#RedNailTheory has been making its rounds on TikTok with users claiming that wearing red nail polish can help attract men. Although the idea sounds like advice out of a 1950's magazine, psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of Date Smart says there is some truth behind it.
"In certain cultures, such as the ancient Greeks and Hebrews, red was considered a color of love and passion. To this day, we continue to associate red—especially vibrant crimson tones—with sexuality, passion, and romance," says Dr. Manly. "Many men find red nail polish enticing due to its long-time connection with sexuality and eroticism. In fact, research shows that men unconsciously find women more attractive when they wear red. Just as men are drawn to the beauty of a shiny red sports car, they seem to have an affinity for women who wear shades of red nail polish."
Believe it or not, there's actual science to back this up. According to research, the color red enhances males' attraction to females in non-human primates (so, monkeys and apes), and a 2008 study demonstrated "a parallel effect in humans." The report reads, "Red, relative to other achromatic and chromatic colors, leads men to view women as more attractive and more sexually desirable." Go figure.
As the red nail theory has made its rounds on social media, many have attributed the power of red to some... Freudian roots. "Some men may certainly unconsciously find red nail polish attractive if their mothers or other key female figures tended to wear red-toned nail polishes," says Dr. Manly, but she thinks the attraction is tied more to the power of the color red. Julie Kandalec, a celebrity nail artist and educator in New York City, agrees. "With regards to the red nails theory about men liking red because it reminds them of their moms, I don't think it's the case at all because for the most part the women I grew up with in the '90s weren't really wearing a lot of red—mauve was the color."
That weird tidbit aside, know if you want to give #RedNailTheory a try, Dr. Manly says it's pretty harmless as long as it makes you feel good.
"If someone dislikes red nail polish and wears it solely to attract men, it might be time to take a step back to focus on self-love," she says. "While it’s often important to look your best when dating, it’s always wise to act in ways that feel good to you. If you find yourself creating a look that makes you feel inauthentic or uncomfortable, you may be in danger of shapeshifting to please others. Allow yourself to act in ways that reflect the real you—not a version of you carefully created to please others. In the long run, if a man doesn’t like you as your true self, you’re far better off waiting until you find someone who adores the real you."
While the narrative around the #rednailtheory trend on TikTok largely focuses on heterosexual relationships, know that you can put it to use regardless of your gender or sexuality. "The allure of red can be enticing regardless of gender," says Dr. Manly. Whether you choose to wear red nail polish, crimson lipstick, or a red shirt, "focus on what makes you feel sexy, upbeat, at home in your beautiful skin."
Kandalec says she's seen an uptick in red polish requests since this phenomenon went viral. "I just did red on set and last week on a private client," she says. "There has been a slight increase [since the theory went viral] but it's always going to be popular color because red is classic." To get the look at home, shop three of Kandalec's favorite red nail polishes.
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