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Much like a good red lip, there’s something innately powerful, bold, sophisticated, and iconic about a red manicure. A true power color, sporting red polish is equal parts cool and modern, yet still totally classic—one of those hues that truly never goes out of style. Not to mention that there’s no shortage of red nail polishes to pick from, from fire-engine red to deep bordeaux—and everything in between.
Keep reading to see the best red nail polishes.
Best Overall: Emilie Heathe Longwear Nail Artist Polish in the Perfect Red
Great classic red
Chic bottle design
“Need I say more? The name says it all,” says celebrity nail artist Elle of one of her all-time favorite reds. “It’s great for any skin tone and any season,” she adds. Indeed, it’s a true classic red with a great balance of both cool and warm undertones. The incredibly chic, round bottle that’s so pretty you’ll want to display it like a work of art is just an added bonus.
Shades: 13 | Size: 0.4 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Drugstore: Sally Hansen Miracle Gel in Rhapsody Red
No base coat needed
Must use the brand’s top coat
Another great classic cherry red, this is our favorite option at the drugstore. And not only is the color amazing, but the formula is also super long-lasting, delivering up to eight days of chip-free, high-shine wear (and you don’t even need a base coat).
Shades: 59 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine, glitter | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Summer: Chanel Le Vernis Longwear Nail Color in Gitane
Contains ingredients good for your nails
Bright and vibrant, Elle says she often reaches for this in the warmer months: “It has a hint of orange in it that I gravitate towards for summer looks,” she explains. Also nice: The formula touts strengthening ingredients, such as ceramides, to help bolster your nails, too.
Shades: 33 | Size: 0.4 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Winter: Dior Vernis in Massai
Super shiny finish
“This darker cherry red is great for winter,” says Elle. Indeed, it borders on the edge of burgundy, a rich and luxurious color that channels both festive and cozy vibes. Plus, it’s an incredibly shiny formula, so shiny that it rivals that of many gel polishes we’ve used.
Shades: 7 | Size: 0.3 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Orange-y Red: Essie Nail Polish in Lacquered Up
Great color payoff
The orange undertones in this Essie red are subtle enough that it never looks orange but enough to give it some nice dimension. It's supremely pigmented and has a high-gloss finish that accentuates the vibrant color, even more, not to mention it's one of the more affordable picks on the list.
Shades: 12 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Pink-y Red: JINsoon Nail Polish in Winky
Very versatile for different skin tones
We love pretty much any and every color that celebrity manicurist Jin Soon Choi has in her eponymous line, but of all the red choices, this is our favorite. It’s one of those unique colors that’s a combo of a few different hues—in this case, pink, coral, and red—so it always looks a little different, depending on the light and who is wearing it. It’s also one of our go-to summer pedi colors.
Shades: 89 | Size: 1.6 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine, glitter, metallic | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Deep Red: LeChat Dare to Wear Nail Lacquer in Passionate Kiss
Great color payoff
Must dry for 10 minutes in between coats
A rich berry, wine tone, this is a great option for fans of the dark manicure. It’s dark enough that it could even sub in for black or plum, though less harsh. Elle is a fan, saying that it’s another great pick for fall and winter, adding that if you layer a gold shimmer color underneath, you can easily change the entire effect.
Shades: 27 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine, matte, glitter | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Pale Skin: OPI Nail Lacquer in A Little Guilt Under The Kilt
Great color payoff
TBH, we'd probably reach for this bottle based on the name alone, but the color is great, too. It's rich and glimmery and deep enough that it really pops on pale skin. (Though it can definitely be worn on all skin tones.)
Shades: 33 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Olive Skin: Olive and June Polish in CV
Has a great mix of undertones
Easy to apply
Can take a bit longer to dry
A fire-engine red, this shade plays nicely off the yellow undertones typically found in those with more olive complexions. The formula is 7-free, and the brush has a unique, fan-shape for easy DIY manicuring. But if you really want to make it easy, pick up the brand’s The Poppy, a pop-on cap that makes painting even easier.
