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The 10 Best Nail Polishes of 2019

Nail Polish: The Best of 2019

Both men and women have been embellishing their fingernails and toenails for thousands of years. Often certain colors and formulas were restricted to royalty and upper classes because of expense and status. Nail color was created from materials like kohl, henna, beeswax, powder, and paste. What we think of as modern nail polish, usually glossy and high shine, came into being in the 1920s flapper era. So much has changed since then, and even in the last ten years with options like acrylics, dip powder, press-on nails, nail wraps, jewels, nail art pens, and gel manicures rising in popularity.

What we are focusing on is nail polish, which is a term that is essentially interchangeable with nail lacquer, nail varnish, or nail enamel. Some brands prefer one term over the other, but we’ll stick to the basics and just call it nail polish. Here is our curated list of 10 nail polish products that we think are pretty great.

Premium pick

1. Smith & Cult Nailed Lacquer

9.50 / 10

If you’re willing and able to splurge, Smith & Cult Nailed Lacquer has the loveliest of shades that go on fluidly and stay glossy. It goes on smooth and streak-free. The polish is so full of pigment that one coat will look opaque even in the darkest shades. You can’t always judge a book by its cover, but the adorable gold-capped bottle is our favorite and adds a glamorous and luxurious look to your vanity or as a star of your social media photos! And it’s not just a pretty face, that little bottle provides a workhorse of a brush that provides full-coverage with every swipe. Though there are limited color options, each one is glorious and perfectly curated. How about Dirty Baby – “ultra fine silver glitter suspended in obsidian base” or the perfectly unusual Doe My Dear, which is a rich taupe, or the “metallic papaya” shade called Fade The Sun? Expect the color to last for a full week, even for the most active of nails. Best of all, Smith & Cult Nailed Lacquer is free of all the most nail-damaging chemicals like dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, and triphenyl phosphate. You’ll pay a little more for this stylish little gem, but treating yourself is never a bad thing. Smith & Cult is a subscription box favorite, so if you use a one of those fun services maybe you will be surprised with one of these fancy little bottles. If not, don’t wait, go grab one now!

Key Features
  • 42 colors
  • 8-Free
Specifications
  • Wear Time: 7-9 days
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 1.7 x 2.2 inches
  • Product Weight: .5 fl oz
Pros
  • Vegan, gluten-free
  • Nontoxic
  • Cute and photogenic bottle
Cons
  • Smaller color selection
Editors choice

2. ILNP Boutique Nail Polish

9.80 / 10

ILNP stands for I Love Nail Polish. It’s an independent brand, and they really do love nail polish. ILNP is our favorite for holographic polishes that really reflect light and take on opal, pearl, and iridescent qualities like no other brand. It goes on sheer for a shimmery look, which might not be for everyone’s taste. If you’re looking for highly pigmented, fully saturated, or opaque color, this might not be the right fit. But for a more ephemeral and dreamy look with intense sparkle, you can’t go wrong. You won’t need to use a base coat with ILNP because it goes on fully all by itself. The consistency is nice and it doesn’t have a strong smell. It wears well for a full week relatively little damage. For one of the trendiest colors in recent memory, try ILNP Holographic Nail Lacquer in Rose Gold. It universally complements any complexion, season, outfit, or occasion, day or night. It’s shimmery and glittery, but you won’t need to put yourself through the intense scrubbing off process required by most glittery polishes. And for when you don’t need subtlety, can we talk about the Ultra Chromes collection? Get your motor running because these multi-dimensional shades are like having a souped-up Italian sports car on your nails. Tilted is an intense purple chrome shade that shifts colors as you move in the light, and it will bring you to your knees. Put on your seat belt because ILNP Holographic Boutique Nail Lacquer will stop traffic.

Key Features
  • 100 colors
  • 3-Free
Specifications
  • Wear Time: 7 days
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 1.1 x 3.2 inches
  • Product Weight: .4 fl oz
Pros
  • Cruelty-free, vegan
  • Holographic sparkle
  • Quick drying
Cons
  • Somewhat sheer
Best value

3. Sally Hansen Miracle Gel

9.50 / 10

Skip the salon and use Sally Hansen Miracle Gel nail polish for the most professional-looking do-it-yourself mani-pedi. Independent lab tests show that Sally Hansen Miracle Gel nail polish lasts longer, with less chipping, than ordinary nail polish. We liked the short and square wand for perfect control in applying the polish. It dries quickly, like in about five minutes, and you won’t need to wait around for it to cure under a UV light. You can just go about your day while its active ingredients do their business. The color coat may look streaky after the top coat is applied, but those will go away after everything is fully dry in about an hour. When you’re ready for a change you won’t need special coaxing, scraping, peeling, or soaking in acetone to remove it – regular old nail polish remover will work just fine without damaging your nails. What’s remarkable about Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Nail Polish is its ability to outlast almost any other nail polish with a chip-free manicure for up to two weeks, depending how rough you are with your hands, often outperforming a professional gel manicure. This inexpensive drugstore brand really holds up, but it does require a top coat. It’s not quite as viscous as similar polishes, which means it goes on accurately and smoothly, achieving full color results with just one coat. We don’t like to throw around the term “miracle” loosely, but Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Nail Polish is pretty close to living up to its name.

