Nail Polish - Getting Good Results on a Budget?

I’m here to talk about (and ask questions about) nail polish. The at-home kind.

I like to paint my nails when I’m feeling The Femme-- it washes over me like a wave. Tragically my nails don’t like to be painted. :sob:

Here are my issues:

  1. Either the polish or the remover (not sure which) fucks my nails up bad. They chip and delaminate if I don’t take several weeks off between having my nails painted. I use a base coat but it doesn’t seem to do much. I’ve experimented with acetate free remover and it also seems to not be a magical solution.
  2. My nail polish never dries smooth/glossy. Even if I let it dry for hours, it will inevitably pick up the impressions of my sheets overnight and become a sad dull and bumpy landscape. I have been covering said landscape up with sparkles to hide the issue.
  3. My nail polish is all 4+ years old. Is this the root cause?

Big questions for those who do the nail do:

  1. Do I need to buy new polish in order to get a good finish?
  2. Does the $$ of the polish matter? Mine is almost entirely CVS/Walgreens impulse buys back from when I moved to my city without knowing anyone and I was desperate for any type of human interaction and the CVS check out clerk totally counted.
  3. Are there less nail-damaging ways to paint nails?

I have literally no advice about this because I couldn’t paint my nails to save a whale, but this made me sad-LOL so hard. I’ve been there.


Yes, you probably need new polish in order to get it to dry properly.

Do you use a top coat? I find that helps with finish and helps it last a bit longer.

There are gel polishes now, but I think acetone is used to remove, so that may not help the damage to your nails.

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  1. I don’t think you need new nail polish, at least not because of age. Different brands do have different qualities, though. I really like OPI and Essie, personally, which are both carried at CVS. Butter London’s also nice.

  2. For your nail health, 5000% make sure to give your nails lots of breathing room! Being painted all the time really isn’t good for them. If your polishes have formaldehyde or toluene in them, ditch them. No polish is good for your nails, but especially not those. The link there has some good recs (again, I like Essie and OPI a LOT – great color selection and less nasty chemicals).

  3. I find that I get the sad bumpies when I:
    a. paint my nails too close to bedtime (I find that giving them three to five hours without contact with fabric/water is helpful to get a really good smooth finish)
    b. put on coats that are too thick
    c. don’t give the coats enough time in between putting them on.

I usually do a base coat plus two to three color coats, finishing with a top coat. I try to give ten minutes between each color coat to dry, since I’m just air drying my nails.

Also, my nails are pretty smooth. If yours have ridges, that could affect the final finish. If you have ridges that are showing through the polish (or if you wanna use a chrome polish that will show the very tiniest ridges), then you may want to buff them a little. I’d be wary, though, buffing can again damage the nail itself.

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Can you elaborate?

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OOOH, Thank you! :smiley:

It’s very possible I’m just not waiting long enough. I think I’m doing what you said, but I’m not like, timing it. XD


I also have issues with nail polish. I think my nails are like… too greasy… because polish will flake off soooooooo fast. I have major issues with most nail polishes not sticking to the nail. Even with a base coat.

Lately I’ve been using Orly. It’s not the cheapest by any stretch ($5-$8) but I’m pretty sure their polish doesn’t have the bad stuff in it, and it works the best for my nails. I also see Orly polish used in professional salons a lot. I’m the type who, when I do wear polish, will wear one nude color all the time, so I’m not too peeved about spending more on one bottle of polish I’ll get full use out of.

As far as bumps getting imprinted in the polish, if you’re using 2 coats I would ensure sufficient dry time between the application.

If you want super super cheap stuff Sinful Colors polish is $2.


FWIW I don’t time it either. I just sorta… guess. I find it a lot easier to paint my toes than my fingernails, though, because I get sooo impatient around waiting!

A friend of mine has a few Orly polishes that she really likes.

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I’ve found that some polishes hold up a LONG time. But I recently found a stash of polishes and did a test, some just won’t dry or harden properly, even after a day. So I don’t know what exactly cause the issue - but I have my own data. This could be related to brand.

Like @diapasoun I have found OPI to work well. But I think it is pricey. But once you find a color you like (You don’t know Jacques!) - it is not expensive per wear.

More expensive polishes seem to have better color saturation - so 2 coats is enough. For me, more coats leads to more chance for a smudge. The first coat dries fast, but the second coat will partially re-wet that first coat and then the whole thing needs to dry, which takes a bit longer.

Have you tried any vegan polishes- I wonder if they are possibly more gentle.


Is the polish dry?

I paint one coat one hand, wait. Then paint one coat on the other hand, wait. Repeat.

I can carefully touch a nail to see if it feels dry. But even then it may not be dry! I find that if I carefully touch the surface of two supposedly dry nails together, if they are not both really dry, they will slightly stick to each other.

This is interesting! My “collection” (if you will) is a total hodge podge of brands.
I might pick up a brand new Orly or OPI to try out. My issue is that I love ALL THE COLORS and like to have explosive rainbow nails.

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Have you tried using isopropyl alcohol to wipe your nails before polishing? At a salon they will use that before they apply polish for a pedicure (which is after they’ve massaged in lotion).


I love allll the girly femme things :slight_smile: I get powder manicures now but I did my own nails most of my life.

First: yes, you need new polish! Old polish doesn’t go on well or dry properly. Also, really cheap nail polish isn’t worth it because it dries poorly and often has bad coverage. I recommend Essie, OPI, Orly, or (this one is cheaper) Sinful Colors. You can also buy these higher end brands for a discount online/on sale. That’s what I used to do.

The best base coat I’ve ever used was Orly Bonder Rubberized Basecoat. For strengthening between color polishes/to give a break from powder manicures I use Perfect Formula Pink Gel Coat which is expensive but looks gorgeous. For top coats I like Seche Vite, that may help you with some of your drying issues.

With nail damage, I am fairly convinced it is somewhat genetic. I have insanely strong nails that grow really fast, and even powder or gel manicures don’t seem to damage them at all. I don’t think this is anything I’m doing so much as luck of the draw, like how some people have really thick resilient hair.


Holy shit you are the girly femme god of polish knowledge.


Next question: is there a “standard” age nail polish can get to before it goes down the tubes?
Like, 1 year? 2 years? 3 years?

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Haha, I aim to please! I’d say 6 months to a year? Basically when you start having trouble with application, trash it.

Also, if you mix them by rolling in your hands (instead of shaking or smacking against your palm) you’ll eliminate some bubbling :slight_smile:


@Oro - my collection is a real hodgepodge of brands too. Hence the recent test of color and quality when I found an old stash! Some were fine and dried OK. A few didn’t.


That lifespan is so short.

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I’m a believer in:
Alcohol before polish
Sally Hansen hard as nails as a base coat
Waiting forever between coats.
cheap and chemically AF pretty colours (sinful colours, essence, Sally Hansen, rimmel )
Glitter polish literally never comes off. It’s kind of the devil, but this is convenient. Also it doesn’t show top ups. Also, then you’re glittery


I know :-o

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