Nail Polishes That'll Look Good Even If You're Hopeless at Painting Your Nails
At-home manicures are the well-intentioned dupe that lets us save money on constant salon trips, switch up our color whenever the whim strikes, and have the polish on hand to touch up after a few days of washing dishes. But, because we’re often squeezing in the task during a busy day (which is every day), our at-home mani turns out looking less than professionally painted. The trick to making at-home manicures turn out streak-free, shiny, and long-lasting: Investing in polish shades that are forgiving of our flaws. We’re talking full-coverage and high-quality nail lacquer, for starts. Luckily, gel formulas have become readily available to ensure chip-free, generously coated nails for all—and are now always at the top of our list. Pastels and nudes are the trickiest of the spectrum to master with a tendency to look streaky, while metallics provide a merciful finish that hides any missteps. Don’t be afraid to go bold and bright if you have an opaque formula at your fingertips. (You’ll be seeing rich corals and vibrant lavenders this season.) To ensure even coverage, always start with a base coat—and for shine and lastability, finish with the perfect sealant, such as Essie Gel Couture Top Coat. We rounded up the best nail colors, including nudes, brights, and metallics, that’ll make your nails look salon-worthy even if you’re plain lousy at painting them.
Essie Gel Couture in ‘Fairy Tailor’
Buy It: $12; target.com
This longwear formula makes all of your sheer nude-pink dreams come true without the ghastly streaks that often accompany sheer nail shades. The polish goes on smooth and even, making it possible to get that royal barely-there color. Two or three thin coats will do the trick.
Smith & Cult Nailed Lacquer in ‘1972’
Buy It: $18; neimanmarcus.com
This cult favorite color sold out over and over again in record time after its release over a year ago. The appeal? It’s the most universally flattering opaque rose gold on the market. It hits the sweet spot for cool and warm tones alike, and it goes on with incredible full coverage that won’t look streaky.
OPI Nail Lacquer in ‘Cajun Shrimp’
Buy It: $9; target.com
Until the end of time, this shade will be our summertime secret weapon. This intensely vibrant color coats nails lavishly for a salon-worthy finish. (Remember: Always make sure the first coat is thin before applying a generous second coat.) With a little summer glow, the pinky red goes brilliantly coral.
Essie Gel Couture in ‘Style In Excess’
Buy It: $10; amazon.com
While pastels are certainly tricky for most of us at-home mani ladies, two generous coats of this gel color with the wide, fat brush will have you fully covered and looking professionally painted. Lavender is one of the trendiest colors this season, so don’t miss out!
Nails Inc. Nail Polish in ‘Future’s Bright’
Buy It: $15; sephora.com
This slightly pearlescent peachy gold shade is perfect for lightening your mood this season, and it’s even infused with real gemstones to boost the effect! It’s sheer enough to look subtly chic and disguise any flaws in the application.
Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro in ‘Happy Days’
Buy It: $20; sephora.com
This breezy coral number in a full coverage gel finish will help you celebrate spring and summer streak-free! With a few confident sweeps, you’ll have a bright and smooth look.
Dior Vernis Gel Shine Long Wear Nail Lacquer in ‘Rouge 999’
Buy It: $28; macys.com
We’d throw caution to the wind, despite our lousy nail painting skills, for a bright pop of red every now and then. The only way to help yourself out when going with a conspicuous color is to invest in a high-quality polish. Dior’s new formula mimics gel manicures with its full coverage and incredible pigmentation. Pick its iconic red—Rouge 999—to really go for it.
Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro in ‘Message in a Bottle’
Buy It: $20; nordstrom.com
What makes this sheer color work major wonders for terrible painters is the muted color and subtle shimmer. You’ll love this quietly stylish mauve shade year-round.
OPI GelColor in ‘Sun, Sea, and Sand in My Pants’
Buy It: $12.50; amazon.com
Yellow is one of the hottest colors for this summer, and no lady should have to miss out on it! Using OPI’s amazing gel color, you’ll be rocking this sunshiny yellow in no time. It goes on super shiny and finishes on the warmer, orange-toned side instead of pastel.
Essie Gel Couture in ‘To Have and To Gold’
Buy It: $11.50; ulta.com
This bridal collection makes sure your manicure is absolutely swoon-worthy—but it’s not just for brides! This vintage rose gold shade masks any at-home mani malfunctions with its thick coverage and metallic finish.
Smith & Cult Nailed Lacquer in ‘Plastic Beach’
Buy It: $18; bloomingdales.com
This bright guava pink hits the perfect mark for highly pigmented color that isn’t hot pink or bubblegum. You’ll feel totally enlivened by the brilliant opaque shade.