Key Features
  • 75 colors
Specifications
  • Wear Time: 8-14 days
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 1.4 x 3.1 inches
  • Product Weight: .5 fl oz
Pros
  • Super chip-resistant
  • Longest-lasting of all brands reviewed
Cons
  • Smaller color selection
  • Requires a top coat

The texture of Essie nail polish is smooth and creamy, but fair warning, you will need to apply at least two coats to get the most vibrant finish. We don’t feel like that’s asking too much because most professional manicurists use at least two to three coats along with a base layer and top coat. When you do apply those two coats you will get a rich, highly pigmented, and opaque color that remains shiny up to a full week with minimal chipping. Essie polish is available in hundreds of vibrant hues, including its most famous shade, Ballet Slippers, a sheer pale pink color, which was famously referenced in the novel, The Devil Wears Prada, a favorite of celebrities, and is rumored to be the favorite shade of Queen Elizabeth II, who dislikes bold nail colors. There is even great speculation that Meghan Markle may have worn it on her wedding day. Essie nail polish is quick drying and long lasting. The couple of downsides to Essie nail polish are relatively minor. The first is a slight concern with is the smaller brush, which is trickier to handle than the OPI brush and requires more brush strokes for a full application than the brush of Essie’s closest competitor. Additionally the shelf life is not super long and the polish starts to break down and it goes on clumpy and streaky if you don’t use it up within a year or so. Given those two issues are not indicative of the performance of the polish itself, Essie is our “hands” down winner for favorite nail polish.

Key Features
  • Over 300 colors
  • 3-Free
Specifications
  • Wear Time: 7 days
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 1.1 x 2.7 inches
  • Product Weight: .46 fl oz
Pros
  • High gloss finish
  • Quick-drying
  • Wide range of colors
  • Available almost anywhere
Cons
  • Thinner brush
  • Need to apply at least two coats for full coverage

Known for its great texture and cool colors, especially a fantastic range of nudes that work with any skin tone, Zoya Nail Polish will last up to a full week with no flaking. Zoya is the darling of professional salons with an eco-friendly bent, but most of the hundreds of shades available can be purchased outside of the salon to get the same look at home. Because it’s a more environmentally friendly formula, Zoya may be prone to a little more chipping, but of the non-toxic polishes available, Zoya has the longest-lasting finish, wearing up to a week without significantly noticeable wear. Some places advertise it as wearable for 14 days, but beware of that claim. Even the strongest of gel polishes on our list don’t usually last that long without significantly noticeable wear. If you’re looking for something that wears well that is free of the five of the harshest substances found in many nail polishes, Zoya is an excellent choice. Some colors even go up to 10-Free. Zoya never uses formaldehyde, which can be a carcinogen in large quantities, t’s vegan, cruelty free, and totally safe to use during pregnancy. As mentioned at the top, let’s talk for a minute about the colors – for a daring fall or holiday sloe-colored burgundy, check out this season’s Etta from the Sensual collection. From pale and sophisticated bridal blush and champagne colors to holographic brights that will cheer anyone up on a winter day to ice cream hued summer tones, you’re guaranteed to fun something new and different within the Zoya line.

Key Features
  • 400 colors
  • Free of 10 common harmful ingredients
  • Vegan
Specifications
  • Wear Time: 5-7 days
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 1.2 x 3 inches
  • Product Weight: .5 fl oz
Pros
  • Nontoxic and vegan
  • Ridiculous variety of colors
Cons
  • Some colors may require several coats

With the gentlest of formulas, made from bamboo extract and diamond powder, Butter London Patent Shine 10x Nail Lacquer delivers gel-like color that makes your nails both look and feel good. Though it’s not a gel polish, it has the same type of lasting and fade-resistant power as leading gel polishes. The best thing is that it is one of the best non-toxic polishes available. Not only is it 8-Free, it’s also free from parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and synthetic fragrance. The colors are rich, with a completely opaque application after just one coat, though two coats and a top coat are recommended to get the longest wear out of one manicure. Butter London Patent Shine 10x Nail Lacquer makes a few claims (the 10x is for 10-in-1 formula) – the first being ten-day wear and chip resistance enabled by polymer technology, but that might be a reach. There is definitely some chipping after a week of wear. We did find it to be fade-resistant, as billed. Smoother and stronger nails – maybe, but there is some accentuation of natural nail ridges, which a top coat can help smooth out. It’s definitely one of the milder and non-toxic products out there. There are limited, but unique shades are available – Across the Pond is an intriguing dark hunter green and Lemon Drop is a chiffon colored light yellow. There is also an array of neutrals ranging from dove gray to oatmeal. For a smooth and shiny manicure that goes on evenly and gently, Butter London Patent Shine 10x Nail Lacquer is a great pick.

