The nail polish world has exploded. What used to be a fairly limited landscape of oh, a handful or so brands, is now a full-on onslaught of countless upon countless options. There are the tried-and-true classic brands, of course, but also tons of new finds at the drugstore, indie, niche brands, and designer lines moving into the polish world... you get the picture. Still, there can be a big difference when it comes to not only things such as shade and texture options but also the formula and even the brush itself.
So no matter whether you’re a salon regular or a DIY mani fan, we rounded up this complete guide of the best nail polish brands out there, plus the must-try product from each. Dare we say these brands have nailed it?
The brand: Arguably the single most classic, iconic, recognized polish brand ever, this is both a salon staple (we have yet to visit one that doesn’t carry it), as well as a must for pro manicurists, beauty editors, and consumers. Originally launched in 1981, there have been hundreds upon hundreds of shades that have launched since, with new lines—and formula varieties—continuing to hit the shelves. It’s a top pick for celebrity manicurist Elle Gerstein, who especially likes the range of sheer colors, which she says makes it easy to find the perfect shade for all skin tones. Fun fact: The first three Essie colors, Bordeaux, Blanc, and Baby’s Breath are still sold today.
The hero product: While Ballet Slippers didn’t launch until the second year Essie was in business, it’s one of the best-selling ones, ever. (Rumor has it, it’s also the only one that the Queen of England will use.) Good luck finding a better pink-white-nude.
The brand: Another OG of the polish scene, OPI also launched in 1981. (ICYW, OPI is a riff on the original name of the brand, Odontorium Products, Inc.—it was originally a dental company.) We love the line for the high-performing lacquer formula, as well as countless new shade collections that launch constantly, all touting cute and witty names that have us wishing we were in the business of naming nail polish.
The hero product: Although there are hundreds of hues, this Big Apple Red remains not only the best-selling red but one of the best-selling shades, period. It’s a true, vibrant red with the best mix of both cool and warm undertones to flatter any skin tone.
The brand: An industry darling child, beauty editors love this line of polishes almost as much as they love the brand’s eponymous New York City nail salons. Created by celebrity manicurist Jin Soon Choi in 2012, the formulas are 10-free and rely on high-tech polymers for extra long-wear and tons of shine. And while the shade range is definitely comprehensive and well-rounded, we appreciate that it’s not overwhelming; rather, it’s a carefully curated selection of totally wearable colors.
The hero product: Choi drew inspiration from old movies from the 1950s when creating Nostalgia (hence the name). The sandy beige hue is a neutral classic that’s clean, pretty, and helps to elongate the shape of your nails, she says.
The brand: Originally a line of brick-and-mortar salons in New York City, this brand has focused on being clean from the beginning. (You won’t find dips, gels, or acrylics at the salons, just traditional polish.) That ethos extends to their line of products, which features a streamlined collection of great colors, plus amazing nail care options.
The hero product: No matter whether your nails are bare or polished, by all means, slather on The Rose Oil Nourishing Cuticle Oil with reckless abandon. The 100% natural formula touts a combo of hydrating oils, plus strengthening horsetail leaf extract to help bolster your tips. The best part? The mess-free, easy-to-use rollerball applicator tip.
Smith & Cult
The brand: It’s basically impossible to confuse this brand’s polishes with any other line; they’re known for their signature, short round bottles, and hammered gold tops. Truly, it’s some of the prettiest polish packaging we’ve ever seen, so appealing that you’ll want to display it on your vanity as a piece of decor. Along with nails, they also have a makeup line that’s worth checking out.
The hero product: The extra deep burgundy tone of Lover’s Creep is rich and vampy, a gothic red that’s glossy and juicy and reminiscent of a glass of red wine in the best way possible. The formula also maintains its shine better than many other polishes we’ve tried, always a win in our book.
The brand: “This is an iconic drugstore nail brand for the masses,” says Elle of another one of her favorites. Indeed, it’s the number one nail brand in the US, launched in 1946 by Sally Hansen. (Yes, she was a real person.) At first, there were just two nail products—now, there are over 300 shades, not to mention countless treatments, tools, and more.
