Here Are the Most Flattering Shades of Nail Polish for Every Skin Tone

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The best part about wearing makeup of any kind? There are no rules! You can rock any color of lipstick, eyeshadow, or nail polish that your little heart desires, no matter your skin tone. But if you're curious about what shades of nail polish the experts think work best on your skin tone, whether that means they perfectly match your undertone or provide just enough contrast to make nails pop, we have all the recommendations you need. I, for one, swear by Revlon Wild Card Nail Polish ($9), since the bold cobalt blue never fails to complement the slight summer tan I sport each July and August. As for the winter months, when my skin is a tad paler, I reach for OPI Lincoln Park After Dark ($11), which is a unique combination of red, purple, and black that looks striking against my skin. Seriously, it's been my go-to for years.

If your search for a favorite nail polish hasn't been successful, keep scrolling to see the most flattering shades for every skin tone. Ahead, nail experts share the best nail polish shades for every type of skin tone.

Deep Skin Tone

  • Vivid reds and pinks
  • Bright yellows
  • Mocha nudes
  • Earthy clays
Context Nail Lacquer in Unfaithful $15.00

For deep skin tones, David Arbuthnot, founder, and CEO of Context Skin recommends vivid and floral shades of red and pink. These colors are classics, which means they never go out of season or style. Along with this shade, called Unfaithful, he also suggests Don't Cry ($15), which is a mauve pink, and Showstopper ($15), which is a fiery red-orange.

According to Rebecca Isa, creative director at Zoya (one of Byrdie's favorite nail brands), "dark skin tones work well with a bold color choice due to cooler undertones." She likes the shade Donnie ($12) by Zoya, which is "a bright, purple-toned sangria."

Côte Nail Lacquer in No. 57 $18.00

How fun is this bright-yellow shade from Côte? It's literally the color of bottled sunshine. Dandelion Yellow comes recommended by Leah Yari, cofounder of the nail brand Côte, who calls it the perfect "statement color" for people with deep skin tones. Also try Côte's Nail Lacquer in No. 50 ($18), which is a striking orange-red.

Essie celebrity manicurist Julie Kandalec also recommends bright hues for deep skin tones. She likes Essie's Forever Yummy ($9), a vibrant, classic red that looks absolutely stunning. However, if super-bright shades aren't your thing, have no fear. She also recommends "mocha nudes," like Mink Muffs ($13). "I used this on Viola Davis when she won her Oscar for Fences," Kandalec says. 

Olive Skin Tone

  • Warm reds and oranges
  • Bright teals and blues
  • Creamy pinks
Zoya Nail Polish in Karen $12.00

"Medium-to-olive can wear a wide range of colors," Isa says. "All will work great with your skin tone, but it's best to stick with shades that truly complement. For example, if your skin is warmer, go for shades that have red and orange undertones like Zoya's Karen, a poppy-red cream."

Yari recommends a bright teal blue shade for a statement color. She also loves Côte Nail Lacquer in No. 38 ($18), which is wine red, and No. 7 ($18), which is a creamy pink. 

Medium Skin Tone

  • Bubblegum pinks and corals
  • Rosy mauves
  • Moody plums
  • Mod pastel lilacs
Context Nail Lacquer in Sugarland $15.00

As for medium tones, Arbuthnot says a variety of nail polish shades are particularly flattering, like this bubblegum pink called Sugarland. He also loves Slow Down ($15), which is a rosy mauve, and Nightrain ($15), which is a moody and dark plum color. 

Kandalec recommends sticking to "juicy" and "pastel" shades for medium skin tones. First, she likes Essie's Sunday Funday ($4), which is a bright coral polish. Then, she suggests Baguette Me Not ($9), which is a "mod pastel" lilac. She mixes it up, though, by recommending a sheer, slightly sparkly shade, called Imported Bubbly ($9). Use this polish and your nails will sparkle and glint, without being ostentatious.  

Light Skin Tone

  • Sandy beiges
  • Ethereal whites
  • Dusty pinks
  • Airy pastels
essie mind-full meditation
Essie Mind-Full Meditation $9.00

If you have light skin, use a shade that's light and ethereal, like this sandy beige shade that looks so fresh and airy it's almost transparent. These hues, along with light pastels, will prove particularly flattering. If beige isn't your thing, Arbuthnot also suggests Dream On ($15), which is cloud-white, and Ain't Love Strange ($15), which is a dusty pink. 

Fair Skin Tone

  • Blue-toned pinks
  • Midnight blues
  • Creamy, charcoal grays
  • Primary reds
Zoya Nail Polish in Sandy $12.00

According to Isa, "Fair skin tones are typically cooler with a blue undertone, so go for shades that are similar to Sandy by Zoya. Sandy is a blue-toned, flamingo-pink cream."

Yari also suggests light shades, like Côte's No. 10 Nail Lacquer ($18), which is a soft and sheer pink. However, if you're looking for something a little bolder, she says you can't go wrong with this strong midnight-blue shade. Similarly, Côte Nail Lacquer in No. 99 ($18), which is a creamy charcoal gray, serves as the perfect statement shade. Kandelac likes using Essie's Buy Me a Cameo ($9), which is a warm rose gold with a chrome finish, for fair skin. She also loves using a fire-engine red, like the brand's Really Red ($9), for a truly striking finish.

