I’ve never been the greatest at embracing a lot of makeup trends. I never went through the phase in middle school where I begged my parents to let me wear makeup (and luckily I avoided the raccoon-eyed phase of poor eyeliner choices). I was twenty before I realized people wore mascara on their bottom eyelashes. It’s no surprise that I never really got into painting my nails until I got to college and finally broke my horrible nail-biting nervous habit.
I’ll be honest: I’ve never understood the point of spending $20-30 on a manicure. I can count the number of times I’ve had my nails professionally done on one hand (pun sort of intended). This was problematic when I first started painting my nails, because as anyone who has knows, it takes a long time to get good at it. Luckily for me, I had a lot of time to practice between long winter breaks and many girls nights in. Now, I’ve built up a hefty collection of nail polish, and have formed a lot of opinions on what would be the “best of the best”. As a college student, I hate spending more than $4-5 on most things, and that rings true for nail polish too. I’ve found most of my favorites at drug stores like Walgreens or CVS, and some of the cheapest brands hold up way better than the more expensive brands I’ve tried.
My favorite nail polish I’ve ever owned cost me $1. With great pigment and an easy applicator, you really can’t beat the Wet n Wild “Wild Shine” line of colors. My favorite is “Blazed,” an orangey-coral that looks great in summer, but I rock it year round. I’ve had it last for over a week and a half with almost no chipping. You can find it at CVS, some Walgreens, and occasionally Target.
A close runner up is NYC long wearing nail enamel, which is also $1 at Target and other similar stores. Their color options are very vibrant, and I often find shades I don’t find other places. My favorite shade is “Preppy Pink.” I’ve found this to hold up a little less well than the Wet n Wild polish, but for a dollar you really can’t beat either.
Best Top Coat
I used to think that topcoats were all one in the same, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I found the game changer of topcoats (and by found I mean “borrowed” from my Mom and never gave back) and it is the Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat. This is more expensive than your typical drugstore find (It’s around $10 at stores like Ulta and CVS) but it is worth every penny. It goes on easily and locks in color with a very smooth, shiny finish. It’s a little thicker than typical topcoats but it works wonders. Not only does it make inexpensive nail polish look more like a professional manicure, but it also spruces up nicer brands as well. If I had to recommend a nail polish splurge, it would be on this.
Best For Your Toes
I love the Wet n Wild Mega Last nail color line, but I can never get it to stay on my fingernails; it always chips off and never looks cute. I’ve found it’s great for at-home pedicures, though. The line features many deep, vibrant colors with shades perfect for all seasons. The brush is very wide, which makes it difficult to be precise with on nails, but works great on toes. I’ve had shades last for over a month before I had to change it. You can find it at Walgreens and other similar stores for $1.99, making this option hard to beat.
Another brand that is better for toes than fingers is the Sally Hanson Complete Salon Manicure. I love the colors and they last long on both fingers and toes, but the brush is too wide to be precise on fingers in my opinion. At $6-7, this is also a bit more expensive than the other options on this list, but they have some nice colors to choose from. It goes on a little thicker than a lot of other brands, but the color is rich.
Best to Skip
I’ve come across several cheap nail polishes that look the part and aren’t worth the trouble. The first is Sinful Colors professional. They have a lot of cute colors but it chips easily and doesn’t look as nice on as some of the above options (it’s a little too thick and doesn’t dry super smoothly). For $2, it’s not terrible, but there are other equally inexpensive options that hold up better.
The next is Maybelline New York Color Show polishes. The polish itself isn’t that bad, but the shape of the lid makes it hard to control when trying to apply it. There are a lot of nice color options, but this one is also more expensive than some other brands at $3.99, and is another I’d skip in favor of a more inexpensive option. It is a great place to get color ideas for fall though, like the shade pictured below!
If you ever want to try more expensive brands such as Essie, Seche Vite, OPI, or occasionally even Ciate and Butter London, check stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx. I’ve found cute colors of Seche Vite for $4.99 at TJ Maxx. I snagged my favorite nail polish, Essie’s Cascade Cool, at Marshalls for $3.99 over the summer. They often carry sets of smaller bottles too so you can try different colors without paying a lot for a full size (since most of the above run $8.99-$15). I’ve seen lots of holiday collections of Butter London and Ciate, usually after holidays. It’s a great way to refresh your collection for next year post-season!