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What are different names for nail polish?

What are different names for nail polish?

Nail polish comes in many different forms with unique names used to describe the various types. As a popular cosmetic product used to coat and decorate fingernails and toenails, nail polish has evolved over the years into a diverse array of options. Let’s explore some of the different names for nail polish and what they signify.

Traditional Nail Polish

Traditional nail polish, also referred to as nail lacquer or nail enamel, is the basic, classic type of nail polish. It typically consists of a liquid frequently made from nitrocellulose, which acts as a binder, and plasticizers to add flexibility. Pigments and pearlescent materials provide color and shine. Traditional polishes are opaque and must be applied in multiple thin coats for even coverage and intensity of color. They are available in the widest variety of color options from soft neutrals to bright bolds and glittery shimmers. Traditional polish dries to a hard, glossy finish and wears well for several days before needing touchups. Some common brand names of traditional nail polish include OPI, Essie, and Sally Hansen.

Gel Nail Polish

Gel nail polish, also known as gel manicures or shellac polish, has a thicker, gel-like consistency. The formulas are designed to cure under UV or LED lamps into a hard, glossy finish that resists chipping, scratching, and fading. Gel polish tends to last longer than traditional lacquers, typically over two weeks or more with proper application. Because gel requires curing under lamps, it is usually applied and removed by professionals at nail salons. Popular brands include Gelish, OPI GelColor, and Shellac. Gel polish can be more damaging to natural nails over time with repeated use.

Dip Powder Nail Polish

Dip powder nails are a rising trend that creates a durable, long-lasting manicure. Rather than painting on color, the process involves dipping nails into colored powder then sealing each layer with clear acrylic. This allows the powder to harden onto the nails for a smooth, strong finish. Dip powders come packaged in jars of dust-like particles that adhere via static attraction. Multiple brands exist, but popular options are Kiara Sky Dip Powder and Revel Nail Dip Powder. The technique typically lasts 2-3 weeks or more. Because acrylics are used, dip powder manicures require professional application and removal to avoid damage to the natural nails.

Acrylic Nail Polish

Acrylic nail polish refers to products used in sculpting and building artificial nail enhancements. Acrylic powders contain polymers that are blended with acrylic liquids comprised of monomers. This allows the product to be applied to the nails and shaped as desired. After curing under UV lamps, acrylic hardens into durable extensions that can be painted with regular nail polish. Acrylics are usually applied by professionals due to the chemicals involved. Some common brands are Young Nails and CND Shellac. While offering length and strength, acrylics can weaken the natural nails if not properly removed.

Gel-Like Nail Polish

Gel-like nail polishes aim to offer the extended wear and shine of gel polish in traditional lacquer form. These hybrid polishes contain flexible polymers that cross-link as they dry naturally into an elastic, chip-resistant film. Gel-like polishes do not require curing lamps yet boast up to two weeks of wear and intense color. Popular options are from brands like Essie Gel Couture and OPI Infinite Shine. These provide a compromise between regular polish and true gels. However, they can still be drying and damaging to natural nails with repeated use.

Vegan Nail Polish

Vegan nail polishes exclude animal-derived ingredients in favor of plant-based alternatives. Traditional nail lacquers often contain components like shellac, collagen, and keratin. Vegan brands swap these out for materials like citrus, bamboo, or wheat protein. Leaping Bunny-certified options ensure no animal testing is done. Popular vegan polish lines include Pacifica, SpaRitual, Ella + Mila, and Zoya. The vegan formulas offer the same range of colors and textures as conventional polishes while appealing to eco-conscious consumers.

Non-Toxic Nail Polish

Non-toxic nail polishes are formulated without harsh chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), camphor, and formaldehyde resin. These ingredients have been linked to health problems so natural, eco-friendly brands exclude them. In their place, non-toxic polishes use materials like plants, minerals, and water. Well-known options include Honeybee Gardens, Piggy Paint, and Kure Bazaar. Although the formulas tend to be thinner, non-toxic lacquers offer safer, cleaner options without sacrificing style.

Quick-Dry Nail Polish

Quick-dry nail polishes contain additives that dramatically accelerate drying time. Standard polishes can take up to an hour to fully cure and harden while quick-dry versions set in as little as one minute. The rapid dry-down prevents smudges, dents, and running. Ingredients like isopropyl alcohol or acetone give quick-dry polish its speed. Top brands for this variety include Essie Expressie, Sally Hansen Insta-Dri, and OPI RapidDry. The fast-drying formulas allow you to get in and out of the nail salon quicker.

Sheer Nail Polish

Sheer nail polishes provide light, natural coverage in neutral pink to nude shades. They allow the natural nail to show through for a clean, bare look. Sheer lacquers contain lower levels of pigment rather than being fully opaque. You may also see them labeled as tinted nail polishes. Brands like Yves Saint Laurent offer sheer collections in chic, minimalist packaging to convey understated elegance. Sheer polishes pair well with French manicures or minimalist outfits and styles.

