Nail Polish Buying Guide

Like if this guide is helpful
Nail Polish Buying Guide

Polishing nails is fun, but it can also be an expensive hobby. While people often spend hundreds of dollars on their wardrobe and makeup, having finely manicured hands and feet is also worth spending money on. Nothing is quite as classy as a nice French or American manicure, and bright and dull colours alike draw attention to the hands. There are plenty of nail polish brands out there offering the hottest colours and the latest finishes to make any impulse buyer scream with happiness.

Salons often sell the trendiest, name-brand polishes while drug stores sell more budget-friendly polishes. Buyers can find both types on eBay, the perfect shopping venue for a nail polish enthusiast. When it comes to buying nail polishes, there are several factors to consider. Buy a nail polish that helps keep the nails healthy, comes in a colour that looks good on the hands, and has a finish that lasts.

Main Nail Polish Types

There is an almost endless variety of nail polish that comes in many different finishes. It is beyond the scope of this guide to list them all, though it does focus on some of the most popular options. However, no matter the finish, all kinds of polish can be divided into two main types: acrylic or enamel.

Enamel Polish

The traditional type of polish is the enamel polish. It is based on enamel paint, and each bottle of polish mixes together enamel acid, alcohol, and resin. Once it is painted on the nails, the polish hardens into a thick coat. Typically, these polishes take some time to dry. It is also worth noting that enamel nail polish is classified as a hazardous material, and it is definitely not environmentally-friendly. Some the chemicals may even be absorbed by the nails, leading to concerns about how healthy this type of polish truly is.

Acrylic Polish

Water-based acrylic polish is often touted as being more environmentally-friendly, though this is not always true. What is true is that acrylic polishes are made from a water-based formula that mixes together acrylic polymer emulsion and acrylic resin. When it is applied, the water base either evaporates or becomes absorbed into the fingernail, leaving behind a strong, hard coat of colour.

These polishes dry faster than enamel, and they also do not have as overpowering a smell as enamel. However, their claims of being more environmentally-friendly are doubtful. Many brands only list acrylic polymer emulsion as an ingredient without specifying what exactly is in the emulsion. Since these emulsions can contain strong chemicals just like enamel polish, if they are more environmentally-friendly, then it is only slightly true.

Nail Polish Coats

There are several types of nail polish coats. Some only add colour to the nails while others help nails grow or provide a shiny finish. It is also possible to find nail polish that combines these properties together. For simplicity's sake, this guide only discusses the functions of various polish coats. If a buyer wants a polish that combines different coats inside a single bottle, then look for labels stating the polish has different properties like 'base coat strengthener'.

Strengthening Coats

Nail strengtheners help keep nails hard. These formulas also help nails grow by providing them with an extra-dose of nail-enhancing vitamins. However, these coats only work when applied directly to the nail. Applying them over a coat of nail polish does not do the trick. Use them before painting the nails for the most effective results.

Base Coats

Base coats are the first step to painting the nails. They are clear coats that provide a smooth surface for the colour coat. Base coats also help keep nails from absorbing some of the harmful chemicals found in coloured coats, so they also lead to healthier nails. Always use a base coat before applying coloured nail polish.

Colour Coat

This is the actual coat of nail polish colour. As mentioned above, these coats are either enamel or acrylic-based. Brands use different formulas and finished for their nail polishes. Buyers find that certain brands produce brighter colours that tend to last longer than others. It is also a good idea to pick a colour that fits with a particular skin type. 

Skin Type

Traditional Colour

Trend Colour


Reds, plums, pale pinks

Silver, pale green, orange


Pink, grey

Gold, bright green,


Light purples, pink nudes

Light blue, porcelain


Nude, light pinks

Indigo, navy

Keep in mind that buyers can play with any nail colour they like. Seasonal favourites, such as red polish at Christmas time, never goes out of style.

Top Coat

Top coat nail polish is applied above the colour coat. It makes the colour shine, though there are some top coats designed to give a matte finish. The top coat also helps to strengthen the nail polish and keep it from chipping. Like the base coat, top coat polishes are clear.

Nail Polish Finishes

Coloured nail polish comes in many different finishes. Buyers can go with a metallic finish for a set of nails that sparkle, or a shatter finish for a crackling effect. The trick to choosing the right finish is to experiment with different colours and styles. Nail polish trends usually favour one particular finish over the other, but they also change regularly. Most polish enthusiasts therefore keep several different finishes available. Below is a list of some of the more popular options.

Quick-Dry Finish

A quintessential favourite for anyone who does not have the time to sit around waiting for their nails to dry, the quick-dry nail polish does exactly what it says. It dries nails faster than regular formula. On average, nail polish takes at least one hour to completely dry, even with a top coat. Quick-dry finishes are done within 15 to 20 minutes.


Crème polishes create a matte finish. They are duller than other types of polish, but that is their point. Most crème finishes are pale or nude. They can also serve as coloured base coats for a sheer glitter finish.


Sometimes referred to as shimmer nail polish, foil polish adds a touch of sparkle to the base colour. They produce a very smooth finish. Foil finishes look very similar to metallic polishes, but they are used on colours that are not metallic, such as reds and greens. It is also possible to find sheer foil finishes that add a touch of natural sparkle to nails.


This finish actually uses glitter for a greater sparkle effect than those found in metallic finishes. It creates a chunky and uneven finish. Sometimes these glitter finishes are marketed as 'jewel coats' or 'leaf coats'. They usually just include chunks of glitter, but OPI's 'The Man With the Golden Gun' glitter polish actually uses chunks of 18 karat gold.


Lustre finishes create a pearly coat. They are often used with metallic colours like gold or silver, but can be found in other pigments as well. The lustre finish can also help reflect light, and when it is combined with a top coat the results are truly stunning.


The shatter finish is actually a top-coat that goes on top of the normal colour coat. When it is applied, it completely covers up the colour underneath. However, as the shatter polish dries, it starts to crack, revealing the bottom coat. Shatter polishes come in many different colours, and can create some unique colour combinations.

Buying Nail Polish on eBay

Polish enthusiasts can get their fix from eBay's extensive selection. Professional nail polish brands are available alongside budget-friendly brands. It is even possible to find limited-edition polishes for sale that went out of circulation long ago, but expect to pay more for them.

Finding Nail Polish on eBay

Begin your search for polish by typing 'nail polish' into eBay's search engine. This pulls up all types of polish so you can limit your search further by specifying a colour or, in the case of certain brands like OPI, the name of the polish. You can also search for a range of different topics such as OPI by typing in 'OPI nail polish' into the search bar. Do the same thing for your favourite brand of nail polish to pull up the results. You can also type in 'base coats' to find healthy base coat polishes. Do the same thing for top coats and nail strengtheners if you so choose.


Nail polish is a fun way to add a touch of colour to hands and feet. It is also extremely addicting, and most women have multiple bottles stashed away inside of their homes. The good news about nail polish is that it's easy to change shades and styles, depending on the mood and season. Plus, with websites like eBay providing an easy venue for all types of nail polish, it is a snap to purchase favourite shades.

When it comes to buying nail polishes, buyers need to consider the function of each polish coat. Painting nails requires the use of a base coat, colour coat, and top coat for the best results. Coloured coats themselves, come in many different finishes. Some are practical like the quick-dry finish, while others give artistic effects like the shatter and foil finishes. Select a polish based on its finish, nail-enhancing properties and long-lasting colour in order to best enjoy the results.

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides