If you're anything like me, you're always after quick-and-easy beauty products that actually work. And when it comes to nail polish specifically, aside from color, the endgame is usually longevity.
The truth is not all nail polishes are created equal. While some brands have extensive variety in shades and colors, the actual polish may apply poorly or chip within a few hours — and who has time for that?
And since most nail polishes have a steep price tag nowadays, it's important for the formula to actually last so you're getting the best bang for your buck.
This is why I decided to go on a hunt to find the best long-lasting nail polish that is worth every penny, no matter your budget. My plan was to test a variety of brands — from drugstore staples to more high-end varieties.
To make sure I was evaluating every nail polish fairly (and to test every polish's true limits), I kept these variables consistent over my month-long experiment:
• Apply polish the same exact way. For each test, I painted three layers on each nail.
• Wear each polish for 7 days. At the end of the week, I would assess any chipping.
• Test two brands at a time, alternating the colors on both hands. This was to offset more potential chipping on my dominant hand (my right hand).
• Use light or semi-light polish colors. More on this below.
• Avoid base coats, top coats, and gel formulas. I opted out of base coats and top coats in order to keep the focus on the polish itself. I also avoided gel polishes because their long-wearing formulation gives them an unfair advantage over 'regular' polishes.
Before diving in, I wanted to connect with a professional to make sure I was setting up my test as accurately as possible. I reached out to Candice Idehen, nail expert, celebrity manicurist, and CEO of the Bed of Nails brand and nail salon in New York City.
Candice shared the following 8 steps for the best possible manicure application — and I followed them for my test:
Candice also confirmed that between light and dark polishes, lighter colors can actually last longer than darker ones — so I opted for those.
"Darker colors are more pigmented and typically have a stickier formula because it requires more pigment and additives in them for the hue to be rich enough to show up," she told BuzzFeed. "Lighter colors tend to last a little bit longer only because your application is a lot easier, it's less pigmented, and the product is a lot thinner."
Going off her advice, here are the 8 light (and semi-light) polishes I chose to try out:
So without further ado, here is the complete ranking of the nail polishes I tried, from worst to best. If you have a personal favorite (or least favorite), I'd love to hear about it in the comments!
Going into this test, if there's one nail polish brand that I already had in rotation in my own home, it's Essie. Essie has the best seasonal colors IMHO — and my notes on application were pretty positive.
But even though I expected this polish to be higher on the list, it came in last place. Despite a pretty accessible price point and a quick-dry application, it chipped the fastest: within 2 days.
By day 7, the pale pink Essie polish was barely holding on.
As someone who has used Paintbox before, I even shocked myself when I put this polish almost last on my list, especially given that it was the most expensive. The application may have been my first flag — the color was almost transparent upon first layer, and it needed more time to dry.
By day 4, things weren't looking so pretty.
One of the main reasons why I think the Paintbox polish didn't survive the week is because the formula was almost water-like — or: incredibly thin — which meant it probably needed a ridge filler (aka: a polish that helps fill in the grooved areas of one's nail) to help it last.
By the last day, almost every powdery blue Paintbox nail was heavily chipped — which was a bummer because I really loved the color.
The application was straight-forward — full coverage with a quick dry.
It also immediately had a lot of glossy shine, which was great to look at.
But after 7 days, the polish was not quite as chip-resistant as I was hoping for. (Although it was still glossy!)
I've used other Olive & June colors before this experiment, but I was really excited to test out this gorgeous purple hue. When applying, it also came with the widest brush I used — which helped me put on the polish more evenly.
With its thin formula, it was incredibly easy to layer while still providing full coverage just after two coats. Here's the first coat vs. the third coat, to give you an idea of how buildable the color was:
But even though there were so many positives about this polish, it chipped pretty easily around the edges of the nail. (Though it's worth noting that when the polish chipped, the rest of it didn't budge or flake — which was a huge win.)
Application-wise, the first coat was super opaque — even with what felt like a very thin formula. The only thing that's different with this polish from the others on the list is that it's considered a quick-dry. (My Target was sold out of Sally's regular polish, but I figured this might not affect the chipping too much either way.)
As mentioned, even just one coat gave a lot of coverage immediately.
By day 7, Sally Hansen was still really solid for the most part. I was impressed!
First application thoughts? This formula is tthhiiicckk — so using thin layers for every stroke is key so the polish doesn't peel off. Also, just like ella + mila, its shine game was strong from start to finish.
By day 7, it cracked just around the cuticles — and that's it.
Even though the formula was thin, it checked almost all the boxes of what makes a good nail polish in my book: dries quickly, only takes two coats for full coverage, and goes on incredibly smooth.
Here it is after just one coat — again: smooth application, no streaks, quick dry.
By the 7th day, it had barely chipped.
Application-wise, the brush is pretty standard, it dries fairly quickly, and you can get solid coverage after just one coat because it's highly pigmented.
And when it comes to the chip department, the polish didn't crack at all until day 5 — and even then, it was extremely slight and somehow stopped there. There was no more chipping or cracking after that. Even my cuticles held up!
Final day results: Chip? What chip? I am obsessed with these results.
TL;DR — Here are my top picks:
• Favorite budget brand: Sally Hansen ($6)
• Favorite premium brand: JINsoon ($18)
• Favorite overall: People of Color ($12)
What's your favorite nail polish? Let me know in the comments!
Some brands provided nail polish free of charge for the purposes of this test, but BuzzFeed was under no obligation to provide a positive review.