Tough as Nails (Literally) Nail Polishes and Those that Don’t Measure Up

You’re not going to see a beauty post that often here but I am a girl after all. I don’t even pretend I’m not a girly girl I and right now at least I wear make-up everyday and I’m a dedicated nail polish wearer. Both are true for certain reasons but this one is about nail polish so let’s start there. Every new year’s I make one or two big changes, one for me and one for the environment. Three years ago at the age of 31 I decided to stop bitting my nails. Disgusting I know! I got there by spending a lot of time paining my nails it worked for me. It wasn’t what they looked like or tasted like that slowed me down it was literally the amount of time I had to put into keeping them up every night. Even now if they were to be bare I would nibble on them the polish is still a great deterrent.

What has changed is the amount of time I want to put into nails on the regular. Ideally once a week and done! But… I’m not really willing to, or in a position to, change my behaviours to baby my nails and some weeks that means my nails look like crap or I plan for it with the polish I select on Sunday night. Any given week I might be ripping apart a creosol wharf and lugging it up hill, hand picking and washing gravel (yes rocks on the ground), or gardening with my bare hands but I still want my nails to look nice. Impossible? Some weeks and with some formulas yes, but I have one that will stand up to literally anything. Other expensive ones I have sweated off in half a day. I almost never wear gloves unless it’s actually more convenient and let me tell you I’m no expert at manicure techniques either. But in almost three years I’ve found some that are literally bullet proof, don’t actually test that claim, but they stay on and look great for the best part of the week. PS any tips to my gripes would be greatly appreciated too.


So what about me an my nails, well I’m not sure really but I don’t like people touching me and I’m pretty cheap so with the exception of my sister’s wedding I will never be paying for manicures. I still don’t understand why she couldn’t walk down the aisle if my nails weren’t prefect and a demure shade of grey but the manicurist had to remove concrete from my cuticles that day so I feel I got my moneys worth. Don’t worry I gave her a 50% tip after spending the morning troweling a driveway. I don’t think they are in great shape because the tips tend to flake at a certain length. Plus they are pretty thing and bendy (the middle three anyway) so polish cracks on those fast. I do reluctantly trim back my cuticles every two weeks but that’s about it. I use the extra strength acetone remover because it works the fastest and you will see me with chipped nails in public. I don’t gnaw on them anymore when I’m stressed, in three years stuff happened twice and I did bite them till they bleed again but I will pick at the polish if I’m stressed or it starts to chip. So take heart that if I think it’s a tough brand, it is! Every week in my life involves power tools, a hammer, cleaning up a construction site, should include cleaning my own house (I often skip this) and never includes hand washing dishes as a point of reference. I run, bike, swim and really don’t take my nails into consideration ever, so if it works good for me it will probably work great for you. So I’ve accidentally acquired a list and why not share the wealth!

Best in show

These are my favourites sort of in order but the order also reflects how many shades I have. Generally the toughest formulas have some glitter to them in my experience but glitter polish can only go so many places in life. When I know it’s going to be a super tough nail week I opt for glitter. So what makes it great, obviously toughness, dries fast enough to not get dented two hours later in bed, covers in two coats (thicker and it chips) easy enough to put on with some limited skill. I also favour opaque shapes that hide any dirt under your nails since I go from construction to teaching directly pretty darn often. Once I found a good top coat that I was confident was giving my polishes the best chance (read on for that too) I ‘broke up with’ a bunch of shadesIMG_2907.

L’oreal Nail Color

Shades owned – greycian goddess butterfly kisses, felling kitty,

These are my current go too’s but they’re not cheap about $6.99 USD. It tuns out I got a lot of compliments on that grey colour I wore to the wedding and this one seemed the closest in grecian goddess so I picked it up and really liked it even though it flies under the radar online. I also find the wear in butteryfly kisses a pretty pink colour to be long wearing and tough as well but the metallic silvery-gold feeling kitty is really amazing. This shade wears as a metallic even though it looks like a micro glitter in the bottle which is probably why it’s the toughest shade in the bunch! Even if your life precludes glitter nail polish chances are your’ll be able to get away with this subtle more metallic shade. The formula also stays great over time in the bottle. Seriously check it out.

