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Beauty 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Nail Polish Finishes


Nail polish
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You’ve probably all seen a bunch of nail polish finishes in your young, fashionable lives, but I’m willing to bet you don’t know exactly what they are called or what the difference between them really is! That’s where this handy go-to guide comes in.

While there are somewhere between 20-25 different “official” nail polish finishes out there, I’m going to explain five of the most popular polish finishes: creme, matte, glitter, suede, and shimmer, to give you an idea of what to look for at the drugstore, as well as which products to use to achieve your desired look. Without further ado, here’s a rundown of what you need to know about the top five most popular nail polish finishes.


OPI Creme Nail Polish
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By far the most popular, widely recognized nail polish finish is creme. These polishes are the simplest of the bunch; they are, in essence, pure color – no additives, special glitter bases, or metallic pigments. However, they always have a great shine and smoothness to them that really set them apart from other polishes.

Personally, I like creme finish polishes best of all, because they’re truly wearable for any occasion. In addition, versatility is a big plus and this finish offers the most color options to choose from – perfect if you’re like me and change your polish a lot!


Matte nail polish example
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Matte finish is creme’s trendier, less well-known cousin. These polishes have no shine to them and can therefore offer a great way to switch up your nail polish look. Also, these polishes are just as versatile as cremes and, since they’ve been trendy lately, many companies are now producing a wide variety of matte shades.

Of course, the downside of matte finish nail polishes is that, based on personal experience, they’re typically harder to apply because they aren’t as silky as cremes. This difficulty in application can result in a little streakiness. They’re also more prone to chipping, since they usually require you not to use a base or top coat.

If you don’t want to invest in a set of matte polishes, OPI, Essie, and China Glaze (among others) make mattifying top coats that will instantly turn any of your existing polishes into matte perfection. Fair warning, though — if you’re going to try this look, stay away from hand lotion!


Glitter nail polish example
Photo Credit

Certainly the boldest and flashiest of all the nail polish finishes, glitter is also super popular and trendy right now.

Glitters usually differ from other polishes in that they don’t contain much of a color base. Instead, designers choose a clear base and form the color of the polish through the shades of glitter they include. Different polishes may contain multi-colored glitter, two-toned glitter, or just one color of glitter in a single bottle.

Overall, buying a glitter polish can be a great way to switch up your usual nail look – different colors and amounts of glitters can create completely unique looks on their own or mixed together, and they’re also great over your favorite creme polishes. Consider glitter your go-to for a fun night out or anytime you want to add some sparkle to your look.


Suede nail polish example
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Suede finish is matte’s slightly more shimmery cousin. Suedes are just like mattes with one exception: the inclusion of shimmer, which gives your nails a smooth, luxurious look.

Suede polishes are perfect if you are the kind of girl that loves the idea of matte polishes but wants something a little lower-maintenance. They tend to look like matte polishes but with more texture and, often, more interesting colors. If you want to try this look out, I recommend OPI – they have an entire line of suede polishes from 2009 that are still just as fashion-forward now as they were at their unveiling!


Shimmer nail polish example
Photo Credit

Another one of the most popular nail polish finishes, shimmer polishes have a great colored base and any color shimmer you can imagine, all mixed into one bottle!

Shimmers are always super pretty and can give your nails a break from the usual cremes. Traditionally, these polishes contained either gold or silver shimmer, in addition to the creme color base, but more recently, designers have started putting shimmers into polishes that either complement or contrast with the color base, to create an entirely new look. Shimmers represent a world of endless nail opportunities and are a must-have in your nail arsenal.


Which nail polish finish is your fave? What are your thoughts and opinions on these polish finishes? Have any questions about the them? Want some information on other finishes? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Posted on on January 28, 2011 / Filed Under: Beauty & Hair / Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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41 Responses to “Beauty 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Nail Polish Finishes”

  1. 1
    January 28th, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    What about Gel? Shatter?

  2. 2
    January 28th, 2011 at 5:05 pm


  3. 3
    January 28th, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I liked this post. I had never heard of “suede” nail polish before so it definitely taught me something I didn’t know. You should do another version with more of the more “out there” types of finishes because I’d love to see more!

