A Guide to Every Type of Nail Polish, From Crème to Matte

young person with makeup and red nails

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Does it feel like it takes you hours to pick out your nail polish? Deciding on your next coat of polish goes beyond color—there’s also texture, shine, and finish to consider. Recent years have seen a rise in nail polish styles, including contemporary twists on classic styles such as using different nail polish formulas and finishes into the same manicure.

Whether you consider yourself a beauty maven or are simply curious about what’s available for your next trip to the salon, learn more about each of the major types of nail polish, from the classic crème to the revolutionary holographic. Keep reading to learn from experts about the 10 main types of nail polish to help you pin down your next signature look.

Meet the Expert

Crème

When it comes to classic nail lacquer, the standard style is crème. "Truly a classic! You can’t go wrong with crème. These are super long-lasting because aside from the color, they’re pretty basic. There aren’t many additives included, which makes them last longer," says manicurist Christina Grant. This type of nail polish is one of the most popular and tends to be relatively low-maintenance, with a broad spectrum of shades. We love Pear Nova's polishes because they are vegan, 10 free, and cruelty-free. They are also a favorite of Grant.

nail polish
Pear Nova My Candy Rain $14
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Chrome/Metallic

For a bit of extra flash, chrome or metallic nail polish is the way to go. This style is ultra high-shine and is the perfect choice for a high-impact look. "Your nails will get more attention than ever with chrome or metallic polish," Grant says. Static Nail's nail polish in Rose Gold Edit is a great option for those wanting to try the look. It also contains rosehip, coconut oil, and green tea to improve the health of your nails.

static nail polish chrome
Static Nails Liquid Glass Lacquer Rose Gold Edit $16
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Since this type of nail polish tends to streak, manicurist Saunders James says that these should be applied in long strokes.

Matte

Contrary to popular belief, matte nail polish does look good year-round (most people tend to associate it with the holiday season). This nail polish style is distinctly anti-shine, but high-quality polishes offer plenty of depth and give any color a distinctly editorial look.

"You can go one of two ways: matte polish or matte topcoat. I personally prefer the topcoat to the polish because I feel that sometimes the polishes can dry streaky," says Grant.

Saunders James likes to use a matte topcoat over nail art. "Matte is really fun to use as it gives a smooth, modern look to a manicure. I love using matte over nail art to give it a unique finish," she says. She also notes that matte nail polish takes longer to dry, so keep that in mind after getting a matte manicure.

To keep the matte effect, be mindful of what you apply to your hands. "Be careful with lotion and oil as it’ll reverse the effects of matte! But not to worry, if your matte mani turns glossy, wipe it down with some rubbing alcohol," says Grant.

For a bold impact with zero gloss, we like Zoya’s matte collection.

Zoya Matte Velvet Lacquer in Iris
Zoya Matte Velvet Lacquer in Iris $10
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Glitter/Shimmer

Nail polishes that glitter or shimmer in the light are playful, fun, and offer the perfect summer beauty fix. Most often, these types of nail polish include flecks of glitter suspended in a clear gloss polish. Don’t skip the topcoat (chipping is extra noticeable with this nail polish style), and brace yourself for a tougher-than-usual removal process.

However, with the right shade, glitter polish is well worth the effort. "Even though sometimes glitter polish takes a bit longer to remove with polish remover, it's worth it because of the joy it brings to your fingertips," says Saunders James. We love Bernadette Thompson's glitter nail polish because its tiny glitter flecks mean the polish is less likely to chip.

gold nail polish
Bernadette Thompson B Nail Lacquer in Misleading $18
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Gel

Gel coating is one of the trendiest types of nail polish with an assortment of variations for DIY and salon applications. One reason for their allure is that they tend to last longer than other types of polish and are less susceptible to chipping or scratching. "Gel is hands down going to last longer than regular polish," says Grant.

Salon gel manicures have grown immensely in popularity, but if you’re on the lookout for at-home varieties, Essie’s Gel Couture collection is a great place to start. "Essie's Gel Couture nail polish system is ideal for long wear without the harsh application and removal of a cured gel. And they have so many wonderful colors to choose from," says Saunders James. It's also more affordable than getting a gel manicure at a salon.

Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish in Dress is More
Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish in Dress is More $12
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Holographic

We’re head over heels for holographic makeup, and there’s no reason the trend shouldn’t extend to the nails. This style of nail polish is light reflective and iridescent. Holographic options offer an ethereal quality that pairs well with spring and summer (especially festival season). Holo Taco is a brand recommended by Grant. The color, Purple With Envy, turns purple, blue, or gold depends on how the light hits it.

Holo Taco hologram nail polish
Holo Taco Purple With Envy $14
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Grant suggests trying this formula with an ombré manicure for an even more captivating effect.

Neon

If you’re feeling a throwback look, nothing beats the retro aesthetics of a vibrant neon polish. From hot pink to traffic-cone orange, this type of polish is eye-catching and leans toward the matte end of the spectrum in terms of finish.

Grant suggests starting with a white base coat before applying neon nail polish for a more vibrant finish. We love OPI's neon take on coral with its No Doubt About It polish.

opi nail polish
OPI Tru Neon Collection in No Doubt About It $11
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Foil

Foil nail polish, a member of the metallic/chrome family, is a high-shine variant with a specific look and texture. In essence, the term “foil” is derived from the way the polish tends to catch and reflect light. These metallic shades are similar to aluminum.

"I love that foil is having a major comeback, as it's been around for years as a quick and easy nail art technique with results that are conversation starters," says Saunders James. Brand ella + mila's Moonshadow polish gives you the silver foil effect without streaking.

ella + mila in moonshadow
ella + mila Moonshadow $11
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Pearl

For a delicate sheen without in-your-face color, the pearl look is one of the most versatile types of polish. "It adds a soft luster and is a great alternative to getting a plain mani," says Grant. While pearl polish can be enjoyed on its own, it also looks great on top of a colorful matte or crème polish for a pearlescent finish. Sugarette by Smith & Cult gives a nice pearly white finish.

Smith & Cult Nail Polish in Sugarette
Smith & Cult Nail Polish in Sugarette $18
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Magnetic

This is one of our favorite types of nail polish among the current trends. Once the nail polish is applied, a small magnet (typically included in the cap of the nail polish bottle) acts on tiny metal particles in the polish to create stripes, waves, or other creative designs.

"Magnetic polish is so exciting to use! It feels like a magic trick is being performed right on top of your nails," says Saunders James. While outsourcing your first magnetic nail adventure probably isn’t the worst idea, you can also get the look at home with products from Sally Hansen’s Magnetic line.

Sally Hansen Magnetic Nail Color in Golden Conduct
Sally Hansen Magnetic Nail Color in Golden Conduct $5
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