The hero product: Elle is a fan of how easy the brand’s Insta Dri Nail Color is, noting that it definitely dries faster than other brands. Couple that with the fact that the formula has both a built-in base and top coat, and you’ve got yourself a surefire way to speed up your mani. There are 56 shades to choose from in a range of finishes, but we’re especially partial to Buff and Tumble, a universal nude.
The brand: When a celebrity manicurist (who works with clients such as Lady Gaga, Julia Roberts, and Taylor Swift, NBD) creates a line, you know it’s going to be good. Lippmann launched her eponymous line in 1999; taking a cue from her love of music, many of the polishes have song title-inspired names.
The hero product: There are lots of “non-gel gel” polishes out there, but none that work quite as well as the Gel Lab Pro formula from this brand. There’s no heat or light required, just pair it with the accompanying base and top coats and prepare to be amazed by how glossy and cushiony it looks. The vegan formula is 10-free and is infused with a patented mix of 10 ingredients to help improve the health of your nails. There are tons of colors, but Dark Side of the Moon is our go-to when we want a shade that’s almost black but not actually black.
The brand: Cruelty-free, vegan, and 10-free, this is another choice clean brand, which also feels extremely chic and high-end. The formula is smooth and streak-free, and the packaging deserves a call-out, too; the bottles are hand-crafted from Italian glass, and the brushes help make the application smooth and even.
The hero product: It can be tricky to find a metallic hue that doesn’t look garish or, well, tacky for lack of a better word, but the brand’s No.96 shade checks all of our boxes. The shiny gold shade is statement-making for sure, yet still looks elegant and could even pass for a neutral, it’s that wearable and sophisticated-looking.
Dr. Remedy Nail Care
The brand: A nail brand created by a manicurist, sure. But a nail brand created by two podiatrists? Yep, that’s the story behind this company, which, as you may suspect, places a deep emphasis on improving nail health with all of its products. Exhibit A: All of the colored polishes are infused with strengthening and reparative ingredients, true multi-taskers that are great for anyone whose tips need a little extra TLC. And of course, their treatment-specific products can’t be missed.
The hero product: Swipe on the Restore Ridge Repair whenever nails are bumpy or uneven. It contains strengthening biotin plus an antifungal ingredient to help smooth out nails and minimize discoloration, too. It works great as a base coat under polish, though has a subtle, sheer nude tint to it that makes it look pretty even when worn on its own.
The brand: If a quilted Chanel purse isn’t quite in your budget, treat yourself to a little luxury with a Chanel polish. It’s an easy way to make your manicure feel more luxe, says Elle, who adds that they’re also a choice brand for anyone who loves on-trend shades. “Because of their fashion history, they’re leaders in color trends and have the proprietary means to create colors that are truly one-of-a-kind,” she explains.
The hero product: Elle loves Solar, a highly reflective metallic in a burnt copper tone. Great on both hands and toes, it also works beautifully on a wide array of skin tones.
Olive & June
The brand: In 2013 Olive & June founder Sarah Gibson Tuttle opened a single nail salon in LA where she sought to elevate the manicure experience; this quickly expanded into a full line of polishes, treatments, and tools. Still, the goal of elevating the manicure experience (this time the at-home one) remains the same.
The hero product: File The Poppy under the ‘why didn’t we think of that?’ category. All you have to do is pop the patented rubber handle onto the top of any polish bottle (we appreciate that it works with all brands and not just Olive & June bottles) to give yourself the best grip and make DIY nail painting easier than ever. Yes, even when you’re using your non-dominant hand.
The brand: One of the oldest nail brands out there, Orly started back in 1975. True story: the founder actually created the French manicure. It’s another salon mainstay, with tons of color options and great base and top coats, too. Also unique is the brand’s patented gripper cap they use on all of their bottles, making it easy to open and hold the brush. Plus, their polishes aren’t just 8- or 10-free... they’re 13-free.
The hero product: If you’ve ever gotten a manicure, there’s a high likelihood you’ve experienced the brand’s Bonder basecoat. It’s beloved for its unique formula that touts a resin technology, essentially making it rubberized and almost sticky to help improve polish adhesion. Translation? Use this pre-polish and your color will definitely last longer.