  4. 4
    January 28th, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I’m 100% Shimmer. … I love “Pure Ice” for their beautiful colors. …

  5. 5
    January 28th, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Thank you! I’ve been wondering exactly what “matte” meant. :)

  6. 6
    January 28th, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Hey guys! Thanks for the comments! Glad I could help!

    Lisa, R, and Ash- I like those finishes too, but I tried to just pick some of the most popular ones for this post! Maybe I’ll do another post with more finishes at some point and include those! And Ash, I’m glad you liked the suedes! They’re really fun!!

    Meira- Yessss, shimmer is always a fun choice! Never heard of that brand, but I’ll check them out!

    Kimi- Glad I could help you out!!! Hope you liked the post! =)

  7. 7
    January 28th, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I have a black matte polish from O.P.I. I love it, but they really don’t lie when it says it doesn’t last long at all. I’ll paint my nails the night before and halfway through the next day there’s already a chip or two.

    As far as the glitter polish…I own the exact one in the example picture (color and brand). While it’s a fun way to mix up your polish routine, it’s a PAIN in the butt to remove! I spend about 2 mins scrubbing each fingernail trying to get it off. Sooo…other than the one time I wore it…well…for me, never again. It’s just too much work to take off.

  8. 8
    January 28th, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    I love painting my nails until my cuticles dried up and I decided to give the nail painting a rest. I loved making my nails little miniature disco balls with the glitter polish but if there was one thing I hated it’s that wiping glitter nail polish is a bitch to clean off!

  9. 9
    January 28th, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Great post! I’ve never even heard of suede before so this has been knowlegable and fun. Thanks!

  10. 10
    January 28th, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    This was very informative! I never knew that there were so many different types of nail polish. I’d love it if you also did on post on the different types of eyeshadow finishes.

  11. 11
    January 28th, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    This has been really helpful!

    why should you stay away from hand lotion with matte polishes??

  12. 12
    January 28th, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Hey Aria!
    Hand lotion (much like a top coat) will ruin the matte finish of the polish! So, yes it is a bit of a pain, but it’s such a cute look that it’s totally worth it!

  13. 13
    January 28th, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Here’s a great easy way to take off glitter nail polish:
    Put pure acetone on a cotton ball and put on top of your nail.
    Wrap your finger-tip and the cotton ball in tin foil.
    Do this to all of your nails.
    After a few minutes (5-10), take the tin foil off and the glitter should remove quite easily as it had been soaking in acetone.

    I would also recommend using pure acetone as a remover instead of non-acetone removers. It removes the polish more quickly with less remover and is actually better for your nail since the chemical spends less time on the nail.
    For dry cuticles I would recommend a cuticle cream (eg. lemony flutter) instead of cuticle oil, as cuticles can become dependent on oil and not respond to other moisturizers

  14. 14
    January 28th, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    I am a nail polish fanatic. My favorite nail polishes, hands down are Jordana and NK polishes because they are DBP, toluene and formaldehyde free are only $1. They also last longer than OPI, China Glaze and Essie and than any manicure that i’ve gotten at a salon. My manicurist even thought that I had gel tips, when really, I spent 3.50 at the dollar store and did my own french.
    Oh and this is really random, but if you ever want to give yourself a french mani at home, always use a wider brush if you have medium length to long nails because it allows for a smoother application and a salon like look.

  15. 15
    January 28th, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Mmm, I love love love nail polish! I have always wanted to try matte or suede but since you can’t use a top coat, they won’t last as long. But I like the effect!

  16. 16
    January 29th, 2011 at 12:20 am

    This is a really cool article! I’ve never been big into nail polish, so I didn’t know there were so many options available. I really appreciate the brand recommendations too!

  17. 17
    January 29th, 2011 at 12:57 am

    @ LeahBee: Thank you Dearie!! I will definitely use your advice in the future.
    Ohhh almost forgot I just saw OPI with their glitter nail polish on fashion distractions blog (blogspot)….the color is marvelous!

