My love affair with nail polish dates all the way back to kindergarten, when I was given two Minnie Mouse peel-off nail polishes by a relative. I was hooked! Long before my days of Ulta and Sephora hauls or even being allowed to wear makeup on my face, I was saving my allowance for new nail polishes. I’ve gone back and forth with acrylic vs natural nails, and I even have my own LED lamp to cure gel polishes.
In terms of the old “color seasons” system, I’m a winter, so the rich colors of this time of year really work for me. Honestly, with my shoulder hating the cold like it does and my internal temperature being so inconsistent, the colors and textures of winter fashion are frankly the only thing I’m enjoying while counting down the days until spring. So I’m thrilled to share some of the nail polishes I’m going to be wearing this season. Because there’s some seriously scary stuff in many nail polish formulas, all the ones listed here are at least 3-free (free of formaldehyde, toluene, and DBP). As always, starred links are affiliate links, so if you purchase through them, I’ll get a commission. Also, unless otherwise noted, I am wearing the polishes pictured with Sally Hansen Nail Rehab base and a clear topcoat.
Sally Hansen Color Therapy in Good as Blue
The Color Therapy line ($6.99, Target*) has only been out for a few months, but it has two things in its favor. First, Sally Hansen’s nicer lines are about the only drugstore polishes that perform worth a damn on me. (Their Insta Dry line peels up in sheets like sunburned skin, and I hate it.) Second, I will try just about anything on my body if it contains argan oil, and this polish formula claims to be infused with it. I practically live in my favorite dark wash jeans during the winter, and Good As Blue is the perfect shade to match them exactly, so it goes with everything. With any creme polish, even if you wait for the polish to dry completely before applying a top coat, you’ll need to float the topcoat rather than touching your brush to the nail itself, and to use the brush to cap off the end of the nail, because these colors show wear and streaks more readily than any others. With this formula, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for the depth of pigmentation and the even application. I love that you don’t have to use a base coat with this, because I’m always looking to skip steps. I also find the wide, flat brush shape easier to use than the round brushes common to most brands.
Orly Breathable in Stronger Than Ever
The claim to fame of this pink-red shimmer polish ($8.99, Sally Beauty Supply) is that Orly claims the formula allows nails to breathe, so that you get the protective benefits of having painted nails while still allowing your nails to get some oxygen. 3-free and 5-free nail polish formulas, which eliminate the top 3 or top 5 toxic ingredients commonly found in polish, are common, but this one eliminates thirteen different ingredients, including not only known toxins but also animal products and gluten. Between the ingredients and the permeability, it’s halal certified by the Islamic Society of Washington Area, which isn’t important for me but may be for others. What I love about it is that it’s an all in one formula, so I don’t need a base coat OR a top coat.
The manufacturer claims it’s opaque in two coats, but it took 3 for me with this particular color. Even then, while it looks more red in the bottle, it goes on with a distinct pinkish tinge. So my recommendation would be to look more to the lighter colors in this, because they don’t have to be opaque. However, the application was smooth and even, not streaky at all (my pet peeve with Essie polishes).
Be aware if you’re looking for an all-in-one formula like this one that the Orly Professional Nail Lacquer is not the same stuff. That line is formulated with the idea that it will be worn with a base coat and top coat. It’s also not halal. However, it is certified vegan, which the Breathable formula does not advertise being.
Nails Inc Nailkale in Bruton Mews
You know the obsession with kale has hit new heights (or new lows, depending on how you feel about it–I’m not a fan of the stuff, personally) when kale extract is being used in nail polish. The instructions on this one say to use it with their Nailkale base coat and top coat, but let’s be real here. If I wanted to spend $45 on my nails, I wouldn’t be doing them at home.** I just used my regular top coat over it and skipped the base, and found out that’s not a good idea. The downside of a richly pigmented, dark color is that it stains if applied without a base coat.
Burton Mews ($15, Sephora) is a rich, deep green creme with a glossy finish. This formula applies like a dream, with no streaking. While it dries quickly, it isn’t fast enough to make it hard to clean up. It’s completely opaque in two coats, with very even pigmentation and none of the random weird texture I get from some polishes (looking at you, Finger Paints!). And after washing dishes, scrubbing the bathroom sink, peeling an orange, and spending hours typing out job applications, there’s not a chip to be seen. It’s not often that I have $15 to spare for a nail polish, when there are perfectly decent ones out there for half the price, but this is a lot better than decent. I am completely unashamed of my fangirling over this polish. One thing to note is that the rectangular cap looks like it would be awkward and unwieldy, but it pops off to reveal a smaller, more manageable round screw top, the same way that Butter London polishes do (and Whim polishes used to, before they were discontinued). This shade also looks fabulous with a matte topcoat, if you want to really make a statement.
Morgan Taylor Nail Lacquer in Sweet Surrender
I love the formula of Morgan Taylor polishes ($9, Loxa Beauty). They go on easily and evenly, dry in a reasonable amount of time, and wear well. I don’t have the problem with the polish bubbling that I have with other brands (Ulta’s house brand comes to mind, even though Jupiter is one of my favorite shades), and they don’t fade or yellow. They’re well worth making a special trip to Ulta for them, or asking about them at your local nail salon if you get your nails professionally done.
My mother and I have had a messy relationship all my life, and I finally went no-contact with her last year. She always favored sheer pinks and nudes on her fingernails, if anything, and saved the bright colors for her toenails. This particular color took some time to grow on me, because it reminds me of her, but now it’s a regular part of my rotation. This is the “no-makeup makeup” of nail colors, for when looking neat is more of a priority than making a statement. I talk with my hands quite a bit when I’m nervous, and it helps to bring my anxiety down a notch to go into job interviews with the knowledge that my nail color won’t be a distraction. Other shades I have really enjoyed wearing from the brand are No Way Rosé, a metallic that the brand describes as a rose gold but doesn’t really have a gold cast to it, and Wonder Woman, a true red pearl that makes for the perfect Valentine’s Day mani.
Smith & Cult Stockholm Syndrome
Remember back in the 90s, before Hard Candy was Walmart crap, when it was the hot cult brand of nail polish? I remember blowing all my birthday money one year on a couple of bottles of Hard Candy polish, with that plastic jelly ring that came on the cap. Well, the founder of Hard Candy, Dineh Mohajer, returned in 2014 to the high-end game as the co-founder of Smith & Cult, another fabulous cosmetic brand that, just like Hard Candy, started out with just nail polish before branching out into a wider selection of makeup.
Described as an “opaque elephant gray,” Stockholm Syndrome ($18, Bloomingdale’s*) is understated but still unexpected. I spent a long time looking for a gray that didn’t read as blue on my fingers, but this is perfect. It’s a slightly cool shade, but it’s still distinctly gray, more lavender than blue. And can we just talk about how freakin’ cute the bottle is? It has luxury written all over it. Like the Nails Inc cap, the outer lid pops off to reveal the screw-off cap. And don’t freak out, thinking it’s been damaged in shipping, when you open the box and see a dent in the lid. That’s part of the design, not a sign that your product has been roughed up. I would prefer that the inner cap were taller and the brush flatter, but all in all, it’s an excellent polish. Just make sure you give it plenty of time to dry, because like many creme polishes, it takes a while.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever have enough nail polishes. It’s why I thought that the Julep subscription would be such a good idea, but it turns out that I loathe and despise their formula, and that it chips off the next day. If I could find a monthly subscription for nail polish that I actually liked, I’d be all about it.
I want to hear from you! What are your favorite nail polishes for cold weather?
**With serious, judgmental side-eye to the $50 Christian Louboutin polish. Somebody’s smoking the good stuff and didn’t share.