Having painted nails is an undeniable joy but finding the best nail polish – one that combines easy application with great colour and fast-drying – is less enjoyable.
Today there are 17 principal finishes for a nail varnish, including glitter, matte, shimmer, crackled and even holographic, and the colour choices are endless. To help you find the best nail polish for you, we’ve handpicked our favourites, including vegan-friendly polishes and the varnishes that protect your nails.
And if you’re looking to discover some of the latest nail trends, jump to the bottom of the page.
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£7.99+ | Buy now
Why we love it: Essie’s nail polish range ticks all the boxes.
Its colours are excellent, ranging from pastels and nudes to bright shimmering blues and oranges; it lasts and maintains its freshly coated feel for at least a week, and it’s hugely affordable.
If you’re looking to achieve the perfect at-home manicure, this is more than likely the brand for you.
Its gel finish topcoat is the icing on the cake and will hold your nail colour in place almost as well as if you’ve been to a professional.
£2.99+ | Buy now from Superdrug
Why we love it: Barry M nail paint is an absolute classic. Available in a range of colours, shimmers and sparkles aplenty, the full range is incredibly affordable and its topcoat is especially impressive if you’re looking for a long hold.
We often opt for Barry M when we’re looking for a bold colour to match a particular outfit or occasion and while it doesn’t have the staying power as some of the more expensive nail polishes in this list, it more than does the job if you like to mix up your look on a regular basis.
The brand recently released a pair of new colour-shifting, two-toned nail paints, inspired by the sea, which are perfect as we move from Spring into Summer.
These were then joined by a Hi-Vis Neon range.
£11+ | Buy now from OPI
Why we love it: A luxury buy that isn’t even all that luxury in price, OPI Nail Lacquer is often the go-to brand by nail experts at salons because of the quality of the product.
Not to mention the fact it boasts almost 250 shades, all with great ‘punny’ names. Colours go on seamlessly and you only need two coats for a long-lasting, professional finish.
It is also incredibly easy to apply compared to other products due to its matte, non–slippy handle, and wide brush; needing only three strokes across each nail, just like the professionals do.
£6 | Buy now from M&S
Why we love it: This nail polish range from M&S is a bit of an underdog.
In addition to being vegan, the Autograph line includes Vitamin E and Argan oil to strengthen the nails, and if you choose the All-in-One collection, you get a base coat, top coat, and colour in one, saving you time, money and layers and layers of polish.
Well played M&S, well played.
£7.99+ | Buy now from Superdrug
Why we love it: Sally Hansen was an impressive woman who pioneered modern-day nail varnish and whose first unique product, Hard as Nails, is still incredibly popular today.
The brand continues to promote Hansen’s original values, and from colour to quality to the brush and mechanics of application, this brand isn’t one to miss. It also claims to bring out 100–200 new colours every single year, so it’s unlikely you won’t find a colour to suit every occasion.
£3.49+ | Buy now from Rimmel
Why we love it: Living up to its name, Rimmel’s 60-second Super Shine nail varnish really does dry in 60 seconds.
And it really is super shiny!
At such a reasonable price, this product is a must-have for anyone’s nail varnish collection because of its ease of application and its varied and beautiful colour range.
£8.95+ | Buy now from LENA
Why we love it: Nail polishes and gel polishes give us a great finish but over time it can dry out our nails, leaving them weak and brittle.
With the LENA range, we’ve found a great compromise. A range that helps our nails breathe without sacrificing on high-end glossy colour. What’s more, the LENA range is water permissible, halal and vegan-friendly. As a result, these nail polishes are also popular among Muslim women because they’re wudhu-friendly.
This breathable, water-permissible formula is possible because the brand uses a special polymer that enables oxygen and moisture to be transported through the nail polish. This permeability allows moisture and oxygen to make contact with the fingernails after you have applied nail polish.
By comparison, regular nail polishes prevent oxygen and moisture from getting in.
Colour-wise, LENA’s range spans from neon to pastels, glitter and nudes. It also sells breathable base and top coats to keep your colour looking vibrant, and knowing that these nail polishes are giving your nails the best treatment possible is a bonus.
