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Despite the seemingly countless number of hues out there, if you really wanted to simplify the wonderful world of nail polish, you could split it up into two categories: natural neutrals and bold brights. But there’s one shade that somehow manages to blur the lines between the two—we’re talking about classic white. Subtle enough to still be considered a neutral, yet statement-making enough to compete with more dramatic colors, it seems to appease all kinds of polish preferences. Not to mention that it’s universally flattering on all skin tones, seasonally appropriate year-round, and looks equally pretty on nails of any length and shape. Find us another polish color that will do that (go ahead, we’ll wait). Still, as anyone who has ever tried to pick out a white polish (or paint, for that matter) will tell you, not all white hues are created equal.
Best Overall: OPI Nail Lacquer
One of the brand’s most beloved shades, this white is clean and crisp, delivering completely opaque coverage in two coats. Still, the finish has enough shine to it that it won’t look like you painted your nails with White Out. Also nice: You can find it in pretty much any and every nail salon.
Best Gel: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro
What’s great about gel manicures: Lots of shine, no drying time, and not having to worry about chips, most importantly. What’s not so great: The lengthy removal process, plus the potential for nail damage. Happily, this at-home gel formula features all of the pros, without the cons. Super shiny, it actually lasts (reviewers said as long as 10 days), yet comes off with regular polish remover. Taking it one step further, it’s also infused with 10 good-for-your-nails ingredients like omega-6 fatty acids, biotin, and green tea extract, and the formula can help reduce moisture loss while strengthening and protecting nails from damage. While this pristine white doesn’t deliver totally opaque color, you can easily layer more coats if you crave more coverage.
Best Budget: Sinful Colors Sinful Colors Professional Nail Polish Snow Me White
If we hadn’t seen the price tag, we’d have a hard time believing this polish is such a great bargain. Despite the wallet-friendly price, the formula is just as high quality as that of much more expensive options. It’s also free of toluene, formaldehyde, and DBP, a common quality in pricier polishes, but much less so in this kind of bargain buy. This semi-matte white looks gorgeous swiped across your entire nail, though it also works nicely as an accent in graphic and modern nail designs.
Best Metallic: Zoya Nail Polish
A favorite among fans of vegan, non-toxic formulas, Zoya offers several different whites, though we’re partial to this pearlescent option. The color is opaque, but with enough of shimmer to it (it’s designed to look like diamond dust!) to offer a fun twist on classic white. Still, it’s not so glittery that it reads as child-like, so it still has the same level of sophistication and wearability as a non-metallic white.
Best Sheer: Essie Nail Polish
For those looking for a more subtle take on white nails, opting for a more sheer shade is a good option. Swipe on one coat of this creamy color for a sheer, cloudy finish, though it’s also buildable if you want more opacity. (It also has the tiniest bit of a satin-like finish, without skewing over into sparkly territory.) Also nice: It’s a great base for mixing and matching, try layering it one of Essie’s many sheer pinks to create an entirely new pinky-white shade.
Best Long-Lasting: LeChat Nails Dare to Wear Nail Lacquer in Flawless White
Long-lasting polish is always a good choice for obvious reasons, and Totty is a big fan of this shade from LeChat Nails. “It lasts forever and doesn’t yellow or lose the shine,” she says. White polish is prone to yellowing over time, so consider this a major plus.
Best for Damaged Nails: Sally Hansen Color Therapy Nail Polish
The perfect white color plus healthier nails? Yes, please. This dual-purpose polish is infused with argan oil, and the formula helps keep nails nourished and moisturized while also delivering long-lasting, non-fading color. Speaking of color, this snow-white hue is one of our favorites, with a finish that’s just shiny enough to never look chalky. The thick brush also makes even application easier than ever.
Best Opaque: Butter London Nail Lacquer
Highly pigmented, this delivers complete color coverage in just one coat, and also touts a high-gloss finish, is fast-drying, and is chip-resistant. The perfect white crème color aside, it’s also free of eight commonly used chemicals and contains hydrolyzed silk, horsetail extract, and vitamins B, C, and E. Overall, the formula can help to keep your nails strong and healthy. Sold.
Best Multi-Tasker: Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Nail Color
This Insta-Dri formula has a base coat and topcoat mixed in, a time-saving feature which we love. Plus, it promises to dry within 60 seconds so you don't have to worry about those dreaded post-painting smudges.
Best for French Manicures: China Glaze Nail Lacquer with Hardeners
Ideal for painting on crisp white tips, this formula is infused with china clay and moonlights as a nail hardener. This is especially important when it comes to a French mani since the tips are what tend to chip first. The flexible, non-thickening formula goes on smoothly, while the professional 220-strand brush makes application easy, even if you’re a DIY mani novice. The white crème color also pairs perfectly with any and every kind of base, no matter whether you prefer more of a beige, pink, or nude French mani.
Best Off-White: JINsoon Color Field Collection Nail Lacquer
Switch up your typical white mani with this unique shade from Jinsoon. It has a hint of gray and blue which are a welcome change from the traditional pure white.
Best Shimmer Finish: Smith & Cult Nail Lacquer
While it appears somewhat taupe in the bottle, this polish from Smith & Cult applies as an iridescent white on the nails. The smooth formula glides on for a beautiful, shimmering finish.
What to Look For in a White Nail Polish
The first thing Totty recommends looking for in a white nail polish (or any color polish) is healthy, non-toxic ingredients. “We’ve come so far as an industry that stands for quality products that are cruelty-free and healthy,” she says. “There's no need for toluene, phthalates, formaldehyde, or formalin. The good ones usually contain vitamin E, green tea, or keratin to help improve the health of your nails.”
The Right Hue
Not all white polishes are created equal, so Totty says to make sure you choose a shade that works well with your skin tone. “A bright white nail lacquer looks great on most, especially in the summer, but some off-white colors won’t flatter everyone.” Additionally, she recommends reaching for a top coat with a light bluish or purple tint to neutralize any yellowing from UV rays.
Opaque, But Not Thick
The last important feature Totty says to look for is a polish that’s opaque but not too thick in texture, as thicker polish will lead to thicker coats, which are more prone to chipping. “White nail lacquer tends to thicken up faster because it has a lot of pigment in it to achieve good coverage,” she says. “Simply make sure you use nail polish thinner (not remover, those contain oils that will ruin your products) to keep it as good as new.”