The Best Nail Polish Shades for Dark Skin Tones

Updated 11/30/17
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Kurie Fitzgerald writes about beauty products and trends with a focus on diversity. You can find more of her writing on her website. Here she reviews six nail colors to find her perfect match.

I always thought bright nail polish looked better on my skin, so I never even considered darker polishes. Maybe this was a matter of nail technicians steering me toward those colors in nail salons, or perhaps it was peer pressure. Peer pressure had a huge impact—still does to some degree—on my beauty choices. As it relates to choosing nail polish colors, when I was younger and attended sleepovers, painting our nails was often the main activity. My friends handed me brighter colors, and I played along.

I know I am not the only one who thought brighter colors better complement my skin color. If you do a Google search for “best nail polish colors for dark skin tones,” many results suggest bright colors are the best, if not only, way to go. I am not one to always agree with what I am told, and, at the ripe old age of 25, I decided to figure out what shades suit me best.

I selected a range of colors, both the hyper-colorful polishes of sleepovers past and darker, neutral colors that I never could see myself wearing. See which shades I loved and which ones I had to pass on.

For anyone wondering how the colors I tested compares to their own skin, my skin tone falls somewhere between chestnut and espresso.

Deborah Lippmann Walking on Sunshine $18
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The brightest color I tried was Deborah Lippmann’s Walking on Sunshine. It’s borderline neon and offers a nice contrast. While it may sound cliché, this color is perfect for your first summer pedicure. It’s fun without hitting you over the head; it’s electric without being overly adventurous. Could it the best color for me? Perhaps, but I had a few more to try on.

Deborah Lippmann 12th Street Rag $18
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I also tried Deborah Lippmann’s 12th Street Rag. I wanted to like this color, but it didn’t dry the way I thought it would. It was as if I took a gel pen and colored my nail with it. In other words, it ended being more metallic and Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century than I anticipated. I think my younger self would have loved this color, but it didn’t look great against my skin.

O.P.I. Ice-Bergers and Fries $6
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Finding the perfect nude, whether it be in lipstick, nail polish, or undergarments, has always been hard for me. So, in testing the best nail polish for dark skin tones, I figured I’d throw in a nude color, O.P.I.’s Ice-Bergers and Fries. The color is one of the best nude polishes I have ever tried; the burnt chocolate hue matched my skin so well. 

Nars Ikiru $20
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Next up was Nars’s Ikiru. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it. I probably should have tried a more pastel light blue. The color was sky blue on steroids, and it was too unnatural for my taste. Who’s to say all bright colors look great with dark skin tones?

Essie Chinchilly $9
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Another color I tried was Essie’s Chinchilly. I loved this one. More so than the brighter colors I tried, Chinchilly didn’t call a lot of attention to my nails. As you can probably tell by its name, it was singularly gray. It comes off as chic, a look that I am going for. While I do think, in essence, all colors serve a purpose, they might not fit everyone’s style. To assume they do is to miss out on the abundance of other colors that exist and look great, like Chinchilly.

Jinsoon 'Epidote' Nail Lacquer - No Color
JinSoon Epidote $18
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The final color that I tried was JINsoon’s Epidote. I was skeptical because the color is far from what I am used to, but it turned out to be one of my favorites. It changes color as the light hits it, giving it a holographic sheen. When I moved my hand under a lamp, it shone gold, purple, and green. It's a versatile, sophisticated, forest green with a twist.

In terms of ease of use, Essie’s Chinchilly was a hard to put on—the brush was unwieldy. Same with both of the Deborah Lippmann polishes I tried. I often felt like I couldn’t apply them properly. The colors that were easiest to apply were by Nars, O.P.I., and JinSoon. Chinchilly, Nars, O.P.I., and JinSoon all required two applications, while Deborah Lippmann’s 12th Street Rag required three to four.

The consensus—as someone who always thought brighter colors worked better for my skin tone—is that darker colors actually were more flattering. Out of the five colors I selected, my favorite were the darker shades: Essie’s Chinchilly, O.P.I.’s Ice-Bergers and Fries, and Epidote by JinSoon.

Do you have a signature nail polish or favorite brand?

This post was published at an earlier date and has since been updated. 

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