I Spent 4 Weeks Testing Different Nail Polish Brands, From Drugstore Favorites To Luxury Brands – Here Are My Favorites (And Least Favorites)

·16 min read

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.

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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.

Raven Ishak smiling into the camera
Raven Ishak

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 brought me up-to-speed on all things nails: from the best way to apply polish to make a manicure last, to which kind of polish I should use (and stay away from) for longevity purposes.

Candice brought me up-to-speed on all things nails: from the best way to apply polish to make a manicure last, to which kind of polish I should use (and stay away from) for longevity purposes.

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Candice shared the following 8 steps for the best possible manicure application — and I followed them for my test:

The author painting her nails

1. Clean your hands and nails with soap and water. "The problem with [polish] retention can come from the nail not being properly cleaned or prepped," Candice told BuzzFeed.

2. Use acetone, alcohol, and/or a nail polish remover on the nail to make sure there is no grease or oil. "This will dehydrate/degrease the nail. If not, the oil will propel the polish and cause your polish to chip a lot faster," she said.

3. Stabilize your hand and sit at a table. "I recommend turning on a show or something that you can listen to that will make you feel calmer," she said.

4. Don't multi-task. "Be patient while you're polishing. Don't try to rush through it because you're going to make mistakes that way," Candice said. "Take your time."

Raven Ishak / BuzFeed
the writer taking a brush out of a bottle of nail polish

5. Fan the bristles of your brush out when applying. "If you spread the brush on the neck of the bottle as you're pulling it out, you can literally get the brush in a wider motion and in the shape of your cuticle area so you can get the color down in one stroke," she explained.

6. Paint thin layers. "You definitely want to be mindful of the amount. You want to take it layer by layer," she said. "If you slap on one thick coat, it can actually peel a lot faster."

7. Allow each layer to actually dry. "[Not doing this] is going to make the layers take a lot longer to dry in between," Candice said. "And it's also going to chip faster because you didn't give the layer sufficient time to settle."

8. Paint the edges of your nails — aka "cap the tips." "This is sealing the polish. This is especially important if you're not using a top or a base coat because it will make the polish last longer," she said.

Raven Ishak

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:

eight nail polish on top of a desk

From left to right:

OPI — Don't Bossa Nova Me Around ($9)

Olive & June — Bold and Unshaken ($9)

Sally Hansen — Hail Cherry ($6)

ella+mila — Paradise Isle ($10.50)

Essie — You're a Catch ($9)

JINsoon — Piedra ($18)

Paintbox — Like Wonder ($22)

People of Color — Pink Sand ($12)

Raven Ishak

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!

EIGHTH PLACE: Essie — You're a Catch

raven holding bottle of essie nail polish in the shade you're a catch
Raven Ishak

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.

Screenshot of written notepad
Raven Ishak

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.

Close up of nail chipped
Raven Ishak

By day 7, the pale pink Essie polish was barely holding on.

Close up of red and nude nail polish

To make Essie polish truly last, I suggest a top coat (and maybe even a base coat). Because while I was out and about more that week, the polish couldn't help but chip around all the corners of my nails. (And when you compare this to the red Sally Hansen polish, the difference is even more noticeable.)

Will I stop buying Essie? No. Like I said, I think they have the best trending and seasonal colors — and the formula is vegan. However, I would suggest getting their gel couture formula if you want a more lasting effect.

Ge "You're A Catch" from Essie for $9, Amazon for $7.54 or Walmart for $8.97.

Raven Ishak

SEVENTH PLACE: Paintbox — Like Wonder

raven holding paintbox nail polish in the shade like wonder
Raven Ishak

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.

A screenshot of notes written about nail polish
Raven Ishak

By day 4, things weren't looking so pretty.

Close up of nails chipped

The capped tips were fraying, the polish by the cuticles was breaking off, and the polish just felt brittle overall.

Raven Ishak

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.

Close up of hand with nail polish

If I were to use this polish again, I would 100% use a ridge filler to make the nail bed surface even for the lacquer to attach to.

Raven Ishak

By the last day, almost every powdery blue Paintbox nail was heavily chipped — which was a bummer because I really loved the color.

