When I started following nail blogs, it took me some time to get up to speed on the jargon, the commonly used terms that are part of our language but might not be as clear--or even mean the same thing--to the non-initiated. And because I occasionally feel like writing something long and complicated that people may or may not read, I figured, hey, why not assemble a glossary? So, rather than spend the last few days on my growing list of real-life stuff to do, I wrote up definitions for some of those terms we use when we blog about nails. I'll add more to the list as I think of them, but this should be a pretty good start!
The principal active ingredient in most nail polish removers, acetone is the solvent that breaks down the polish. It can be highly drying (and even irritating) to skin, so while some prefer to use it undiluted for clean-up or actual polish removal, most commercial polish removers also include a moisturizing ingredient such as glycerin. Non-acetone polish removers are also available; they most often contain ethyl acetate instead. Ethyl acetate is a less potent solvent, meaning it takes more time/effort to use than an acetone-based remover, but it's also safe to use on acrylics and nail extensions. There are "all-natural" and organic removers as well, but I haven't read anything substantive about their ingredients or effectiveness.
B3F // big three free
The "Big Three" refers to three nail polish ingredients that are falling out of use due to reports of their toxicity. These three are formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). Formaldehyde is a hardening agent. It isn't used in nail polishes, only in treatments like nail hardeners, but some polishes may contain formaldehyde resin, which can cause dermatitis in those allergic to it. Toluene is a solvent added to some polishes to maintain their liquid consistency, to keep them from drying up in the bottle. DBP, commonly found in plastics, is added to improve the flexibility of a polish in order to resist chipping.
Reports vary on the danger posed by these ingredients. The possible effects of long-term exposure to these include genuinely scary stuff like cancer (formaldehyde); damage to the brain and/or nervous system (toluene); and endocrine/hormonal disruption (DBP). The average nail polish user is highly unlikely to encounter these in levels high enough to pose actual risk, but many brands and consumers prefer to be safe than sorry. Most major brands no longer contain the "Big Three," making them "Big Three Free" or B3F. If you're unsure whether a polish is B3F or not, a check of the ingredient label will often answer the question.
A B4F polish also omits formaldehyde resin. "Big 5 Free" doesn't contain camphor either.
brushstrokes // brushstroke-y
Beyond simply meaning the stroke of a nail polish brush, the term "brushstrokes" specifically refers to the marks that can be left in a polish, showing where the bristles dragged through it during application. Some finishes are more prone to brushstrokes than others; frosts are known to be especially brushstroke-y.
c-curve // c curve
Looking at your fingertip straight on, you can see how (except in very rare cases), your nail arches from one side to the other; the c-curve of your nail is its arch from side to side. Some people have a more pronounced c-curve than others, and even your own c-curves can be more or less pronounced from one nail to the next. Mine is considerably higher on my ring and pinky nails, making it tricky sometimes for a polish to self-level without leaving a bump or ridge at the top of that downward slope. My widely varying c-curves also make it a challenge to file my nails into a uniform shape, making square-ish an easier look for me. Nail techs will sometimes use a clamp when doing acrylic/gel nails or tips in order to create/continue the c-curve.
A chrome is a highly metallic polish that dries to an even, reflective finish. Not so reflective that it's a mirror or anything, but as opposed to the shimmering effect of a metallic foil polish, chromes are designed to give the appearance of smooth, liquid metal.
clean-up // clean up // cleanup
Clean-up is the process of tidying up a manicure once it's been applied. Most often done by dipping a thin makeup brush (or cotton swab if needed, for larger areas) into acetone or remover and tracing around the walls and cuticle to create a clean line and remove any polish that may have wandered onto the skin. Some prefer to do this as they go; others wait until the end and do it all at once.
Colour blocking (or color blocking) is a fashion and decorating term for creating a design from solid blocks of colour. As a nail art technique, it involves applying multiple, distinct areas of colour to a single nail (as opposed to sponging or blending the colours together). This can be done simply by painting a stripe of a second colour to one side of the nail, across the end, or down the middle. A more precise method involves using tape to protect the area that shouldn't be covered with the second colour, painting the desired area, then peeling up the tape to achieve a (hopefully!) nice, crisp line.
A core polish is part of a brand's permanent collection. As opposed to limited editions, these polishes are continuously available as part of the brand's core line.
crackle // shatter
Crackle polishes (or shatter, etc., depending on the brand) are polishes designed to be worn over a base colour. They constrict as they dry, cracking to create an effect similar to chipping paint and reveal the polish underneath. A huge trend in 2011/2012, their popularity has since waned. Some brands also experimented with formulas that crack into more of an alligator/crocodile-skin pattern.
