When people find out I'm a nail tech, the first question they usually ask me is "What's your favorite nail polish?" It's a good question since there are scads of different brands on the market to choose from, and the quality between brands can vary greatly.
As a nail tech, polish is my mainstay. Almost all of my clients walk out the door with polish of some kind on their nails. It's the one product that I must have in quantity, and the one thing I can't live without.
So when I look for a polish to put on my shelf for client use, I look for four different traits; Application, Wearability, Affordability, and Selection.
1. Application - Can the polish be applied in 2 thin coats with complete coverage and without streaks? Does the brush hold enough polish so that one dip in the bottle will cover the nail? Does the brush fan out so that the polish can be properly applied to the nail in three strokes?
2. Wearability - When applied properly, with good quality base and top coats, how long before the polish begins to chip when worn on the natural nail?
3. Affordability - Will I have to sell my children into slavery to be able to afford a good selection of polish colors?
4. Selection - Does the brand have a lot of different colors with a decent variety of finishes (cream, glitter, shimmer, frost, etc.)?
Until recently I hadn't found a brand that scored well in all four categories. I had a few favorites, but all fell flat in at least one area. So today I'll share my top picks with you, what I love and hate about each of them, and I'll tell you which one I think will be pushing all of the other brands off my shelf.
First off, Sally Hansen doesn't even make my list. Every time I go through my favorites, I get asked "But isn't Sally Hansen ok too?" The short answer is no, it's not. Don't get me wrong, it serves a purpose. If you need a cheap polish to match a dress that you only wear once or twice a year, and you don't care if it chips before the party's over, then run to Walgreens and pick up a bottle of Sally. There are a ton of colors available, but you may need a few coats for complete color coverage, and it will likely be chipped before the end of the night.
Instead, if you want something inexpensive with a little more wearability, try Finger Paints. You can pick them up at Sally's Beauty Supply. They cost a little more than Sally Hansen, but are still quite affordable. They also have a great color selection, apply nicely, and will wear for a day or two longer than cheaper polishes. I like this brand, and have a few of them on my shelf. It's not a professional quality polish, but it's a great alternative if you don't want to have to run to a salon to pick up a bottle.
Working my way up, the next on my list is China Glaze. This brand scores high on the affordability scale at about $5 a bottle. It is a professional brand, albeit a low quality one, and you can purchase it at many salons as well as Sally Beauty. They have a great color selection and seasonal releases to expand the palette of choices. However, China Glaze scores low on my list for application and wearability. The brushes are not as easy to work with as I'd like, and some colors aren't pigmented enough to provide complete, streak-free coverage in two coats. You'll also probably start seeing chips appear around two days after your manicure.
Ranking in next is Color Club. When I first started using Color Club polishes, I hated them. However, it turns out that the bottles I was using were old, gloopy, and generally disgusting. A newer bottle has great application and coverage. They're also extremely affordable, and are typically a little cheaper to buy than China Glaze. The downside to Color Club is that you have to purchase it in a salon, and it can be difficult to find one that carries the brand. It also doesn't score very high on the wearability meter, and you can expect your polish to start chipping a day or two after application.
OPI is the first polish to score in as one of my favorite brands of polish. While OPI polishes are more expensive than the previous brands listed, they're worth every penny. They're highly pigmented and therefore provide excellent coverage. They have a ton of colors to choose from, as well as frequent releases of limited edition colors that are usually trendy and fabulous. OPI wears well on the natural nail, and you can typically get five days to a week out of your polish before you'll need to repaint. The one thing I hate about this brand however, is the one thing most people love about it; so feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt. I hate the wide brush that comes standard in the full size bottles of OPI. I know, I know, I'm weird. But you see, my problem is this: I do a lot of manicures on kids and smaller adults. I find that it's nearly impossible to paint a tiny pinkie nail without making a mess using an OPI brush, and don't even ask me about painting pinkie toes for a pedicure with it (it makes me swear every time). It's so bad, it's almost a deal breaker for me, but you might love the brush, so by all means, give it a try and find out!
Until very recently, CND ranked in as my all time favorite. It scores low on the affordability scale, topping out between $9 - $11 a bottle, but for the standard colors that you wear all of the time, it's well worth the price. CND polishes are so highly pigmented that most can be applied in one coat, with complete coverage and no streaking. That means it dries quicker, and you'll also get more applications out of a bottle; so in the long run the price becomes comparable to the cheaper polishes. It also wears like iron, and unless you're really hard on your nails, should last about a week before it starts to chip off. Now, a few years ago CND made an innovation in nail polishes, and introduced a line called Color and Effects. What it is, is a line of about fifty creamy polish colors, and a line of about fifteen top coats that add sparkle, glitter, or frost effects to the colors. The color is applied first and then the effects, and the many combinations between the two give you an almost unlimited range of looks for your nails. Really cool, right? The only gripe I have with CND is that they need more colors!!!! Most of the colors they offer fall into the range of reds and peaches, and less than ten fall into a non-standard color range (yellows, greens, blues, etc.). That's fine for a more sedate crowd, but again, I do nails on a lot of kids, and they all want weird colors in bright shades. If CND expanded their line, I'd marry them and devote myself to their polish babies, but until they offer a range of colors that satisfies all of my clients, I have to look elsewhere to fill that gap.
Now we've come to my top pick, and it's a brand that I didn't even know existed until a couple of months ago. The more familiar I become with it though, the more I'm falling in love.
Zoya is my all around top polish pick. This brand, so far, has gotten top marks in all of my fields. At $7 a bottle (*recently increased to $8), the price falls solidly in the middle of those listed above. The quality, however, compares to OPI and CND, which makes the price tag even more impressive. I've heard complaints that the brush is too small, and it is a little on the small side. Yet, the quality of the brush is so high that I am able to cover even a large thumbnail with one bottle dip, and the bristles spread out nicely when touched to the nail, making a three stroke application a snap even with the smaller size. The polish itself is highly pigmented, and covers beautifully with two thin coats, leaving no streaks or blotches behind. They also have an amazing selection of colors and finishes, with a great color spoon program that lets you try before you buy if you're not sure that a color is right for you.
That leaves wearability as the only category that is yet undecided for Zoya and me, but that's merely because I haven't had adequate time to really judge how it performs under different circumstances. So far my results have been good though, and I'm hopeful that when used on a properly prepared natural nail, it will wear at least as well as OPI. All in all, I'm ready to start clearing out my other polishes (except for a few favorites) to make room for more Zoya colors.
Zoya is available online (their web store has terrific customer service and shipping times), or at select salons. Give it a try, if you don't like the polish you're welcome to send it to me!
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments and I'll do my best to answer!