While I’m not a slave to all fashion trends, I have a weakness for trying the latest nail color or look. Polish is typically a cheap indulgence at less than $10 a bottle, but a hard-hitting habit like mine adds up. While I have my favorite polish brands — pricier ones I know have a great shine or stay virtually chip free — I won’t grab the higher end bottle on a look I am simply experimenting with. Luckily, nail polish is one of the easiest things to swap when you’re looking to save some money. I hit Sephora and the local Duane Reade (with the help of my handy polish photographers!) and found comparable polishes for the nail looks I loved. Here are some of the best swaps that I have found on the market.
SPLURGE: Formula X for Sephora XPlosives Top Coats, Chaotic ($12.50)
STEAL: Maybelline Color Show Polka Dots Nail Laquer, Clearly Spotted ($3.99)
The matte glitter trend is definitely fun for a night out, and I really like both polishes seen here. The major difference between the two is that the Maybelline polish has less variety in the glitter shape and size — it’s mostly matte, medium-sized dots. If you aren’t ready to shell out $12.50 for the Sephora polish, though, fear not — you ultimately won’t notice much of a difference between the two.
SPLURGE: Deborah Lippman Nail Laquer, Happy Birthday ($19.50)
STEAL: Milani, Jewel FX, ($4.99)
Oh how I lust over Deborah Lippman nail polish, specifically her glitter collection. Happy Birthday is the best glitter I have ever had the pleasure of trying. The colors are reminiscent of a bouquet of balloons and are the perfect size, not too large or too grainy. One coat of Happy Birthday will give you a playful confetti vibe, while multiple coats would make a perfect New Year’s Eve manicure. However, if you think that I am going to spend $19.50 on a bottle of nail polish, you are sadly mistaken. (Gifts are welcome.) The Milani glitter is a good substitute for when you want your nails to sparkle. The colors are a bit different but you’ll still have a fantastic rainbow-glitter polish that you can layer or wear alone.
SPLURGE: Formula X For Sephora The Foil Look, Glacier ($25)
STEAL: Essie, No Place Like Chrome ($8.50)
Don’t believe the hype — it is impossible to truly get a foil-like shine from a nail polish. If you’re into the truly foil look, the only way to go is with a foil kit (here’s a great tutorial). The mirror-shine that the Sephora brand shows here is never going to happen. While your nails will look awesome and super metallic-y with the Formula X polish, they’ll look just as good — or, rather, exactly the same — with the Essie version. You’ll miss the base coat that comes with the Formula X polish, but it’s not necessary for the finish. Tip: Don’t use a top coat with these polishes — you’ll fog the finish.
SPLURGE: Minx Manicure (starting at $50)
STEAL: Sally Hansen Salon Effects Real Nail Polish Strips ($9.99)
In case you couldn’t tell by my houndstooth manicure making an appearance in some of the other pictures, I’m a big fan of patterned nails. Once upon a time, in a time called 2009, Minx nails were the way to get these patterned nails. Salon manicurists had to be trained to put on the heat-activated nail wraps and few salons carried the service. At over $50 for a manicure, you’d expect these wraps to last a while, but the manis only lasted about a week. Thankfully, the good people in the nail industry came up with a better solution — nail polish stickers, which took the look from limited salons to totally DIY. There are a lot of brands that make nail stickers, but my favorite patterns come from Sally Hansen. Drugstores will often discount a couple of patters (I scored the snake skin design for 75% off) so it can be a cheap trend to play around with.
SPLURGE: Essie, Mint Candy Apple ($8.50)
STEAL: Sally Hansen Hard As Nails XTreme Wear, Breeze Blue ($2.89)
Essie isn’t a particularly expensive brand (you get salon-quality shine for a decent price) but it does seem to set the trend for the colors that will be sold by the drugstore brands. Mint Candy Apple is one of my absolute favorite colors that Essie has ever made — in some lights, it’s almost teal, while in others it’s more of a mint green. It’s fantastic. The XTreme Wear in Breeze Blue is a tad bit bluer but overall it is just as flattering without being too Easter egg-like. As with all cheaper polish, the biggest difference is the finish. An easy solution? Invest in an awesome topcoat like Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat. You can get away with purchasing super cheap nail colors when you layer on top this high-gloss coat.