You may think that nail polish is a marvelous invention of the twentieth century, but nail polish has been around a lot longer than that. Nail polish was invented in China around 3000 BCE and was an important part of the grooming regimen of both the ancient Chinese royals as well as all classes of ancient Egyptians, where the color of ones nails could be an indication of a person’s placement in the highly stratified society of that time.
While nail polish was a staple of the ancient world, it came back in a big way in the by the early twentieth century. The rise of the flapper saw the revival of red nail polish and it’s been here to stay ever since.
While nail polish colors may have stayed the more or less the same throughout history, the ingredients have gone through changes. Ancient nail polish was made out of natural ingredients like egg whites and vegetable dyes. By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, synthetic ingredients were more the mainstay to achieve the perfect glossy look. However, the twenty-first century has seen the revival of natural ingredients like kale. And while no modern nail polish is 100% chemical-free, companies like Zoya and LVX are avoiding chemicals that are known hazards to human health.
Did you nail that nail polish can actually protect your nails? Think about it. Today’s environment is harsh. Our hands are exposed to drying detergents and outdoor pollution. Nail polish is like a thin suit of armor, protecting your nails against things that could lead to drying and cracking. What’s more is some nail polishes are actually imbued with conditioning and strengthening ingredients to make your nails stronger and healthier.
Its storied history and health benefits aside, nail polish is also the ultimate convenient accessory. If you don’t have time to pick out the perfect ring for your outfit in the morning, the plum nail polish you’re already wearing is accenting your hands, drawing attention to them in a subtly alluring way.
With countless shades and dozens of finishes and health benefits, it can be hard to narrow down the right nail polish for you. But here’s the thing: there is no single perfect nail polish that fits every single person on the planet. Each one of us is unique, with different skin tones, skin types, and daily needs. This guide is here to go through every possible situation and need you have to help you find the nail polish that’s perfect for you.
The best nail polish that doesn’t chip
CND’s Vinylux Weekly Nail Polish
The important thing to remember when shopping for a nail polish that won’t chip is this simple rule: brand prestige does not equate long lasting. According to this experiment by Fashionista.com, Chanel—a brand name that is synonymous with luxury and quality—isn’t known for lasting nail polish. So, don’t be fooled by big brand names. The key to finding the perfect non-chipping nail polish is to pay attention and get recommendations from people who’ve actually tried the products.
When shopping, be sure to read the labels and look for products that tout chip-resistance and long-lasting wear. One such nail polish is CND’s Vinylux Weekly Nail Polish. It promises a week of chip-resistant color.
The best nail polish that lasts
OPI’s Infinite Shine
For nail polish that lasts, long-wearing and chip-resistant products are your best bet. They’re designed to look good for the longest period of time. OPI’s Infinite Shine is a great option because the application process is simple and there’s no need for skin-damaging UV light to set it.
The best nail polish that doesn’t peel
Caption Nail Polish Regret is Overrated
When nail polish peels, it often starts as a tiny chip and then quickly escalates to peeling around the edges of the nail. To avoid peeling nail polish, go for a product that is designed to be chip-resistant. Caption’s Nail Polish line is formulated with a technology called “LacQ3”, which the product description says creates a “gel-like” finish to create long-lasting wear. As a bonus, this nail polish doesn’t require LED or UV lights to set it, so it’s very uncomplicated yet still looks amazing.
The best nail polish for pregnant women
Commander in Chic
It’s been a long-standing myth that you can’t wear any nail polish whatsoever when you’re pregnant without harming your baby. But this simply isn’t true. What is true is that there are some dangerous ingredients in many different brands of nail polish that can harm your baby, so it’s important to avoid those brands and instead opt for brands that are recognized as safe for pregnant women.
According to thebump.com, there are three main chemicals which can harm your baby in the womb: DBP (dibutyl phthalate), toluene, and formaldehyde. Many would argue that these chemicals aren’t good for anyone. However, the reason it’s recommended to avoid them while pregnant is because certain chemicals can reach the baby in utero and potentially cause health problems.
