We’ve all stood in front of a rack of brightly colored bottles of nail polish at the local salon and wondered, How do I choose? Imagine confronting hundreds of those bottles and you’ll have a sense of the challenge facing Allure editors when it’s time to determine the very best chip-resistant lacquers, as we did for the winners of our Nails category in the 2023 Allure Best of Beauty Awards.
In such a competitive beauty category, really, how do we choose? Inch by inch. We paint on and wear each polish faithfully to see how long it lasts before succumbing to everyday wear and tear — and then we start the whole process again from scratch with a new contender. Sure, it’s tough on our nails, but that gives us unparalleled insight into the most exemplary cuticle soothers, nail strengtheners, and polish removers too. Here’s your cheat sheet for the best and brightest (and the darkest and lightest) nail formulas, hands down.
Best of Beauty Awards 2023: Nails
Jump to your favorite nail category or keep reading to see every polish, press-on kit, and prettifying tool that made our list this year:
Best Nail Polish
Polish, Quick Dry: Sally Hansen Insta-Dri
Why it won: One coat (and we do mean one) of Sally Hansen Insta-Dri produces high-shine, bone-dry color in 60 seconds (speedy even by TikTok standards). We love all eight shades in the new Escape the Ordinary collection, but our hands-down favorite is C-hill Out — a gorgeous, banana-leaf green.
Polish, Longwear: Essie (Un)guilty Pleasures Collection
Why it won: We love Essie‘s original formula for the way it tempers rich pigment with a muted finish — and for the smooth-gliding brush that “makes it so easy to apply,” without clumps or streaks, says art director Ingrid Fowler. Right now we can’t stop reaching for the (Un)Guilty Pleasures lineup, which inches from cloudy gray to moody espresso, for a plush, sophisticated look.
Topcoat, Regular: CND Vinylux Long Wear Shine Top Coat
Why it won: CND Vinylux Long Wear Shine Top Coat is like a fitted trench for your nails: The curve-hugging brush produces a smoother, fuller silhouette.
Topcoat, Quick Dry: Olive & June Quick Dry Top Coat
Why it won: Olive & June Quick Dry Top Coat dries in about 60 seconds — and prolongs the life of your polish by 604,800 seconds (that’s seven days).
Best Nail Strengthener
Essie Hard to Resist Advanced Nail Strengthener
Why it won: Essie Hard to Resist Advanced Nail Strengthener is more than just a sturdy anchor for color. Deputy digital director Kara McGrath, once a nail-strengthener skeptic, now swears by this ridge-smoothing translucent formula, which has conditioners (camellia sinensis leaf extract and glycerin) to prevent splitting. “I put it on whenever my nails are feeling worn down from too much dishwashing or gardening,” she says, “and they feel way less prone to bending and breakage.”
Best Cuticle Care Products
Cuticle Treatment: Greenmade Goods Lemongrass Botanical Nail Pen
Why it won: You can see small flecks of lemongrass suspended in the Greenmade Goods Lemongrass Botanical Nail Pen. The hydrating, skin-softening results are just as obvious to the naked eye.
Cuticle Tool: Tweezerman Glass Nailcare Set
Why it won: Tweezerman Glass Nailcare Set is the magical glass slipper of grooming kits. The trio of see-through tools transform ragged nails and neglected cuticles into polished perfection (and if we ever misplaced this set, we’d also go door-to-door looking for it).
Best Press-On Nails
Press-Ons, Short Nails: OPI xPress/On Press On Nails
Why it won: For those who prefer a more low-key silhouette, the OPI xPress/On Press On Nails collection includes demure lengths and rounded tips that are right on point.
Press-Ons, All-Lengths: Sally Hansen Salon Effects Perfect Manicure
Why it won: At the other end of the spectrum, Sally Hansen Salon Effects Perfect Manicure enables us to approximate a salon job that has all the bells and whistles: elongated tips, cool colors, artsy designs.
Best Nail Wraps
Nails of LA Nail Wraps
Why it won: Nails of LA Nail Wraps can make ambidextrous manicurists out of us all. The minimally designed adhesive strips (we especially love the neutral, abstract designs of the Editorialist Wrap and the Stylist Wrap) are so easy to apply, even our least-coordinated editors were able to achieve a flawless fit without the slightest ripple. Says senior editor Jesa Marie Calaor, “My nails looked like I’d just spent two hours sitting across from a nail artist.”
Best Nail Polish Remover
Olive & June Nail Polish Remover Pot
Why it won: Olive & June Nail Polish Remover Pot is one handy little number — and a repeat Best of Beauty winner. Dip your finger into the pot and give it a twist to dissolve even the deepest, darkest lacquer (plus there’s a sponge attached to the cap for toes).
Sundays Pr. 01 Soy Polish Remover
Why it won: Sundays Pr. 01 Soy Polish Remover is a nondrying alternative to acetone. One pass with a cotton pad eliminates all evidence of past color, without making your nails feel brittle (thanks to castor and grapefruit peel oils) or your bathroom smell like a distillery.
Like what you see from Allure‘s Best of Beauty Awards?