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If you’re looking to break out of a manicure rut, you don’t necessarily need to go crazy with electric hues or fancy nail art. Changing up the finish is arguably the easiest (and most wearable) way. Instead of opting for a classic cream or metallic, make the move to matte.
Byrdie Researched & Approved
If you want an even more elevated style, celebrity nail artist Elle Gerstein says you can create even more texture to your nails by using the matte polish to paint on patterns and prints, or consider layering a matte top coat over a metallic shade. “It dulls the shine and brings out the texture and gives it another dimension, but is still light-reflective. It looks like natural stone that hasn’t been buffed yet,” she explains.
We conducted hours of research on the best matte nail polishes. There are certain polishes out there that are matte in and of themselves, and we’ve researched those for our roundup. According to Gerstein, your best bet is to simply opt for a great matte top coat that will turn any polish matte in one fell swoop, so we’ve given you our favorite matte top coat as well.
Here are the best matte polishes and matte top coats worth checking out before your next manicure.
Best Top Coat: OPI Matte Top Coat
Can be used on top of any polish
Requires only a thin layer
Finish could last longer
This top coat, from a salon-staple brand, applies super-smoothly. It works on top of any polish and has the added benefit of providing up to 10 days of wear.
Shades: 1 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Top Coat, Runner-Up: JINsoon Matte Top Coat
UV filter helps resist fading
Even the shiniest of polishes don’t stand a chance against this super-high-quality top coat, created by celeb manicurist Jin Soon Choi. It is free of 10 commonly used chemicals, it touts a chip-proof finish, and it has a built-in UV filter to ward off fading.
Shades: 1 | Size: 0.4 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Red: Zoya Nail Polish in Amal MatteVelvet
Rich, bold shades
Wide shade range
Not as matte as other options
There are fewer things more classic or sophisticated than a true red manicure. And a red manicure with a matte finish? Show-stopping, truly. This classic crimson shade has the perfect opaque, velvet finish, though with the subtlest pearl fleck that imparts beautiful dimension and keeps the end result from ever looking too chalky or flat.
Shades: 200+ | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Non-Toxic: ella + mila Matte-ly in Love
Can be used on top of any polish
Another great top coat option, this formula is free of a laundry list of 17 different chemicals often found in other polishes. (Not to mention it’s also vegan, cruelty-free, and even PETA-certified.) The finish straddles the line between satin and matte, a nice choice for matte newbies.
Shades: 1 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Color-Changing: Cirque Colors Color Changing Mood Nail Polish
Colors look brighter over time
Think of this as the nail polish version of your elementary-school mood ring. The thermal formulas change color based on temperature, a super-fun party trick. There are seven shades to choose from, all fun options, like turquoise and green and blue and lavender. Plus, if you decide you want to change up the finish after a while, traditional, shiny coats work well on top of the color as well.
Shades: 8 | Size: 0.4 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte/metallic | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Nude: Color Club Nail Lacquer in Thorny Disposition
Not touted as being free of chemicals
Sticking with a neutral shade is a great option for those who are just dipping their toe into the matte waters and seeking something a little more subdued. This pale rose hue—which also happens to have a subtle rose scent, fun!—fits the bill.
Shades: 6 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Black: Chanel Boy De Chanel Nail Color in 404 Black
Great matte finish
Gerstein calls this out as being one of the straight-up matte polishes out there. The inky-shade is a true black, and the full-on matte finish keeps it sophisticated, not overly goth. (Though it also comes in a neutral color in case that’s your preference.) Also nice: It’s quick-drying, and it comes with an oversized brush that makes application super-easy.
Shades: 2 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Metallic: Sally Hansen Insta Dri Matte Metallics, Smokey Silver
No base or top coat needed
Dries very quickly
Per Gerstein’s previous point, layering a matte top coat over a metallic shade makes for a super-fun end result, which is even easier to achieve with this polish. Even though it sounds oxymoronic, the matte metallic combo totally works, truly giving you the best of both worlds. There are six shades to choose from, but this silver is choice, unique, and unexpected. Best of all, there’s a base and top coat built-in; you only need one coat, and it dries in 60 seconds.
Shades: 7 | Size: 0.31 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte Metallic | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Budget: LeChat Dare to Wear Matte Top Coat
Unknown whether cruelty-free
“This is my favorite matte top coat,” says Gerstein. It rings in at a very wallet-friendly price, and we also appreciate that the brush touts very short bristles that make for easier control, that is, smudge-free application.
Shades: 1 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte | Cruelty-Free: Unknown
Best Drugstore: Essie Matte About You Top Coat
Some reviewers note that it’s not especially long-lasting
A staple brand at both the salon and the drugstore, this affordable top coat has an 8-free vegan formula that applies smoothly and evenly. Reviewers rave about how non-streaky it is, as well as how quickly it dries.
Shades: 1 | Size: 0.46 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte | Cruelty-Free: No
Matte manicures are unique and a fun way to step outside of your regular manicure box. Using a matte top coat is your best bet, since you can easily transform any polish. The OPI Matte Top Coat is our favorite pick for gliding on super smooth and giving a matte finish that lasts 10 days. We also love the slightly more affordable LeChat Dare to Wear Matte Top Coat, which has a great formula and features a short-bristled brush to give you more control and smudge-free application.
Meet the Expert
Elle Gerstein, is a celebrity nail artist who works in both New York and Los Angeles. She’s been doing nails since the age of 14, and her A-list clientele includes Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron, and Blake Lively, just to name a few.
What to Look for in a Matte Nail Polish
Clear vs. Color
The first decision you have to make when it comes to purchasing a matte nail polish is a simple one: clear top coat or pigmented polish? Along with being more versatile—you can use them with any color you own—clear matte top coats are also much easier to find. However, adding a pigmented matte polish to your collection is a smart move, particularly if you can find one in a color you wear often.
If you like your mani to last and last, gel nail polishes offer weeks of chip-free wear. But you can get longevity out of a more simple DIY manicure by choosing a high-quality polish that has some staying power and won't chip off the moment it dries. Byrdie writer Tynan Sinks offers a slew of suggestions for making even the simplest home mani last for weeks.
The last thing you want ruining the joy of a fresh mani is an itchy allergic reaction. Ingredients such as tosylamide-formaldehyde resin and formaldehyde can cause some people to experience contact dermatitis. If you have sensitive skin or simply want to be more mindful of what you put on your nails, it's worth checking out the ingredients.
Do matte nails look good?
Some people love the look of matte nails. For them, a matte nail polish or a matte top coat is an awesome choice. It's a little edgy, and very cool. And there are dozens of design options for matte nail looks, too.
Can any nail polish be matte?
Most nail polishes are high-gloss and have a lot of shine factor. However, we have options above for top coats that will turn any nail polish into a matte. If you're looking to test drive the matte look, you can use a top coat over a shiny or glossy nail polish you already own to mattify it.
Does matte nail polish chip easily?
Nail polish tends to chip more when your nails are longer than when they're shorter, so that's something worth keeping in mind. With tricks such as adding a new layer of top coat every couple of days, you can increase the length of time your nail polish color lasts.
How do you remove matte nail polish?
Matte nail polish is removed the same way other nail polishes are. You can use a nail polish remover, but there are ways to remove it without one. Everything from vinegar and lemon juice to hydrogen peroxide and hot water can do the trick.
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. While she’s pretty much never seen with bare nails, matte polishes aren’t her personal preference, so she relied on expert input and consumer reviews for this story.
Lazzarini R, Hafner M de FS, Lopes AS de A, Oliari CB. Allergy to hypoallergenic nail polish: does this exist? An Bras Dermatol. 2017;92(3):421-422.