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Nothing against bold shades or statement-making nail art, but we’ll forever be team nude nails. There’s something utterly chic and timeless about this kind of neutral mani, not to mention that it can truly work for any and every occasion. But, as anyone who has ever tried to find a flattering nude hue will tell you, not all nudes are created equal. Nor does nude mean the same thing for every skin tone.
So we did the hard work for you. We sifted through the expansive amount of options out there to find the most flattering nude polishes for every skin tone. We also added in some classic and universal favorites.
Ahead, the best nude nail polishes for every skin tone.
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 non-toxic ingredients if you are able to. Plenty of nude polishes contain nail-healthy ingredients nowadays 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 flatters your skin tone. Those with darker skin tones might prefer a beige-brown blend, whereas those with lighter skin may prefer a pink-y nude. However, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to nail polish so it really is a matter of preference.
A Formula That Is Opaque, But Not Thick
Thick polish = 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 fifteen 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!
Best Overall: Essie Nail Polish
The brand’s ultra-famous Ballet Slippers shade may often get all the buzz, but this—dare we call it perfect—nude deserves just as much recognition. The ideal blend of cream and beige with the slightest touch of baby pink, it’s truly flattering on all skin tones. (Just search the #essietoplessandbarefoot on Instagram if you don’t believe us.)
Best Drugstore: Sally Hansen Miracle Gel
This deeper nude hue has brown undertones, choice for those with lighter skin who like their neutral mani to have a bit pop, or for those with deeper skin who want a more understated effect. Regardless, not only is the color flattering, but the formula is also insanely long-lasting and shiny. Plus, it has a precision brush to make DIYing easier than ever.
Best for Fair Skin: Cirque Colors Nail Polish
A light beige with just a hint of peach, this is beautiful on paler skin, though it still works on many different skin tones. (For a more opaque finish, make sure to layer on at least two coats.) The vegan and cruelty-free formula also has the added benefit of being 10-free.
Best for Medium Skin: JINsoon Nail Lacquer
Sophisticated and glamorous, celeb manicurist turned polish creator Jin Soon was inspired by old Hollywood movies from the 1950s when creating this shade. Still, there’s nothing outdated about the pink-y beige, which brightens skin and elongates nails in one fell swipe and looks particularly pretty on medium skin tones.
Best for Olive Skin: Sally Hansen Color Therapy Nail Polish
To bring out the best of olive skin, opt for a caramel nude, like Sally Hansen’s Color Therapy Nail Polish in Re-Nude. Its barely-there reddish undertones look neutral for this skin tone. Plus, the Color Therapy line actually improves the health of your nails while you wear it since it is infused with nourishing ingredients. It also lasts for up to 10 days without chipping or fading.
Best for Dark Skin: Mented Nail Lacquer
This brand was started when two African-American women set out to create the perfect nude lipstick, and their nude polish offerings are equally inclusive. This beige-brown blend reads as a true nude on deeper skin tones, is deeply pigmented, and packs plenty of shine.
Best Pinkish-Nude: Chanel Les Vernis Longwear Nail Colour
Pretty in pink, indeed. For those who prefer their nudes to skew more toward the pink side, this option is choice. The pink tones are subdued rather than in your-face-bubblegum-y, for an end result that’s just as sophisticated as anything you’d expect from the fashion house. Plus, the polish also contains ceramides to help strengthen tips every time you use it.
Best Taupe: O.P.I. Nail Lacquer
On the flip side, those who shy away from any kind of pink polish will appreciate the lavender-light gray combo of this taupe, one that looks stunning on pretty much every skin tone. It’s a win for anyone who doesn’t love sheer shades either; it goes on completely opaque even after just one coat.
Best Sheer Nude: Olive & June 7-Free Nail Polish
For a truly barely-there mani, opt for a sheer nude, like this one. The flattering tan shade is perfect on anyone and everyone, giving tips just the slightest kiss of color. The formula is also smooth and streak-free, 7-free, and surprisingly long-lasting. (Though given the sheer finish and pale color, chips are barely noticeable if and when they do happen.)
Best Splurge: Tom Ford Nail Lacquer
Given the universal wearability of a good nude polish—it works just as well for a casual weekend getaway as it does a black-tie event as it does the office—this is one beauty staple worth the investment. More specifically, this high-shine, full-coverage formula in this gorgeous shade. With a mix of both warm terracotta and cooler sandy hues, it works on a wide array of skin tones.
Best Set: NAILS INC. Keep It Tonal Nail Polish Set
Can’t decide which nude shade is your fave? Pick up this complete set, a line-up of four complimentary colors. They all look gorgeous on their own, or, swipe one on each finger to create an ultra-trendy, ombré rainbow mani.
Best Treatment: Orly BB Crème
This is a go-to for Byrdie Senior Editor Hallie Gould, a multi-tasking formula that’s ideal to use whenever your tips need a little extra TLC. It smooths out ridges, brightens, and hydrates, all with a touch of ultra-sheer color to make nails look naturally brighter and overall healthier. Super subtle, even non-polish wearers will appreciate the end result.
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 on 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 you’re used to.