Beauty IRL: Nail Polish, Explained

Because I am indecisive, or because I have weird issues regarding permanence and commitment, selecting a color at the nail salon takes me longer than the average bear. I usually go in with a very specific idea of what I’m going to try to convey with my hands for the next week. “Perhaps I’ll buck convention and get this bright neon, even though it’s the dead of winter!” I tell myself. “Is this sheer nude too ‘I’m-getting-married-next-week’ and not enough ‘off-duty Rihanna’?” I’ll ask. I am overwhelmed by finishes. I spend minutes holding bottles of polish up to the weird light, turning them to see how they do or don’t sparkle, trying to envision how I’ll integrate them into my wardrobe that is full of mostly black with some stripes. “This is so important! I can’t make a wrong choice!” Well. Nail polish comes off in the blink of an eye so you can change every single day if you want. But, if you’re like me, and are stymied by the various shades and kinds of nail polish, this primer is for you.

Creme: Basket Case by Orly

This is your standard nail polish finish, the stuff of your Lincoln Park After Darks and your You Don’t Know Jacqueses. A creme nail polish is named as such because it looks, well, creme-y, I guess. It’s shiny, but not too shiny. This is classic. Like, this is what you think of when you think of nail polish, before your eyes were opened to the three bajillion other options there are out there in the world. I love a bright red creme, like Essie’s Geranium, with a tan, and this bright pink by Orly for when it’s the dead of winter, but I want my hand to still look like Miami.

Jelly: Adore-A-Ball by Essie

So, a jelly polish is “squishy.” This picture shows three coats of Essie’s Adore-A-Ball, which is technically a sheer as well. Most jellies are sheer, because that’s how you get the juicy, still-wet look. Gross. I’m not wild about these because they’re finicky to apply at home, and require so many coats to even show up and not look streaky, that I lack patience to play with them. If you get this done at the salon, you’ll be stuck asking for them to do “just one more coat?” and they’ll hate you. So, I’d say stick to these if you have a ton of time and want to sit and let your nails dry for what feels like an eternity. Or, stay away from them entirely. Your call!

Glitter Polish: Alchemy by Sephora Formula X

There are so many types of glitter, but for the sake of simplicity’s sake, I’m sticking to two. This fun item is an overall glitter. It goes on opaque in one coat, it’s got one million little glittery particles that catch the light and sparkle, but won’t make you feel like you’re nine-years-old and painting your nails for the first time. Also, it’ll come off with nail polish remover and a little elbow grease.

Glitter Topcoat: When Lightning Strikes by Deborah Lippmann

Ooh, SO. You can put on a glitter topcoat over your bare nail for something a little more understated, or you can just layer it over whatever color your wearing for a little more glitz. I used to think that glitter over a bare nail was icky and weird and unfinished, but I’ve spent some time looking at this version, and I want to run home and redo my nails immediately.  However, a word of warning here: you will need a ton of acetone and possibly a power sander to get chunky, multi-size glitter particles like this off your nails.

Matte: Flatte by Knockout

If you can get over the weird chalkboard feeling of having what is the equivalent of semi-gloss house paint on your nails, then this is a fantastic avenue to explore. I found a bunch of these Knockout polishes deep in the sale section at Urban Outfitters, like, two days before Christmas. They were fifty cents each, so I bought them all. Also, I love, love LOVE super long, kind of pointy nails with a matte almost-white polish. That’s my spring nail look. Get into it.

Shimmer/Frost: Stop Shop and Roll by Morgan Taylor

Shimmers and frosts aren’t as in your face as a glitter, but still have a little more pizazz than your standard creme. You can get pretty ones that look like seashells, or you can get this weird, mermaid-tail color that I found in my shoebox of nail polish, and be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t look weird.

Pastel: Go Ginza by Essie

Pastels! These are tricky to apply because they are streaky like none other, due to how much opaque white there is in the formula. Pastels take a little bit of work to get on, but once they’re set, I think they look great. The instinct is to wear dark, dreary, hideous colors in the winter months, as if to somehow reflect your tortured interior, or whatever, but I think that’s dumb. An icy blue pastel on short nails looks great and is seasonally appropriate any time of the year. I am partial to this almost-lavendar-but-not-quite shade from Essie.