Matte Nail Polish

Matte nail polishes have a flat, non-glossy finish. Traditional polishes dry to a shiny, glossy look while matte lacquers contain matting agents like silica. This creates a velvety texture that reflects less light. Matte manicures rose to popularity in the 2010s as an edgy alternative to high-gloss polish. Top brands include Essie Matte About You, OPI Matte and Butter London Matte Finish. Matte polishes make bold statements, especially in dark vampy colors.

Caviar Nail Polish

Caviar nail polish refers to multicolored speckled varieties containing tiny beads or particles. The caviar effect comes from sprinkling materials like crushed shells, sand, matte beads, or colored dots onto wet polish. The beads adhere before sealing it all with a topcoat. Caviar manicures create interesting textures and patterns like leopard spots, cracked glass, or reptile scales. Brands that offer caviar style polishes include Ciaté and OPI. Do-it-yourself kits are also available for creating DIY caviar nails at home.

Magnetic Nail Polish

Magnetic nail polishes produce mesmerizing designs when swept over magnets. The lacquers contain iron powder that shifts when magnetic forces are applied. This forms stripes, waves, and other effects based on the magnet shapes. Brands like Essie, OPI and China Glaze have magnetic options to allow easy unique manicures. Kits are sold containing both the color-shifting polish and magnet tool. Magnetic polish provides a fun way to get creative, artistic nails.

Chrome Nail Polish

Chrome nail polishes contain tiny metallic particles or flakes that create a mirror-like chrome finish. When light hits these reflective bits, nails dazzle with a hyper-shiny multi-dimensional effect. Chrome polishes are typically silver, gold, rose gold or other metallic shades. Top brands for the chrome trend include Essie Mirror Metallics, OPI Liquid Chrome and FingerPaints Midnight Metallics. The glamorous high-impact look evokes luxury cars, jewelry and more.

Jelly Nail Polish

Jelly nail polishes have a translucent, squishy look just like classic jelly shoes. The sheer, glossy formulas allow some of the nail plate to peek through. To build opacity, jelly polishes are applied in multiple layers which creates depth. Top jelly polish brands include Zoya, China Glaze and Essie. These fun lacquers are often infused with glitters and pigments to create colored jelly effects. Their worn-in, textured look provides a unique take on polish.

Cream Nail Polish

Cream nail polishes go on smooth with a creamy opaque finish. The rich, dense pigmentation provides full coverage in just one or two coats. Creams come in a wide range of colors from brights to pastels and deeper shades. Their easy application and durability make creams popular choices. Well-known cream polish collections include Essie Cremes, OPI Nail Lacquer, and Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure.

Pearl Nail Polish

Pearl nail polishes contain tiny mineral or synthetic pearlescent particles that create soft, shimmery light effects. Brands like Deborah Lippmann and Dior offer high-shine pearlized polishes. These tend to have a thinner, more translucent base to allow the pearls to reflect. One downside is they can appear streaky if not applied carefully in even coats. Pearl polishes lend nails an ethereal, elegant glow perfect for special occasions.

Glitter Nail Polish

Glitter nail polishes incorporate sparkling bits like tiny plastic sequins, particles or colored shards. This allows you to add pops of glitter and shine to any manicure. Sheer, tinted bases let the glitter really stand out. Brands like China Glaze, OPI and Essie have many glitter polish options. Looks range from fine microglitter to chunky accents. Limit glitter to accent nails since it can be drying and difficult to remove from nails.

Neon Nail Polish

Neon nail polishes come in bright, eye-catching shades like hot pink, lime green and electric yellow. Special pigments are used to produce the vivid neon effect. Application often requires white nail primer underneath to really make the colors pop. Top neon polishes are made by China Glaze, OPI, and Essie. These fun summery lacquers are bold and attention-grabbing for your fingertips!

Holographic Nail Polish

Holographic nail polishes deliver a dazzling rainbow prism sparkle. They contain light-reflective particles that create prismatic optical effects on the nails. As you move your hands, the colors seem to shift and shine. Popular holographic brands include the cult favorite Holo Taco, as well as Picture Polish and China Glaze. Holographic polish really catches eyes for awe-inspiring nail art.

Nude Nail Polish

Nude nail polishes provide clean, neutral manicures that extend the natural nail. Rather than a harsh artificial-looking tone, the ideal is a soft, subtle enhancing effect. Nude lacquers range from pale pink to beige in flattering skin-toned shades. Top makers include Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Chanel and Revlon. Nude polishes look especially elegant on short, manicured nails.

Clear Nail Polish

Clear nail polish is transparent and glossy to simply shine and seal the bare natural nails. You can layer it over other polishes as a topcoat to protect the color underneath. Clear polish helps strengthen nails and prevent splits or cracks. It allows nails to grow longer without breaking. Having clear polish on hand is useful for quick neatening of nails between polish changes.


With so many varieties available from classic creams and polka dot glitters to holographics and dip powders, naming nail polish can be complex. But whether you call it lacquer, enamel, shellac or gel, nail polish options let you express your unique style. Next time you paint your digits, know the names for your essential palette of colors and textures!