Something of a hybrid finish, a crelly is is the term for a polish that has characteristics of both a creme and a jelly. Crellies appear "squishier" than a regular creme but are more opaque than jellies.
creme // crème
The most common formula and finish, cremes are polishes of a solid colour that apply and dry smoothly to a glossy shine. They are generally opaque in two to three coats.
The cuticle of the nail is actually comprised of a couple of different bits. There's that first semi-circle of living skin at the base of the nail called the eponychium, and it's supposed to be there. It's part of having healthy nails and nail growth. What's called the "true cuticle" is that thin, whitish layer of dead skin that can grow out from there, and that's the junk that can go. There are different methods for removing true cuticle, that dead skin gunk, as part of routine nail maintenance and/or a manicure. My preferred method is to apply a cuticle remover (Sally Hansen makes some good ones), which will gently dissolve the dead skin, allowing it to be pushed back and removed with an orange stick (or a rubber cuticle tool, your other fingernails, whatever turns you on). Another method is to use cuticle nippers to cut the dead skin away. Cuticle cutting can be dangerous if you aren't sure what you're doing, so care should be taken to make sure you don't cut yourself or remove more than you should.
dabbing // longbrush
Some glitter polishes can be difficult to apply. Sometimes this is because the base in which the glitter is suspended ends up acting as a lubricant, allowing the pieces to slide towards the tip of the nail as you brush the polish on. In cases like this--or if you simply wish to add some glitter for more even/thorough coverage--the glitter can be applied with a dabbing motion instead of brushing it on. Other times, the glitter is packed so densely that it's difficult to brush on without it clumping. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself, as I love a nice, dense glitter, me! But in such cases I apply these denser glitters by doing what I call longbrushing (I'm sure others have their own names for this technique too). Rather than stroking the polish on as usual, with the end of the brush, this involves touching the entire length of the brush to the nail so that it leaves a long stripe of glitter behind. Start down the center of the nail, then continue across the nail this way, gently pushing the glitter polish towards the sides with the length of the brush to help it spread.
drag // cuticle drag
Not limited to the cuticle area but most common there (I'm guessing because that's where you start your stroke), drag occurs when brushing your polish over an area that's already been polished actually drags the first coating of polish away, leaving your application looking streaky (and making you want to curse and/or throw heavy objects). Cuticle drag can be minimized by letting a coat of polish dry completely before applying the next, but some polishes are simply more prone to it than others, due to their formulas. Lighter, pastel polishes also seem to be more prone to drag than brighter/darker ones.
duochrome // multichrome
Duochromes are polishes that appear to shift colours, depending on the angle at which they're viewed. Duos shift between two colours; multis incorporate even more hues. Given it's all about the way the light bounces off the pigment, there's usually a degree of reflective shine as well (or even iridescence). Many flakies have a duo/multi shift. Duo/multi shift within a polish's shimmer is also increasingly common.
A dupe is polish that, coincidentally or by design, appears to be a duplicate of another. Given the number of polishes produced, it's only natural that some will appear identical, so some collectors like to make sure a polish isn't a dupe for something they already own before buying it. Conversely, a collector might hope to find a dupe for a polish s/he likes but either can't find or would like to find at a lower price.
dusty // dusty hunting
A dusty is a polish found lurking at the back of a store shelf or forgotten among the racks at a salon. It's so called because it's been there so long it's either literally or metaphorically covered in dust and cobwebs. Some collectors will specifically go "dusty hunting" at stores or salons in search of hidden treasure, like a hard to find polish that's been discontinued. As an added bonus, dusties are sometimes discounted, given how long it's taken them to sell, but I've heard anecdotes of salons catching on and pricing their remaining stock accordingly.
More traditionally a topper but also seen incorporated into other polishes, flakies contain thin, translucent, iridescent flakes of magical nail candy (I don't know...mylar? mica? unicorn dandruff?) that reflect light in various colours and intensities, depending on their composition and on the colours over which they're worn.
Lab Muffin has a great explanation of how they work here. Many flakies have a duo/multi shift, depending on the angle of the light.
flooding // cuticle flooding
A watery, thin polish can be hard to control, running down the brush and flooding the cuticle area and/or the sides of the nail with polish. Alternately, a thick polish might seep like lava or "gloop" from the brush, achieving the same (annoying) effect. Either way, not what you want to see. A polish with a good formula will be thick enough not to run, so that it's easily controlled, yet still be thin enough to spread easily and evenly.
