The Best Nail Polish Brands to Keep On-Hand for Home ManicuresWhen it comes to scoring a totally amazing mani, the actual polish used is just as important as the polishing technique.
In other words, no matter whether you’re a nail painting novice, expert DIYer, or like to BYO polish to the salon, picking the right formula is essential.
(Because if you’re anything like us, there are few beauty issues more stress- and anxiety-inducing than a chipped manicure.)From affordable drugstore options to splurge-worthy buys—and with shades to fit every preference—here are the best nail polishes for all of your mani and pedi needs.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there.
She has her nails polished 99 percent of the time and has used the majority of the polishes on this list at some point or another (though Essie remains her all-time favorite).
Bring the nail salon home with this convenient kit, a one-stop-shop for amazing nails.
There’s also the polish to mention. You get to pick any six shades from the brand’s wide selection, all of which are 7-free.
There’s also a polish remover included, plus all the tools you need. But perhaps our favorite part? Their unique “Poppy” tool.
The tool is a universal polish handle that attaches to any cap and makes it legitimately possible for anyone to paint their own nails.
Fan of doing your own gels at home? Each of these two-polish sets from Pear Nova contains one of the brand’s best-selling gel shades, bundled with the matching classic polish to use on your toes.
Our favorite is Hustle + Glow, a sparkling bronze that catches the light like no other. However, the brand offers a range of nudes and brights, as well.
How We Researched & Tested
To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range.
or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. Our team also incorporated their own personal experiences testing products in their own lives.
We then used these insights from our research and testing to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.
Do nail polishes expire?
“If unopened, nail polish can last for several years, especially if kept in a cool, dark place,” explains Saunders. That being said, nail polish gets goopy the more you use it. When oxygen penetrates the product, it makes it thicker, she points out. If that’s the case, and it’s becoming hard to apply, toss it.
How many coats of nail polish should you apply?
Kyees says one layer of base coat, two coats of polish, and a layer of top coat are best.
How do you remove nail polish?
Kyees says either non-acetone or acetone-based removers will work well on regular nail polish. Soak a cotton ball in the remover, then press against the nail for a few seconds before wiping away.
If your tips are in need of some serious TLC, most manicurists will usually recommend that you skip polish for a little while and instead load up on hydrating cuticle oil. But if bare nails just aren’t your thing, reach for this formula. It’s a unique, one-step polish (no base or top coat required) that’s specially made to be breathable and let oxygen into the nail. On top of that, it’s also infused with moisturizing argan oil and strengthening pro-vitamin B5.4
Number of Shades: 75 | Size: 0.6 ounces
These days, there’s a nail polish out there to fit anyone and everyone’s particular polish preferences. That being said, you definitely can’t go wrong with Essie Nail Polish or OPI Classic Nail Lacquer, two absolute classics that offer exceptional formulas and dizzying amounts of shades. The Sally Hansen Miracle Gel is a drugstore standout, affordable, and touting a super long-wear formula that’s extremely impressive. And if you’re seeking out eco-friendly alternatives, check out either Nails Inc. Plant Power Polish or Habit Cosmetics Nail Polish.
MEET THE EXPERT
Michelle Saunders is a celebrity manicurist and the founder of Saunder & James salon in Oakland, California.
Kimmie Kyees is a celebrity manicurist who has worked with A-listers such as Adele and Rihanna.
What to Look for in a Nail Polish
This may seem obvious, but it really is the first thing most people think about. Consider what looks good on your skin tone, what matches your clothing, and, most importantly, what colors just make you feel good, says Kyees.
Besides the hue, Saunders suggests taking into account the ingredients. More formulas today are omitting more potentially harmful chemicals. You can also consider things like whether or not it’s environmentally friendly and the company’s ethics, she says.
How long do nail polishes last?
“In my experience, a polished manicure should last without chipping anywhere from five to seven days,” says Saunders. “The durability of nail polish depends on two factors—the quality of ingredients and how often you open the bottle,” she adds.
Unlike many other cosmetics that have a history of hundreds or even thousands of years, nail polish (or lacquer, or enamel) is almost completely an invention of twentieth century technology.
Nail coverings were not unknown in ancient times—the upper classes of ancient Egypt probably used henna to dye both hair and fingernails—but essentially, its composition, manufacture and handling reflect developments in modern chemical technology.
