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What Is an Airbrush Manicure?

By S. Reynolds
Updated May 17, 2024
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Airbrushing is used to create freehand artwork on such things as clothing, walls, and even fingernails. To create an airbrush manicure, a nail tech uses an airbrush machine to produce tiny, artistic designs on fingernails. Commonly called "nail art," airbrushing is an art form that not every manicurist knows how to do, but almost anyone can learn.

Not all licensed nail technicians can do airbrush manicures. Whether or not they can depends on their training and artistic and technical skill levels. Although most airbrush manicures are found in salons, there are special "do it yourself" kits that anyone can buy and use at home. Regular nail polish or water-based paint is the type of medium used with these kits. In addition to the airbrushed portion, nail technicians can add embellishments, such as small crystals, and use nail pens to create works of fingernail art.

Nail art items can be purchased online or in beauty supply stores. These retailers usually carry stickers, stencils, crystals, nail pens, and airbrush manicure kits. One should only use an airbrush kit that is specifically manufactured for nail use, as these kits are smaller and can accommodate a bottle of nail polish.

Once the client chooses the type of nail art she wants, the nail tech will usually put a small stencil over the nail that is to be airbrushed. The tech then loads the airbrush with the chosen nail polish color. Stencils can be bought pre-made, or the technician can make her own with items such as tape or thick paper.

When the stencil is secure, the technician carefully sprays the nail polish over the stencil and onto the nail. Since she can only use one nail polish color at a time, she makes the same design on each nail before switching colors. The manicurist then waits for the polish to dry before applying a nail varnish top coat that protects the airbrush manicure and makes the nail shiny and strong.

An airbrush manicure can work for natural nails or for acrylic or gel nails. Designs can last up to three weeks if the wearer takes care of her nails and applies a layer of clear topcoat every few days. The edges of the nails are usually the first to wear off. Water can cause the nail polish to lift off over time, and scraping the nails against objects can cause damage to the airbrushed design.

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