Shades: 110 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine, glitter | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Dark Skin: Pear Nova Classic Lacquer in Berry Jane
Looks great on darker skin
Great color payoff
The founder of this brand set out to create a range of polish colors that flatters all skin tones, particularly darker ones. She certainly succeeded, and this rich ruby red is proof positive. It never looks muddy or dirty, even on the deepest of skin colors. We also appreciate that the formula is 10-free.
Shades: 31 | Size: 0.3 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine, glitter | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Long-Lasting: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro in Lady is a Tramp
Super shiny finish
For those who want the wear, shine, and cushiony look of a gel formula—but don’t want to deal with the hassle of the soak-off-removal process—this is an amazing alternative. Credit the unique formula that features a combo of 10 unique ingredients to deliver exactly that. The brush is noteworthy, too, with 320 bristles and a rounded tip to make application a breeze for anyone. There are a few reds to choose from, but we’re partial to this full-coverage, ruby red creme.
Shades: 41 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine, creme, glitter, metallic | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Sustainable: Habit Cosmetics Nail Polish in 14 Hussy
Less product than other options
Not only are we big fans of this classic cherry red, but we’re pretty fond of the 10-free formula, which boasts myrrh extract to help strengthen our nails. Also nice? Each of Habit’s polishes is sustainably packaged in a glass bottle with a bamboo cap, recycled plastic parts, and FSC-certified paperboard.
Shades: 65 | Size: 0.3 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine, glitter | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Shimmer: Triple O Polish Nail Polish in Oya
2 size options
Handmade, so color may vary
When you want a red with a little bit of glimmer, opt for this shimmery shade from Triple O Polish. It’s chic and sophisticated, providing a subtle metallic sheen that's not overly sparkly.
Shades: 109 | Size: 0.3 / 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: High shine, glitter | Cruelty-Free: Yes
You really can’t ever go wrong with red polish, a foolproof choice when it comes time to pick your color. The aptly-named Emilie Heathe Longwear Nail Artist Polish in the Perfect Red is our overall favorite, a pricey pick, but a true classic red that works year-round and on all skin tones. At the drugstore, pick up the Sally Hansen Miracle Gel in Rhapsody Red, another amazing cherry red that also happens to be super long-lasting. If you want a super dark red, try the LeChat Dare to Wear Passionate Kiss, a deep burgundy-bordeaux tone. And if you prefer something lighter and pinker, go with JINSoon Nail Lacquer in Winky, a gorgeous hybrid of red, pink, and coral.
Meet the Expert
Elle is a celebrity nail artist in New York City and Los Angeles. Her clients include Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron, and Blake Lively.
What to Look For in Red Nail Polish
According to Elle, more matte, flat reds will show mistakes much more so than those that are shiny and have dimension.
Not only is this a way to find the best shade of red for you, but it can also help keep your manicure seasonal, explains Elle. Cooler, blue-based reds are great on those with cooler undertones in their skin, as well as a good option for fall and winter. Warmer, orangey reds are a nice pick for summer and for anyone with warmer skin. Still, she’s quick to note that ultimately your choice of red totally boils down to a matter of personal preference.
How long does red nail polish last?
Red nail polish will last as long as any color, says Elle. The big caveat? Make sure you prep the nail correctly pre-color, which means making sure it’s thoroughly cleaned (free of dirt and oils) and there’s a base coat involved.
How many coats of red nail polish do you need?
“I believe that you always need two coats to really be able to see the true color,” says Elle.
Does red nail polish expire?
Just like any other nail polish, not really. What can happen is that the formula can start to separate (though this usually takes years, not months). If you notice the color looking weird in the bottle, toss it.
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, most often rotating between a nude color and some iteration of red, including many of the options on this list (Essie Lacquered Up is a favorite staple).