The Best Nail Polishes, Top Coats, and Gel Polishes
If you've gone to the cosmetics aisle to pick up a bottle of nail polish lately, you know how vast the selection of lacquer is. Even picking a polish at your local nail salon can be a challenge. And it's hard enough to choose a color, let alone compare and contrast countless brands.
That's why we've searched Instagram, scoured beauty blogs, and surveyed our own beauty editors in order to name the best nail polishes. You're welcome.
Surprise, surprise, we couldn't choose just one. So we broke things down into the following categories. Check out the winners:
Best Budget Polish
Essie edges out the more affordable Sally thanks to smooth application and rich colors that are always on trend. Professional manicurists say it lasts longer than most polishes of this class, especially when worn with a hardy top coat. "And in my experience, it resists thickening up," says beauty editor Kelly MacDowell. "I've had some of the same bottles for a few years, which makes it worth the extra couple of dollars."
Runner-up: Sally Hansen
Sally Hansen has been lauded for its color selection, and Consumer Reports named it one of the best of its price point thanks to lasting wear and one-step application.
Best Higher-End Polish
This was a close one. OPI has a crazy amount of colors available, and regularly comes out with themed collections inspired by movies and cities around the world. (Not to mention the excellent names—for instance, the New Orleans collection features She's a Bad Muffaletta! and Show Us Your Tips!) Fans also adore the brand's staying power and even, streak-free application.
When we sought ways to update the classic french manicure, the nail salons we visited almost universally used OPI polishes, and it's routinely named one of the best nail polishes by beauty publications everywhere.
Runner-up: Butter London
Meanwhile, Butter London is pricier, but devotees say that's reflected in the high-quality opacity you get with just one coat. The color selection is also a plus. "It's a really cool brand with really cool colors inspired by everything from runway shows to rock 'n' roll," Kelly says.
Best Designer Polish
Winner: Christian Dior
At upwards of $27 a pop, Dior polish isn't for the thrifty at heart. But fans of the designer varnish praise its dependable formula and smooth application.
Runner-up: Deborah Lippmann
Deborah Lippmann, founded by a celebrity manicurist, is a bit more affordable at $18–$20 a bottle. The brand has some high-profile partners, too, from the TV shows Empire and Girls to Lady Gaga. The polishes are easy to apply neatly, and they last a long time. The glitter polishes are especially worth the investment.
Best Gel Nail Polish
Pro nail artists like no-chip Gelish's wide variety of colors and easy-to-use formula—in fact, it was the first brush-in-bottle gel polish on the market.
Runner-up: CND Shellac
If you get a lot of gel manicures, however, CND Shellac is generally regarded as being gentler on nails than Gelish. Fans like how well the base coat helps the polish stick to nails and are generally impressed with the professional-looking results.
Best Eco-Friendly Polish
These "green" formulas are generally free of formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, dibutyl phthalate, and camphor. Vegan Zoya is perhaps the most widely available brand, stocked by many salons and beauty-supply stores. It also has a long-lasting finish that comes in plenty of modern colors.
Kleancolor polishes don't contain camphor, toulene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), or formaldehyde. Reviewers generally like them for their vibrant colors and thick formulas, which provide excellent coverage in just one or two coats.
Best Top Coat Nail Polish
Winner: Seche Vite
Seche Vite is considered the holy grail among nail-art fans, thanks to its glossy finish, quick dry time, and hardiness. "If you're not using Seche Vite, you're not succeeding at life," Kelly says. "Other top-coat manufacturers should just stop trying. ... It can get a bit gummy over time, but thankfully Seche Vite also makes a restoration thinner."
Groupon beauty editor Colleen Loggins Loster agrees. "I can't stop buying it because it makes doing my own nails so efficient. ... It dries in minutes, making it really easy to do a mani-pedi before bed and not worry about getting indentations in my polish while I sleep."
Runner-up: Deborah Lippmann
Deborah Lippmann's Addicted to Speed top coat has plenty of fans, who love its shine and fast drying time, though it tends to be a bit pricier than our top pick.