The 12 Best Polishes for Standout Nails

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When it comes to scoring a totally amazing 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.

Our Top Picks
No matter which color you choose from this brand, smooth application, even coverage, and excellent chip-resistance are the norm.
Runner-Up, Best Overall:
OPI Classic Nail Lacquer at Amazon
OPI's ultra-shiny formulas come in loads of colors and deliver up to a week of wear.
This affordable gel polish packs serious shine and impressive staying power.
A unique combo of 10 active ingredients works to create the look and feel of a gel manicure for a chip-free finish.
Runner-Up, Best Gel Alternative:
Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish at Amazon
This polish is formulated to be chip- and fade-resistant.
It's 73% plant-based and vegan while still providing the long-wear benefits we all look for in nail polish.
This eco-friendly polish is packed with antioxidant-rich and strengthening ingredients.
Bring the nail salon home with this convenient kit, a one-stop shop for amazing nails.
This polish packs a glass-like sheen and thicker, cushiony formula that’s very similar to gel polishes.
If you’re not a fan of painting your own nails, opt for these easy-to-apply nail color strips instead.

Best Overall: Essie Nail Polish

Essie Nail Polish
What We Like
  • Incredible color variety

  • Smooth application and even coverage

What We Don't Like
  • Could last slightly longer

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 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 and even coverage are the norm. It’s also a staple brand for professional manicurists: “I’ve used Essie for most of my career, and they have a wide variety of color options including long-wear, trends, and classics,” says celebrity manicurist Michelle Saunders.

Number of Shades: Hundreds | Size: 0.46 ounces

Runner-Up, Best Overall: OPI Classic Nail Lacquer

OPI Classic Nail Lacquer
What We Like
  • Incredible color variety

  • Smooth application and even coverage

What We Don't Like
  • Only 3-free

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. Celebrity manicurist Kimmie Kyees is a big fan of the brand, specifically calling out their wide array of great neutral shades.

Number of Shades: 240 | Size: 0.5 ounces

Best Drugstore: Sally Hansen Miracle Gel

Miracle Gel
What We Like
  • No base coat needed

  • Very long-lasting

  • Wide brush for easy application

What We Don't Like
  • Best used with the brand’s top coat

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.)

Number of Shades: Almost 100 | Size: 0.5 ounces

What Our Testers Say

"I’m a big fan of the shiny top coat—it’s thick, easy to apply, and similar in texture to a professional gel. If your polishing skills are on point, you can definitely achieve a glossy gel manicure that looks professional-grade." — Kelsey Clark, Product Tester

Best Gel Alternative: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro

Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Nail Polish
What We Like
  • Very long-lasting

  • Special brush

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

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 seamlessly coat your entire nail.

Number of Shades: 46 | Size: 0.5 ounces

Runner-Up, Best Gel Alternative: Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish

Essie Gel
What We Like
  • No base coat needed

  • Very long-lasting

  • Easy removal

What We Don't Like
  • Best used with the brand’s top coat

Former 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.

Number of Shades: N/A | Size: 0.46 ounces

Best Non-Toxic: Nails Inc. Plant Power Nail Polish

Nails Inc. Plant Power Nail Polish
What We Like
  • Sustainable packaging

  • 21-free

What We Don't Like
  • Limited shade range

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.

Number of Shades: 10 | Size: 0.47 ounces

Runner-Up, Best Non-Toxic: Nailtopia Bio-Sourced Chip-Free Nail Lacquer

Nailtopia Nail Lacquer
What We Like
  • Great shade range

  • Vegan and cruelty-free

What We Don't Like
  • Small cap can be hard to hold

“This brand is leading the pack when it comes to eco-friendly and bio-sourced ingredients and packaging,” says Saunders. “Not only do they have epic classic colors like deep reds, dark blues, and pinks, they also have the top trend colors of each season like greens, purples, taupes, vibrant oranges, and reds, plus a wonderful choice of sheens and shines,” she says. The formula is made of 85% plant-based ingredients, including tons that help strengthen and condition your nails, such as antioxidant-rich raspberry and blueberry extracts.

Number of Shades: 73 | Size: 0.41 ounces

Best Kit: Olive & June The Everything Box

olive and june the everything box
What We Like
  • Contains everything you need for DIY manicures

What We Don't Like
  • Must buy more colors separately

Bring the nail salon home with this convenient kit, a one-stop-shop for amazing 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 a polish 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.

Number of Shades: 6 per kit | Size: 0.46 ounces

Best High-Shine: Butter London Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquer

Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquer
What We Like
  • 10-free

  • Extremely shiny

  • No base or top coat needed

  • Very long-lasting

What We Don't Like
  • Limited shade range

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.