Key Features
  • Nontoxic
  • 8-free
Specifications
  • Wear Time: 6-10 days
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 0.8 x 2.6 inches
  • Product Weight: .4 fl oz
Pros
  • Unique colors
  • Dries quickly
  • Hypoallergenic
Cons
  • Prone to clumping
  • Color not always as appears in package

Deborah Lippmann started out as a manicurist to bigtime celebrities and went on to develop her own eponymous line of nail polish. To keep pleasing her A-list clients, you know that the product has to live up to their expectations. Part of the reason she created her own nail formulas was to get away from the more toxic products that were on the market when she was polishing the nails of the stars before they take the stage at the Oscars. Consumers are more educated now, and vegan and environmentally friendly formulas are readily available now, but that wasn’t always the case. Deborah Lipmann nail polishes are a minimum of 5-Free and do far less damage to nail beds than the harsh chemicals of the past. What we love about Deborah Lippmann Nail Lacquer is that it goes on thinly for an easy and flawless application yet retains remarkable color and vibrancy. We like the shape of the bottle and brush that allows for a controlled distribution of the product. You’ll definitely need a couple of coats to attain fully saturated color. It’s a higher end brand, but you’ll find saturated and trendy colors that you may not see anywhere else, like Just Dance – a glitter polish in a mermaid-like shade of dark aqua or Weird Science, a shimmery chartreuse straight out of the chem lab or Glitter In The Air, a cloud blue shade with flecks of multi-colored confetti. Deborah Lippmann Nail Lacquer wears for a solid ten days without re-application.

Key Features
  • 7-free
  • 64 colors
Specifications
  • Wear Time: 9-10 days
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 4 x 5 inches
  • Product Weight: .5 fl oz
Pros
  • Vegan, not tested on animals
  • Thinner formula goes on smoothly
Cons
  • Slow drying

As another salon owner and nail artist to the stars who developed her own line of nail polishes, Jin Soon Choi, knows how to create the ideal nail color formula. The JINSoon Nail Lacquer goes on silky smooth and comes in a crazy good range of shades, like colors that will cause people to stop you on the street to ask you about them because of their depth and rich texture. We’ve never seen so many glittery and sparkly colors. For the perfect New Year’s Eve glitter, try Glacé, an incredibly textured metallic polish with silver, gold and round flecks of glitter. The coffee-shaded Verismo has subtle undertones of gold and black. Aria is a dark pearl fuchsia that leaves us drooling. Or if you’re looking for something a more matte and understated, well as understated as creamsicle orange can be, try Hope. Not only are the colors amazing, JinSoon polish goes on smoothly without streaking, and lasts up to nine days with minimal wear. Most shades don’t even require a top coat for full on color and relentless shine. Only one coat delivers an opaque and shiny finish. The polish is 5-Free but does contain polymers and resins to make it last longer without chipping. Applied properly you can go as long as nine days with relatively minor wear and chipping. UV filters protect the integrity of the color so you don’t see fading or yellowing as time goes by. While it holds up at home as well as a professional manicure, you might find yourself taking your favorite color along to the salon with you.

Key Features
  • 100 colors
  • 5-Free
Specifications
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 1 x 2.8 inches
  • Product Weight: .37 fl oz
Pros
  • Vegan
  • Chip-resistant
  • Long-wearing
  • Cool and different colors
Cons
  • Requires multiple coats to achieve color as seen in bottle

What’s great about OPI nail polish is that even if you have the clumsiest hands, you can achieve a professional level manicure with OPI’s forgiving long and narrow brush. You never end up with too much or too little color with one stroke without streaking or clumping. We love that it’s easy to apply the recommended three coats of OPI Classic Nail Lacquer with its generous brush. The handle just feels ergonomically right and simple to handle. OPI Classic Nail Lacquer has a consistent texture regardless of the shade, goes on smoothly, and dries very quickly – up to a minute and a half faster than the next runner up. OPI colors are almost always fully saturated, and OPI has fewer harmful ingredients than many of its rivals. It doesn’t chip easily, even if you forego a top coat. But we recommend adding the top coat layer for extra gloss, protection, and shine. And of course OPI has wonderfully creative and fun names, often inspired by places around the world, for their color collections, like Good Girls Gone Plaid as part of the 2019 Scotland Collection. There are so many colors to choose from, and a reason to look forward to the new collections each season. You’ll notice walls of OPI brand nail polish everywhere from strip mall nail salons to the most upscale spas primarily because of its quality and durability. It sits at a mid-range price point and can be trickier to find than some drugstore competitors, but the full palette is available through many online retailers.