Close up of left hand with nail polish

Compared to the pale pink People of Color polish (on alternating fingers), Paintbox couldn't hold up. And once the polish chipped, it would flake everywhere. There was no stopping it.

Despite that, the color was beautiful. If you decide to have a more opaque look (which is three layers or more), just be ready to wait for the paint to dry for at least 10 minutes. It's also worth noting that the formula is cruelty-free, vegan, and paraben-free.

Get Paintbox's 'Like Wonder' for $22 from their website, or from Neiman Marcus for $22.

Raven Ishak

SIXTH PLACE: ella+mila — Paradise Isle

Someone holding a ella + mila polish

I found ella + mila at Target, alongside the Essie polishes. According to their website, the brand makes PeTA-certified products that are 7-free — or made without seven chemicals that the brand deems as harmful.

Raven Ishak

The application was straight-forward — full coverage with a quick dry.

Screenshot of written note about nail polish
Raven Ishak

It also immediately had a lot of glossy shine, which was great to look at.

Picture of a hand with green nail polish on
Raven Ishak

But after 7 days, the polish was not quite as chip-resistant as I was hoping for. (Although it was still glossy!)

A closed hand showing green nail polish

I don't know what kind of gloss ingredient they put in their formulas, but this polish was shiny until the end. I bet if I just used a top coat, this polish would have lasted beyond a week, too — because most of the polish itself was still on in the middle of my nail beds.

However, without a top coat, this polish chipped more than I wanted. Granted, this was the first polish I tested (hence why it's only on my right hand, before I decided to alternate), so I can see this slightly impacting the evaluation of this polish in some way. Lesson learned!

On the other hand (no pun intended), if you are looking for a glossy, eco-friendly polish that dries in a snap — this is your polish.

Get it from ella + mila for $10.50, Amazon for $11.19, or Target for $12.89.

Raven Ishak

FIFTH PLACE: Olive & June — Bold and Unshaken

Picture of Olive + June Nail polish in a hand
Raven Ishak

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.

Screenshot of written note about nail polish
Raven Ishak

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:

Back of hand showing purple and grey nail polish
Raven Ishak

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.)

open hand with grey and purple polish

For the price point, this is a solid polish. In addition to the fun colors they offer, the brand is also vegan, cruelty-free, and 7-free. While their website says, "When you add our top coat, you should get 5-7+ days of wear," I believe this to some degree. (The polish on my pinkies was still pretty solid on the 7th day without even a top coat!) Just make sure to do thin layers and let each layer dry completely to get the most lasting effect.

Truth be told, I see Olive & June replacing my Essie purchases every now and then since it's a similar price point.

Get 'Bold and Unshaken' from Olive & June for $9 or from Target for $9.79.

Raven Ishak

Nail polish #4: Sally Hansen Insta-Dri — Hail Cherry

a person holding a sally hansen nail polish

To be completely honest, I was not expecting this polish to be this high on this list (sorry, Sally!), but I was so happy because it had the lowest price point.

Raven Ishak

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.)

Screenshot of notepad with words
Raven Ishak

As mentioned, even just one coat gave a lot of coverage immediately.

close up of nails with pink and red polish
Raven Ishak

By day 7, Sally Hansen was still really solid for the most part. I was impressed!

close up of hand with pink and red polish

I'm pretty skeptical when it comes to "product promises," but after testing this nail polish for seven days, most of the things they claim on their website are actually accurate. Dries in 60 seconds? Check. Wide contour brush? Check. Single-step application? Semi-check. (I would do two coats to make the polish really pop).

However, when it came to the chipping, this polish truly didn't budge around the edge of the nails, especially since I capped the tips. Actually, the only kind of cracking that did occur was around the cuticles and one of my thumbs, and it was pretty minimal.

This is probably because the website claims it has a 3-in-1 formula that includes a base and top coat — which might be kind of cheating for this, I know. But honestly, most product promises don't deliver, especially at this price point and, you know what? Sally Hansen came through.

Yes, the hue did lose its shine a bit, but if I know that I'm going to have a busy week and don't have time to do my nails for the next 10 days, this polish will come to the rescue.

Get 'Hail Cherry' from Sally Hansen for $6.59, Target for $4.89, or Amazon for $4.47.

