Like the little black dress or the bold red lip, nude nail polish is a timeless, seasonless classic that any woman, regardless of age or style, can pull off. Nude nail polish can make your fingers look longer and more graceful, and in the right shade, it can even give the appearance that your skin is glowing.
And therein lies the trick to pulling off a nude manicure: finding the right shade.
If you’ve ever worn a nude manicure that looked wrong (too yellow, too pink, too chalky, too matte, too boring, too dead) you know that finding the perfect neutral can be deceptively hard to do. It’s the same reason that finding your perfect shade of foundation feels like finding the holy grail: you not only need to match your overall skin tone but also your skin’s more subtle undertones.
But it’s not rocket science, either. Here are a few helpful tips for how to find your best nude nail polish—plus some suggestions for which shade to swipe on next.
First, take a moment to familiarize thyself with…
The 3 Commandments of Nude Nail Polish:
(Sure, 10 is a nice, round number, but it’s really not that complicated.)
1. Thou shalt know thine undertones.
If you don’t already know your skin’s undertones (warm, cool, or neutral), there are a couple ways to easily figure it out. First, think about how you cope in the sun. If you tan easily and do not burn, you likely have more natural melanin in your skin, giving you an inherent yellow-to-olive, warm undertone. There are exceptions, of course. Some very pale women have warm undertones (like Nicole Kidman) and some women with deep ebony skin tones have cool undertones (like Alek Wek).
Another way to tell is to look at the veins inside your wrist. If they appear blue or purple, you’re probably cool-toned. If they look green, you’re more warm-toned. Women with cool tones, in general, tend to have blue, grey, or green eyes and look better in clothing/makeup in shades of blue, pink, white, and silver. And women with warm undertones, as a rule, tend to have brown, amber, or hazel eyes and look better in orange, yellow, ivory, and gold.
If you don’t fit neatly into either category, and have a tough time determining the color of your veins, you might have neutral undertones. Congrats! Everything looks great on you and we’re all jealous.
2. Thou shalt not feel the need to match thine skin color exactly.
Like any other manicure, nude nail polish is a look. So it’s OK, even encouraged, that the shade not match perfectly to your skin. You want your nude mani to be sleek and subtle, but intentional—not like you’re wearing just a clear coat, or accidentally dipped your fingertips in foundation. Going a shade or two lighter or darker than your skin can liven it up and give your mani a purposeful pop.
3. Thou shalt not be afraid of different finishes.
In general, a high-shine nude mani tends to look better than a matte nude mani on most people—it keeps your nails from looking lifeless. But don’t be afraid to spice it up with other finishes, like satin, frost, shimmer, or glitter. As you’ll see in our suggestions below, opaque crèmes make for truly classic nude manicures, but there are so many other gorgeous routes to try.
And if you find a nude color you love, but it doesn’t look great against your skin tone, try wearing it sheer, adding a glitter top coat, or layering it under or over a different nude color to put your own personal spin on the shade.
Nude Nail Polish for Fair/Light Skin:
Jennifer (Classic with a Twist): Sheer and soft with just a hint of pink, this buildable, barely-there blush pink crème works best on fair skin with cool undertones, but also looks lovely as a contrast against medium and darker tones, enhancing nails with the perfect hint of creamy brightness.
Abigail (Classic with a Twist): This light, cool-toned peony pink polish has a silk finish that’s pretty, unique, and appropriate for any occasion.
Zora (Classic with a Twist): Another cool-toned pale pink, this one has a frosted pearl finish that reflects light gorgeously.
Alexandra (Boho Glam): This bright blonde crème has a creamy, opaque finish that plays well off of warm undertones. One reviewer said it reminded her of “dulce de leche ice cream.” Yum.
Nude Nail Polish for Medium Skin:
Florence (Classic with a Twist): This classic camel crème is a true neutral that looks clean and crisp on just about everyone, from cool to warm. That must be why it’s one of our most highly rated shades ever.
Cynthia (Classic with a Twist): Another neutral that seems to complement just about everyone. This desert sand microglitter has a unique formula that look super-sparkly in the bottle, but it dries more smooth and subtle. As one reviewer said, “The slightly holographic silvery microglitter gives it character and really makes it look like sparkly sand. Fun but understated, which is a hard balance to strike.”
Annemarie (It Girl): This warm cocoa crème is another cult classic, with reviewers raving about its “chic,” “classy,” and “gorgeous” hue, like coffee with the perfect amount of cream mixed in.
Vera (Boho Glam): “It makes me think of a chocolate milkshake,” says one reviewer of this rich sable brown crème that really seems to complement light-to-medium, cool tones.
Nude Nail Polish for Dark Skin:
Alaina (Classic with a Twist): Described as a “driftwood taupe crème,” this polish is a cool-toned chameleon of sorts. Against light skin, it looks greyish, but gives off a gorgeous, almost purple hue against darker skin tones.
Rooney (Boho Glam): This cool walnut bark crème is like wearing rich dark chocolate on your nails.
Faye (Boho Glam): This liquid bronze shimmer has golden highlights that play best off of warm tones and give it a multi-dimensional hue reminiscent of caramel. (Clearly, there’s a running theme here. To find your best nude nail color, just look for a shade that reminds you of dessert.)
Chloe (It Girl): A reddish, bronzey finish makes this warm cocoa frost perfect for livening up darker skin tones with a touch of drama and depth. “The frost has tons of shine and reflection,” one reviewer notes.
Have a favorite nude polish that’s not on this list, or hints on finding that “just right” shade for your skin tone? Share your go-to nude nail looks in the comments!