Get The Look Without Spending Bank: Water Spotted Manicure

Because I'll be damned if the French are going to have a nail polish look that I can't dupe at home.

May 6, 2013 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

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Worth every minute of hassle.

Last summer, the big deal nail polish was a topcoat from OPI. It was part of the Spider-Man Collection -- and it was only available at Sephora in France. Rumor had it that the FDA wouldn't approve some of the ingredients in it for release here in the States -- and maybe that's true as OPI still has no plans to release it in the US. OPI's Black Spotted, at least in part because of how hard it was to get a hold of a bottle, became an obsession.

I admit, I wanted in on the look. But prices for a single bottle of the polish, via everyone's favorite place to get hard-to-find cosmetics (eBay), ran all the way up to $60 at certain points. I was not having that -- but I was also convinced that there had to be a better way. 

And, of course, there is. This is the water spotted manicure, commonly attributed to cutepolish on YouTube. Once I found that tutorial, I figured the hard part was over.

Oh, woe was me! I got all hand to forehead from the very start. Because it's not actually all that easy to find hand sanitizer in a spray bottle here. Many several drug stores later, I wound up with regular hand sanitizer and a travel-sized spray bottle. Which I should have opted for in the first place but I got all flush with the thrill of duplicating a tutorial exactly.

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You'd have thought I was searching for the damn holy grail.

I soon forgot that -- there's nothing like forging ahead to figure something out, am I right? Because when I finally put my sanitizer in the spray bottle I had successfully wrestled from the grip of competitive commerce at the grand opening of the new local Container Store, it so didn't work the way it did in the cutepolish tutorial.

Maybe Canadian hand sanitizer is more watery? I don't know and I'd feel silly emailing Hannah to ask. (I"m just saying, her name is a palindrome. That's one way you know she's awesome.) But Floridian hand sanitizer is way too thick to mist, no matter what spray bottle you dig out from under the sink in a frustrated frenzy so you can try a variety of "spray" settings. 

The simple solution? Add some water. Not a lot -- this will be some trial and error that depends entirely on your spray bottle. Shake it up (shake it up, shake it) and see if it comes out in a mist. If yes, you're golden. If not, add some more water. You can also add rubbing alcohol if you are the kind of person who has rubbing alcohol on hand.

I am not that person.

So, y'all remember water marbling, right? If you were irritated by that technique, don't worry, I have options for you. Just stick with me.

This starts out simple: Paint your nails a base color. Go through the whole deal with base coat. It'll look better in the end, I promise. And it won't stain your nails. 

Fill a small cup most of the way with room temperature water, the same way you would for water marbling. Instead of using multiple colors, you're just going to use one color. See, that's already easier!

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You can go nuts choosing color combos for this.

The trick here is to use more drops of polish than you think you need -- you want the polish to be a fairly solid layer over the surface of the water. You don't have to work as quickly with this as you do with water marbling, but you might want to take a few minutes to experiment with your nail polish colors. I've found that Orly polishes are terrible for this manicure, but Wet 'n' Wild is fantastic.

When you have a layer of polish floating on top of the water, mist it with your bottle full of hand sanitizer. This will create little holes in the surface of the polish. That's because the alcohol is acting like a resist.

When the spots in the water are the right size and shape, dip your finger in the same way you would for water marbling. The polish is going to be a little gooey because you just coated it with hand sanitizer -- this means it's also going to be mega easy to get it off of your skin with a cotton ball soaked in nail polish remover, so you don't even HAVE to bother with taping your nails off if you don't want to.

Clean the water around your finger with the end of a paint brush that you randomly found in your nail polish box. Then lift your nail out of the water, admire, and do the necessary clean up. Top coat with something kind of thick -- unless you really want your nails to have a weird spotty texture.

You can get super fancy with this! I layered a couple of colors to mimic a turquoise manicure that Lesley pointed out.

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I am already planning a manicure around this.

I can sense that some people want to dismiss this as overly complicated and I get that. This was, I am not going to lie, kind of a time-consuming pain in the ass. But it got easier as I figured out what worked, what didn't, and why. And, in person, this really does look different from just spattering some nail polish on a base coat. There's a really great sense of dimension to it.

But if the water spotting technique above proves too much, you should also try this method using olive oil applied to your nails or this method using nail polish remover and a tooth brush to create the spots on the surface of the polish. Also, if I'd found this video before the cutepolish one, I think I'd have had an easier time of things.

I love the creativity of nail bloggers, especially when it comes to duplicating hard-to-find special effects polishes. This stuff is supposed to be fun, not frustrating.

What do y'all think?

Marianne is always talking about nail polish on Twitter: @TheRotund.