Testing Out Red Nail Theory? Here Are Our Favorite Scarlet Shades

If you're an avid follower of TikTok nail trends, you probably haven't missed the growth of #rednailtheory. Simply put, the idea is that a red manicure may be a way to attract your next new beau. Red nail theory contends that red is a powerful color that evokes everything from love and passion to confidence and fertility. But why is this? Well, there's psychological endorsement behind the theory.


As Scientific American reported in 2014, "red regularly sways behavior." But is there a difference between shades of red and the feelings they evoke? Any given color usually has three different attributes –the hue (the most visible color), saturation (the intensity), and brightness. For instance, with hue, we might say something is red, but there's also times we might describe it as warm or cool, if it's got a touch of orange or blue, respectively.

These characteristics can completely change the shade of your scarlet manicure and, potentially, its effect. Here, we'll explore the plentiful world of red so that you can find the ultimate hue to test red nail theory.

Vintage red nails

Starting with the basics, we might associate this color with red theory because it's the shade you'll likely see on TikTok. It's a classic red, in its purest form. And what distinguishes it is its hue because there's no hint of another shade. It's bold, independent, and confident.


Moreover, it's most likely the red we connect with passionate emotions like love. There's various theories behind this, but a 2017 paper in the journal Psychological Research suggests that such exceptional hues evoke high levels of arousal — by this, we mean increased heart rate and stimulation. And that might be why this red is so eye-catching.

Bold burgundy

Burgundy is another daring shade of red — darker and alluring. What differentiates burgundy from pure red is, again, hue — in this case, there's a slight hint of blue, giving it its characteristic purply majestic shade. It's an excellent choice for fall as it fits well with autumnal tones.


Interestingly, studies say cool shades like this one might have a calming effect rather than stimulating as they reduce cortisol and lower heart rate (per a 2021 article in Wellbeing, Space and Society). So, if you want a more tempered effect on your latest crush, this might be the color.

Candy apple red

Like the vintage red, this is a very distinct shade, but it's more vivid and intense. It doesn't take a genius or a scientific paper to see the appeal of this evocative and eye-catching shade. It's bright and fun, and is a surefire way to stand out from the crowd. In particular, if you're wearing darker colors on a night out or want something lively for the holiday months, the contrast with this manicure will undoubtedly turn heads.


Scarlet square cut

Scarlet is a segue between vintage and darker shades of red. It's still got that attention-grabbing brightness that's suggestive of a passionate and soulful individual. In this case, they've gone for an extended square cut that's quite chic and classy. It's an incredibly significant shade in storytelling, often associated with sin and desire. But rather than old ideas bound to repress and chastise the wearer, these days, crimson is a powerful choice if you want to embody strength and sophistication.


Bewitching carmine

This might be a shade of red you've never heard of before. Carmine is a shade of dark red pigment that used to come from the scales of cochineal insects (per McGill University). Nowadays, of course, we have synthetic varieties. Nevertheless, it has a fascinating history of being used for various textiles, including silk. This might be why the shade brings a certain luxury and chicness that's perfect for date night.


Amazing amaranth nails

If you've ever seen a vivacious reddish-pinkish plant sprout in your garden, you may have come across amaranth. This plant is the inspiration for the shade you see here, and it's a pretty unique take on red nails that would be perfectly fun for summer and fall. While slightly on the cooler and darker side, like burgundy, it can have a calming effect. But it's somewhat more subtle and would suit some classic gold jewelry as shown above.


Autumnal orange-reds

Since we've touched on the allure of cool colors, let's shift to warmer tones. This is a great example of a zesty, orangish-red. You can imagine it fitting well amongst a scene of early fall, with the leaves reaching their brightest colors.


What's more, with warm tones like this, research tells us that as well as being stimulating, it can create feelings of happiness and joy (via Wellbeing, Space and Society). All in all, if you're fun-loving and a romantic at heart, this is another fantastic choice to test out the red nail theory.

Dark wine-colored nails

This deep, wine-colored shade is called oxblood. While the name's a bit scary, traditionally, it refers to a ceramic glazing method using copper that would create a unique brown-red shade. It's an unusual shade of red because, while dark, it has an orange undertone instead of blue.


This makes it a warm shade. However, unlike a bright, zesty orange, this brings to mind a snug and cozy feeling. It might suit someone more laidback and ready for a few glasses of red out on the town.

Deep ombré

So let's say you've scrolled through a bunch of shades of red and can't quite make your pick — ombré may be perfect for you. This technique is a smooth gradation between two hues or shades that gives you the best of both worlds.


This red and black mani is a great night-out look that combines two sophisticated shades, just what you need to make a notable first impression.

Blushing berry nails

On the topic of eye-catching manicure trends, you may already have been introduced to jelly nails. This style involves a combo of clear varnish and a hot drop of color. Here, they've gone for a delicious deep berry red, and the effect is an ethereal and unique transparent tone. 


While the saturation is a lot lighter than some other choices, intriguingly, the research supports that even when it's lighter, the red hue means it'll still have a stimulating effect (per the journal Psychological Research), so definitely, a mani we'd love to put to the test.

Flashy fuchsia

Fuchsia is a glamorous mix of red and pink, perfect for any of you Barbiecore fans out there. It's a sparkly and fun take, with a hint of nostalgia that might bring you back to your childhood. Like red, pink is synonymous with love and passion but is also linked with childhood innocence and sweetness. It would make an adorable Valentine's Day choice but is still stylish enough to try out all year long.


Jam-colored jellies

While "jam" isn't an official shade of red (at least not yet), there's something about this sleek, almost translucent hue that needs its own name. Again, it's another jelly gel technique, but this time, there's an undercoat of silver to add a shimmery effect, creating a deep and unique hue. It's vibrant and dark, so it would be interesting to see its impact on date night.


Ruby red-pink nails

Magenta is another reddish-pink shade, just a tad darker than fuchsia. But this dimmer tone adds a hint of mystery to the classic pink. And darker shades like this are more calming and grounding than their brighter equivalents because they've got a hint of blue. 


However, regardless of brightness, the hue is what's key to catching a person's attention. In particular, Scientific American noted that the red hue itself is a critical quality in arousal, so don't be too quick to dismiss this one if you want to test out red nail theory.

Valentine be mine matte manicure

While this red matte manicure doesn't have that glossy shine we've seen so far, it's still got a pretty charm of its own. This mani also has a prominent design in case you want to try something fun. The cute mix of hearts on a nude accent nail makes a love-ly addition.


Mahogany magic

Mahogany is one of the darkest shades on our list and is nearly black with red undertones. It's certainly one that'll test the limits of red nail theory, but it also really stands out with its vibrancy and exuberance. The deep color evokes power, mystery, and seduction. 


There's also a slight sparkle to this nail art design, which adds to the enigma. The psychology of this dark and warm hue is interesting. Depending on context, it's a color that can conjure both fear as well as sexual appeal, according to a 2019 paper in Textile & Leather Review.

Vermillion aura nails

Vermillion originally came from the mineral cinnabar. Because of its mercury-containing ore, the mineral is toxic. Despite the danger, this fiery, bold color was highly sought after by many ancient civilizations. 


As a shade, it's essentially a mix of red and orange with dark undertones. In this aura manicure, matte polish and eyeshadow create a subtle and warm aurora effect. The result is a truly unique take on red nail theory.