on all your toes.
Step 3: Clean off the brush with nail polish remover. Then dip it in the second polish color. Now draw a diagonal line, slightly off center. Repeat on your other toes.
Step 4: After the lines fully dry, layer on a clear top coat.
Adding a geometric strip of bare nail in the center of a cool pastel blue shade is a fresh way to break up a basic summer pedi.
What you’ll need: Scotch tape and a baby blue shade such as essie Nail Color Blue-la-la.
Step 1: Take Scotch tape and cut it half lengthwise. Then apply the tape to the big toe nail, placing it horizontally, directly in the middle of nail. Tip: Let the ends of the tape overlap onto your skin, so you can easily peel it away.
Step 2: Paint your nails with the light blue shade.
Step 3: Let it dry at least five minutes. Then pull of the tape.
Step 4: Finish with a clear top coat.
Don’t have the skill level (or the steady hand) to master intricate designs on your toes? No worries. If you can draw the letter “X,” you can re-create this simple look.
What You’ll Need: a clear base coat, a grassy green shade such as the metallic Lancôme Vernis in Love in L’echappee Belle, and a hot, tropical pink. Try L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche Nail Color in Pink Me Up! Plus, a striping brush.
Step 1: Paint all your toes with the clear base coat.
Step 2: Once that dries, dip the striping brush in the green shade and paint a big “X” on all your toes.
Step 3: Clean the brush with nail polish remover. Then dip the brush into the pink polish shade and swipe it along the outside of the green X—almost as if you’re outlining it.
Step 4: Top all nails with a clear top coat.
Baring part of your natural nails only looks good if your toes are in tip-top condition. Stained, unshapely, or dried out nails won’t look so hot. Here, how to get them primed for your negative space pedi.
1. Eliminate Stains
If your toenails are always covered with nail polish, there’s a good chance they have a yellow tinge to them. That’s because nail color, especially darker shades, can stain natural nails. To get them clear again, soak toenails in lemon juice, which lightens and brightens, thanks to its acidic nature. Or, you can coat them with a paste of baking soda and peroxide. Let the solution sit for a few minutes before rinsing clean. To prevent discoloration in the future, never skip the base coat.
2. Set Your Shape
Use toenail trimmers to clip your nails straight across. Don’t cut them too short, or you can risk an ingrown nail. Ouch! At the proper length, the tip of your nail should reach the top of your toe with just a thin line of white showing. Then smooth any rough or sharp edges with an emery board. File nails in one direction.
3. Remove Rough Spots
Rub a pumice stone, a foot file, or a grainy foot scrub over calluses and dry areas to get your feet soft and smooth. We like The Body Shop Spoon Foot File. When finished, rinse feet clean with warm water.
4. Soften Dry, Rough Cuticles
Resist the temptation to snip away the cuticle layer surrounding your toe nails. It’s your best source of protection against fungal infections. Instead, soften and smooth the skin with a hydrating oil. We love essie Apricot Cuticle Oil. If cuticles are sitting on the nail bed, gently push them back with a wash cloth.
5. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Massage your feet with a thick cream. The skin on your feet is thicker (and usually drier) than skin on the rest of your body, so look for a formula that contains a rich moisturizer such as shea butter. Try The Body Shop Shea Body Butter.
6. Swipe Nails With Nail Polish Remover
Don’t skip this step. Any oils from your moisturizer or cuticle softener left behind on your nail plate can prevent your polish from sticking properly. Now you’re ready for your base coat.
Which toe nail design will you rock? Tell us in the comments below!
About the Author:The daughter of a hairdresser, Krista Bennett DeMaio likes to say she has beauty in her blood. She has well over a decade of beauty editorial experience. The former magazine-editor-turned-freelance writer has covered all things beauty from anti-aging skincare to NYFW runway trends. Her work has appeared in national publications and websites including Women’s Health, Redbook, Shape, Dr. Oz The Good Life, bhg.com, and prevention.com. She lives in Greenlawn, New York with her husband and two interns, er, daughters.
Get our top stories straight to your inbox!
This email is already signed up!
Look out for our latest stories in your inbox.
Something went wrong. We're so sorry!