Sally Hansen is generally recognized as a safe brand for moms-to-be, because it doesn’t contain those three aforementioned ingredients. Check out Commander in Chic by Sally Hansen; not only is it considered safe for pregnant women, it’s a gorgeous shade.
The best antifungal nail polish
According to The Wall Street Journal, antifungal nail polish probably won’t be able to cure an active fungal infection in your toenails, but the experts they talked to say it might be able to prevent a previously cured fungal infection from returning. So, don’t rely on it to cure fungus, but it can be used as a preventative.
Antifungal nail polish comes in both clear and colorful varieties. The clear option is mainly used by men, whereas the colored options are an easy one-step process for ladies who want to have cute nails while still preventing any future fungus issues. DaniPro is a widely-recommended antifungal nail polish brand that has some amazing color options like this cool purple shade.
The best nail polish for yellow nails
Smith & Cult Base Coat
There are a lot of different causes for yellow fingernails and toenails. Anything from smoking to diabetes to fungus can cause nails to turn yellow, and if you think you have any of those problems, talk to your doctor. A doctor can help you quit smoking and treat any underlying health issues that may be causing yellow nails.
Aside of the serious causes of yellow nails, a less serious—but still troublesome—cause is dark nail polish. And this is especially problematic as of late since dark nail polishes are currently very on-trend. This may or may not be shocking, but the best nail polish for yellow nails isn’t so much a nail polish as a base coat. There are tons of brands out there, but it’s important to choose one with a good reputation, like this one from Smith & Cult, so you know it’s protecting your nails from highly pigmented polish.
The best nail polish for cracked nails
Barielle Nail Strengthener in Light Pink
If your nails are cracking or splitting, it could mean you have a vitamin deficiency or another health problem. If it’s so severe that it’s of concern, please consult your doctor. Medical issues aside, there are other less serious reasons your nails could be cracking, chief of among them simply being you have brittle nails.
For dry and cracked nails, go for a strengthening nail polish like this one from OPI. It’s enriched with nutrients to strengthen your nails which will allow them to grow longer, stronger and have an overall healthier appearance. This strengthener from Barielle is slightly tinted so you can use it on its own to give your nails a subtle, healthy-looking color.
The best nontoxic nail polish
Lux Nail Lacquer in Fleur
All nail polishes are not created equal. Some have more harmful chemicals than others. If you’re concerned about toxic chemicals in nail polish, go for a brand that has fewer and more natural ingredients. Sierra Club has put together a great list of toxin-free nail polishes. Most of the nail polishes on this list are “three-free”, meaning they’re safe for pregnant woman. LVX is a brand that goes beyond and is “five-free”, as well as cruelty-free and vegan. Their colors are also very hip.
The best scented nail polish
Revlon Parfumerie Scented Nail Enamel in Bordeaux
You may not have thought such a thing existed, but it definitely does. Obviously, you shouldn’t be sniffing your nails while you’re painting them, but catching a slight scent coming from your fingernails after they’re dry isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s downright intriguing. Check out this gorgeous nail polish from Revlon’s Parfumerie line. Not only is the packaging classy, the color is divine.
The best nail polish for light skin
Shocking by Marc Jacobs
Pale, soft nail polishes look wonderful on fair skin. For a sheer look, try Revlon’s Nail Enamel in Sheer Pink. For a soft pink that has a more opaque look, go for OPI’s Pretty Pink Perseveres.
Gals with fair skin aren’t only limited to baby pinks. You can also go for a brighter look to great effect. Try something like Marc Jacobs’ Shocking. Because it’s “muted” and matte, it’s very wearable for fair skin. For a non-pink option, try Dior’s Rouge 999. It’s a vivid red with the tiniest hint of a pink undertone so that it doesn’t overwhelm light skin.
The best nail polish for medium skin
essie’s Hide and Go Chic
Those with medium skin can pull off blue nail polish colors that might not look the best on other skin tones. Check out essie’s Hide and Go Chic, a warm easy-to-wear. A more traditional yet on-trend option would be this burgundy shade. It’s a deep tone, but it’s still colorful enough so as to not overwhelm medium skin. And finally, medium-skinned ladies can never go wrong with a pinkish beige.