A subset of shimmer polish, foils contain tiny particles that look like ground up metal (or foil). These particles will be opaque and somewhat reflective.
For my money, THE method for removing glitter polish. Rather than sitting and scrubbing for ages, burning through cotton balls/pads and getting finger cramps, using some tin foil can drastically reduce time and effort. Start with a sheet of aluminium foil that's several inches long and tear/cut it into strips that are a couple of inches wide. Take a cotton ball (or, like I do, snip some cotton pads into smaller pieces that will easily cover each nail) and wet it with your polish remover. Place the wet cotton over your nail. Wrap a strip of foil around the nail, tightly enough to hold the cotton firmly in place (but not so tightly that your remover squirts out the back and you lose circulation in your finger. Because that's too tight. I know this from my learnings). Wait maybe 3-7 minutes, depending on how dense the glitter is. Then...I like to start with my pinky, in case it's not "done" yet...press against the cotton, wiggling it a little as you pull the foil and cotton off your finger. This should easily remove most, if not all, of the glitter without all that annoying scrubbing.
franken // frankenpolish
Franken can be a noun or a verb. It's the process of, or the product of, mixing polishes together to create a new shade. Other ingredients, such as glitter, may also be added.
Frosts fall under the umbrella of shimmer polishes and have a pearly sheen. More popular in the past, frosts have somewhat fallen out of favour, not so much because of the look of the finish but because it's highly prone to brushstrokes.
gap // cuticle gap
The cuticle gap is the little bit of space left between a polish and the cuticle and walls of the nail in order to make a manicure look clean and tidy, especially for close-up pictures. Sometimes it's achieved manually, during application; other times, it's created during clean-up. The size of the desired gap depends on personal taste. Close-ups will make this gap appear larger than it is in real life, so for me it's a balancing act from polish to polish, trying to judge how small a gap I'm comfortable leaving while painting, given a particular polish's consistency, ease of application, and pigmentation. I tend to leave a much larger gap for darker or more densely pigmented polishes than I do for ones I know will be easier to whip into shape during clean-up.
A type of shimmer, glass fleck polishes contain particles that are somewhat larger and more pronounced than the typical shimmer (though they're still quite tiny) and can be somewhat translucent, giving the appearance of finely ground glass that sparkles in the light.
A glitter polish...well, it's a polish that contains glitter, innit? Typically metallic and highly reflective, glitter gets its name from the way the pieces glitter in the light. Most often hexagonal but also found in a variety of shapes, the glitter may be so small as to be practically a shimmer or large enough that individual pieces may be fished from the bottle to be placed where desired. Not all glitter is sparkly, though; matte glitters are an increasingly popular ingredient in glitter polishes and toppers.
gradient vs. ombre vs. skittle
A gradient manicure transitions from one colour to another down the length of the nail. Usually achieved by applying the polishes with a cosmetic sponge, manually blending them into each other. It can also be done with the brush as in a glitter gradient, where the glitter is more opaque at the base or tip and gradually fades.
Ombre incorporates shades of a single colour, usually going from light to dark. This can be done as a gradient (blending smoothly down the nail from base to tip) but is also often done from nail to nail, starting with the lightest (or white) on the thumb or pinky and painting each nail a successively darker shade of the same colour.
A skittle manicure has each nail painted a different colour. Unlike an ombre or gradient, there is no effort to blend or transition; the mix of colours is supposed to look random and playful, like a handful of Skittles candies. Sometimes people also "skittle" their nails by doing a different style on each (solid, glitter, striped, studded, dotted, flowers, stamped, etc.).
These are distinct terms, but there is certainly some overlap, which can cause confusion--mostly about whether something is a gradient or an ombre. An ombre can also be considered a gradient, especially when applied so that each shade blends into the next, but not all gradients are ombre. Ombre specifically refers to working from lighter to darker (or darker to lighter) shades of the same colour. You could theoretically also do a gradient skittle, for instance by using yellow, then orange, then red, then pink, then purple.
helmer // melmer
A helmer is a metal storage unit sold by IKEA (so technically it's a HELMER). It looks like a mini-filing cabinet, standing about 2 1/2 feet tall (with the casters on), with 6 drawers that are the ideal height for storing most nail polish bottles. I thought my nail polish collection was getting big when I needed a second basket to keep them all in. I thought it was getting huge when I upgraded to a helmer. I'm now prepared to accept that I require a second helmer--and possibly a third, just for my collection of untrieds.
