The best budget chip-proof nail varnishes

Anna Hunter 14 September 2017
Any products in this article have been selected editorially however if you buy something we mention, we may earn commission

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The best budget chip-proof nail varnishes

Before we begin, co-founder of the heaven-on-earth nail and blow dry palace that is London’s DryBy , Krisztina van der Boom would like to politely remind you that no regular manicure is immune to wear and tear:

“Between us and your readers, there’s no such thing as a chip-free manicure. Chipping can depend a lot on the preparation of the nail plate, genetics and the lifestyle of the customer. Buffing the nail plate can make polish last longer, but it should be noted that this can cause damage to the nail in the long run. For ultimate maintenance and optimum nail health, my number one recommendation is to slather on  cuticle oil  in any shape or form, as often as you remember to. It can be a specific cuticle product, coconut or olive oil, shea doesn’t really matter, but make it a habit and your nails will take to polish much better over time.”

As for polish application, founder of Blush+Blow  Bridget O’Keeffe has some longevity pointers:

“Prep the nail bed and put on a base coat, avoiding hand cream prior to varnish application. When applying polish, make sure to stay well away from the nail bed, keeping edges as neat and tidy as possible. Keep each layer thin and allow a bit of drying time before the next coat is applied. Speaking of layers, apply no more than three licks of polish per nail, then apply a topcoat post-colour. Otherwise, keep your polish in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight to preserve it. If it goes gooey or too thick then you can pop a few drops of acetone into the bottle and shake it to thin it out.”

“How long the polish will last depends on the quality of your nail varnish and what you’re doing with your hands, but if you are careful you should be able to get at least five good days out of your polish. Wearing marigolds when you wash up will go a long way.”

With that, here are some polishes that won’t cost the earth or do a sudden disappearing act. Ideal.

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Revlon Colorstay Gel Envy, £7.99

Not the cheapest of the Revlon bunch, but hear me out, because this is one the best high street polishes out there, which is fitting seeing as Revlon was the first brand to put nail polish on the market back in 1932. Turns out they’ve still got it- Colorstay is shiny, highly pigmented and just generally very classy. Nifty and quick to apply, it’s easy to layer without globbing it everywhere and the colour range is impressively vast too. On toes it’ll hang on for a fortnight or more, fingers roughly four days.

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Barry M Molten Metal Nail Paint, £3.99

Our in-house nail expert and Sense and Sensitivity columnist  Judy is a big Barry M fan, and the range in general gets the go-ahead, but if longlife polish is a priority go for either a metallic or glitter finish. Both dry quickly, stick around (we all know the trials and tribulations of removing glittery nail polish) and are easy to patch up if chips do creep in. The Molten Metal collection incorporates nine expensive looking gilded shades, and both finish and endurance behave in the manner of a something far more high-end. Fill your boots.

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Mavala Mini Nail Colour, £4.95

Our editor Victoria’s pick, Mavala is one of those brands that’s been quietly sitting on the shelves of beauty salons since the dawn of the manicure, but the dinky bottles of colour are remarkably underrated in our opinion. Granted the small brush can be a bit fiddly, but if your nail plate is on the petite side this shouldn’t pose a problem, and the colour palettes are frankly lush. From corals to turquoises, they’re perfect bright and bold holiday fodder, but the array of textures and finishes on offer will take you from summer transition to festive season and beyond. The packaging could do with an update, but otherwise you’re golden.

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Essie Nail Polish, £7.99

The favourite brand of many a pro nail tech, Essie’s shade options are second to none, particularly where ‘nudes’ for all skintones are concerned (sadly a lot of brands have been slow to catch onto this, both in the high end and high street sphere). As above glitter is a hardy choice if you’re determined to avoid chipping, and this party in a bottle creates a multifaceted sparkle effect that applies evenly- you don’t wind up with a disco ball at your cuticle and zilch on the tips. The brush makes for easy maneuvering, polish dries relatively fast and tbh the fact that Essie is one of the Queen’s favourite nail brands seals the deal.

