What is the red nail theory on TikTok? An investigation into this manicure-related conspiracy

It seems there's more to red nail polish than just a bold manicure...

woman with red nails sitting a car typing on her phone
(Image credit: Getty)

The red nail theory is TikTok's latest beauty-related conspiracy but what is it exactly and does it really have any impact on our dating lives?

While 'glazed donut' nails and the lip gloss manicure continue to dominate our For You Pages, there's another bold, primary shade having a bit of a renaissance on the app—and it's not just because it's a chic spring nail trend.

Red nails have had a major surge in popularity, with luxury retailer, Fenwick reporting searches have spiked in 2023 by 800%—especially after Ms. Hailey Bieber ditched her OG pearly nails for a chrome red manicure. But like we said, it's not just because this shade of polish looks great. In fact, it's all a bit more complex and psychological than that, as beauty lovers are convinced there's a link between attraction and red nail polish...

What is the red nail theory on TikTok?

So, do red nails really have anything to do with relationships and attraction?  Well, TikTok seems to think so...

The hashtag 'rednailtheory' itself, has over 187 million views to its name, with user  @GirlBossTown seemingly coining the term. In her video (which alone, has over a million likes) she says: "I know guys are attracted to red nails and I'll tell you why—it's called the 'red nail theory.'"


♬ original sound - GirlBossTown

GirlBossTown continues: "Every time I have red nails, every single f****** time, a guy comments on it. It'll be like in the side of a Facetime like this and it'll be like 'Oh, I like your nail color.' And I always thought that red nails were like a grandma's nail color."

"And then it hit me! In the '90s—when we were growing up—women had red nails a lot, especially like our moms. And I weirdly think that guys are attracted to red nails because it reminds them of their moms when they were growing up, taking care of them. Or like some kind of mommy issue with it, I swear to god."

So, essentially it's thought that men—especially—are drawn to red nails because it either reminds them of their moms (ick) or because they've grown up seeing red nails, on their childhood celeb crushes for instance, and now the shade is intrinsically linked with that attraction.


♬ weak speed - a

♬ sonido original - yo

Juli Russell, DIY nail expert at Sally Russell outlines the theory further, adding: "The Red Nail Theory emerged earlier this year from TikTok and has generated increased popularity for red nail polish like never before.

"The concept is straightforward: wearing red nail polish may increase the likelihood of garnering attention from potential romantic interests. TikTok users put this claim to the test by rocking a red mani on dates and many of them reported the theory to be true! There's no denying different hues can evoke distinct emotions and influence your mood!"

So, is the red nail theory actually a thing?

Well, this is up for debate—perusing the comment section does suggest that it's a pretty shared experience, as one user commented: "1000% accuracy."

While another wrote: "Every time I have red nails even if it's not well painted I get a ton of comments. But with other and prettier nails no one even notices them."

A third also added: "No literally today my bf asked me to paint my nails red."

Others were quick to point out that red is a color already synonymous with attraction, so the hue gnarring attention isn't exclusive to nails—as one TikToker noted: "It proves that the color red sparked 'desire' like it's literally a sexual color. It has nothing to do with your nails, it's literally just red." This makes sense, but we'd rather believe in the magical sexy powers of our manicure...

Russell also expanded on the emotions evoked by red: "The color red is often associated with energy, passion, and excitement—so it's the perfect polish pairing for not only a first date but a job interview as well! 

"Red is also one of the few shades that is simultaneously bold AND classic. It has a timeless quality that transcends trends and is an elegant option for nails but is also a bright and bold color that can catch the eye and make a statement. It's a one-color-fits-all shade, what's not to love?!"

Mylee's Senior Brand Ambassador, Tinu Bello also shared her thoughts on the viral trend: "The theory doesn't take into account all the variables of attraction so I think it is a leap to say red nails are the sole reason to attract someone, however, a red manicure is eye-catching and classic in the same way that red lipstick is. Anecdotally many clients love a red manicure because it evokes feelings of confidence and joy for them."

While we love new nail trends like blush nails and lip oil nails, the old classics are still proving to be timeless favorite. So, regardless of whether you're trying to reel in a potential partner, here's the 411 on rocking a Hollywood-esque all-red mani...

Why is red nail polish so popular?

Having an all-red manicure oozes sophistication and is truly a timeless staple look that will never really go out of style.

As Bello explains: "Red nails are iconic and have become synonymous with power and passion. The interest in red nails is historical with Cleopatra and Nefertiti's red manicure—over time this has permeated into culture through Hollywood starlets wearing red-carpet matching manicures. 

"The reason the color is still so popular is that red continues to carry a lot of symbolism with it being the color of danger, sensuality and in turn confidence. Further red is a classic that transcends seasonality, day or night and there is also a shade of red that suits any tone."

How to rock a red nail look

If you're considering sporting an all-red, classic red manicure (regardless of whether you want to test this theory), Russell says: "It's important to pick a shade that best compliments your skin tone. Cool-toned complexions work best with "bluer" shades of red, like this Expressionist Red Nail Color by FingerPaints, while warm complexions can dip into the orange-fiery red shades, like the Hot Mess Long Wear Polish by ASP. If you're unsure, opt for a True Neutral Red, 'Reveal Everything Red’ by ASP is a great option because it doesn't lean too cool or warm."

Bello also recommends Mylee French Can Can Gel Polish as it's, "a classic vibrant red that works for all. It is a rich and lively shade that is the classic pillar-box red that has been a favorite through the years."

As for whether the shade has an impact on our emotions or how others perceive us, Russell reminds us that our nails can be an important self-care step: "Taking care of your nails weekly can be a mindful practice that promotes self-care and self-love, helping you prioritize your physical and mental health. 

"Nail care can also be a creative outlet for self-expression, allowing you to experiment with various nail colors, nail art, and designs as a fun and enjoyable way to showcase your unique personal style and creativity. The beauty of DIYing your own manicure is that you have the freedom to design your own manicure based on your mood, and you can always remove it and create a new one whenever you like. You just need the right tools, products, and a little bit of patience."

Naomi Jamieson
Lifestyle News Writer

Naomi is a Lifestyle News Writer with the Women's Lifestyle team, where she covers everything from entertainment to fashion and beauty, as well as TikTok trends for Woman&Home, after previously writing for My Imperfect Life and GoodTo. Interestingly though, Naomi actually has a background in design, having studied illustration at Plymouth University but lept into the media world in 2020, after always having a passion for writing and earned her Gold Standard diploma in Journalism with the NCTJ.

Before working for Future Publishing’s Lifestyle News team, she worked in the Ad production team. Here she wrote and designed adverts on all sorts of things, which then went into print magazines across all genres. Now, when she isn’t writing articles on celebs, fashion trends, or the newest shows on Netflix, you can find her drinking copious cups of coffee, drawing and probably online shopping.