Your Guide to Every Nail Polish Finish Out There

Because navigating the nail aisle can be a daunting task.
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Natacha Medeiros
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Because navigating the nail aisle can be a daunting task.

The great thing about nail polish is that it's pretty much a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. It's always in your size, and you don't have to worry too much about matching it to your skin tone. 

Where it gets confusing, however, is that there's just so damn much of it to choose from. Not only are there hundreds of colours out there, but imagine adding in different finishes, too! In recent years, nail brands have really stepped up their texture game, giving us options in not only creme and shimmer finishes but also holographic, duochrome, flakie and more. 

If you've ever wondered what those terms mean, don't fret! Your Nail Polish Fairy Godmother is here to help. Consider this your guide to every nail polish finish out there:

Creme

OPI Kiss Me I'm Brazilian

OPI Nail Lacquer in Kiss Me I'm Brazilian.

Think of creme finish polishes as the standard. This is most likely what you're used to wearing, as creme polishes are your standard one colour with no frills attached. Cremes are totally my go-to, and I especially love wearing a solid colour after I've had glitter or nail art on my nails for a while. Pictured above is a perfectly pink creme, OPI's Kiss Me I'm Brazilian, reviewed here

Where to buy: Drugstore.com

Chrome or Metallic

Deborah Lippmann 12th Street Rag

Deborah Lippmann Nail Lacquer in 12th Street Rag.

This stunning Deborah Lippmann colour, 12th Street Rag (reviewed here), has a chrome/metallic finish, and is easily one of my favourites in this category. While this type of finish can look super-nice on the nail, it can apply annoyingly streaky. (And what’s the point of wearing an awesome chrome if all you see is brush strokes?) So be extra-careful when applying chromes or metallics. 

Where to buy: Sephora

Glitter

OPI Chasing Rainbows

OPI Nail Lacquer in Chasing Rainbows.

Glitter finishes are usually suspended in a clear base, but can get injected into almost any polish, really. There are many types of glitter shapes, from hexagonal to bar glitter, to square and round. But one thing is standard: they’re all a huge pain in the you-know-what to remove. (Try Sephora Collection Instant Nail Polish Remover For Glitter, reviewed here.) Pictured above is the oh-so-pretty Chasing Rainbows by OPI, reviewed here

Where to buy: Drugstore.com

Matte

Ceramic Glaze Watermelon Cooler

Ceramic Glaze Nail Lacquer in Watermelon Cooler.

Matte polish is free of shine, like Ceramic Glaze's Watermelon Cooler, above. (Reviewed hereso pretty!) Some polishes come already matte, drying to a non-shiny finish straight out of the bottle, or you can add a matte topcoat like Essie's Matte About You to get the same effect. While matte nails look super-chic, I usually find they get less matte and more shiny with each day of wear, which is a downside of this finish.

Where to buy: Shoppers Drug Mart

Flakie

Deborah Lippmann Ray of Light

Deborah Lippmann Nail Polish in Ray of Light.

This Deborah Lippmann shade, Ray of Light, is the perfect example of a flakie polish. See those multi-coloured flecks? Well that, my friend, is a flakie polish.

Where to buy: Beauty.com

Holographic

Zoya Blaze

Zoya Professional Lacquer in Blaze.

I’m obsessed with holographic nail polish. It's like a glitter polish, but on steroids, and way easier to remove. I’ve always said that holographic finishes remind me of the back of stickers (am I the only one?). When this finish hits the sunlight, I just can’t get enough. With that being said, they're notoriously difficult to photograph—well, in my case, anyway. So you'll just have to settle for this glorious picture of Zoya Blaze in the bottle (reviewed here). Doesn't it look divine? 

Where to buy: Amazon.com

Duochrome

OPI Peace Love OPI

OPI Nail Lacquer in Peace & Love & OPI.

I love me a good duochrome... but a good duochrome is hard to come by. So when something as good as OPI's Peace & Love & OPI comes along, you buy it. (See review here.) A duochrome polish is one that magically changes colour depending on the light. It can appear to be green, purple and pink all at once, just like this shade. There are many variations, but most duchromes tend to have some pink, green, purple or blue in them, that can be seen at different angles. Pair them over a black base for even more punch.