Melmers are modular, three-drawer units that are sold at craft and hobby stores like Michael's. They're not actually called melmers; that's just the nickname they've been given on teh interwebz as an alternative to the helmer.
Both units are sold un-assembled.
holographic // holo
Holographics, or holos, are polishes which contain shimmering particles that gleam like sparkling rainbows when light bounces off of them. As a 3-D holographic image will appear to shift depending on your point of view, likewise, these rainbows will shift as their angle to the light changes, and the brightness of the light will directly influence the intensity of this effect. Holos are often referred to as linear or scattered. A linear holo contains smaller particles, producing a more cohesive rainbow or prism effect. The slightly larger particles in a scattered holo act more independently, giving a sparkling, rainbow shimmer that's "scattered" throughout the polish instead of forming up into one big rainbow effect.
Hard to find. A polish might be HTF because it's a limited edition, was only released in some areas, or has been discontinued.
An indie is an independent polish creator/brand, someone who creates and sells her own polishes. Most often when people refer to indies, they mean an individual who designs and mixes all her polishes by hand, typically selling via an online retailer like Etsy.com and/or finding distribution via a site like Llarowe. Also falling under the definition of "independently owned" are brands like Cult Nails or Rescue Beauty Lounge, brands that aren't owned by a larger company but use actual lab and production facilities, so some consider them indies while others prefer to reserve the term for creators/brands that are more literally homemade.
Polishes with a jelly finish have a degree of translucence. Different from sheers, however, a jelly is more richly pigmented, with a glossy, "juicy" semi-opacity that gives it an almost squishy look, even when dry. Many jellies can be built to opacity but require several coats to achieve it. Polishes with this finish and consistency are popular for jelly sandwich manicures, in which a glitter polish is applied over a base of a jelly or a creme and then gets a coat of jelly polish on top, making the glitter look a though it's suspended in the polish. Jellies frequently consist of just the single, semi-opaque colour, but they can also contain glitter, shimmer, or flakies.
Limited Edition. A polish that's only available for a limited time, as opposed to being "core."
Lemming can be a noun or a verb, as in, "This polish is my biggest lemming!" or "I've been lemming that polish since the press release!" It sounds like a polish you'd want, or wanting a polish, because it's popular and everybody else is getting it, but it really just means that intense "need" to own a certain polish--or that polish you absolutely HAVE to have. Once acquired, the lemming can be considered squashed, killed, or slain.
lobster // lobster hands
Primarily affecting fair-skinned polish wearers, and I'm quite susceptible. Some cooler-toned polishes (like a light blue or mint green) can make the skin near the nails look red and sunburned in comparison. These polishes lobster us, or give us lobster hands.
Sometimes a polish can be close enough to your skin colour that the two shades will appear to blend right into each other. Since most store mannequins are made either without distinct fingernails or with nails the same colour as the rest of the mannequin, the effect is referred to as mannequin hands.
Matte polishes are formulated to dry to a flat finish, without any shine. They are intended to be worn without any top coat, since that would add shine and negate the matte finish. More often, people will use a matte top coat over their (creme, shimmer, glitter, you name it) polish to achieve the look without needing to buy an assortment of specifically matte shades.
Nails of the Day, a picture of today's manicure.
Please see "gradient vs. ombre vs. skittle" above...
An orange stick is a slim, wooden stick with tapered ends. It is used in manicures to push back/remove cuticles and clean under the nail. It also comes in handy during polish application; should some polish wander off the nail, or if you have a little cuticle flooding, the tapered end is easily slid along the nail wall to tidy up that mess. The wooden sticks are intended to be disposable once they become blunted with use, but you can also buy rubber or plastic orange sticks. There are also curved metal tools for pushing back the cuticle, but those can damage the nail. For my money, if you have a stubborn cuticle, it's better to reapply your cuticle remover than risk damaging the nail itself by scraping too hard.
Orange sticks aren't literally orange; they were originally made from orangewood.
A re-promote is a re-release of a polish, usually one that was originally a limited edition (LE), under the same or a different name. This practice can be a source of mixed feelings. On one hand, if a popular polish has become hard to find (HTF), those looking for it will be glad to see it available again, even if the name has changed. On the other hand, some brands have been known to flesh out a collection by including a re-promote of another currently available polish (an LE that's still recent or even a core polish), which collectors are unlikely to appreciate unless they're specifically looking for a dupe of the original. I personally have fingers crossed that OPI decides to re-promote My Boyfriend Scales Walls, from their 2012 The Amazing Spiderman Collection, because I never, ever want to run out of it.
