Just like painting nails, choosing the right nail polish is an art form within itself. A sea of nail polishes line salon walls and drugstore beauty aisles. Lacquers run the gamut from pretty pastels and rich reds to gel nail polish and natural nail polish. Don’t fret; no matter your dream manicure, there’s a perfect polish out there for you.
We cleared the sheer number of options and handpicked the best nail polishes. Thanks to long-lasting, trademark hues, recognizable brands like OPI and Essie are mainstays among our in-house beauty editors and staffers. Newer names like French-born Manicurist or buzzworthy Olive & June impress with fresh hues and speedy drying time.
“A great nail polish delivers high shine, super smooth application, has a fast-drying formula, UV protection and great color assortments,” says Jin Soon Choi, expert nail artist and JINsoon founder. In addition to tapping our team’s favorites, our pros at the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty, Health & Sustainability Lab sent more than 174 polishes to consumer testers and recruited a professional manicurist to apply polishes. We whittled down the very best picks based on 37,000 survey responses rating dry speed, chip resistance, shine, evenness of application and more.
Peruse our complete list of picks below. For more at-home manicure inspiration, pamper yourself with DIY dip powder nail kits and gel nail kits or the most natural-looking press-on nails. Removing acrylics? Gently rid polish with a nail drill, then top it off with a nail strengthener.
Founded in 1981, Essie has held a polished reputation. The nail polish brand offers 1,000 shades (and counting), including signature formulas like cloudy white Marshmallow and pale pink Ballet Slippers. We even surveyed our panel of consumer testers, who raved about its high gloss, saying they loved how shiny the polish remained throughout its entire wear time.
Many of our staffers count themselves fans, including Grace Wu, a product reviews analyst at GH. She appreciates that “it always has the color I want, from classic shades to trendy options that are perfect for every occasion.” Its lightweight application can be built up for more opaqueness.
Among our staffers and testers, we found that on average this budget-friendly polish lasted the longest of any polish we tried, with a wear of almost six and a half days — without a base or top coat. It also tied with Essie for the highest shine score, with one GH tester marveling, “It was still shiny up until I removed the polish!”
Another person exclaimed: “I am very hard on my hands… planting, sports, pot scrubbing with my nails… The polish has stayed perfectly on my hands as if it were the first day.” A few online shoppers loved its bold color options but noted some difficulty with ridding traces of the color from nails.
A gel polish that stands up to whatever you’ve got going on, “I have been using this polish for years and have found that nothing else compares,” says GH Nutrition Lab Director Stefani Sassos. “The quality and color selection is amazing, and the top coat adds great shine and protection.”
As a busy working mom, Sassos says she’s always cooking, washing dishes, changing diapers, working out, commuting and more: “My hands are constantly working, and this polish is the only one that keeps up and won’t chip.” However, shoppers online critiqued its thick formula, finding it difficult to apply around the edges.
Picture all those tasking minutes spent painting nails, avoiding cuticles with finesse and carefully letting them air dry — only to accidentally smudge them. Enter French-made Manucurist’s Green Nail Polish. The nail polish line dries quickly to avoid such qualms sans LED lamps.
“Never have I tried a nail polish more quick drying than this one. All it takes is two coats without the cumbersome waiting for each layer to dry,” a GH staffer says. “I’ve also found it pretty resistant to chipping with the help of a top coat. I specifically love its rich, chic burgundy shade Dark Pansy. It’s beautifully pigmented.”
CoverGirl’s nail polish floored our expert nail technician. It outlasted other polishes we tried, receiving the highest scores for chip resistance. Chipping first started around day four, and the polish lasted for an average of six and a quarter days.
Boasting a built-in topcoat, the polish is designed to deliver high shine and protection. An online shopper appreciates that “it doesn’t dull as fast as other brands.” Even so, other reviewers revealed that they had to give it ample time to dry in between coats.
Iconic nail polish brand OPI has fans in GH beauty editors, staffers and manicurists alike. Complete with clever names like Big Apple Red and Funny Bunny, the nail lacquer spans more than 230 shades. We tapped a nail technician who gave OPI a perfect score across the board, including coverage and drying time.
“I swear by OPI nail polish!” raves Emma Seymour, a senior textiles analyst at GH. “I just use their general nail lacquer, and it has superior shine, longevity and easy application.” Another editor adds: “When I get my nails done, I always choose OPI (a staple at salons) because I can rely on its quality.” Just tap off the brush before applying as it picks up a good excess of polish.