The best nail polish for tan skin
Those with tan skin usually have warmer undertones, so they can really rock oranges that just aren’t that wearable on light skin. Colors like tangerine can make your tan look richer. For an even more daring look while still keeping it in the citrus family, go for lime. For a more classic look, try this shimmery rust shade.
The best nail polish for dark skin
Sephora’s Deep Fuchsia
When you have dark skin, you can really go bold with colors. For this reason, fuchsia is the perfect shade of pink for dark skin, because it’s vibrant and leans toward purple. Cobalt blue is a very now shade that was made for deep skin tones.
The best nail polish for skin with warm undertones
Hunger by NARS
If you look good in gold jewelry and the veins in your forearm are green, you have a warm skin undertone. Warm-toned ladies should stick to warm-toned nail polish. It brings out the gold in your skin, making you glow.
For a red nail look, go for reds that lean toward orange. It can be a subtle hint of orange or a more overt undertone like Hunger by NARS. Orangey reds will typically seem less orange on those with warm undertones because it doesn’t fight their skin’s natural tone.
Ladies with warm-toned skin may feel like they can’t pull off mid-toned blues and purples, but that’s not always true. The trick is to pick a purple that’s not too light and leans in a warm direction like the periwinkle of She Said Yeah by Smith & Cult.
Other ideal shades for warm-toned skin are peachy golds like Orgasm by NARS and bright corals like Covent Garden Place by NAILS INC. These colors brighten warm-toned skin and bring out its natural beauty.
Best nail polish for skin with cool undertones
People with a cool skin undertone look great in silver jewelry and have blue veins on the underside of their forearm. Cool-toned skin goes with cool-toned nail polish colors perfectly. Blues are obvious, but keep in mind that some blues are warm; steer clear of those and stick to cool-toned blues only.
Red is a great look for cool-toned skin just as it is with warm-toned skin, but as with warm tones, you want to match the red to your skin’s undertone. If you have cool-toned skin, go for reds with blue undertones. OPI’s Got the Blues for Red is a top-notch choice for a red nail polish that works for cool-toned skin.
Taupe is a very on-trend color right now and works well for cool skin tones. Just be sure to go with a taupe that has a cool mauve tinge like Dior’s Palais Royal. Another trendy color cool-toned ladies can pull of is grey. Try Marc Jacobs’ Evelyn. It’s opaque and statement-making.
Best nail polish for skin with neutral undertones
Neutral skin has an undertone that falls between warm and cool. Because of this, it has elements of both, which means those with neutral skin (sometimes called olive skin) can pull off the widest array of colors.
For red, go with a deep, true red. On neutral skin, this shade becomes a statement of classic elegance. Try something like NARS’ Torre Del Oro. Your nails will instantly have an Old Hollywood vibe.
Another great color option for neutral skin is berry. Berries are slightly hipper than classic reds, but they’re still very wearable for any age range. essie’s Bordeaux is the perfect balance of chic and of-the-moment.
Vibrant pinks and purples are a great way to wear bright nail polish on neutral skin. They’re kind of in between warm and cool, just like neutral skin, so the colors marry each other nicely. Try something like Fearless by NARS.
Best nail polish for water marbling
Water marbling is a creative form of nail art where the artist drips nail polish into water, creating a pattern, and then transfers it onto the nail. Check out this video tutorial to see how it’s done:
According to nailitmag.com, creamy nail polish formulas work best for water marbling. On that note, something like OPI’s Eurso Euro would be ideal. Another good option would be Sally Hansen’s So Much Fawn.
Best nail polish for French manicures
A French manicure is a nail design that is basically an enhanced version of a natural, healthy nail. It involves painting a natural pink nail bed and then creating a smooth white edge at the tip to finish. Check out this video to see how it’s done:
essie’s Mademoiselle is a great choice for the basis of a French manicure and would work with many skin tones. Just remember to adjust the base of your French manicure to your skin tone, taking into consideration how light or dark your skin is and whether your skin is warm or cool-toned.
