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 • Nails  • Nailcare Guides  • Dua Lipa’s Nail Artist Tells Us Exactly How You Can Get A-List Worthy Nails

Dua Lipa’s Nail Artist Tells Us Exactly How You Can Get A-List Worthy Nails

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What do Madonna, Lily Allen, Adele, Dua Lipa, Katy Perry, Rita Ora and Kylie Minogue all have in common – apart from being hugely successful singers of course? 

They’ve all had their nails adorned by the same professional nail artist, Michelle Humphrey. 

After starting off doing her own acrylic nails from the age of 15 and working in salons across Sussex (UK) and London, Humphrey built up an impressive career in its own right. Until one day Lily Allen slid into her DMs. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Now, she’s renowned in the beauty industry for her nail knowledge, versatile talent and huge celebrity contact list, working with the likes of Hailey Bieber, Cate Blanchett and Kate Moss too. She has been credited for Adele’s famous almond talons, as well as some of Dua Lipa’s most famous nail looks. 

This has even resulted in Humphrey becoming Lipa’s regular manicurist who she meets up with whenever she’s in London. No biggie.

Here, I sit down with Humphrey to talk about what’s hot (and not) for nails, her tips on how to achieve red carpet-worthy, on-trend nails at home and how to spot your next bit of inspiration. 



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How it all began

Humphrey says she knew she wanted to be a reputable nail technician after experiencing one too many unreputable ones.

“It was just the most painful experience ever,” she tells me from her West London home. “I’d sit there in the nail salon with goosebumps, cold shivers and a sweat running down my back – that’s the level of pain you’re suffering from.”



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She soon realised she could learn to do it herself. “I was like, ‘oh my god, I reckon I could do this’ and I bought a kit online and just started doing my own nails,” she explains. “I was 15 but I’d been going to the nail bar for a year and I thought, ‘right, you just get the brush, dip it in the liquid, dip it in the powder and go for it.” And so she did.

Fast forward a few years and Humphrey was already on her way to an artistic career, thanks to her studies in fine art and graphics, which was then followed by two years in college studying beauty therapy and nail technology. 

She particularly enjoyed the feeling of completion that creating a manicure gave her. “There was the glamour side of beauty and the holistic side of beauty, and I was always on the glamour side, wanting that immediate outcome.”


Celebrity status

After reaching the top of her game in-salon, Humphrey got herself an agent and began networking. “Lily Allen was my first ever celebrity client and I think she sent me a DM,” she says. 

“I started doing her nails as a call-out job, as a normal private nail client. I think she was pregnant when I met her and she came back into music and I’ve done Lil’s nails ever since, on and off.”



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And it sounds like Lily’s fun to be around too.  “I think she’s a bit of a British icon, she’s got the essence of the UK,” Humphrey says. “Everything’s a laugh with Lil. She’s great and she’s definitely all about turning everything into something funny or positive.”

Then, along came Katy. “I think Lily put a picture of her nails out [on social media] and Katy Perry saw that,” she says. “So then I booked Katy off the back of Lily. When I last saw Katy Perry for the coronation she said ‘it’s been years that we’ve been working together’ and it has actually been about eight or nine years on and off.”

One of her career highlights occurred in 2012. “I was doing Lana Del Ray’s nails for the cover of GQ,” she says. “She’s naked. It’s just nails and toes. That was definitely a pinch-me moment because she’s not wearing anything, it’s just her mani and some diamonds!”



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But Humphrey assures me it’s not all glitz and glam as she still had to work a normal week in between celebrity clients. “I was working seven days a week on editorial jobs, I really grafted,” she says. “It was very hard but you have to put the effort in to get any reward in this industry. And it’s all about reputation.”

So how did she and Lipa find each other? “Dua broke a nail many moons ago, I think when she was collecting an award at the NME awards,” she explains.

“So I popped along to fix her nail and that’s it, the rest is history. I’ve been doing her nails ever since on and off whenever she’s in the UK and I’m very grateful for that.”

So what’s she like? “She’s a lovely girl and a very hard worker. Good things come to those who work hard and it’s really lovely to see her doing so well because she deserves it.”

With so many nail looks, finishes and textures, Humphrey definitely has her favourites. “Dua’s Future Nostalgia album cover we did was a really fun one,” she says. “I did coloured ombre powders so each nail had a different colour and then we inlaid all of these cute smiley faces and flowers.” Definitely iconic.  



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But what about if you don’t have access to one of the world’s most famous nail artists (and let’s face it, that’s pretty much all of us)?

Humphrey shares her insider tips for how to plan and maintain your mani like a star. Oh, and how to spot a trend way ahead of time so you’ll always be on point.

Read on!


Michelle Humphrey’s tips on how to level up your mani like an A-Lister


1. Find your inspiration

“Films, the red carpet and fashion shows are all really good for finding inspiration on what is going to be trending next,” she advises, revealing that this is also where celebrity nail artists and A-listers look.



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“A big one is also watching makeup trends, like the clean girl aesthetic or the mob wife look. Quite often trends will be lead via an overall aesthetic, not just something in specific, like how the clean girl aesthetic inspired the glazed doughnut nail.” 

