Yewande Moore used to get an acrylic overlay with a gel-polish manicure every couple of weeks before coronavirus hit. But when Ohio, where she lives in the town of Athens, shut down salons, she went to Walmart to get tools to take her nails off, not knowing when she could get them done again.
There, taking a look at the press-on nails in the beauty aisle, Ms. Moore, 32, who works with student leaders at a nearby university, had an idea.
“I love doing my nails so much,” she said. “I’m going to offer it to other people.”
Ms. Moore took her stimulus check and invested in supplies to start a press-on nail business. After painting some sets and building a website, she introduced Nail Candy to the world on June 2 and said she has sold about 125 nail sets. While some customers seem to be pros at putting on press-ons, she gets plenty of questions about how to put them on correctly.
“There are a lot of people trying it for the first time who probably never would have tried it before,” she said.
Along with other nonessential businesses, nail salons closed across the country when the first stay-at-home orders came down in March. It left nail salon workers out of work and people that are used to having their nails done without access to a cherished grooming ritual.
Press-on nails last had a big moment in the clickety-clack-typewriter 1980s, with ads from a brand called Lee (“easy on, easy off”).
Now, more salons, independent creators and customers are selling press-on nails as a way to still have nice-looking manicures in the era of social distancing. The nails can cost as little as $8 from a retailer to at least $160 for a customized set with Frida Kahlo-inspired art.
It’s usually cheaper than a salon, where a set of acrylics, as they’re known there, can cost from $60 to more than $200 for custom art, and that doesn’t include a tip. Press-ons may fall off more than acrylics put on in a salon, but kits usually send enough glue to reattach any errant nail.
Even as states open back up, safety is still a concern for some costumers. Charlotte Brubeck, a laid-off restaurant worker in Boynton Beach, Fla., was getting her nails done regularly in a salon, with press-ons something she’d do for specific outfits on occasions like Halloween.
Ms. Brubeck, 26, turned to press-ons while the salons were closed but doesn’t plan to go back, even though her local spot has been open for a few weeks. Despite the fact that press-ons aren’t as durable as her normal style, she said it’s worth it.
“I spend about $7 to $8 on a box of press-ons versus $35-plus on a fresh manicure, and I don’t have to leave my house,” Ms. Brubeck said. “During a health pandemic when most people are out of work and need to stay home, that to me is all the info you need to see how much better press-ons are than a salon manicure.”
Vanity Projects, which has salons in New York and Miami, hadn’t sold press-ons before the pandemic until its owner Rita Pinto started paying her workers to paint sets in May. The salons advertised them on Instagram and has sold 200 sets, also called tips, which Ms. Pinto, 45, said has helped keep the company in business.
“The tips have been a saving grace,” she said.
During previous periods of economic uncertainty, the beauty sector has historically seen an increase in sales of small luxury purchases in what was named by Leonard Lauder the “lipstick effect.” These little indulgences can make people feel better without blowing a budget.
This crisis is different than past recessions, however, with people quarantining and with fewer occasions to dress up. It has left salons scrambling for ideas.
“We aren’t pandemic-proof, but we are recession-proof,” Ms. Pinto said.
Fortunately, press-on nails have gotten nicer in the last decade, with most sets lasting two to three weeks and coming in different shapes and lengths. Before the pandemic, Jennifer Lopez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had worn press-ons, with Ariana Grande and Chrissy Teigen joining them over the last few months. Influencers are also getting attached, with Whitney Simmons, a YouTube fitness influencer, singing press-ons’ praises.
“I am a full-blown convert to press-on nails, I never saw this day coming,” Ms. Simmons says in a YouTube video posted in June. “My nail salon opened back up on May 1, and I have not gone back.”
But customers new to doing their nails need to be wary and listen to what professionals say when it comes to putting fake nails on and taking them off, according to Morgan Dixon, who owns the M.A.D. nail salon in New Orleans. Ms. Dixon is also the lead manicurist for the television show “Claws,” a TNT comedy-drama series set in a nail salon.
A natural nail can be damaged if a press-on is put on top of a gel manicure, or if ripped off without the right process.
“Just like any other beauty product,” Ms. Dixon, 29, said. “You want to make sure you aren’t doing anything harmful to yourself.”
She predicted that the at-home press-on passion will likely continue after the pandemic now that people have seen the possibilities and lower prices. Still, she doesn’t see the in-person experience going away forever.
“I honestly love that I can sit down with someone where you can feel like you’re getting a therapy session too,” Ms. Dixon said. “You’re paying for more than just throwing nails on.”