Best nail polish for stamping
Stamping is a form of nail art that typically involves using a stamping image to stamp a design into your nail polish. Watch this tutorial to see how it’s done:
The pros at nailitmag.com recommend matte and metallic nail polishes for stamping, because they stamp better than other, less sturdy varieties. Try a striking metallic shade like Amarapura by NARS.
Best gel nail polish
Gel polishes are not only trendy, they’re useful. They’re very chip resistant and the new formulas don’t require a salon trip or special lights to set them. Sally Hansen’s Miracle Gel line of nail polish is a great option, because not only is it affordable, it lives up to its claims of no-fuss chip-resistance and the colors are on-point.
Best glitter nail polish
The best glitter nail polishes have the right combination of sparkle and coverage. They should have the same qualities of any other nail polish—plus glitter. For a pure glitter look, check out Marc Jacobs’ Glinda. For a wilder option, try Deborah Lippmann’s Let’s Go Crazy. It’s the perfect glittery look for a girl’s night out.
Best metallic nail polish
Metallic nail polish isn’t just for parties, contrary to what you may be thinking. Milos by NARS is a gold-based metallic that, when paired with warm-toned skin, can come off as almost neutral, making it wearable as a daily nail polish. A subtle cool-toned metallic is essie’s Nothing Else Metals.
Best black nail polish
If you’re unfamiliar with the finer points of black nail polish, you may be thinking that black, like white, is a color that doesn’t really have any undertones to differentiate one polish from another. But you would be wrong. In fact, black nail polish can have warm or cool undertones. And that’s not to mention the variety of finishes it comes in: matte, metallic, glitter, etc.
A matte finish is the perfect way to chic up black nail polish. Orly’s Matte Vinyl should do the trick. Matte is on-trend at the moment and it classes up practically any shade.
Sometimes a flat black color can be a bit boring or harsh-looking. Soften it up with a finish with a more eye-catching texture. Sally Hansen’s Pixel Perfect is a glittery black that’s far from dull.
Best pastel nail polish
Some may say leave the pastels for spring, but really, if you choose colors that flatter your skin tone, you can pull them off year-round. The term “pastel” has broader connotations than it used to. It’s not just baby pink and soft butter yellow anymore. With modern shades like creamy purples and glazed aquas, you can find pastels that pack the right punch to suit your nail needs.
JINsoon has two great—and very distinct—lavender pastel options:
- 1: Auspicious is a grey-based lavender that would look lovely on cool-toned skin.
- 2: Ube is a warm-based lavender that will perfectly compliment warm-toned skin.
Pastels are a great opportunity to wear colors you might not usually try. essie’s Garden is a pastel blue heaven in a bottle. If you’ve been weary of pale pinks in the past, give Dior’s Tra-la-la a try. It’s fun and girly, but it’s also easy-to-wear due to its brightness, which makes it more versatile for a variety of skin tones.
Best nail polish sets
If you’re a major fan of nail polish, one or two go-to shades simply won’t do. You’re going to want access to a variety of colors, which is what nail polish sets are made for. They’re also great gifts for the nail polish addict in your life.
This set from Kleancolor is a very affordable option if you’re purchasing a nail polish set for the first time and aren’t really sure if it’s your thing. If you’re looking for a higher-end set that’s more of an investment, check out this one from Seche.
Best travel size nail polish
If you’re going on an important business trip or on a relaxing beach getaway, it’s important to maintain your flawless mani-pedi while you’re on the road. Invest in a travel size bottle of nail polish so that you can do touch-ups on the go. That way, you can focus on fun in the sand instead of chipped nails.
For a travel-sized luxuriously deep brownish-red nail lacquer, check out le SMOKING from Estee Lauder. This mini nail polish from NARS is another great option; not only is it the perfect tropical shade of yellow, it’s tiny enough to throw in your beach bag.
Best nail polish for the holidays
You can’t go wrong with red nail polish for the holidays. Red screams Christmas. Also, it’s a classic color that can be dressed up with a sleek little black dress or down with a cozy ugly sweater. China Glaze’s Italian Red is the perfect Christmastime crimson.
