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Nude is a fallback color you'll always be glad to have in your arsenal. It's a go-to for everything from leather pumps to matte lipstick to eyeshadow, but a nude manicure is one of our favorite ways to rock the neutral hue.
Flesh-inspired nail polish shades range from deepest espresso to milky ivory, but there are no rules that say you have to choose a color that matches your skin. "Rather than matching your skin tone, it should complement it," says nail artist Syreeta Aaron. "When clients request a nude shade, I ask if they prefer a pink tone or a brown tone, and then make a selection based on that."
Meet the Expert
Scroll down for the best nude nail polishes for everyone and every budget.
Best Overall: Essie Neutrals Nail Polish
Who else recommends it? Cosmopolitan and ELLE both picked the Essie Neutrals Nail Polish.
What do buyers say? 87% of 15,500+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.
Essie's ultra-pale pink might be its most famous neutral shade, but the brand has tons of other stunning options. Topless & Barefoot is a soft taupe-beige that looks great on all skin tones. Then there's Mind-Full Meditation, a dusty nude with a hint of apricot, and Cliff Hanger, a warm milky brown—to name just a few.
Beyond the gorgeous selection of colors with cheeky names, this award-winning nail polish goes on super-smooth, delivers generous coverage, and lasts for several days. We also like that it's formulated without toluene or formaldehyde.
Shade: Topless & barefoot, ballet slippers, mind-full meditation, cliff hanger | Size: 0.46 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 15 minutes | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Budget: Revlon Nail Enamel in Elegant
On a budget? Go with Revlon. The tried-and-true brand's Elegant shade is a rich, cappuccino-like color with a creamy, high-gloss finish.
Shade: Elegant | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 5 minutes | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Drugstore: OPI Nail Lacquer Nudes
Excellent shade options
OPI is nearly undefeated in the drugstore nail polish category. There are lots of excellent nudes to choose from, including Put It in Neutral (a sheer pinky-beige), Taupe-Less Beach (a dark, dusty taupe with a hint of lavender), Samoan Sand (a light creamy neutral), and Barefoot in Barcelona (a warm medium nude).
Shade: Taupe-less beach, barefoot in Barcelona, coconuts over OPI, Samoan sand, put it in neutral | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 15 minutes | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Splurge: Dior Vernis Gel Shine Nail Lacquer Nudes
Excellent shade options
If you're open to splurging on a top-shelf lacquer, Dior won't disappoint. This advanced, gel-like polish delivers glass-like shine and comes in a diverse selection of nudes ranging from chocolate brown to mocha to cashmere.
Shade: Nude line, dansante, tutu, nude look | Size: 0.33 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 10 minutes | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Long-Lasting: Sally Hansen Miracle Gel
No UV light needed
Can get streaky
Lasting up to eight days, Sally Hansen's Miracle Gel was a hit with our home tester, who said it's a solid alternative to a salon gel manicure. Frill Seeker is an apricot-tinted medium nude, and Totem-ly Yours is a creamy milk-chocolate brown.
Shade: Totem-ly yours, frill seeker | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 10 minutes | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Dark Brown: People of Color Nail Polish in Brown Sugar Babe
Works on various skin tones
Inspired by D'Angelo's neo-soul song "Brown Sugar," this nude nail polish might be the ideal dark-brown shade. The slightly warm hue offers a glossy opaque finish with two or three coats (or a sheer effect with one coat) and looks good a range of skin tones.
Shade: Brown sugar babe | Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 15 minutes | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Light Brown: Cirque Colors Nail Polish in Coffee Talk
Brush can pop out of the lid
We also love Coffee Talk from Cirque Colors. This warm, milky chocolate brown nail lacquer is ideal for medium and deep skin tones, but the versatile hue will look good on nearly any complexion.
Shade: Coffee talk | Size: 0.37 fl. oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 10 minutes | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Caramel: Mented Cosmetic Nude Nail Lacquer Collection
Opaque in one coat
Mented makes a great caramel nude nail polish. Yes We Tan is deeply pigmented and brilliantly creamy, offering an opaque finish in just one coat. For something a little deeper, go with Brown and Bougie.
Shade: Yes we tan, brown & bougie | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Creamy | Dry Time: 10 minutes | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Cappuccino: Pacifica Plant Magic Polish in Dirt Road
Takes a few coats to be opaque
Pacifica's Dirt Road is a lovely medium cappuccino shade. This eco-friendly formula contains 80 percent earth-derived ingredients and promises long-lasting, chip-resistant wear. It's easy to apply, too, thanks to the wide brush.
Shade: Dirt road | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 10 minutes | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Beige: Butter London Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquer in Steady On
Opaque in one coat
Our favorite beige is Butter London Steady On. Thanks to the gel-like formulation and signature wide brush, this creamy nude lacquer delivers an opaque effect in just one coat, while the brand's shock-resistant technology ensures a long-lasting mani.
Shade: Steady on | Size: 0.4 fl. oz. | Finish: Creamy | Dry Time: 5 minutes | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Pinky-Nude: LeChat Dare to Wear Nail Lacquer in Paloma
Hard to achieve thin coats
"If my clients request a pink tone, my go-to for a nude shade is LeChat Dare to Wear Paloma, which goes with any skin tone," Aaron tells Byrdie. This highly pigmented yet subtle polish lasts longer than most and resists yellowing.