A ruffian is a style of manicure that incorporates two (or sometimes more) colours. The first is applied as usual. The second colour is applied over it, starting a little further away from the cuticle so that the original colour remains visible towards the base (and sides, if desired) of the nail. The effect looks like the top colour has grown out or shrunk to reveal the colour underneath.
saran wrap/cling wrap manicure
One of my favourite nail art techniques! It's quite easy and gives you, I think, a maximum of effect for a minimum of effort. All you need is 2 or more polishes and a few wads of saran wrap or cling film. This technique can be done as a reductive or additive process. For a reductive manicure, paint your base colour and let it dry. Then, working one nail at a time, paint your second colour on top. While that's still wet, grab some saran wrap that's been wadded into a ball so that the surface is full of creases and folds. Press this over your wet polish, then take it away; the top polish is only removed where the cling film "grabbed" it, leaving behind the polish missed by all the foldy bits, for a marbled/textured effect.
More often, I use the additive method, as I find it's easier to control your results and works brilliantly with multiple colours (and it only takes maybe 2 minutes more? honestly, this is a very fast and simple technique either way). This time, once your base colour is dry, you put a bit of your 2nd colour on a paper plate or similar, then dip your wadded plastic wrap into it, blotting it a little until you have the amount/consistency of polish you want. Then stipple the paint into your nails...and that's pretty much it! It's easy to use more colours this way, adding light and dark or different shades. Just remember to change your wrap every couple of nails so that a) it doesn't get all gunked up with polish and lose those creases and folds, and b) to add variation to the shapes of the little veins of polish you paint with it. This technique looks fantastic under both glossy and matte top coats.
A sheer polish imparts more of a tint than an actual coating of colour. They're very difficult to build to opacity, but then, they're supposed to be. Some sheers will include shimmer or frost, or they might be iridescent or duochrome. Others simply give a light tint of an "office-appropriate" shade like peach, pink, or beige.
A popular polish finish, shimmers contain particles that "shimmer" in the light. Those particles are frequently silvery or golden and often very fine, but there's a whole wide range of shimmers. Some are just a shade lighter than the base colour, and some are a different colour entirely. Some may be duochrome or holographic. Suedes, glass flecks, foils, frosts, holos and more...quite a few finishes are, at their core, considered shimmers.
Among the range of shimmer polishes is the "hidden shimmer," which may or may not be an intentional feature, depending on the polish. Some shimmers are so fine that they're almost imperceptible apart from the bit of sheen they add to a polish, almost like liquid satin. Other times you'll see what looks like a pretty shimmer in a bottle that simply doesn't seem to be there anymore once the polish dries; for whatever reason, it just doesn't translate.
Shrinkage occurs when a polish "shrinks up" as it dries and is most often seen with quick-dry top coats. The quick-dry constricts as it dries, which can sometimes pull the polish underneath with it, away from the sides, base, or tip of the nail. This is more of a problem for some people than others, and different people might experience it with different brands.
Please see "gradient vs. ombre vs. skittle" above...
The smile line is that (usually) curved line where the whites of your nails begin, where nail bed ends and the free edge begins. As with the c-curve, some people have more pronounced smile lines than others, and they're not always the same shape/depth on every nail. The smile line can also refer to the line created (to mimic an actual smile line) when doing a french manicure or other tip designs.
stamping // Konad
Stamping plates are metal discs or sheets that have images etched into them. You paint over the image with specially formulated stamping polish (or a regular polish that's thick and pigmented enough) and scrape off the excess, effectively shaping a thin layer of polish into the shape of the image. A rubber stamper is then pressed to lift the polish from the plate and press it to the fingernail, transferring the image to the nail. Konad is the best known creator/distributor of stamping plates and polishes; other popular brands include MASH and Bundle Monster. There are also knock-off brands, generic or unbranded plates, which are commonly nicknamed "fauxnad."
At the intersection of matte and shimmer, suede polishes are shimmers that dry to a flat, shine-free finish.
Short for Seche Vite, which is French for "dry quickly" or "quick-dry." Made by Seche, it's a popular fast-drying top coat. Its fans appreciate its thickness, its ease of application, and how quickly it dries to a solid, hard finish. Others find that it contributes to shrinkage or prefer not to use it, as it contains a solvent called toluene, which is one of the Big 3. This solvent (and possibly other chemicals, what do I know?) evaporates quickly, leaving behind the dry, hardened manicure. Aces as far as its fans are concerned, but it also evaporates from the bottle every time you open it, necessitating the addition of some Seche Restore (aka replacement toluene and whatever else) around halfway through the bottle in order to keep the SV from drying out and getting overly thick.