Another classic holiday nail polish look is metallic. This creamy gold nail polish from Dior is the ultimate in chic and would flatter any warm skin tone. And on the flip side of gold, we have silver, which perfect for New Year’s Eve. Check out this silver nail polish from Sally Hansen to get the dream NYE nail look.
Best nail polish for winter
There are two ways you can go about finding the right nail polish for winter:
- Go dark
- Go light
Dark colors stand out against snow and winter white clothes. Meanwhile, light colors pop on a grey wintery day. Choose the direction to go in based on your personal style and the vibe you want to go for.
A great dark nail color option for wintertime is cranberry, like Glamspiration. After Christmas, you’re going to want to get away from truer reds and delve into the berry family for a more seasonal look. Another wonderful dark winter nail polish choice is this violet from Maybelline. It has just the right amount of depth to straddle day and nighttime wear.
For a light-colored winter nail look, try a very soft pink like JINsoon’s Muse. It compliments most skin types and can handle its own against colors from your wintertime wardrobe.
Best nail polish for spring
Pastels are obviously a given for spring, but they’re not your only springtime nail polish options. Spring is the season when the Earth begins to awaken from her frigid winter sleep and flowers poke their little heads out of the ground. Use that as your nail color inspiration and try a bright floral nail color like essie’s Secret Story. It’s the shade of an exotic flower and instantly makes you think of the warmer weather ahead.
For a non-floral bright, go for a happy sky blue like Bahamian Escape from China Glaze. this coral from Maybelline is also evocative of sunny days and is perfect for warm-toned skin.
Best nail polish for summer
Summer is a great time for working on your tan (utilizing sun screen of course). Highlight your newly bronzed skin with a fabulous bronze nail lacquer like this shimmering bronze from COVERGIRL. If your skin is cool-toned and lighter, this penny-themed shade from essie will suit you much better, because its overtone is lighter and its undertone is cooler—matching your skin perfectly.
Summer is the perfect time for bold nail polish. Try Zoya’s Tallulah for the perfect summer blue. For the perfect beach-worthy red, check out Smith & Cult’s Kundalini Hustle. Not only does it work for day, it’s perfect for hitting the club on a hot summer night. (Check out the definition of kundalini to know why this is the perfect shade for dancing the night away.)
Best nail polish for fall
Fall is the time for red and orange leaves, hot coffee, and your favorite cardigan. But don’t fall into the trap of trying to match your nail polish to the leaf colors outside your bedroom window no matter how pretty they are; it comes off kitschy. Instead, go for nail polishes that celebrate the autumn lifestyle and enhance your fall fashions.
In fall, there’s a lot of brown and grey clothing, which makes purple the ultimate fall go-to shade. Two great purple nail polishes for fall are:
- For warm skin tones: Bahama Mama by essie is a plum shade that works great for warm skin tones and would complement your favorite warm brown jacket.
- For cool skin tones: Punk-ish Purple from Sally Hansen is an intense bluish purple perfect for playing up your fall look.
Deep, rich colors work well in fall. Try this peacock blue from CND. It’s the perfect mixture of color depth and pigment for a great autumn nail polish.
For Halloween, this witchy green can’t be beat. Nothing say trick-or-treat like stark black nails. Try Raven by Zoya to get the look.
Best nail polish for kids
For kids—especially young children and toddlers—opt for nontoxic nail polish. The kids of today are generally a lot savvier than the kids of yesterday, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry when children are involved. Go for kid-geared nail polish brands like Suncoat Girl. It’s not only nontoxic, it’s peel-away, so it’s toddler-safe to boot.
Best nail polish or a job interview
According to prepary.com, it’s crucial that you keep the job you’re applying for in mind when choosing which nail polish to wear for a job interview. Check out the link to see some great suggestions for nail polish options broken down into which job category you’re applying for. Remember to avoid loud colors and always play it safe rather than be sorry.
This demure nude-pink polish is a great choice for anyone looking for a safe choice nail polish for their job interview. It will work for most light to medium skin tones. For tan to dark skin, is a better choice, because it’s a bit darker and the goal with job interview nail polish is to not stand out too much.