Key Features
  • 3-Free
  • 240 colors
Specifications
  • Wear Time: 7 days
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 1 x 3.2 inches
  • Product Weight: .48 fl oz
Pros
  • Flat, wide brush
  • Dries fast
  • Lots of colors
Cons
  • Trickier to find than drugstore brands
  • Bubbles can appear if handled roughly before use

Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy Longwear Nail Enamel might come as close to gel manicure results as one can get without the use of a UV light. True to its name, it withstands the activities of a normal day as well has hard core work like scouring pots and pans or sanding a piece of furniture. Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy Longwear Nail Enamel will last up to eight days with minimal scratching or chipping and retains it’s amazing glossy shine. It’s available in most drugstores or discount stores, comes in a wide range of colors, and is totally affordable. Pick one up to-day. It has a built-in base coat so you’ll be able to skip at least one step in your mani or pedi process, but you will need to seal and cure it with Revlon ColorStay Diamond Top Coat, which is sold separately. The brush is a great width, but the bristles are dense, so you will need to slide the brush against the bottle to make sure you don’t have too much liquid on it before applying. What you see is what you get – the highly saturated color formulas don’t look different from the bottle when applied. The polish dries quickly, and although it’s a gel polish, it doesn’t require any special lighting to cure. It dries with incredible shine, did we mention the shine? Must be the diamonds. Durable as it is, Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy Longwear Nail Enamel still comes off easily with the use of regular nail polish remover.

Key Features
  • 14 colors
Specifications
  • Wear Time: 5-8 days
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 1.2 x 3.1 inches
  • Product Weight: .4 fl oz
Pros
  • Long-lasting
  • Colors are true
  • Quick-drying
Cons
  • Recommended to pair with top coat for professional finish

With so many nail polish options out there it’s tough to figure out what some of the terminology means. Here’s a handy, pun intended, guide to making sense of all the different formulas you may run across in your search for the perfect finger or toe polish. Variations within these types of polishes include formulas that are meant to enhance growth, wear longer, add strength, or dry quickly. You’ll also see terms like 5-Free and up to 9-Free, which means the formula is free of five to nine of the most damaging toxins like formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, parabens, xylene, and acetone.

Base Coat – A base coat is a clear polish that creates a barrier between the colored polish and your nail base, preventing color from seeping into your nails. Base coats are an important step in the process to ensure that color goes on smoothly and evenly.

All-in-one – Though a base coat is usually recommended to avoid discoloration of your nails, sometimes life gets in the way. You can save time and steps by using an all-in-one polish.

Crème – This is probably what you think of when it comes to the idea of nail polish. Crème polishes are meant to be easy to care for, have a relatively shiny or glossy look, and come in a variety of different shades.

Chrome/Metallic/Foil – Tricky to apply, but super shiny for an edgier look that takes on qualities of metal or aluminum.

Matte – Matte nail polish takes away the shine and leaves your nails with just a fresh coat of color. Matte polish goes in and out of style, but if you love it you love it.

Glitter/Shimmer – You don’t have to be a pre-teen to get your sparkle on and have some fun with glitter polish, which is embedded with flakes of actual light-catching glitter ranging in size from tiny dust-sized particles to larger chunks. It’s perfect for the holidays or the beach. Just be prepared to work a little harder to scrub it off when you’re over it.

Gel – Once reserved for professional manicures or pedicures only, this trendy and long-lasting option is now available to use at home without UV lights or other cumbersome requirements. Once dried, gel polish is harder and resistant to chips and scratches.

Holographic – Holographic polish is ethereal, opalescent, and bounces light.

Pearl – Pearl nail polish provides a wavy sheen that can be worn alone or layered over a more traditional crème color.

Magnetic – One of the trendier looks right now, magnetic particles are literally embedded within the nail polish and a magnet included in the brush or cap of the bottle pulls on the particles to create waves or other designs.

Top Coat – A top coat can do a number of things, from sealing the polish with an extra layer to prevent chipping of the nail color to adding a glittering or even a matte texture to your nail varnish.

Resources— A Web to Know, Business Insider, Byrdie, Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan, Fashionista, Faveable, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Product Playoffs, Total Beauty, Who What Wear

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