Seeing red: We nail down the best polish

Ellen Warren

Answer Angel

May 11, 2012


Was your mother right? Do you really get what you pay for? Is spending the extra money worth it?

We ask ourselves that whether we're buying a lipstick or liposuction.

One day not long ago, I wandered into the drugstore to buy myself a little treat, some bright-red nail polish. And there I stood, utterly confused and unable to make a decision.

Was the $8 Essie better than the $1.99 Wet n Wild?

Should I believe Revlon's extravagant ad campaigns and plunk down $5.99. Or do I split the difference with a $3.99 Sally Hansen?

That's when I decided to buy them all and put them to the test. But why stop at four?

I went online and bought a bottle of OPI, a favorite at nail salons. And my final stop was Barneys because the cosmetics there are notoriously decadent.

I breezed in and demanded, "Show me your most expensive nail polish!" When the Barneys sales associate presented me with a small vial of Serge Lutens and I saw the price — $65 for a bottle of nail polish! — I needed CPR.

"How about the second most expensive?" I croaked. That was By Terry, which was still a laughable $30 for 0.33 ounce, the teeniest of all the brands I bought.

Then I rounded up a team of five co-workers who were willing to paint their nails crimson for many weeks as they tested the six polishes through spring cleaning, orange peeling, dishwashing, lots of typing and, yes, wine cork yanking.

And the bottom line? You can get a great polish for $8. The cheaper ones were inferior. And don't waste your money on the $30 splurge.


OPI's Color So Hot It Berns

$8, 1/2 ounce, drugstore.com

FA: "Got a good six days out of it before the mani showed signs of fatigue. (No major chips, just minor wear on tips of each nail.)"

MH: "Scored 4 out of 5 for durability."

Revlon's Fire Fox matte suede

$5.99, 1/2 ounce, Walgreens, walgreens.com

KS: "Poor coverage. I would not buy this polish again."

MH: "Chipped the easiest of all the brands."

CB: "Lasted almost a full seven days with no chips through workouts, dishwashing, mopping, showering." (She's the only tester who liked it but she broke our two-coat rule, using three coats of polish instead.)

By Terry's Nail Laque Terrybly, Trafalgar Red

$30, 0.33 ounce, Barneys, barneys.com

RR: "OK coverage with two coats, but really needs three coats for best look. Not as durable as Essie or OPI."

MH: "Not as durable as the Wet n Wild," which costs $1.99 — 93 percent less.

Essie's Jelly Apple

$8, 0.46 ounce, Walgreens, walgreens.com

FA: "Consistency was perfect for application."

RR: Ranked top for durability. "A favorite."

KS: "Good, full coverage, and it went on nicely."

Wet n Wild's Megalast, I Red a Good Book

$1.99, 0.45 ounce, Walgreens, walgreens.com

FA: "Goopy."

MH: "Gloppy but durable."

Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails, Tough Love

$3.99, 0.45 ounce, Walgreens, walgreens.com

RR: "I don't like it. It's chipping after one day."

CB: "The wear isn't fabulous — I would probably look for something that wore a bit longer."

(All testers used Revlon base and top coats, $7.99 each, Walgreens, walgreens.com)