Humphrey says to look backwards too. “I used to do that a lot when I first started out because of my art background. I’ve done a Jackson Pollock set that was paint splatters and I once did spot nails inspired by Damian Hirst.” 


2. Keep a reference folder on your phone 

“I get sent references sometimes that [celebs’] assistants will forward over so they have their own catalogues – little saved folders on Instagram of just nails. Clients love that,” Humphrey says.

Well if it’s good enough for the mega stars, it’s good enough for us. 



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3. Don’t believe the myths

Myths like, do you really need to rest your nails in between gels and acrylics?

“You don’t have to,” she says. “I had one client who’s had acrylics on for 30 years and never had them off for a break. Everyone says your nails need to breathe but it’s kind of a myth. As long as you’re having your nails put on and taken off by a reputable professional you should be fine.”


4. Go glam on a budget

“I think press-ons are really great for an event or a night out and you can get them with all types of designs or looks,” she reveals, adding that press-ons are a common staple on editorial shoots thanks to their fast results. 

Humphrey explains that they’re not so great for long-term use though, so try to save them for star-worthy occasions.



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“Also, start trying to learn how to do your own nail art if you’ve got nail polish and a few tools at home,” she explains.

“Unlike gel, if it doesn’t go well and you don’t like it then you can take it off and redo it, it’s not the end of the world.” 

Humphrey says there are plenty of products available to try different looks, including the glazed doughnut look. “As soon as that came out, Essie brought out their FX Iced Out Topcoat,” she says. 



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5. Use a cuticle oil daily

“I’m always shouting about it from the hilltops and I use it every single day,” she says. “Use it twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening if you can. Put it on your desk or on your bedside table.”

Humphrey explains a cuticle oil will help support healthy nail growth and keep cuticles nourished and neat.



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6. Buff to get a shine worthy of the stars 

Humphrey also loves a nail buffer for offering a polished, glossy finish.

“I use the nail buffers by Bio Sculpture,” she says. “They are amazing because they’re really soft grit and I know that I’m not shredding someone’s nail plate to bits.” 

And what else should you look for in your buffer? “You want flexibility in your buffer. If the buffer is not squishy in any way and it’s hard, you will be taking away layers of the nail plate which you don’t want to do because you’re going to lose strength.”

You’ll also want to go easy with how often you often you use one. “Only buff out your nails once a week,” she says. 

“If you’ve over-buffed you’ll start seeing little red patches and your nail plate will start to glow red.  I see it a lot.  The further you buff down the more intense the red will get and typically your nails will become more sensitive generally, especially in warm water. You’ll also likely end up with a lot of snagging, and nail breakages.”


7. Avoid DIY nail drills

“I use drills so that I don’t have repetitive strain injury – it’s for my health, but it’s completely unnecessary for someone who’s not a nail professional,” says Humphrey.

“I don’t think people understand that about using nail drills.  They think it will give you a more professional result but you can get the same results from a normal file or a nail drill if you have the skills to use them.  One isn’t better than the other, but drills are mainly used to save time.  No one other than professionals should ever be using them.”

Instead, learn how to use manual tools to remove your gel mani safely.



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8. Supplements 

“A lot more people are also investing in supplements,” says Humphrey. She says they’re great for nail health, “especially if you’ve just taken your gels off.”


9. Get a pro-level finish

There’s the manicure. And then there’s the red-carpet worthy manicure that’s neat, smudge-free and looks like you’ve had it done professionally. Here are Humphrey’s tips on how to take your at home mani skills to the next level.

  • Tip 1: Clean up the pro way

“If you’re painting yourself a red nail and you want a lovely professional finish, first take a gel brush, nail art brush or even eyeliner brush, dip it in a bit of polish remover and use it to clean up around the cuticle,” she says. “So if you’ve got any product on the skin, go in with a really fine brush and that will sharpen up the cuticle and take your manicure up a level.”

  • Tip 2: Invest in a good topcoat

“A really good topcoat helps to smooth everything out over too and this will always aesthetically level up your manicure.”

  • Tip 3: Choose your polish carefully

“Finally, pick your polish carefully as it’s not always your fault when you don’t get a great finish, sometimes it’s the product,” she warns.

“A lot of brands are now doing pro wide brushes to help you apply the polish but the quality of some of these brushes isn’t great, the bristles are sticking out and you get polish around your nails. Always go for a good brand where you’ll get a quality brush as that will help you with the application.”


10. Use a nail brush

And possibly the most surprising tip?  Humphrey says the good old nail brush can really level up your nails.

“Not only is it good for hygiene, it exfoliates the cuticles which makes your next nail appointment easier and just makes your nails look better too,” she advises. 

“Sometimes if you brush your nails and then use a cuticle oil it can completely restore your nails. A lot of people are scared of them, thinking it’s going to hurt, but it won’t.”


11. Leave gel to the professionals

Finally, Humphrey advises against using gels from home.

“I’ve heard loads of people have ended up with allergies [mainly to (meth)acrylate chemicals, found in gels and acrylic] after using gel kits at home, which can then lead to allergies to other items that contain these chemicals,” she warns.

