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When it comes to scoring a totally flawless 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.
Best Overall: Essie Nail Polish
Arguably one of the most iconic polish brands out there, you’d be hard-pressed to find any nail salon that doesn’t carry row upon row of these signature white-top bottles. Originally founded in 1981 with just a dozen shades, the mega-company continues to grow and expand, with a wide range of permanent colors along with seasonal collections. (Although if you’re overwhelmed by the selection, you can’t go wrong with the cult-classic Ballet Slippers, the beloved pale pink that’s even a go-to for the Royal Family.) No matter which color you choose, smooth application, even coverage, and excellent chip-resistance are the norm.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: OPI Classic Nail Lacquer
We appreciate the cute and clever names of OPI polishes (“I’m Not Really a Waitress,” “Taupe-Less Beach”) almost as much as we do the standout formula. Ultra-shiny, it delivers up to a week of wear. Plus, not only is there a jaw-dropping collection of colors to choose from, but there are also all kinds of unique textures and finishes, from metallics to mattes.
Best Drugstore: Sally Hansen Miracle Gel
There’s a good reason why this is the number one best-selling gel polish in the US. Simply put, the formula is pretty darn epic. It packs serious shine and impressive staying power, and the flat-headed brush makes application a breeze. Not to mention, there are nearly 100 colors to pick from.
For best results, the color is meant to be used on bare nails and topped with the Miracle Gel Top Coat. (But in our experience, even if you use that top coat over another brand of polish it helps up the longevity.)
Best No Chip: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro
If even the teensiest of chips is enough to send you frantically searching for cotton balls and remover, this is the polish for you. A unique combo of 10 active ingredients works to create the look and feel of a gel manicure, without any curing light or extensive (and potentially damaging) removal required. The brush is also noteworthy, boasting 320 bristles plus a rounded tip to help you perfectly coat your entire nail.
Runner-Up, Best No Chip: Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish
Byrdie Senior Editor Lindsey Metrus loves this lacquer, Essie’s alternative to an in-salon gel manicure. Chip-and fade-resistant, all you have to do is swipe on the color (onto bare nails, no base coat required), then top it with the Gel Couture Top Coat. Then sit back and prepare to admire your handiwork for days to come.
Best Non-Toxic: Nails Inc. Plant Power Nail Polish
First there were three-free, then five-free, then eight-free polishes; we’ve even seen 10-free. But this option from Nails Inc. really takes the cake at 21-free.
This collection is dubbed the brand's purest and kindest to date. It's 73% plant-based and vegan while still providing the long-wear benefits we all look for in nail polish. Even the packaging is sustainable; the brand swapped out their plastic cap in favor of this eco-friendly 100% FSC ash wooden cap.
Runner-Up, Best Non-Toxic: Sally Hansen Good.Kind.Pure
Not quite 21-free, but this one is still really impressive at 16-free, formulated without, you guessed it, 16 different questionable chemicals and ingredients. The plant-based, completely vegan polish is choice for clean beauty queens, though anyone and everyone will appreciate the beautiful colors and glass-like sheen.
Best Kit: Olive & June The Everything Box
Bring the nail salon home with this convenient kit, a one-stop-shop for flawless nails. There’s of course 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 remover included, plus all the tools you need. But perhaps our favorite part? Their unique ‘Poppy’ tool, a universal polish handle that attaches to any cap and makes it legitimately possible for anyone to paint their own nails.
Best Color Selection: JINsoon Nail Lacquer
Jin Soon is one of the most beloved manicurists in the biz, with an impressive roster of celeb and editorial clients (not to mention beauty editors, who flock to her several New York City salons in droves). Her eponymous line of polishes makes it easy to get that same, pro-inspired touch at home, thanks to a silky smooth and shiny formula that’s also free of five commonly-used questionable chemicals. And the shade range can’t be beaten, an extensive yet curated collection of spot-on classics—think nudes and reds—alongside more on-trend colors.
Best High-Shine: Butter London Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquer
The name really does say it all—this polish packs a glass-like sheen and thicker, cushiony formula that’s very similar to gel polishes. Incidentally, it also doesn’t require a base or top coat, making it choice for those looking to shave some time off their manicure. Also nice: It’s free of 10 common toxins, and lasts up to 10 days.
Best Splurge: Dior Vernis Couture Color
Sure, it may seem a little extra to buy designer nail polish, but this one is well worth every penny. All of the hues are formulated with unique pigments that up the vibrancy and intensity, along with polymers that ensure extra grip between the color and your nail. The formula is free of toluene, formaldehyde, phthalates, and camphor and also features silicon in the mix to help strengthen nails.
Best Budget: Maybelline New York Fast Gel Fast Drying Nail Lacquer
This newbie rings in at just a few bucks, meaning you can nab a whole handful of the 18 different shades for less than the price of one salon manicure. It dries lightning fast (a major win since, let’s face it, no one likes the drying part) and has a cuticle-shaped brush for perfectly precise swiping.
Best Base Coat: Morgan Taylor Go Ahead and Grow Nail Strengthener
No matter which color you choose, a good base coat, namely this one, is an essential prep step. The multi-tasker does an excellent job as a pre-polish layer, helping the color adhere better. (Read: last longer.) But the benefits don’t stop there. Since it's also packed with strengthening vitamin E, it also helps your tips grow longer and stronger.