LeChat Dare to Wear
The brand: “This is my go-to brand, always. The pigments are vibrant, it comes in endless hues, and there are matching gel colors, too,” says Elle, who adds that the formula is very long-lasting. A professional brand at the core, this line of lacquer is available for shoppers to use at home.
The hero product: Into The Deep, a rich cobalt blue is one of Elle’s favorites, a bold shade that’s ideal for summer. Not your cup of tea? Don’t worry, there are countless other options to choose from, truly every possible color you could imagine.
The brand: This smaller, indie brand was created to create polishes that celebrate all skin tones. That goal is especially clear with the variety of nudes, which range from pale beige to creamy chocolate. The line is somewhat small, but there’s still plenty of variety and all of the polishes are vegan, cruelty-free, and 10-free.
The hero product: The subtle grey/purple undertones of Feelin’ My Tiger Stripes give the bone shade plenty of dimension, one of those colors that looks just slightly different based on the lighting and who is wearing it. It’s an excellent pick for anyone in search of a non-boring neutral.
What to Look for in a Nail Polish Brand
Gone are the days when opening a bottle of nail polish made you want to run across the room because the chemical smell is so strong. Now, there are many nail polishes that nix the strong odors, and some that even contain nourishing and replenishing ingredients that can help maintain the strength of your nails. Many brands also advertise as being 10-free, meaning they are free of common chemicals such as formaldehyde. You can use an app to check the ingredients in your products to help you determine how clean it is.
Though it’s always fun to try a new and exciting brand, there’s a lot to be said for the tried-and-true nail polish classics that have been around for decades. If you decide to try a newer brand, check that it has good reviews and has been spoken about by cosmetic professionals. Price won’t necessarily dictate reputation in this space, since nail polish is typically fairly inexpensive.
A Variety of Colors
Some nail polish lines boast hundreds of colors, which should be enough to switch up your look whenever you feel like it. Even smaller companies tend to put out dozens these days. When you’re looking for a new brand of polish, make sure they offer a comprehensive color palette that will give you plenty to choose from. If you care about staying on-trend, opt for a nail polish brand that consistently offers new, innovative products.
Who wants their nail polish to chip within a day? Applying a base coat and top coat can help prevent this, but some polishes simply last longer than others. Choosing a polish that’s labeled as chip-free or long-wearing will keep you from having to DIY your next mani-pedi quite so soon. A great option for a long-lasting, high-performance polish is a gel-style one, and there are some available now that don’t require heat. If you love the look of a gel manicure but not so much the salon maintenance, an at-home gel polish is a great solution.
Does nail polish damage your nails?
Damaged nails can be a common result of frequent nail treatments. That said, a quality nail polish should not damage your nails. Try to pick a polish that is 10-free for fewer abrasive chemicals. Many brands now use gentler ingredients. If past nail polish has caused damage to your nails, Byrdie writer Mandy Zee recommends you tend to them by using a keratin treatment, taking collagen, and soaking them in olive oil.
Is it OK to wear nail polish all the time?
If you’re using high-quality products, you might experience no side effects from wearing polish nonstop besides some yellowing of your nails. But it’s a good idea to let your nails breathe occasionally, and to take a pause between manicures or sets of false nails or gel manicures. Even the act of removing your nail polish can be drying, so it’s good to give your nails a break from time to time.
What nail polish is easiest to apply?
Any quality nail polish shouldn’t be too tough to apply. To make the process an easier one, begin with a base coat for your nails. Byrdie writer Emily Algar says that a quality base coat “wards off stains, smooths the nail, and ensures the longest-lasting mani possible.” Applying a base coat first will make your polish go on smoothly. To help the polish dry properly and to prevent cracks or chips, you can also apply a top coat. "Top coats help seal your polish, prevent the color from fading, and protect from chipping," says nail care expert Nadine Abramcyk.
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 loves nothing more than a good manicure (a professional one, she’s not a DIY girl), though does bring her own polish to the salon to experiment with different brands. Essie, OPI, and Deborah Lippmann are among some of her top personal favorites from this list.
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.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough Black-owned and/or Black-founded nail polish brands to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.
Amy G. Top 8 vitamins and nutrients for healthy, strong nails. Healthline.