The Best Neutral Nail Polishes

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by Marissa DeSantis
Elite Daily/Amazon

For something as seemingly basic as a neutral nail color, finding the perfect match is often easier said than done. Though determining the best neutral nail polish for you will largely come down to your color and finish preferences (e.g., shiny versus matte), there are a few things to keep in mind. Generally, when looking for a “neutral shade”, fair skin tones will want to reach for beige and pale pink polishes, those with tan or olive complexions will find that warm beige and light brown hues complement their skin best, and darker skin tones will likely want to go with a rich mocha or dark brown shade. That said, all of the aforementioned polish colors can be considered neutrals for any skin tone — pale pinks look stunning on Black skin, and rich browns juxtapose nicely with super-fair complexions — so at the end of the day, pick the neutral shade that you like most.

To keep your manicure looking its best, you'll want to ensure that your nails are completely clean before you start painting. Because neutral polishes can be light and sometimes sheer, thoroughly removing any old nail polish and natural oils from your nails is key to achieving crisp, smooth color. To avoid the streaks that often come with sheer and creamy neutrals, after your base coat, apply a thin coat of color to your nails. Once that has fully dried, paint on a second coat, being careful to keep it thin and as even as possible. After giving the second coat ample time to dry, seal in your color with a top coat.

Whether you want a barely-there, sheer pink polish or something with lots of sparkle, you’re bound to find your perfect neutral match from the list ahead.

Best Drugstore Neutral Nail Polish For Fair Skin

Sally Hansen’s Color Therapy polishes are infused with argan oil to keep your nails moisturized without compromising on staying power (the polish promises to give you up to 10 days of chip-resistant wear). ‘Re-Nude’ is a creamy beige color that's sheer upon the first coat, but it builds up to an opaque finish that's flattering on every skin tone, though it’ll feel particularly neutral when worn on fair skin.

Best Drugstore Neutral Polish For Dark Skin

Obviously, a polish that looks flesh-toned on pale skin won't have the same neutral effect on darker skin tones. Revlon Nail Enamel in ‘Totally Toffee’ is an earthy, auburn-brown shade that melds beautifully with dark skin tones (or serves as a bolder neutral brown for medium to light skin). Revlon's formula is infused with vitamin E to offer conditioning benefits, plus a chip-resistant film that helps strengthen nails as it protects your color. The drugstore polish also includes an angled tip that picks up the optimal amount of polish, which makes it easier to paint on color more precisely.

Best Quick-Drying Neutral Nail Polish For Fair Skin

If you can't stand waiting for your nails to dry (whether in between coats or after the last one), Dazzle Dry Nail Lacquer in ‘Cashmere Taupe’ will give you a neutral manicure that sets in five minutes. Free from 10 potentially harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde, camphor, and toluene, ‘Cashmere Taupe’ falls somewhere in between a sheer and opaque pinky-beige that's flattering on all skin tones. The line was created as part of a four-step system by a bio-organic chemist to give you fast-drying color that's long-wearing and non-damaging to the nails.

Best Quick-Drying Neutral Nail Polish For Dark Skin

The dark-chocolate color of Essie Expressie in ‘Take The Espresso’ is a stunning, opaque neutral match for deep skin tones, though it could still count as a neutral even if you have fair or medium skin. A part of Essie's quick-drying line, the polish is also incredibly easy to use, as a thin coat was designed to dry in just over a minute. The formula is also vegan and free from eight potentially harmful chemicals, like camphor, formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin, and dibutyl phthalate.

Best Line Of Neutral, Gel-Effect Polishes For All Skin Tones

Creating a high-shine, gel-like finish without the added step of a UV/LED lamp was the goal behind OPI's Infinite Shine line. When used in conjunction with the brand's Infinite Shine Primer base coat and Infinite Shine Gloss top coat, the glossy color lasts for an impressive 11 days, though several Amazon reviewers report that it lasts even longer than that. The shade ‘Tiramisu For Two’ is a creamy, beige-pink color that’d make a nice neutral for fair skin, but it’s also the perfect base for neon-tipped French manicures (my personal go-to). The Infinite Shine line offers 18 other neutral colors to choose from, in assorted shades of pink, beige, light brown, and gray.

Best Line Of Sheer Neutral Polishes For All Skin Tones

If you want a neutral polish that's completely sheer, Cirque Colors introduced a five-shade ‘Sheers’ line. ‘Georgette’ gets my top pick for its mauve-pink tone that becomes more intense as you layer it on, while ‘Organza’ is about as understated as it gets, and ‘Chiffon’ is the perfect super-light pink shade. All of the brand's polishes are cruelty-free and 10-free, and handmade in Brooklyn, New York.

Best Long-Wear Polish For Most Skin Tones

There's no need for a base coat with CND's Vinylux system, which gives you more than seven days of gel-like color with their formula that's infused with keratin, vitamin E, and jojoba oil to condition and strengthen your nails. Apply two coats of CND Vinylux Longwear Nail Polish in ‘Clay Canyon,’ a clay-inspired brown that works nicely as a neutral on all skin tones, then add a thin layer of the top coat to make your color longer lasting and super shiny.

Best Glittery Neutral Polish For Fair Skin

A neutral manicure doesn't have to be boring — just add some glitter. ILNP Nail Lacquer in ‘Birthday Suit’ gives nails a holographic effect via a creamy beige color with just a hint of pink. The shimmer is all thanks to micro flakes of glitter that sit flat on the nails, and it can be painted semi-sheer with a single coat or built up into a more opaque color with two to three layers. ILNP doesn't test or purchase materials from suppliers that test on animals, and all of the polishes are free from seven chemicals deemed potentially irritating or harmful, including formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate.

Best Glittery Neutral Polish For Dark Skin

And if you have darker skin, try ‘Dash Of Cocoa’ from ILNP, a truly stunning, deep-brown shade with a holographic effect. ILNP makes a few other fun, sparkly shades that work nicely as neutrals for tan and deep skin tones, including ‘Espresso Brown’, ‘Burnt Orange’, ‘Warm Brown’, and ‘Rich Chocolate Brown’.

Best Neutral Nail Polish Set

If neutrals are a staple in your polish rotation, consider investing in a set of neutral polishes, like this Eternal Nail Enamel ‘Wild Nudes’ collection. The four-color set was designed to complement all skin tones, with nude shades that range from beige to espresso and even an orange-brown tawny. No matter which color you choose, all of the polishes give you a glossy, opaque finish in just two coats, and they're free from 12 chemicals in addition to being free from animal-derived ingredients.

Best Set Of Neutral Gel Polishes

An at-home gel manicure may be a little more time-consuming, but it's not nearly as intimidating as it sounds (just be sure to invest in all of the right products, including a good UV/LED lamp and an acetone-based nail polish remover to properly take the gel off later). Beetles Gel Polish Set in ‘A-Nude’ combines six neutral shades that are designed to stay on for a whopping 21 days without losing their glossy effect.