Modern nail polish is sold in liquid form in small bottles and is applied with a tiny brush. Within a few minutes after application, the substance hardens and forms a shiny coating on the fingernail that is both water- and chip-resistant. Generally, a coating of nail polish may last several days before it begins to chip and fall off. Nail polish can also be removed manually by applying nail polish “remover,” a substance designed to break down and dissolve the polish.
There is no single formula for nail polish. There are, however, a number of ingredient types that are used. These basic components include: film forming agents, resins and plasticizers, solvents, and coloring agents. The exact formulation of a nail polish, apart from being a corporate secret, greatly depends upon choices made by chemists and chemical engineers in the research and development phase of manufacturing. Additionally, as chemicals and other ingredients become accepted or discredited for some uses, adjustments are made. For example, formaldehyde was once frequently used in polish production, but now it is rarely used.
The primary ingredient in nail polish is nitrocellulose (cellulose nitrate) cotton, a flammable and explosive ingredient also used in making dynamite. Nitrocellulose is a liquid mixed with tiny, near-microscopic cotton fibers. In the manufacturing process, the cotton fibers are ground even smaller and do not need to be removed. The nitrocellulose can be purchased in various viscosities to match the desired viscosity of the final product.
Nitrocellulose acts as a film forming agent. For nail polish to work properly, a hard film must form on the exposed surface of the nail, but it cannot form so quickly that it prevents the material underneath from drying. (Consider commercial puddings or gelatin products that dry or film on an exposed surface and protect the moist product underneath.) By itself or used with other functional ingredients, the nitrocellulose film is brittle and adheres poorly to nails.
Manufacturers add synthetic resins and plasticizers (and occasionally similar, natural products) to their mixes to improve flexibility, resistance to soap and water, and other qualities; older recipes sometimes even used nylon for this purpose. Because of the number of desired qualities involved, however, there is no single resin or combination of resins that meets every specification. Among the resins and plasticizers in use today are castor oil, amyl and butyl stearate, and mixes of glycerol, fatty acids, and acetic acids.
The colorings and other components of nail polish must be contained within one or more solvents that hold the colorings and other materials until the polish is applied. After application, the solvent must be able to evaporate. In many cases, the solvent also acts a
plasticizer. Butyl stearate and acetate compounds are perhaps the most common.
The problem of settling is perhaps the most difficult to be addressed in the manufacturing process.
Micas (tiny reflective minerals), also used in lipsticks, are a common additive, as is “pearl” or “fish scale” essence The guanine can also be mixed with gold, silver, and bronze tones.
. Manufacturing plants are inspected regularly, and manufacturers must be able to prove they are using only FDA approved pigments. Since the FDA lists of acceptable
and unacceptable pigments change with new findings and reexaminations of colors, manufacturers occasionally have to reformulate a polish formula.
Early methods of making nail polish used a variety of methods that today look charmingly amateurish The mixture was then strained, colored, and perfumed. Though recognizable as nail polish, the product was far from what we have available today.
Mixing the pigment with nitrocellulose and plasticizer
- 1 The pigments are mixed with nitrocellulose and plasticizer using a “two-roll” differential speed mill. . The goal is to produce fine dispersion of the color. A variation of this mill is the Banbury Mixer (used also in the production of rubber for rubber bands).
- Stainless steel must be used because the nitrocellulose is extremely reactive in the presence of iron. The temperature of the kettle, and the rate of cooling, are controlled by both computers and technicians.
- 3 Materials are mixed in computerized, closed kettles.
- 4 The mixture is then pumped into smaller, 55 gallon drums, and then trucked to a production line. The finished nail polish is pumped into explosion proof pumps, and then into smaller bottles suitable for the retail market.
Extreme attention to quality control is essential throughout the manufacturing process.
A single bottle of poor quality polish can lose a customer forever.
Subjective testing, where the mixture or final product is examined or applied, is ongoing. Objective, laboratory testing of samples, though more time consuming, is also necessary to ensure a usable product. Laboratory tests are both complicated and unforgiving, but no manufacturer would do without them.
Perhaps the major problem with nail polishes—from the consumer’s point of view—is the length of the drying time.
Various methods of producing fast-drying polish have recently been patented, and these methods.
along with others that are still being developed, may result in marketable products.