Number of Shades: 36 | Size: 0.46 ounces

Best Non-Polish: Color Street Nail Strips

Color Street Nail Strips
What We Like
  • Very long-lasting

  • Incredible color variety

  • Easy removal

What We Don't Like
  • Application can take getting used to

Those who don’t love painting their own nails should consider trying these Color Street strips instead. Think of them as stickers, yes, but ones that are made from real polish. Kyees is a big fan: “They go on so easily, and you don’t have to wait for them to dry—they’re the next best thing to gel polish,” she says. Plus, when it comes time to take them off, they come off with regular removers—bonus points for a nice range of shades, as well as glitter and nail art options.

Number of Shades: 75 + | Size: N/A

Best Splurge: Smith & Cult Nail Lacquer

What We Like
  • Incredible color variety

  • Deeply pigmented formula

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Another go-to for Saunders, she raves about the gorgeous packaging and beautiful bottle that’s so pretty, it easily pulls double duty as a piece of decor. But these polishes aren’t just splurge-worthy because of what they look like. The formula is 8-free and offers some of the most even and pigmented color of any polish we’ve ever tried; plus, the cap is super easy to hold as you swipe on the polish.

Number of Shades: 54 | Size: 0.5 ounces

Best for Damaged Nails: Orly Breathable Treatment + Color

Orly breathable treatment + color
What We Like
  • No base or top coat needed

  • Good for nail health

  • 13-free

What We Don't Like
  • Not necessarily the longest-lasting option

If your tips are in need of some serious TLC, most manicurists will usually recommend that you skip polish for a little way and instead just load up on hydrating cuticle oil. But if bare nails just aren’t your thing, reach for this formula. It’s a unique, one-step polish (AKA no base or top coat required) that’s specially made to be breathable and let oxygen into the nail. On top of that, it’s also infused with moisturizing argan oil and strengthening pro-vitamin B5.

Number of Shades: 75 | Size: 0.6 ounces

Final Verdict

These days, there's a nail polish out there to really fit anyone and everyone's particular polish preferences. That being said, you definitely can't go wrong with Essie Nail Polish or OPI Classic Nail Lacquer, two absolute classics that offer exceptional formulas and dizzying amounts of shades. The Sally Hansen Miracle Gel is a drugstore standout, affordable, and touting a super long-wear formula that's extremely impressive. And if you're seeking out eco-friendly alternatives, check out either Nails Inc. Plant Power Polish (view at Sephora) or Nailtopia Plant-Based, Bio-Sourced Chip-Free Nail Lacquer (view at Ulta).

What to Look for in a Nail Polish

Color

This may seem obvious, but it really is the first thing most people think about. Consider what looks good on your skin tone, what matches your clothing, and, most importantly, what colors just make you feel good, says Kyees.

Ingredients

Besides the hue, Saunders suggests taking into account the ingredients; more and more formulas today are omitting more and more potentially harmful chemicals. You can also consider things like whether or not it's environmentally-friendly, and the company's ethics, she says.

FAQ
  • How long do nail polishes last?

    “In my experience, a polished manicure should last without chipping anywhere from five to seven days,” says Saunder.  “The durability of nail polish depends on two factors—the quality of ingredients and how often you open the bottle,” she adds.

  • Do nail polishes expire?

    “If unopened, nail polish can last for several years, especially if kept in a cool, dark place,” explains Saunders. That being said, nail polish gets goopy the more you use it; when oxygen penetrates the product, it makes it thicker, she points out. If that’s the case, and it’s becoming hard to apply, toss it.

  • How many coats of nail polish should you apply?

    Kyees says one layer of base coat, two coats of polish, and a layer of top coat are best.

  • How do you remove nail polish?

    Kyees says either non-acetone or acetone-based removers will work well on regular nail polish. Soak a cotton ball in the remover, then press against the nail for a few seconds before wiping away.

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 has her nails polished 99% of the time and has used the majority of the polishes on this list at some point or another (though Essie remains her all-time favorite).

Meet the Expert

  • Michelle Saunders is a celebrity manicurist and the founder of Saunder & James salon in Oakland, California.
  • Kimmie Kyees is a celebrity manicurist who has worked with A-listers such as Adele and Rihanna.

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 nail polishes from Black-owned and/or Black-founded businesses to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at contact@byrdie.com, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Hui X, Hornby SB, Wester RC, Barbadillo S, Appa Y, Maibach H. In vitro human nail penetration and kinetics of panthenolInt J Cosmet Sci. 2007;29(4):277-282. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-2494.2007.00373.x

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