There are lots of ways to give yourself a little pick-me-up when you’re feeling blue, but after a nap (not always possible) and a large gin (not always appropriate), one of the easiest ways is to give those tips and toes a quick slick of polish. Simple as it sounds, swiping on a bit of nail varnish can make you feel instantly put together on those grey days, get you buzzing for a big date or do, or just add a bit of colour to your look that makes you happy every time you look at it. But what is the best nail varnish?
Nowadays, there are so many options out there it can be hard to know where to start, and nothing’s guaranteed to take the shine off quicker than smudged, scratched, chipped or sludgy polish. That’s why we’ve rounded up our list of the best nail polish from popular brands, including all-in-one treatments, long-lasting luxury formulations and sheer shimmers.
When it comes to colour, unlike lipsticks and eyeshadows, you don’t have to be quite so worried about what’ll match your skin tone, giving you license to go a little more adventurous with your nail varnish choices. That said, nude polishes can be notoriously tricky (after all, what is considered “nude” changes with every skin tone), so if you can, consider going into a shop to try a swatch of our recommended nudes on your own nails to make sure they aren’t too sallow or greyish.
After that, it’s all down to your personal taste! We particularly love a ballet pink, sheer shell pink or taupe for work and daytime in the warm weather, while deep, dark berry tones are sublime for date nights or autumn/winter. To find your new favourite, keep reading below.
1. Chanel Le Vernis in Rouge Noir
A cult classic with real staying power
Best for: Longwear | Size: 13ml | Type: Polish | Shades Available: 32+
Since its PFW debut in the 90s, Rouge Noir has been the coveted shade for mani fans looking for that perfect vampy finish, selling out on its very first day of sale in the UK. Luckily, things have calmed down a bit since then, and you can now get your tips on this cult shade with relative ease. We can see the reason for the hype though: following an overhaul of the formula in recent years, Chanel’s Le Vernis Longwear is plusher and more even than ever before, offering a streak-free, high-shine finish; but it’s the shade that works its real magic, so nearly black with a super dark red heart, like a juicy cherry. Yes, other brands have since weighed in with their own dark red shades, but this is the original, and for us, still the best.
2. Nails Inc Gel Effect in Porchester Square
Take your nails from blah to Bayswater in an instant
Best for: A smooth and glossy finish | Size: 14ml | Type: Gel | Shades Available: 25+
Want that oh-so-shiny gel effect but don’t have the funds or the inclination to hit the salon? These Nails Inc polishes profess to create that salon look for less, and with no sitting still under a UV lamp required. The extra-wide brush offers quick application and nixes the need for go-over sweeps, which will reduce the risk of streaking or dragging, and left happy reviewers with that unmistakably gel-like plump and glossy finish after two coats. The downside? While it’s immune to most chips, because it’s not light-cured, you don’t get the longevity of real gel, but on the plus side, it’s much easier to chop and change your look. We recommend starting with the perfect greige shade Porchester Square.
3. OPI Nails in Malaga Wine
They might not make Burgundy in Malaga, but this is a fine wine shade all the same
Best for: Acrylic and natural nails | Size: 15ml | Type: Lacquer | Shades Available: 90+
If you love a berry shade for autumn but find Chanel’s Rouge Noir to be a little too far on the vampy side for your tastes, this mid-tone burgundy from OPI might be more your speed. It’s a crème finish, closer to satin than full-on gloss, so if you want a mirror-shine finish you’ll need to add a clear top coat, but by itself it’s a lovely understand option for everyday when nude just won’t cut it. Reviewers loved the opaque finish and rich, deep tone, but advised watching out for stained tips when removing - all that pigment needs to go somewhere, we suppose!
4. Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Colour in Stargasm
Packed full of shimmer for easy glamour
Best for: Full Coverage | Size: 15ml | Type: Gel | Shades Available: 60+
While glitter polish always looks beautiful in the bottle, we’ve all experienced the disappointment when it inevitably takes about five coats to get even some semblance of coverage from your sparkle. That’s where this gorgeous shimmer polish by Deborah Lippmann comes in - rather than a clear polish with chunks of glitter, this is an amazing rose gold shade shot through with finely milled reflective particles for a look that’s full-coverage and gloriously spangly, as well as nailing (sorry) one of the biggest colours in the beauty world, and one of the trickiest to get right. To add a bit of bling to any outfit, this is a quick-to-apply and gorgeously grown-up choice.
5. Butter London Patent Shine 10x Nail Lacquer in Yummy Mummy
A great cool-toned, suits-all nude, not just for mummies
Best for: Layering | Size: 11ml | Type: Lacquer | Shades Available: 41+
If you find many nudes to be a bit too far on the orangey side for your skin tone, you may want to give this grey-toned nude from Butter London a try. It’s taupe with a very slight pearlescence to it (some reviewers have found it comparable to the shade ‘Chinchilly’ by Essie) for an elegant finish. While not exactly quick-drying, reviewers liked that its formula was on the thinner side, making it easier to get an even application on each coat, and found it to last an average of four days to a week with no chips. Impressive!
6. Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure in All Fired Up
Get glam and get going with this super-quick all-in-one nail polish
Best for: All-in-one | Size: 14.7ml | Type: Varnish | Shades Available: 51
If you find yourself with barely enough time to apply that all-important base coat, let alone nip out for an hour to visit the salon, this Sally Hansen polish may be the answer. The Complete Salon Manicure range professes to offer a start-to-finish salon effect in just two coats, which translates as no need for a base or top coat. While testers found that it wasn’t the glossiest or most resistant to chips, it left nails looking good after removal, and saved a truckload of time. And, while the longevity of gel-style polishes might not be there, it looks great when it goes on, so for for pre-event pick-me-up it ticks all the boxes, especially in this punchy orange-red shade.
7. Essie Nail Colour in Mademoiselle
A sweet sheer shade to bring out your inner coquette
Best for: Natural nails | Size: 13.5ml | Type: Polish | Shades Available: 358+
Essie’s Mademoiselle is something of a cult shade, hot on the heels of Chanel’s Rouge Noir in terms of icon status. Though in the bottle it looks like the perfect ballet pink nail polish, in reality it’s a thoroughly grown-up sheer shade that looks put-together and polished for every occasion. Showing off a little of the natural nail while adding a hint of blush to even out colour, add shine and counteract any yellowness or staining, it’s the closest thing to no-makeup makeup for nails, instantly beautifying and low-maintenance. For the quickest pick-me-up possible, consider picking up a bottle of this.
Now you've treated your tips, don't neglect those hands either. Check out the best hand creams to keep them soft and supple all year round.