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3ina The Gel Nail Polish, £5.95

Shiny, “gelly” and available in a huge host of edgy shades (no safe shimmery shell pink here), this pocket-money polish also makes it onto Judy’s budget varnish leaderboard. It’s streak-free and colour payoff is brilliant, and while it’s not the quickest to dry of the bunch, quirks in the range such as a fluoro UV activated topcoat, mirror effects and out-there neon hues push the budget envelope to a very exciting place.

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Bourjois La Laque Nail Enamel, £6.99

Another gel imitator, while normal polish masquerading as Shellac will never quite fly, the additional gloss and thicker, harder polish afforded by gel style options can without doubt add a few days to your regular manicure. While the Bourjois shade range isn’t the most electrifying, the brand does excel in traditional pinks and reds in particular, and I’ve found the lasting power to be one of the best in my polish collection- with proper prep and a topcoat I’ve gone almost chip-free for a week with this stuff. I especially love the wide, flat brush for quick and precise application, and I can practically see my face in the finish.

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CND Vinylux Weekly Polish, £10.95

Before you come down on me for the over £10 price point, I’m including this stuff because it’s the little sister of the original Shellac gel polish system, and it’s frankly brilliant stuff. I’ve had a baby blue on my toes for three weeks with no chips, and on fingers it undoubtedly has more oomph than your average varnish option. Applied without a base coat and with a specific Vinylux topcoat (adds to the expense I know, but worth it if long-wearing is non-negotiable), the shade range is spot-on, it dries quicker than any polish I’ve ever used and the idea is that the paint “hardens” over time with exposure to sunlight, theoretically making your manicure tougher as you wear it. I’m not quite sure about that, but I can vouch for the fact that it lasts for a week or longer and looks beautifully opaque and glassy.

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Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat, £9

Another one that creeps up to the higher end of the beauty budget, but every nail expert I’ve ever met cites Seche Vite, and it’s reapplication over polish every few days, as the key to a hard, durable manicure. You can pick up a mini-bottle for free to have a dabble if you book a nail appointment at Dry By, but if you do shell out for the full-sized version I’m 99 percent sure you won’t be disappointed- it takes top coats to another level in terms of fast-drying, polish sealing and shine-making.

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Le Mini Macaron Gel Manicure Kit, £34.99

If you’re staunchly chip-averse but don’t have the time or funds to regularly keep up the gel manis, this kitsch at-home kit could provide a glossy middle ground. It may look more patisserie than professional salon, but the “macaron” LED curing lamp allows you to thoroughly set each nail rather than banging your whole hand under a lamp before realising you’ve made a mistake. Each nail takes 30 seconds to set, but compare that to waiting for regular nail polish to dry and that soon looks not too faffy, and it’s a one-step process- there’s no base coat or top-coat which made me slightly nervy. Despite this, shine-factor is strong, and while it definitely won’t last you as long as an in-salon gel job, cost-per application is low and the polish can be removed at home using the enclosed pads, although with some effort (if you get to the heavy scraping stage, I urge you to cease go to the pros). Shades are juicy and bright, if limited, and the added convenience of plugging the lamp into the USB port of your laptop is a nice touch.

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IBX Nail Repair System, from £6 nationwide

It’s not new, and it’s not a nail polish, but if you want your manicure to stay put for any length of time without peeling, your canvas needs to be in prime condition, and that’s where IBX  comes in. The team at DryBy have been IBX’ing since day dot, and Blush+Blow has recently launched the nail strengthening service to help clients on the road to strong and healthy nails. First a jojoba and avocado oil based gel is applied, which penetrates the nail plate once held under a regular household lamp for 30 seconds or so (the warmth helps it to soak on in), then the elixir of nail life is reapplied before being cured under a UV light for another 30 seconds. It takes max 15 minutes as a process, and while results aren’t instantly discernible for most, regular fortnightly sessions, reduced to every month or even less when nails are “healed”, can make all the difference to polish longevity and damage limitation.

Follow Anna on Instagram  @annyhunter , DryBy  @drybylondon  and Blush+Blow  @blushblowlondon