Shade: Paloma | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 10 minutes | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best With UV Blockers: JINsoon Quintessential Collection Nail Lacquer
JINsoon makes a few great nudes. There's Risque (an ultra-deep brown), Nostalgia (a pinky-beige), Muse (a neutral beige), and Tulle (cool ivory), all of which are formulated with UV blockers to prevent fading and yellowing.
Shade: Risque, nostalgia, muse, tulle | Size: 0.37 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 15 minutes | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Iridescent: Habit Cosmetics Non-Toxic + Vegan Nail Polish in 01 Belle de Jour
Habit's Belle de Jour is a medium-light nude shade with a super pretty iridescent sheen and a hint of shimmer. What's more, this polish comes in sustainable packaging and promises to nourish and strengthen your nails.
Shade: 01 belle de jour | Size: 0.3 fl. oz. | Finish: Iridescent shimmer | Dry Time: 10 minutes | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Eco-Friendly: Nails Inc. Plant Power Vegan Polish Nudes
Want to make your nude nails greener? This line from Nails Inc. is made up of 73 percent earth-derived ingredients and comes in sustainable packaging. We like, What's Your Spirituality? (an ideal taupe) and Weekday Wellness (a pink-leaning teddy-bear brown).
Shade: What's your spirituality?, weekday wellness, mani meditation | Size: 0.47 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 15 minutes | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Gel: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro
No UV light needed
Deborah Lippman's Gel Lab line provides salon-level results without the need for a UV light. It comes in lots of stellar nudes, too, including Beachin' (the ideal medium nude), Naked (a pale pinky-nude), Skin Deep (a warm caramel), Written in the Sand (a neutral medium beige), and Fashion (a cool-toned nude).
Shade: Beachin', naked, skin deep, let nature sing, fashion, written in the sand | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Glossy | Dry Time: 10 minutes | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Our top pick is the award-winning Essie Neutrals Nail Polish, which includes everything from warm milky brown to taupe-beige to dusty nude. But if you're up for splurging on top-shelf nail polish, we highly recommend Dior Vernis Gel Shine Nail Lacquer Nudes, a glass-like lacquer available in gorgeous nude shades ranging from deep chocolate brown to caramel to cashmere.
What to Look For in a Nude Nail Polish
Traditional nail polishes can be harmful as many are formulated with toluene, phthalates, formaldehyde, or formalin. Stick to clean ingredients if you are able to. Plenty of nude polishes contain nail-healthy ingredients like vitamin E, green tea, and keratin.
The Right Hue
“Nude” nails look different for everyone, so it’s important to select a shade that looks good on your skin tone. Those with darker skin tones might prefer a beige-brown blend, whereas those with lighter skin may prefer a pinky nude. However, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to nail polish, so it's a matter of preference.
Aaron tells us how to pick the right nude shade; "If your skin is darker, you want a darker nude so it won't look faded. If you're fair and have peach/pinky skin, you want a nude that has peach/pink tones to complement. Olive skin tones look best with a nude shade that has opacity to make it stand out."
A Formula That Is Opaque, But Not Thick
Thick polish equals thicker coats. While that isn’t a revolutionary thought, the thicker the coat the more prone your polish is to chipping. You can also thin your polish out with the use of nail polish thinner (not remover).
Most nail polishes should fully air dry in under an hour, with some formulas taking as little as 15 minutes. However, if you can’t resist texting or don’t have the time to sit around, look for a quick-dry nail polish formula to speed up the process. You can also add a layer of quick-dry top coat over any nail polish. If you're at the salon you can ask to place your nails underneath a fan dryer, or you can buy an at-home fan dryer—some even come with UV lights.
What is the difference between nail polish and nail lacquer?
The difference lies in durability—nail lacquer is more durable and less likely to chip than traditional nail polish formulas.
Is gel polish bad for your nails?
Unfortunately, gel manicures can cause nail brittleness, peeling, and cracking. On top of that, consistent exposure to UV light may increase the risk for skin cancer and premature aging of the hands.
Can I use gel polish without UV light?
Yes, there are plenty of non-UV gel polishes on the market. However, if you’re a regular UV light user you may not get the same results that you’re used to.
Why Trust Byrdie
Theresa Holland is a freelance copywriter specializing in lifestyle and beauty products within the commerce space. For this story, she spoke with a professional nail artist for product recommendations and insight into the best nude shades. After looking at dozens of colors and formulas, she ultimately chose options that stood out in terms of ease of use, versatility, finish, staying power, and overall quality. As a lifelong at-home manicurist, Theresa has used nail polish from several brands on this list, including Essie, Revlon, Sally Hansen, Butter London, Nails Inc., OPI, and Habit.
12 Best Nude Nail Polishes for Every Skin Tone. Cosmopolitan. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/g39024941/best-nude-nail-polishes/
14 of The Best Nude Nail Polishes For All Skin Tones. Elle. https://www.elle.com/uk/beauty/nails/g31646/best-nude-nail-polish/
Mendelsohn E, Hagopian A, Hoffman K, et al. Nail polish as a source of exposure to triphenyl phosphate. Environ Int. 2016;86:45-51.
Markova A, Weinstock MA. Risk of skin cancer associated with the use of UV nail lamp. J Invest Dermatol. 2013;133(4):1097-1099. doi:10.1038/jid.2012.440