A swatch is commonly a carpet or fabric sample, or one those bookmark-looking cards that show different colours of paint. Likewise, a polish swatch is a picture of what a polish looks like on the nail. Most nail bloggers show their swatches as a full manicure; others show them on false nails. There are advantages to each. Some feel a hand swatch is more representative of what the polish will really look like. Others prefer to see the polish by itself, as it may appear different against different skin tones.
A tape manicure refers to a nail art technique in which tape is applied to the area(s) of the nail that aren't intended to be painted. This is usually done once a base colour has been applied and allowed to dry, after which a second colour is only meant to go on part of the nail. The part that's not supposed to get painted on is covered with tape. The second polish is applied, and then the tape is removed, revealing--hopefully!--a nice, crisp line. This technique can be used for colour blocking or to create something like a lightning bolt; for these designs, household tapes like Scotch or painter's are commonly used. Alternately, actual nail art striping tape, which is very narrow, can be used to create thinner stripes and designs (or applied on top of the polished nails as a decorative accent).
Pretty much what it says on the tin, tip wear is the wearing away of your polish at the tip of your nail. Generally speaking, the better a polish's formula, the less tip wear one should expect, but it's somewhat inevitable for it to occur, at least to some extent, after several days. A good top coat applied across the front edge as well as on top of the nail can greatly minimize this, along with wrapping your polish (described below).
A topper is a polish specifically intended to be worn over others, such as a glitter or flakie. Toppers aren't meant to, and usually won't, achieve opacity on their own.
underwear // undies
Polish worn under something else. Visible or not, depending on context. Undies can be the base colour you wear underneath a glitter topper. Underwear is also a polish worn beneath your "real" polish to help boost its opacity or colour. Water marbling is often done over white undies, which helps the colours show more vividly. Undies can also be an economical choice; rather than use 3-4 coats of a more expensive polish to get it to opacity, you can conserve it by using a coat or two of matching undies first.
VNL // visible nail line
Some polishes build to opacity better than others. Some polishes aren't really supposed to build to opacity anyway. When you can still see where the whites of your nails start after applying your polish, you've got (bum bum BUM!) VNL. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, and it's a matter of personal preference. I don't really like having VNL, but then I tend to wear brighter colours that look like they should be opaque. Especially with a sheer or a jelly, though, if application is even and not streaky, VNL can also look sweet and natural.
Water marbling is a nail art technique that involves dripping two or more shades of polish into water to create a design into which the nail is dipped. As each drop hits the water, it spreads across the surface, and a drop of the next polish is added to the center. This process continues, alternating polishes to create expanding rings of polish which are then gently swirled or pulled with a toothpick to create the desired shape. The nail is then dipped into the water (not straight down into it, more lying flat across it and then pushing past the surface) so that the swirled polish clings to the nail, transferring the design. While the nail is underwater, the toothpick is used to collect the remaining polish, removing it from the water so that the nail can be cleanly lifted out. Before each finger is dunked, the skin around the nail is usually covered with tape or a protective layer of petroleum jelly (which can then be peeled off or wiped away when the polish is dry) in order to minimize clean-up.
Watercolour (or watercolor) nails are painted with multiple colours that fade and blend into each other to resemble a watercolour painting. I've seen this nail art technique done in a couple of different ways. One involves applying dots of a polish, then dipping a brush into acetone to thin and spread the colour, repeating the process with several polishes until the colours are blended across the nail. I've also seen this method done in semi-reverse, where the polish is thinned with a little acetone (or acrylic paint is thinned with water) prior to application so that it goes on "watery" and blend-able. Both methods are best done with a foundation of a base colour (commonly white) that's been protected with quick-dry top coat. The colours will show better over the foundation, and the layer of top coat helps keep that foundation from being removed by the acetone.
wrapping // tip wrapping
This technique helps prolong the life of a manicure, reducing tip wear and shrinkage from quick-dry top coats. Simply, after applying a coat of polish, lightly swipe the brush across the front edge of the nail as well so that the polish "wraps around" the tip. Doing this with each coat, as well as with the top coat, helps the manicure look more...ugh, I hate that I'm about to use this term because the pun makes my brain hurt, but it makes the manicure look more...polished. It also means the tips are as protected as the top of the nail, and the polish will wear away more slowly, helping the manicure look better, longer.