Some people think nail polish is all the same. No matter if they're in the market for a bright pink polish, a sultry red or a vampy purple, any brand or bottle will do. Whether they're perusing the fluorescent aisles of the drugstore or a beauty retailer's virtual selection, they pick out the first colour that feeds their fancy, they paint their fingernails, and they go about their business.
While that's certainly one way to shop for nail polish, it's a method we beauty editors don't recommend due to the simple fact that some formulas are better than others. To us, it's an unequivocal truth that certain brands produce varnish that's brighter, smoother and stronger than their counterparts in the market. That's why we thought it was high time we shared our go-to nail polish brands—the ones we consider our defaults because we're confident we'll like the shades, the textures and the finishes.
To us, these are the nine nail polish brands that perform the best, allowing us to shop for new shades without a shadow of a doubt.
Byrdie UK Editorial Director Amy rarely ever paints her own nails—she much prefers Shellac. But if she was in a bind? "I would paint them with OPI You Don't Know Jacques! It's the perfect deep taupe colour that looks surprisingly chic come autumn. It's easier to wear than trying to find your ideal flesh tone and a change from classic red," she says.
When she wants to mix things up, however, Shannon finds herself reaching for Smith & Cult. "Its shade range includes so many great colours you rarely find from other brands, like this perfect forest green."
"And when my nails are unpainted, I like to keep a layer of Nails Inc's strengthening base coat on them at all times," she adds.
"If I do ever paint my nails, I normally use the Rimmel 60 Seconds Super Shine polishes, as I'm the most impatient person in the world, and they dry quickly and don't chip easily," explains Alyss. "I love this One Last Tango shade; it's got a subtle orange hint to it."
Is there any drugstore nail polish brand more beloved or pervasive on Instagram than Essie? We don't think so. Hallie, Byrdie's senior editor, counts the brand as one of her all-time favourites thanks to the wide range of shades and finishes and the smooth easy-to-apply texture. We like this marine-blue shade called Butler Please for summertime wear.
JinSoon's chic square bottles house shiny polishes that are free of five common harmful ingredients. As we all know by now, what's left out of your favourite beauty products is just as important as what's included. They also happen to be vegan-friendly (which is why they're a win for ethical and nontoxic beauty!). Try the shade Nostalgia, a sandy beige hue.
Like Shannon, Lindsey, Byrdie's managing editor, likes Beauty Pie's nail varnishes. The formula is flexible, breathable, chip-resistant and infused with nourishing coconut oil. The 12 shades run the gamut from neutral to hot pink and rich red. Each one was developed by a team of nail experts. So basically there's a reason they're named the WonderColours.
Essie might be the current Instagram-favorite nail polish brand, but OPI reigns supreme as the longest-running drugstore classic (it was, after all, founded all the way back in 1981). While there are literally hundreds of shades to choose from, we currently keep coming back to this bright orange shade, which has a groovy '70s vibe to it.
Amanda, Byrdie's features editor, swears by Essie's new(ish) Gel Couture line. It's a gel nail polish that requires no UV lamps to dry, only a special High-Shine Top Coat (£10). That means we no longer have to break the bank by heading into the nail salon to reapply gel nail polish; now we can do it at home. One of her favourite shades is this fiery red one.
I'll let her professes her love of the Gel Couture line, as she says it best. "Essie's Gel Couture line is straight-up the only nail polish that will stay on my nails for over a week with minimal chipping," she says. "Every time I decide to branch out, I regret it—it's my holy grail, especially in the red and coral shades Rock the Runway and Looks to Thrill."
Faith also cites Jinsoon as one of the best nail polish brands of all time. We have a deep love for this dusky grey-purple combo called Dandy.
Erin also loves any and all polishes from Smith & Cult, the buzzy nail brand that's known for its stout and round glass bottles. This shade, called Lover's Creep, is a gothic red, which looks so brilliant and juicy it could be actual wine.
LeChat nail polish is my go-to when I want to use something that lasts a long time without showing annoying chips or cracks. It comes in countless shades.
Now that you're up-to-date on the nine best nail polish brands of all time, according to Byrdie editors, check out these nail-art designs you'll want to wear all season long.