Mani-pedis: like “martinis” and “taxicab,” are syllables we don’t often get to say, as it’s hard to imagine dropping $40 (plus tip) just making yourself fabulous. Instead of staring through salon windows in nail-envy, stop at a pharmacy (aka the Broke salon) on your way home and turn your apartment into the best kind of spa: one with an open bar. It’s easy be bombarded by the endless shades and makes of color. That’s why we’ve tried, tested, and rated nine of the most popular and wallet-friendly (under $4) polishes from your local drugstore.
Some of them are worthy of your makeup bag, others will make you wish for that manicurist’s chair. Check them out from worst to best below.
8. & 9 (tie). NYC’s In a NY Color Minute Nails 7 Sinful Colors, both $1.99
The Good: NYC Nails makes a clear topcoat that’s perfect for men and women alike. It gives nails a healthy-looking glow without OD’ing you on shine. And the polish dries in seconds!
For Sinful Colors, I used 24/7 back in June to add a little fun to my Pride gear. The color really popped, until I reached into my purse.
The Bad: One dip into my purse, the Sinful Colors polish had already chipped. Same deal with NYC colors. The shades are eye-grabbing, the polish names are too cute to resist (how can you say no to “Mulberry Street” or “Central Park”?), but NYC’s polish dries – and chips – faster than an NYC minute.
The Rating: (1 thumb up)
These brands are more fuel to the fire of “you get what you pay for.” Both are less than $2 a pop, but it’s not worth your time re-applying with every snap. Aside from NYC’s decent topcoat, skip ‘em..
7. Wet n Wild Fast Dry Nail Color, $1.99
The Good: Though equal in price to those chip-prone polishes, the lasting time for this brand is considerably longer. It stayed on my nails for four days without chipping and the color selection was extensive: there’s a color (or 10) for every season.
The Bad: Be warned: you’ll need two coats because the first always looks slightly watery, especially in the center of nails. Also, the darker colors tend to require extra time to remove and can even stain nails.
If you want quick and cheap, this is a good option. I’d recommend a light color like sunshine yellow or lilac.
6. Confetti Long Wearing Nail Color, $1.99
The Good: This is a relatively new polish brand on the market and reminds me a lot of Milani in terms of color and bottle shape. Available at CVS, it’s surprisingly good. My mani lasted for four days before showing any signs of chipping. Best of all, it gave off a great shine even before a topcoat was applied.
The Bad: Much like Wet ‘n Wild, the polish was slightly runny, but it was quickly fixed with a second coat. I also noticed slight streaking under bright lights.
The peach colors and pastels are especially playful and flirty. Why not give summer hues one last hurrah?
5. Brucci Nail Hardener, $2.99
The Good: This polish got me through packing, masking tape fiascos, and hauling luggage around without so much as a chip. It lasted just under a week and comes in a candy shop of colors.
The Bad:My nails are still stained from this polish, so do yourself a favor and stick with light colors. Even with a clear top coat, my nails didn’t shine quite enough.
With an extra shiny topcoat and a good nail polish remover, this brand is worth a shot.
4. Milani Nail Lacquer, $3.99
The Good: The gold shade I tried was a bit light for my liking (the color looked much darker in the bottle) but went on smoothly and lasted for about a week.
The Bad: Milani has a wide selection of peachy colors, but it depends on what your local store has in stock. That’s not enough to really distinguish itself from the other, cheaper options on the market. And, like the Sally Hansen Extreme Wear polish, the brush is too thin.
A great buy if you’re going for light or bright, otherwise keep looking.
3. Sally Hansen Hard As Nails Nail Polish, $1.99
The Good: Of the under $2 polishes, this one takes the cake. Little to no streaking, a decent variety of colors, single coat-friendly, and a five-day lifespan made me a happy polisher.
The Bad: The aptly named glitter monstrosity that was the “Ice Queen.” I want my nail polish to be long lasting, but not forever. The glitter on my nails hasn’t come off in more than a month – even after multiple dates with a bottle of polish remover. Other shades, however, seem to know when they’re overstaying their welcome.
Good, but just stay away from the Ice Queen.
2. Sally Hansen Hard As Nails Extreme Wear Nail Color, $2.99
The Good: The colors are rich and live up to the “Extreme Wear” promise. At just under a week, this polish lasts about as long as the standard manicure, with no noticeable streaking. From mint green to bright coral, the color palette is nothing short of impressive.
The Bad: The brush is far too thin, making this polish difficult to apply.
Switch the brush and you’ll have a salon-quality polish.
1. Rimmel Lasting Finish Pro Nail Lacquer, $3.99
The Good: This might be the best nail polish I’ve ever used. Granted, I’m slightly obsessed with Zooey Deschanel (the face of Rimmel), but it looks better and lasts longer than even OPI or Essie. This polish will last a good week and a half on me, despite my constant dish washing, box-packing, typing and digging through my purse (it’s a big purse). To prove it, I made my grandmother try English Rose. Not only was the color gorgeous, but it lasted for a good week on her, and her hands are in water for about half the day.
Also, the brush makes my life about a trillion times easier. It’s the perfect size and makes me feel like a pro even though my hands shake. Even the cheapest nail-polish remover will get the color off quickly and easily.
The Bad: This is basically a godsend but I just wish more colors were available in store! Though the brand makes 32 shades, about 8-10 are available on store shelves. Who wants to pay shipping for nail polish?
Prices based on Walgreens, CVS and Duane Reade.