Where to buy: Drugstore.com

Textured

OPI Tiffany Case

OPI Nail Lacquer in Tiffany Case.

I once hated textured polish. But now, shades like this OPI Liquid Sand colour, Tiffany Case (reviewed here), have got to be among my favourites. Textured polish dries gritty and grainy, and usually has lots of sparkle in it to catch the light. In my experience, this finish dries super-fast and is great for anyone who hates having to do an extra step of top coat. But if you add a good layer or two of shine over any textured polish, you’ll have a gorgeous, two-in-one shade. I love that this finish can be worn as-is or with top coat, and looks equally gorgeous both ways. 

Where to buy: Drugstore.com

Neon

Ceramic Glaze Exotic Dragon Fruit

Ceramic Glaze Nail Lacquer in Exotic Dragon Fruit.

While neon might not technically be its own finish, in my experience, almost all neons have a different texture than regular, creme polishes. They're deceiving because they look like normal cremes in the bottle, but they usually dry to a more matte finish. One of my all-time faves has got to be Ceramic Glaze's Exotic Dragon Fruit, pictured above and reviewed here

Where to buy: Shoppers Drug Mart

Jelly

OPI Sheer Tints

OPI Sheer Tints Color-Tinted Top Coats in I'm Never Amberrassed, Be Magentale With Me, Don't Violet Me Down and I Can Teal You Like Me.

The best example of a jelly polish would be OPI’s Sheer Tints collection, reviewed here. Jelly polishes are usually on the transparent side and give just a wash of colour, like the way my mani looks above. For that watercolour look, I used all four Sheer Tint colours over a white base, so jellies can be pretty fun to work with! You can also create something called a jelly sandwich with this type of polish, which is essentially a layer of jelly polish, a layer of glitter over that, and then another layer of jelly polish on top. You can do this with more opaque jellies, too, for a different look altogether. 

Where to buy: Birchbox

Shimmer

CND Crimson Sash

CND Vinylux Weekly Polish in Crimson Sash.

See how CND's Crimson Sash (reviewed here) is red with even more pretty red shimmer running through it? Well, that's basically a shimmer polish. It's like they inject a creme base with tons of tiny, micro glitters, a.k.a. shimmer. 

Where to buy: Amazon.com

Foil

Deborah Lippmann Xanadu

Deborah Lippmann Nail Lacquer in Xanadu.

A foil polish is one that's kind of on the metallic side, but looks a little like aluminum foil on the nails. Make sense? Just take a look at Deborah Lippmann's Xanadu (reviewed here) to see what I mean. It has that extra-metallic look to it. And let me tell you, this DL in particular is to die for. Foils have a metallic base and are generally pretty awesome, but I paired Xanadu over black to make it pop, and does it ever! Notice how it's got some duochrome in there, too, with its shifting colours and all. 

Where to buy: Neiman Marcus

Pearl

OPI Int'l Crime Caper

OPI Nail Lacquer in Int'l Crime Caper.

A pearl finish polish usually looks something like OPI's Int'l Crime Caper, reviewed here. And I have to admit, it's not my favourite. See how it's got that pearly look to it?It's a sheer white base paired with some sort of blue-toned shimmer. This would work best paired over a darker polish, but still, I don't love pearl finishes. 

Where to buy: Drugstore.com

Suede

Avon Touch of Taupe

Avon Suede Nail Enamel in Touch of Taupe. Photo credit: Pretty Little Bottles.

Last but not least are suede finishes. And this just so happens to be the only finish I don't have a photo of on my own nails! This pic of Avon's Touch of Taupe is from Pretty Little Bottles. Think of a suede finish as an extra-shimmery polish, but matte. They look slightly metallic because of all the silver-toned shimmer in them, but are really unique because they're matte. 

Where to buy: Amazon.com

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Have Your Say

What's your favourite nail polish finish? Have you tried any of these shades? Which finishes do you absolutely loathe?