Having painted nails is, in our opinion, an undeniable joy but finding the best nail polish – one that combines easy application with great colour and fast-drying – is less enjoyable.
We’d usually opt to get our nails done professionally, but with lockdown putting such treatments on hold we’ve been attempting to do it ourselves, while testing nail varnish sets in the process.
Nail polish is reported to have originated in 3000BC China, where ingredients such as beeswax, egg whites and gelatin where combined to create a primitive polish.
In Ancient Egypt, different coloured nails were used to determine your social class; the wealthy would wear reds and the less well off would opt for more nude and neutral colours. This is because red dyes and pigments, taken from vegetables, were harder to get hold off.
READ NEXT: Best hand cream 2020
The invention of the car inspired the creation of a completely clear nail varnish in 1916, and following this, Revlon was the first beauty brand to branch out into a range of colours after they released a cream nail varnish in 1932.
Acrylics first appeared on the scene in 1978, and by 2012, nail varnish sales were at $768million in the US alone.
Today there are 17 principal finishes for a nail varnish, including glitter, matte, shimmer, crackled and even holographic, and colour choices are endless. To help you find the best nail polish for you, from this sea of options, we’ve handpicked our favourites, including vegan-friendly polishes and the varnishes that protect your nails.
£7.99+ | Buy now from LookFantastic
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 top coat 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 top coat 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 in 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.
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