Why we love it: Every brand in this best nail polish list offers nude shades, but few are as all encompassing as the range from Leighton Denny. There are 21 in total, just in the nude category, and these range from pale creams to blush pinks and deeper browns.
At the end of September, Leighton Denny launched three new shades within this category as part of its Back to Nature collection. Foxglove is a clay pink nude, Forest is an everyday brown and Peony is a dusky pink.
What’s more, the Back To Nature collection is low chemical and vegan-friendly, and it contains 75% of naturally-derived ingredients. Each of the polishes have a redesigned, wider brush as well, to “give a perfect, seamless, self-levelling, clean line colour.”
As Leighton Denny, himself, explains: “Tonal nude shades are flattering, universally chic and work for any season, making it the perfect transitional nail colour for those ‘in between’ months. You don’t have to stick to the classic sheer pink nude, mix it up with warmer, cooler or stronger nude shades.
“For those with darker skin’s do go for a stronger shade like Forest. For those with pale skin types avoid pale, fleshy colours, warmer shades like Foxglove and Peony will be more flattering.”
To get a glimpse into the current and rising nail trends for the year ahead, Vera Clinic scoured the internet, using Instagram to rank the colours and designs based on their popularity.
We’ve listed the top five below. The number at the end of each trend’s explanation refers to the number of hashtags found that were directly related to the trend in question.
1. Marble Nails: From home decor to jewellery, the marble trend is one to watch generally in 2022. So of course, the nail industry has got in on the act. It’s not the easiest of finishes to master but the payoff for your effort is worth it. (2.2 million)
2. French Manicure: It wasn’t that long ago that French Manicure or French tips were seen as basic. However, the classic look is making a comeback. If you want to make the look edgier, opt for bold colours that contrast each other or square off the ends of your nails to contrast with the cure of the design. (1.3 million)
3. Heart Nails: Having gained traction around Valentine’s Day, the trend for heart nails has continued. Subtle and cute, this look can be worn in any colours and the hearts can vary in shape and size. (356,000)
4. Floral Nails: With Spring on the way, floral designs are rising in popularity on Instagram. They are delicate and feminine and can be painted on every nail, or reserved for a select few. (269,000)
5. Animal Print: Anyone who knows us in real-life knows how obsessed we are with animal print in all guises. So this is the 2022 nail trend we’re most excited about! We’ve seen a lot of cow prints doing the rounds on social, but you also can’t go wrong with a bit of leopard print either. (187,000)
At the end of 2021, WeThrift used Pinterest trends data to discover the nail trends of the year. These winter trends ranged from emerald greens to deep brown shades, and metallic tips.
While there are a new bunch of trends available (as we’ve detailed above), we’ve left the top 10 from December in case any give you inspiration!
1. Emerald Green: This season’s must-have nail look is set to be emerald green. Given that green (and red) are the very epitome of Festive, this isn’t a surprise but this particular green shade works so well for winter because of its deep, yet vivid tones. It’s a big leap from the bring colours we have seen throughout the year.
2. Khaki Green: The second most popular nail colour, according to Pinterest is a different take on emerald green, known as khaki green. It has a soft earthy tone that gives a sense of cosiness and warmth.
3. Forest Green: Another green dominating the top nail trends for Winter 2021 is forest green. Searches have risen up by a whopping 244% on Pinterest and green french tips are among the looks found across inspiration boards.
4. Brown Tip: If social media has proved one thing, it’s that the French manicure look is still going strong.
Add a touch of winter with a deep moody shade like chocolate or chestnut brown.
While the more subtle version is still a firm favourite in salons around the world, this style is a great way to dip into darker tones for the colder months…in a subtle way.
5. Navy Blue: Deep navy blue works so well for autumn and winter and is a relatively simple look to recreate at home. It also goes with many skin tones and outfits.
Libby graduated from Bournemouth University with a degree in Multimedia Journalism. She’s worked as a researcher and writer for Heart Radio as well as a features writer for a Somerset newspaper. She’s since taken time out to travel, manage a hotel restaurant, do a lot of dog walking, and now works in London’s West End