When it comes to women's bods, au naturel is a thing of the past. Between tattoos, rainbow-colored hair, and now nail art, ladies are taking advantage of their visible real estate by marking it up to make a statement, if only in the most shallow form: "Look at me!"
Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Rihanna have inspired do-it-yourselfers to hack the glammed-out nail trend. Just search Twitter or Instagram for #nailart and either be inspired, or scared, by the thousands of pictures, videos and beauty blogs dedicated to the sexy nails.
After you get hopped up on instructional YouTube videos, take a trip to the mall, or to any big-name beauty store like Ulta or Sephora. Absorb as much as you can from helpful employees in a pleasant shopping environment with good lighting and AC and where you can sample anything. Then, leave your 21st-century retail expectations behind and head east to Rolando, where you'll find Vyvy's Hair Nail Supply (4012 54th St., 619-582-2574), tucked away in a shopping center on the north side of University Avenue.
Don't gasp like I did at the sight of all the nail candy; you might catch a buzz in the poorly ventilated shop. I recommend going in Supermarket Sweep-style: Grab what you can fast and check out, lest you end up like my shopping mate, who complained of a headache and wound up putting everything she'd picked back on shelves out of confusion.
At Vyvy's, the best buy is the nail polish. I could afford a European vacation with the money I've wasted all these years on O.P.I. nail polishes that run $8.50 to $9 at chain beauty stores. Here, the selection's almost as good, but each bottle runs $4.75. There's Essie and China Glaze polishes, too. The gentleman behind the counter said a new shipment comes every other week, and if I knew how to get blood out of a turnip, then I'd tell you what day.
What really sets Vyvy apart is its nail-bling selection; I saw everything from little gold flamingoes to a generous box of rhinestones for $6. There was a case with 12 slots of tiny dried flowers for $10 and more stickers than you could ever put to use. Pro tip for Vyvy's: Bring cash, otherwise your card will be charged an additional $1.50.
If you drink as much caffeine as I do, then DIY nail art might be a losing proposition. Luckily, there are three salons in town that are worth their couture-nail-art price tags.
For the health conscious, there's Bellemani (7462 Girard Ave. in La Jolla), a member of the Green Business Bureau that literally doesn't stink. The toxic-fume-free salon has a large selection of the latest colors from brands like Chanel, Butter London and Essie; it also make its own foot scrubs with ingredients like cane sugar and coconut husk and chocolate. Two nail-art designs (one on each hand) costs $5 on top of whatever base service you're getting, and a mani-pedi combo is $38 (without art). The staff's talented; order whatever design you want, from stars, stripes and Olympic Rings to plaid.
If you're looking for art that's less about an intricate paint job and more about decoration, then Japanese 3-D nail art is your bag. The place to make an appointment is Sakura Nail and Beauty (8050 Armor St., Suite C, in Kearny Mesa), and your girl's name is Yuko. She was a nail artist in Japan before moving here four-and-a-half years ago and opening the shop a year later. From all the photos I looked at, I gathered that Japanese nail art starts with claw-shaped nails like Gaga's. But Yuko said nail shapes are just trends that come and go, and she'll do whatever a client asks.
The process takes at least two hours, and the result is bejeweled nails that are sealed with a hard gel. A simple design starts at $65, but if you want art on every nail, you're looking at dropping a Benjamin. Yuko likes using nail color by Deborah Lippmann, another non-toxic polish line.
A good middle ground for nail-art seekers is from a company called Minx. It makes something that looks like stickers that stay put for two weeks after heat is applied. The place to get the nosmudge, no-chip flashy designs is Lulu's by Travis Parker (2348 30th St. in South Park). Lulu's owner, Keri Parker, says Minx is known for metallic colors that you can't get by using polish. The company makes dozens of patterns, or you can custom-order your own design— Parker says clients can even get a photo of their pet—and it'll be shipped to the salon. It's $50 for a signature manicure, plus application.