Best nail polish for work
Once you’ve landed your dream job (or any job), you’re not off the hook yet when it comes to choosing appropriate nail colors. Match your nail color choices to the type of job you have. For conservative jobs, always go for neutral nail polish that suits your skin tone. For business casual, loosen up a little, but still keep it professional. (Think darker pinks, nudes, beiges, and taupes.)
When you have a creative job, you get to have a bit more fun your nail color choices. Try chic dark shades that are interesting, but still professional-looking. Something like Bobbing for Baubles from essie is grownup but also trendy, so it has a healthy work-fun balance.
Best nail polish for school
If you’re in school, you’re probably young, which is the perfect age to try out wild and of-the-moment nail trends. On the other hand, some schools have strict dress codes, even dictating what (if any) nail polish is allowed. The key for finding the right nail polish for school is to know what the rules are and go from there.
If your school has a conservative dress code, go for something like OPI’s Coney Island Cotton Candy. It’s a pink that has warm-neutral undertones so it’s discreet yet youthful. A cool-toned option that serves a similar purpose is essie’s Vanity Fairest. It’s also slightly darker, so it’s good those with deep-toned skin.
If your school doesn’t care what you do with your nails, feel free to get creative. Still, it’s more professional to go with solid colors over nail art, so if you’re simultaneously going for job interviews, keep that in mind. OPI’s Russian Navy fits the bill nicely. Also, it’s flattering and looks good on both the lightest and darkest of skin tones, so you can share with friends.
Best nail polish for prom
The importance of making sure your nail polish suits your prom dress cannot be stressed enough. Your nails shouldn’t distract from your dream dress. They should let your dress steal the show or, better, enhance your dress. Don’t settle for less on prom night. It’s your night to shine.
For black, white, or grey prom dresses, try showing off your nails with a pop of color. In this case, the color balances the subdued shade of the dress, complimenting it. Something like Priti’s Guinea Rose is classically chic paired with a dress on the greyscale spectrum of colors. Metallic dresses are also considered neutral nowadays, so red would work great with a gold dress as well.
Use dark colors to stand up to the brightness of jewel-toned dresses. Try something like essie’s Smokin’ Hot. It’s a very dark neutral brown that reads as near-black, perfectly capable of holding its own against an amethyst or emerald prom dress.
If you’re wearing a pastel dress, a good nail polish strategy would be to go more neutral and complimentary with the nail color to make sure it doesn’t overshadow the dress. Choose a creamy pale silver or grey like butter LONDON’s Ta-Ta!.
Best nail polish for a date
Guys notice your fingernails and toenails more than you think. The number one thing they care about is cleanliness and grooming. But choosing the right nail polish for a date is important as well. It’s not that you should seek to impress a guy—he should like you for you. But you don’t want to wear a nail polish that is too loud on a first date, because he might read things into your personality based on your polish that aren’t even true.
Go for pink. Not only is pink a classic girly shade, it’s also a color that is pretty much universally flattering. If your skin is fair, go for butter LONDON’s Pink Knickers. China Glaze’s Pack Lightly is a peachier pink that is a good look for medium to tan skin. Ladies with dark skin can go brighter with pinks on a first date without it looking too wild. Try something like OPI’s Flashbulb Fuchsia, because it’s a more grownup version of bright pink.
Best nail polish for brides
Baby pinks and nudes are a very soft and pretty bridal nail look that will flatter almost any bride, because they don’t distract from her beauty or her dress. If you have fair skin with a cool undertone, try essie’s Angel Food. Sugar Daddy is better if you have fair to medium warm-toned skin. For very dark skin, try out Crabtree & Evelyn’s Sugar Plum; on deep-toned skin, it reads as a dark rosy nude.
Remember your dress when you pick out nail polish for your wedding. If your dress style is classic, wear a classic color like the aforementioned nudes and pinks—or red, for a more dramatic look. Only go for super trendy or wild colors if it’s important for you to showcase your individuality even if it distracts from your dress. At the end of the day, though, it’s your wedding. The best nail polish to wear for any wedding is the one that makes you feel like your best self.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.