RGB's Gina Carney Wants Us All to Have Sophisticated, Toxin-Free Nails

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No one does neutrals quite like RGB, the eco nail care and color line that has stolen the spotlight, along with the hearts of celebrities, major publications, and nail artists. And, of course, us! Which is why we’re so excited to welcome RGB to Beautylish Boutiques. Though her background was in fashion, founder Gina Carney saw some gaps in the nail product market that needed to be filled. She wanted healthier, carcinogen-free polish that felt upscale rather than crunchy, and also noticed a need for “nude” nail colors that would work on dark skin, light skin, and everything in between. So Carney created her own line RGB, launching with collection Ten—ten iconic colors with a modern edge—in 2009. Since then, RGB has blown up. To tackle the neutrals for all skin tones, Carney collaborated with green celeb manicurist Jenna Hipp on a line called HIPPxRGB. The 2011 collection started a neutral nail craze, and quickly became one of the most sought-after nail polish lines. We recently sat down for a chat with Carney to find out how she started such a huge nail movement and why it’s important to buy green.

What made you want to get into creating nail products?

I went to school for fashion marketing and at that time I was working retail, so I don’t have a formal background in nail care or beauty. When RGB launched in 2009, there were some 3-free formulas—nail polish made without formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP)—on the market. But the idea was to see if we could improve what was already available. I wanted a green company that was more luxury than “granola,” with products that perform well while also being free from as many carcinogens as possible. We worked on going from a 3-free to a 5-free formula (omitting formaldehyde resin and camphor, in addition to the other three chemicals mentioned above) and that’s what we launched with.

It seemed like doing an eco-friendly line was a no-brainer for you. Why do you feel going green is important?

In general, customers have become more conscious. So the idea with our 5-free colors and nail care products (like the remover pads, which are soy-based and contain no acetone or acetate) is that they’re just better for you. When you’re in the luxury market, just like at a restaurant, you want to offer your customers the best quality product. And the idea of “best quality” means all of those things—it’s better for you, it feels and looks good, and won’t wear on your skin. It’s the whole package. We wanted RGB to work for people of all skin types, even those with sensitive skin.

You did a line, HIPPxRGB, with celeb nail stylist Jenna Hipp, and collaborations like that aren’t as common in beauty as they are in fashion. Did your fashion background influence that?

Yeah, I’m sure it did a little bit. RGB has always been slightly more fashion focused—we view nails as an accessory, just like handbags or jewelry. We look to both of those when we’re thinking about trends. With that said, Jenna had been using our products for quite some time on set before she knew me. It was just coincidental that we both had the same zip code in Los Angeles, and after realizing that, Jenna’s manager called me and suggested we get together. It was a very organic collaboration in that way. We valued each other; I wasn’t a nail artist but Jenna stood for everything I stood for. She loved the minimalism and that RGB was green, but not crunchy. A lot of her celebrity clients would shy away from eco lines because they wanted pretty packaging and colors. It was just a perfect fit for us to collaborate and it’s an ongoing one—at this point, it’s a capsule collection within RGB. 

How did you and Jenna come up with the colors and bring them to life?

Jenna and I were at dinner, and she shared an idea she had hadn’t yet discussed with anyone else. Because she focuses on editorial and red carpet work, 99% of the time, the producer of a shoot asks her to just do a sophisticated nude nail. Jenna’s issue was that she had clients of all ethnicities, and the nude colors she had only worked on those with medium or olive skin tones. At the same time, I had a few neutrals in my collection that most people would call nude. But I never called any of my skin tone shades “nude,” because they weren’t actually nude for everyone. So we had this like-minded approach to the idea of skin tones on nails, and decided to do an entire line around it. We made it so that there really was a “cover color,” as Jenna likes to call it, for every skin tone. 

Can you explain the differences between the “Sheers,”“Tints,”and “Foundations”?

The Foundations are a full coverage cream, meaning that the colors are totally opaque. They were designed like foundation for the face, to match and compliment your skin. Jenna assisted me in formulating colors that would work on a wide range of skin colors. We have shades 1–4 which are essentially fair to light, light to medium, medium to dark, and dark.

For our second collection we did the Tints, based on tinted moisturizer for your face—just a tint of matching color, but not full coverage.

And then finally, the Sheers, which are sheer pink. They’re great if you want a manicure that’s really bare, kind of like your natural nails, but better-looking. It’s just a very clean and simple collection.

You can mix and match the lines as well. We have girls who do one layer of nail foundation because they want the coverage, but then they do another layer of the nail sheers, to get a little more of a pinky hue. RGB is very customizable, so you can layer colors to make your own signature shade.  

What are some of your favorite combinations to layer?

For me, I love starting with a nail foundation because I like the full coverage. One of the great things about these is that you can adjust your colors based on the time of year. For example, I have light skin so I’m an F1, but in the summer I usually have a little more color, so instead of using T1 with F1, I’d use a T2 in order for it to match my skin color. Also, pairing one layer of White under our brights, like Too Red and Pansy, really makes them pop.

What makes RGB's nail polish remover unique?

We use no acetone or acetate, and the product is soy-based and formulated in a to-go packet. So you get a pre-moistened pad that really absorbs polish—you can take color off completely in one wipe. Our remover is nourishing, too. Standard nail polish remover can really strip your nails, but this one has oil in it, so as you take off color, you’re also getting a little treatment.

What are your tips for achieving a flawless mani at home?

Whether you do your nails yourself or go to a salon, the number one thing you can do to maintain color is use cuticle oil every day. One of my nail artists taught me that nails chip because cuticles aren’t nourished enough. I keep a bottle of cuticle oil next to my bed so I don’t forget to put it on daily. My manicures really last so much longer.   

Any other collaborations coming in the future?

We do have a few in the works that are very different from HIPPxRGB, and more fashion focused. They’ll be coming out within the next year, but that’s all I can really say! HIPPxRGB was about opening up the world of “nudes” to women of all skin tones. The point of the coming partnerships is to work with other women who are doing really interesting things in fashion, and bringing a new type of energy to the table.

In three words, how would you describe RGB?

Modern. Green. Beauty.