  18. 18
    January 29th, 2011 at 4:55 am

    I finally understood the difference between suede and matte! Thanks! My favorite finish are creme and shimmer – mostly because those two are the only finishes I’ve tried and had.

  19. 19
    January 29th, 2011 at 5:27 am

    I LOVED suede and matte! I know glitter, creme and shimmer but I have never realized suede and matte. Well I’ll be looking for them asap ;)

  20. 20
    January 29th, 2011 at 5:59 am

    I really like creme & shimmer. I like the idea of matte nails but I hated actually having them.

  21. 21
    January 29th, 2011 at 6:28 am

    I’ve seen mattes beforey and while I found them pretty interesting and suprisingly classy, I wasn’t convinced. Now I’ve seen the suede finish it seems like a perfect alternative, it has this “thing” I felt missing in matte :)

  22. 22
    January 29th, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Check out the new “Black Shatter” finish from opi! IT’S AMAZING.

  23. 23
    January 29th, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    I’m pretty bad about clothes and makeup, but my nail polish collection kind of has both of those beat. People always joke that I’m the next best thing to a nail salon since I have over a hundred bottles at this point (the bulk of which I’ve bought within the last year alone :/). I agree– I creme finishes the most.

    What are your thoughts on brush strokes and metallics? I rarely ever wear metallics now because I just can’t handle seeing evidence of my technique after they’ve dried, but I always want to wear a shiny, metallic silver for a party or something but never do… Great post! I’d love to hear your thoughts on different techniques (e.g. leopard print, polka dot, marbling, half-moon manis, etc.)! :D

  24. 24
    January 29th, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Shimmer and creme are my favorites. Matte and suede are much too… unnatural-looking for me.

  25. 25
    January 30th, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Wow this post was super interesting! I love nail polish, but I usually opt for really cheap kinds, and I had no clue that there were so many different finishes! I really like the idea of suede. Do you have a cheaper option? :)

  26. 26
    February 2nd, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Hey guys!

    I’m going to try to help you guys out with the more unique finishes soon! :)
    Plus- I think the black shatter is SO COOL, but I didn’t include it in this because it’s more of an effect than a typical finish. By this I mean, that you can’t get shatter in a million different colors like you can with the others!

    Joy- I feel your pain with the brush strokes. Luckily over the years my technique has improved, BUT I usually I don’t even mind the brush strokes that much! Also, if you use a top coat after, I find that that always makes it look better and more professional, especially if you’re struggling with your brush strokes!

    Karissa- Revlon actually came out with a “Suede Matte” line that you can probably still pick up at your drugstore or Walmart or Target!

    Glad you guys are enjoying the post!!

  27. 27
    September 4th, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    I have been wanting to try a matte or suede polish, but actually have a pretty hard time finding them! Maybe because they aren’t super trendy right now? Where do they typically sell them?

  28. 28
    October 19th, 2011 at 3:47 am

    this is post is very informative. :) Thanks. I just want to know, is shimmer and glazed polish the same?

  29. 29
    February 13th, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Great article! However, you forgot to mention texture polishes, like Liquid Sands by OPI, jelly and also sheer finish. So yes, 3 more finishes!

  30. 30
    April 7th, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Hope you don’t mind if I drop in and say something about removing glitter nail polish. :)
    For the one about removing glitter nail polish. There are two ways that I know of (glitter fan BIG time) here and I feel your pain about removing it.
    Here what I do:
    You can take a piece of regular felt you get from any crafts store. Using a acetone based nail polish remover just cut a piece of felt big enough to rap around your nail. Doing one nail at a time, hold it for at least 5 minutes. As you remove the glitter it catches on the felt helping with the removing time. Also use a good base coat, that helps as well. Or wear a base color that goes with the glitter. That helps too.
    The other way is to use tinfoil. Same idea as using the felt only the tinfoil holds your cotton ball in place to help soak your nail bed with your polish remover.
    I love glitter nail polish, mostly indie brands, and yes they are a pain to remove. There are even cute cup little things you can buy to put over your nails. Don’t give up on glitter cause you don’t like the removing time.

  31. 31
    March 25th, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    I love it! I’ve been looking everywhere for something like this.

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