Our Favorite Nail Polish: The 2022 List Beauty Awards

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During the pandemic, many of us had to forego our regular visits to the nail salon and opt for DIY manicures at home instead. While doing your own nails can be a relaxing self-care habit for some, it can bring anxiety to others, especially those who are novices in nail painting. Picking the right nail polish becomes even more crucial when you're doing your own nails and aren't a professional. But finding the right color from the best brand can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Luckily, we went on a hunt to find the best nail polish so you can focus on the important part. We tested five different nail polishes from well-known brands, picking a wide selection of on-trend colors such as multichromes, cremes, and even holographic finishes.

The nail polishes were rated and scored in six categories: brush, formula, application, finish, overall look, and wear. Each nail polish was tested for five days to monitor the wear and tear of the product. To keep the testing consistent, we used the same base and top coat: Sally Hansen Diamond Strength Hardener and Sally Hansen Insta Dri.

Every nail polish we selected was at least 3-free, meaning it doesn't contain formaldehyde, toluene, or dibutyl phthalate. If the nail polish we picked was free of other ingredients, we noted that below. Without further ado, here are The List Beauty Awards: nail polish edition!

OPI Nail Lacquer in Turn Bright After Sunset: Winner

If you've ever gotten your nails done at the salon, you've probably heard of OPI. The professional quality brand is a salon staple, often featuring trendy colors. Its latest Holiday 2021 Celebration collection was a perfect example of how the brand utilizes unique finishes with its signature high-quality formula.

We decided to test a nail polish from OPI's holiday collection called Turn Bright After Sunset ($10.79). It's a gunmetal charcoal color with scattered holographic glitter. The Zoe Report named it the "Best Winter 2022 Color Trend," and Forbes recommended the festive nail color to pair with a smoky eye.

This nail polish excelled in every category. The brush is the perfect shape and size — slightly wider and flattened, but not too wide for more narrow nail beds. It's the ideal brush for a three-stroke application. 

It's also the most fool-proof out of all the nail polishes we tested. It doesn't flood the nail bed and is self-leveling. If you accidentally smudge it while it's still drying, you can even touch it up and it will look like nothing ever happened.

It dries smooth and looks like a salon-quality manicure. The scattered holo glitter especially shines in direct light. This holographic shade is a rare find in mainstream nail brands and makes for the perfect party manicure. Other than some wearing around the tips, this nail polish wore well — making it a true all-rounder!

China Glaze Nail Lacquer in Little Green Invaders: Runner-Up

China Glaze, a popular staple in nail salons, has a signature ingredient: China clay (per KDVR). China clay acts as a nail hardener and gives a glossy finish. The brand's nail polishes are vegan, cruelty-free, and 7-free. In addition to being 3-free, the formula also excludes formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate, and xylene.

We tested an olive multichrome shade with bronze and red shifts named Little Green Invaders ($7.50) from the brand's Halloween 2021 collection. Out of all the polishes we tested, China Glaze gave us the cleanest application. Therefore, this polish ranked high for brush, formula, finish, and overall look.

The flat brush provided a fool-proof application, and the formula was the perfect consistency. While brushstrokes are inevitable for a frost polish, the product self-levels, so brushstrokes were minimal after drying. The hardeners in the formula strengthened the nails, and the end result looked like a smooth, salon manicure.

But then things took a turn. After washing our hair on the fifth day, the nail polish started peeling off in sheets, leaving only a few nails with nail polish. Since we used the same base coat on other polishes, this could be due to the hardeners causing the polish to dry too hard and inflexible. So when nails bend, like they would in the shower, the polish could have a tendency to crack off. It's a gorgeous shade we recommend for a special night out, but not one that would last long.

Sinful Colors Essenchills Professional Nail Polish in Bath Goals: Runner-Up

Nail experts started Sinful Colors with the intention of creating trendy colors at a low price, per the company's website. In 2014, Consumer Reports named Sinful Colors a "CR Best Buy" for its longevity. The brand's latest collection, Essenchills, features shades with corresponding scents inspired by self-care rituals.

We tested Bath Goals ($1.99), a light-pink pearl shade with green iridescence. It's reminiscent of OPI Bubble Bath but with an added shimmery dimension — like a unicorn taking a bubble bath! Bath Goals smells like sweet, floral suds, so painting our nails became a pampering experience. We rated it highly in formula and overall look.

The skinny brush made application difficult, but the formula was amazing. The scent signals when your nails are dry, as you no longer smell the other chemicals. The self-leveling formula doesn't leave streaks, but the application left a few tiny bubbles. Applying the top coat smoothed any bubbles and subdued the scent. There was minimal wear, other than a chip caused by opening a tight seal on a bottle with wet nails. But this was due to force, rather than the quality of the product.

Unfortunately, our nails looked considerably dull after six days. While it might've been caused by the top coat fading, other polishes stayed shiny during a similar length of time. Regardless, this nail polish outperformed other more expensive polishes. At its price, we highly recommend stocking up on Sinful Colors.

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Nail Polish: Runner-Up

Sally Hansen has a monopoly on drugstore nail polish, and its Miracle Gel Nail Polish is a testament to the brand's superb reputation. Glamour has named it best gel nail polish, while Bustle has called it a best-selling gel-effect polish. Sally Hansen claims that the Miracle Gel's shine lasts for eight days and that no base coat is necessary. Regardless, we tested this nail polish in the shade Holllaa-gram with our base coat to remain consistent. We rated it highly for its brush and wear.

Holla-gram ($7.19) is a multi-chrome violet jelly that shifts to green, blue, brick red, and bronze. The gorgeous shade is unique for a drugstore pick. The Miracle Gel line comes with an easy-to-use flat and wide brush. The formula, however, is runny and tends to flood the nail bed. This led to two nails that were painted with the non-dominant hand to have pools of nail polish that dried unevenly. Not all of the nails had a smooth finish, but the nail polish overall still looked impeccable after it dried.

Two coats gave decent coverage, although a third coat would give increased opacity. This nail polish outperformed all the others in its wear. After 5 days, there was just minimal wear-and-tear around the tips, mainly around parts that we missed putting on the top coat. While this formula has a bit of a learning curve, the amazing wear-time and reasonable price are well worth the slightly tricky application process.

Londontown Lakur Enhanced Color: Runner-Up

Londontown's polish contains its signature "Florium complex," consisting of anti-yellowing agents, nourishing oils, and botanical extracts. The cruelty-free, vegan, and gluten-free formula is "16+-free," but the website only lists 10 ingredients the polish doesn't contain. The other 6+ ingredients remain unclear. It's also important to note that gluten only causes issues if you're gluten-intolerant and ingest it, per Allure. The polish is also a "breathable" formula, but that may not be beneficial. According to Allure, breathable polishes can absorb moisture, which can accumulate in between nails and polish, and cause an infection. The marketing claims seemed misleading.

We tested Cabana Boy ($16), a creme cerulean color, which rated high in finish. The brush was too wide, and it was stiffer compared to the others we tested. This plus the thick formula made application tougher. The bottle design with a rectangular handle was cumbersome, and the dense bristles left imprints on every stroke, initially causing streaks. The polish also tended to pool on the nail, but eventually self-leveled. Dry-time took considerably longer than the other polishes, even after applying a quick-dry top coat.

After finally setting, it had a long-lasting gel-like shine, unlike the other polishes, and felt smooth. Besides tip-wear, the shine and otherwise decent longevity make this formula worth the learning curve. This polish contains 0.05 fl. oz. less product than the other polishes, despite being pricier. Since nail polish lasts a while, this isn't a major issue. 

With any of these nail polishes, you can really nail your at-home manicure (pun intended!).