“Because there are so many chemicals involved, and different curing times and types of UV lights, another problem I see is when people are mixing and matching between different brands and then the nails aren’t curing properly.  Or they’re putting the gel on and it’s going onto their skin rather than just their nail.”



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Michelle Humphrey’s nail trend forecast

Ok but if you want even more specific inspiration for your next mani, what about the latest trends she’s seeing everywhere?

“There are so many trends at the moment, from ballet core to lip gloss nails and I think it can be a bit much for people to keep up with,” she says. I couldn’t agree more. But Humphrey has a mantra. 

“I think, ‘you are your own person, you’re wearing your own manicure so feel comfortable to wear whatever you want,” she says. “The only person that should like or care about your nails is yourself and who cares what everyone else thinks?” Preach!

Having said that, she says there are some trends she’s seeing more and more requests from her celebrity clients for.


1. Nostalgic

“I feel like we’re going very naughties aren’t we? Anything quite nostalgic seems to be trending, like those shimmery mermaidy colours when I was a kid.”



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2. American French tips

“The French manicure has also had a huge revival in the last 18 months,” she says.

“It’s something I used to do in my first job but it’s evolved now into the American manicure which is really nostalgic of the 90s with it’s very soft white tip. A lot of my clients have been opting for that of late and it looks very natural. It’s less harsh.”



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3. Cat eye manis

“Everyone’s wanting a cat eye,” she explains. “It’s actually been around for years but it’s made a comeback.” So what exactly is a cat eye nail? “It looks one way and then you move your hand and it goes another way. Basically there’s something in the powder you’re using and you use a magnet and it pulls the particles in whatever direction you want them. So it’s very cool, very futuristic.”



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4. Classic red

“There was a lot of pillar box red on the runway,” she says. And apparently ‘the red nail effect’ is trending. “Girls are trying it on and saying ‘yeah I definitely got more male attention because I had a red nail on and I felt more sassy, feminine or womanly, etc’.”



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5. Au naturel

“The clean girl aesthetic or lip gloss nails is still really popular,” Humphrey confirms.



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6. Squoval shapes

Another trend Humphrey’s noticed is a shift in nail shape. “A lot of people are opting for a squoval nail which is very, very 90s.”



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But what does squoval mean? “It’s not quite a square and it’s not an oval. You’ve got a straight side with a rounded top.” Here’s how to do it.

  • Grab a good file

“To start off you need a nice nail file, that’s always going to help,” she recommends. “There are some emery boards out there that are just going to tear your nails to shreds. You want a fairly refined grit and something fairly soft for your natural nails.

“Glass nail files are really good, like Leighton Denny’s one or Margaret Dabbs’ file, or one by a fairly new brand called Protein Formula. They’ve also got this glass cuticle tool so you can exfoliate the cuticle, which is great and quite innovative. Look for a file that’s around a 200 or 240 grit.” 

  • Keep an eye on nail length

“Ideally, if your nails are all the same-ish length, it always helps give a more professional outcome,” she explains.

  • File to the right shape

“You need to make sure that you file your sidewall with your nail file parallel to the other sidewall so that they’re straight. You don’t want to be filing inwards, otherwise you’re going to turn your nail oval, so you file your sidewall straight. If your nails actually come outwards – some people’s nails naturally grow outward at the top – you want to take that in and then you would do a rounded top.

“That tends to work best if you mirror the cuticle shape to make your tips rounded and it also helps keep your nails symmetrical as you work,” Humphrey explains.

“Mirroring the shape of your cuticles also tends to flatter your nails the best as obviously everyone’s built differently, so some people have cuticles that are flat and some people have cuticles that are a little bit more rounded and it tends to work for your own hand shape,” she says. “So always try to mirror your cuticle in the tip of the nail.”


7. Earthy tones

“Brown has been a huge hit in the last six months,” Humphrey says. “I think there’s something quite luxurious about a brown nail. It’s very chic. One of my top colours is Cold Brew Crew by Essie. So many of my clients have been having that brown.” 



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8. Shorter lengths

“Short now seems to be in at the moment – I’m not doing lots of crazy, long nail extensions,” she says. “You’ve got Hailey Bieber with shorter nails now and all my clients have been chopping their nails short. Short, short and sweet is in at the moment for sure, because obviously everything’s got a name now!”



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The takeaway

After reading this, if you’re not inspired to treat your nails with more care, try a whole new nail look, colour, length or shape or get building a nail catalogue on your phone right this second, then you never will be. 

So, whether you clicked onto this article to learn about the next batch of trends, perfect a Hollywood-glam manicure or learn how to keep things hygienic at home, Humphrey’s expert tips (and brilliant celeb nail tales) should hopefully whet your appetite for some major manicure motivation. 


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Sally Underwood is a journalist, *serious* beauty fan, and Editor-in-Chief of Live That Glow. Formerly Editorial Director of one of Europe's largest newspaper groups, Sally has been a beauty obsessive since her teen years spent dragging her long-suffering (but immaculately-groomed) friends around every beauty counter in London. She now leads Live That Glow's editorial operations.

Expertise: Skincare, Body care
Education: University College London

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