TikTok Caught Red-Handed: Why Red Nail Theory Is a Thing

TikTok loves a hack, and the red nail theory is its latest. Head down the rabbit hole with us as we investigate the truth behind this red-hot trend.

Published February 22, 2024
Close detail shot of nails being painted red on a red background

Every year or so, there’s a new “life-changing” beauty hack circulating the internet, and red nail polish is the “it” girl of 2024. You probably heard about the red nail theory from TikTok or friends who saw it there first. But what does the red nail theory even mean? We’re diving deep to debunk TikTok’s red nail theory and see what the research says.

TikTok’s Red Nail Theory Isn’t as Crackpot as It Sounds

If there’s one thing I was taught as a 90s kid in school, it was extreme internet safety. Before, you just had to avoid suspicious chatrooms. But today, every social media trend is a potential hoax waiting to pull the wool over your eyes. And TikTok is a major offender.

However, the red nail theory — which supposes that wearing red nail polish attracts men more than any other color or none at all — isn’t entirely baseless. One 2008 study called “Romantic Red: Red Enhances Men’s Attraction to Women” sought to understand this pop culture connection.

They base the foundation of their research on the fact that many prior studies have codified what we already know to be true in social practice: red is linked with romance. Look at the Valentine’s Day color palette or the perfunctory flower marketed as the most romantic one, and you’ll start to notice a pattern.

They completed four separate experiments, and each came to the same conclusion: that red stirs up sexual appetite and attraction for men toward women. However, this doesn’t have any bearing on actual likability or compatibility! Rather, it hints at something deeper within the male psychology.

But this theory is 100% rooted in heterosexual male desire. The study’s results showed that “red does not influence women’s perceptions of the attractiveness of other women,” and they didn’t even try to test men’s reactions to men wearing red nail polish or non-binary and trans people's reactions either.

Fast Fact

Having red nails isn't as new of a trend as it seems. People have been wearing red nail polish across the fertile crescent since antiquity. 

What Does the Red Nail Theory Mean For Your Dating Life?


Is there some validity to the red nail theory? Sure. But there are too many holes in the research to emphatically prove that it increases every man’s sexual attraction to every woman he sees. There’s so much more wrapped up in your attraction to someone than biological impulses. So, if you were looking for a scientific love potion to win at the dating game, we’re sorry to disappoint.

Related: 15 Chic & Cozy February Nail Ideas to Fall in Love With

6 Reasons to Rock Red Nail Polish for Yourself

What other people think shouldn't have any bearing on what you choose to wear. Your aesthetic expression should be purely up to your own tastes. Bring back wooden clogs, mix and match eye-watering prints together, or lean hard into the beige palette. Fashion and beauty is about satisfying yourself and no one else. So, we have some of the greatest reasons to wear red nail polish that have nothing to do with the red nail theory.

It Looks Great on You

Everyone has a few colors that they think look great on them. It makes them feel extra confident and beautiful, and if red is that color for you, then bathe yourself in it. Paint every nail a different shade of red just for the fun of it.

It Matches Most of Your Wardrobe

People tend to gravitate towards a specific color palette without even realizing it. Browse through your wardrobe and see which colors you have the most of. If you’ve got a lot of blues, blacks, greens, browns, and oranges, then red is a great go-to nail polish color to complement them.

Red Fits in With Every Season

Some people live by seasonal colors, and red is a rare one that fits in every season. While it’s best served in fall and winter, certain shades still look great in spring and summer. Keep a few red nail polishes on hand so you can transition from one season to the next.

You Love Vintage Style

For many of us (me included), red nail polish exudes a certain vintage vibe we love. From blood red tones to bright orange reds, so many unique shades were all the rage a few decades ago. Embrace that retro look with some shiny red nails.

It’s a Proven Forensic Tool

One of the most compelling reasons to wear red nail polish you might not have ever heard of is as potential forensic evidence. We hope you never need your nail polish to vouch for your whereabouts or testimony. Still, the results of one 2020 study’s microspectroscopy experiments show that “14 red nail polishes can be visually classified into 12 groups by infrared spectra.”

In layperson’s terms, it means that scientists have a high likelihood of identifying red nail polish by brand and shade when investigated as crime scene evidence. So, if you’re ever worried about a situation you might get into, pop a little red nail polish on your fingers just to be safe.

Your Partner Loves the Color

It’s one thing to wear red nail polish because it’s supposed to attract people and another to choose to wear it because your partner likes the color. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to pick out an outfit that’ll rev your partner’s engines, and if red nails are it for them, then go forth and get painting.

This Nail Theory Remains Red Hot

Close up of a hand showing beautiful red nails resting over a red flower

Attraction is such an impossible thing to pin down that people are desperate for any tips on hacking the system. And while something as simple as wearing red nail polish might make a man more intrigued in you if you’re a woman, it’s not going to make him fall in love with you. Given beauty’s limitations, we prefer to wear red nail polish for us and nobody else — and maybe you should, too.

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TikTok Caught Red-Handed: Why Red Nail Theory Is a Thing