The Ultimate Cheat Sheet To Every Type Of Nail Polish

A woman applying nail polish next to a book with various nail polish swatches

Fact: We love a good mani Monday—a mani any day of the week, really. We don’t consider our beauty routine complete until our fingertips are flawless and fabulous, courtesy of the shade or Insta-worthy nail art du jour. In pursuit of said perfection, we’ve had our fair share of exposure to nail polish in all its iterations—from gels to Shellac, vegan to 5-free formulas—which means we’re bona fide experts on the subject. In order to share the wealth (why keep it to ourselves?), we’ve created an, ahem, handy cheat sheet that will clear up any confusion before your next salon date.


Pick A Polish, Any Polish

The OG chip-free manicure, gel boasts a lasting power triple that of traditional polish. What's the secret? It requires curing under a UV or LED lamp to create a budge-proof linking of molecules, and that is what leads to your long-lasting mani. If regular trips to the salon aren't in your budget, there’s no shortage of at-home kits that come with a portable LED lamp. But if the idea of baking your nails is off-putting, many leading brands have created formulas that mimic the shine and longevity of gel, no light required.

A little-known-fact is that oftentimes, the glossy luster of your favorite polish is derived from less-than-humane means. Ingredients can range from crushed-up beetle shells to fish by-products, and unfortunately, some brands are still testing on animals. Luckily, there are plenty of cruelty-free options out there—formulas not derived from or tested on any living beings.

Sure, we've heard beauty is pain, but we draw the line at beauty being toxic. Polishes dubbed 5-free and 7-free eliminate potentially harmful ingredients, including formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin and camphor, so you can rest assured your mani is as safe as it is shiny.

Invented by the brand CND, Shellac offers a best-of-both-worlds situation. Part traditional polish, part gel, the innovative formula requires exposure to an LED light to deliver that same durable, glossy finish à la gel, but it doesn't coat the nail quite so aggressively, so you're left with a more natural look.