Raven Ishak

THIRD PLACE: OPI — Don't Bossa Nova Me Around

a hand holding an OPI nail polish

If you love nail polish or consider yourself to be a beauty aficionado, then you most likely know this brand. Even though I saw this polish everywhere, I truly didn't believe in its formula (because, again, I was skeptical). However, when I actually tested it out, holy cow was I wrong. Now I understand why OPI is considered one of the all-time greats.

Raven Ishak

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.

screenshot of note pad with writing on it
Raven Ishak

By day 7, it cracked just around the cuticles — and that's it.

Hand with pink nail polish

The only damage that was done was around the cuticles (and the corner of my thumb). And the only reason why I put OPI above Sally Hansen is because this polish lasted this long without a 3-in-1 formula — so if I would've added a top coat, I bet this polish would have lasted for seven more days.

Also, just like Olive & June, the polish didn't flake when it cracked. While the brand's website says its formula is chip-resistant, I believe this is pretty accurate given how long it took for the nails to chip.

Overall, OPI has gained a new follower. (And again, I'm sorry that I'm late to the game). The polish won't flake on you like an old high school friend, and it was glossy until the end. A win-win.

Get 'Don't Bossa Nova Me Around' from OPI for $10.49, Amazon for $9.97, or Target for $12.79.

Raven Ishak

SECOND PLACE: JINsoon — Piedra

a hand holding a JINsoon nail polish with purple and grey nails

JINsoon got on my radar because of its Korean founder, Jin Soon Choi, and for being a cruelty-free, vegan-friendly brand. However, this was the first time I ever tried the polish, so I didn't really have any expectations — but, boy, did it deliver.

Raven Ishak

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.

screenshot of paper with notes on it.

Also, it doesn't hurt that it's also 10-free and UV-protected, you know, which my nails love.

Raven Ishak

Here it is after just one coat — again: smooth application, no streaks, quick dry.

close up of hand with purple and grey polish on
Raven Ishak

By the 7th day, it had barely chipped.

close up of the writer's hand

I mean...just look at this polish on day seven! My ring fingers were still fully covered with polish and there's barely any chipping around the cuticle or the edges. I bet this manicure could have gone a full two weeks if it wanted — so call me impressed.

According to JINsoon's website, all of their nail polishes have "gel-like high-tech polymers for longer wear and intense shine." So while this isn't a full-on gel nail polish, it does deliver on the promise of longevity and shine.

The only thing that may give people some pause about buying this nail polish is its price point. While it's double the price of the other polishes I tested, it didn't catfish me on what it said it would provide. So if this works for your budget, go for it!

Get 'Piedra' from JINsoon for $18 or Beyond Polish for $18.

Raven Ishak

FIRST PLACE: People of Color — Pink Sand

A hand holding a people of color nail polish

If I could write a love letter to a nail polish, it would be to People of Color — a Black-owned business that describes itself as a brand "for people of color and for those who live in color". This was my very first time using this brand, and I was impressed not only with its formula but also its longevity.

Raven Ishak

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.

a screenshot of a notepad with writing on it
Raven Ishak

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!

Close up of chip nail polish on thumb
Raven Ishak

Final day results: Chip? What chip? I am obsessed with these results.

Close up of pink and blue nail polish

I also kind of had an anxious episode that week and my thumbnail became a victim (just being honest), but if I didn't do that, then that thumb would have been A-OK.

Other than that, the three other nails are completely covered in paint — from the cuticle to the tip of the nail — and when you compare it to Paintbox, it's like night and day.

Even though the formula isn't as thick as OPI's, it lasts like it has a thick formula. This polish lasted after cooking three to four times, shopping at Target again (don't judge me), cleaning parts of my apartment, and snacking on the couch (hey, it counts).

People of Color has all of the ease of application and durable wearability as JINsoon's, but it costs a few dollars less. Plus, it doesn't hurt that the polish is vegan, cruelty-free, and 10-free.

I know this price point is a little higher than the standard $9 — however, in my opinion, it's worth it.

Get 'Pink Sand' from People of Color for $12 or Beyond Polish for $12.

Raven Ishak

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.