Make Hands Appear More Tanned

  • Bright oranges and yellows
  • Metallic golds
  • Opaque pastels
Côte nail laquer in shade 52
Côte Nail Lacquer in No. 52 $18.00

To give hands the appearance of a post-vacation glow, try colors that feel like a beach holiday. Bright, creamy colors that convey the tropical heat like citrusy oranges, like Côte's No. 52, or syrupy yellows, like Zoya's Honey ($12), which is a warm honeycomb hue. Metallics like Côte's No. 97 Nail Lacquer ($18), which is a muted gold, will also amplify a bronzed complexion.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, opaque pastels can really make a tan pop with their airy contrast. Essie's Can Dew Attitude ($15), a refreshing celadon green, makes for a cooler pop while Olive & June's Cockatoo ($9), a pinky lavender, offers a sweeter alternative.

Make Hands Appear Younger

  • Soft, blush pinks
  • Sophisticated peach and coral hues
  • Vibrant violets
Olive & June Nail Polish in Bold & Unshaken
Olive & June Nail Polish in Bold & Unshaken $9.00

For a youthful visage, one might assume that bright polish or TikTok nails are the way to go. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with sporting the latest color trends at any age or stage of life. But sharp, sophisticated hues are the ones that will give the skin a youthful vibrance. A vivid violet, like Olive & June's Bold & Unshaken, on dark skin tones can freshen up the whole look. Soft pinks, like OPI's Bubble Bath ($11), will do the same for light and fair skin tones on the opposite end of the spectrum. Orly's Adventure Awaits ($11), a creamy peach, and Côte's No. 1 Nail Lacquer ($18), a pinky coral, can accentuate medium to olive skin-toned hands beautifully.

Make Nails Appear Larger

  • True whites
  • Blue-toned pastels
  • Blush pinks
Butter London Nail Lacquer in Cotton Buds
Butter London Nail Lacquer in Cotton Buds $18.00

To amplify the size of your nail beds, opaque colors that draw attention to your fingertips will ensure they stand out. For darker skin tones, true-white shades, like Butter London's Cotton Buds, will act as a beacon of light that won't go unnoticed. Blue-toned pastels like Zoya's Marley ($12), a pearlescent pale lavender, and Essie's Find Me An Oasis ($9), a cooling ice blue, will provide the same spotlight for medium and olive skin tones. As for light and fair skin tones, delicate blush can magnify the fingertip real estate. Chanel's Ballerina ($30), a true blush pink, is an iconic classic.

Make Nails Appear Smaller

  • Deep jewel tones
  • Oxblood reds and burgundies
  • Earthy mauves and plums
  • Rich browns
Smith & Cult Nail Polish in Tokyo Eclipse
Smith & Cult Nail Polish in Tokyo Eclipse $18.00

Deep, dark hues will have the opposite effect, giving nail beds a smaller appearance. We love rich oxblood reds and burgundy shades, like Smith & Cult's Tokyo Eclipse, against light or fair skin tones. The brand's 2AM In Sydney ($18), an opaque burnt espresso, or Côte's No. 91 Nail Lacquer ($18), a moody raisin hue, can visually contract the size of nails while complementing medium and olive skin tones. For deep skin tones, Orly's Midnight Oasis ($11), an inky gray-blue, is as mesmerizing as a velvety night sky.

Make Fingers Appear Slimmer

  • Seamless, opaque nudes
  • Sheer finishes
Orly Nail Polish in Parcs and Parasols
Orly Nail Polish in Parcs and Parasols $11.00

To achieve the look of slimmer fingers, you'll need nail polish shades that create a lengthening effect. Subtle hues that not only complement but also seamlessly blend with your skin tone will do just that. (Similar to what nude heels do for legs). The perfect nude shade differs for everyone's unique skin and undertone combinations, but sheer formulas like Olive & June's The Queen Takes Her Tea With Milk ($9), a neutral mauve, and Essie's Of Corset ($12), a subtle chestnut beige, translate naturally on fair, light, and even medium skin tones. Côte's No. 122 Nail Lacquer ($18), a caramel clay hue, or the brand's No. 49 Nail Lacquer ($18), an earthy clay color, have the ability to melt into olive skin tones, while Zoya's Foster ($12) is a decadent option for deep skin tones with warmer undertones.

Make Fingers Appear Thicker

  • Black hues
  • Dark, saturated colors
Essie Licorice Nail Lacquer
Essie Nail Polish in Licorice $9.00

If you're aiming to counteract the slenderness of your hands or fingers, use the same strategy employed to amplify the size of nail beds. Dark hues like a noir, little black dress shade is a runway staple. Essie's Licorice is the iconic jet black that won't disappoint. Saturated hues like Deborah Lippmann's Fight the Power ($20), an inky blue, and Orly's Pine-ing For You ($11), a lush hunter green, can achieve the same courtesy of a sophisticated verve of color.

  • What's the best way to remove nail polish?

    The easiest and most efficient way to remove nail polish is to use a dedicated nail polish remover. If you are looking to keep your nails and skin from drying out, you can use a non-acetone remover.

  • How can you make nail polish dry faster?

    If you need a fresh mani but don't have a lot of time to wait for drying, make sure you paint your nails with very thin coats—the thinner the coat, the faster each coat will dry. Of course, you can always use a quick-dry top coat like the cult classic Seche Dry Fast Top Coat ($10).

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