Sinful Colors Professional


Shades owned – vacation time, ruby red, Bali mist

So these are cheap and at first I bought into the get what you pay for idea and shelled out for Essie and OPI. One valentines day with particularly great plans I decided to go with that classic F-me red and ruby red was the shade of all the reds for that! I went for it despite to low ($1.50 USD) price. I didn’t care how it would wear at the time, the shade was perfect and it really surprised me. I went back the next week and bought vacation time and it wore really, really well too. Good coverage, fast drying and almost a one coater in each case. Once opened they continue to preform really well. I picked up Bali mist more recently and it wears well but required a lot of coats, like 4, to get good coverage. Now that it’s been opened for a bit I’ll give it one more try and if not, gone! I put this second even though one shade was a bit of a miss since the colour selection is really wide and if a shade is a miss it’s cheap enough to toss.



Shades owned – frosted purple

So this would be my holy grail for toughness. But I only own one shade so that’s why it got third. This colour is a mix of light purple and silver glitter but this stuff goes above and beyond for toughness. I picked up this shade when it was on clearance. close to the cash to up my dollar value for coupon to apply. I’ve literally hand planted and dug out my entire vegetable garden with my bare hands, stripped an asphalt roof and hand placed gravel wearing this without a single chip. If i know it’s going to be a tough nail week this is what I put on. Now that I’m writing this I’m also making a note to invest in another shade and an investment it is because it goes for roughly $14 USD.

Mariposa gel


Shades owned – ???

So this is a dollar store brand in Canada, interested? I wanted to check out gel polish last summer looking for something that would go the distance. Before I tried out the sally Hansen product I tried this to see if gal polished in general were any different before shelling out $30 for the sally Hansen. I bought a pack of minis with three colours and topcoat for $4 at the dollar store. They were great and convinced me to go for it, these were way better. I’ve since bought four more though one of the brushed was cut jagged. They require more building up then usual three or four coats and dry a bit slower than I’s like but once they’re on there they are almost as good as a glitter for longevity plus they don’t crack. Check it out you can’t beat the price but the shade selection is a little lacking but if you can find one you like it’s totally worth it!

Nicole by OPI


Shades owned – what’s the mich-uation, I orchid you not, hello world, , green up your act, positive energy

So almost last but last in terms of quality in the good bin. Also skip the OPI at a higher price because it’s not worth it, this formula is better and cheaper though at a bit over $10 it’s not budget friendly. The formula wears better than average but none of the shades I’ve owned have blown me away none amazed me either. But it’s a solid performer and it touches up better than average when you need it. My favourite of the bunch is green up your act since it matches my tea mugs perpetually.

Honourable mention: Wet n’ wild wild shine nail colour


Shades owned – Black Creme

I picked this one up to complete my chase the ace running outfit I made last year and wore again last weekend at the pumpkin pacer 5k. These polishes are dirt cheap ($1.49) USD but there aren’t a ton of shades. This one dries nicely has good coverage and wears way better than you would think for the price. If it does chip it touches up almost seamlessly so it gets to be on the list. PS I’m wearing this now and I love that even grown ups can wear black leading up to halloween!

Best top coat: Essie gel setter top coat


This top coat is great for a couple of typical reasons but also not perfect. It makes your nails tougher and dry quickly no matter the formula. In fact once I discovered this if a polish wasn’t capeable enough under this, there was no saving it and I tossed it out. But it can b a bit hard to work with it gets goopy and thick once opened pretty quickly, Then you have to work fast and dip often but it really does make that mani last.

Best quick option: Nicole by OPI nail Brightener


When my nails look truly terrible and I have no time or need a polish break this is my go to. Take off your chipped polish slap this on with little regard for where your nail actually is and it looks pretty good, plus its dry in about three minutes. I wouldn’t mind having bare nails but then I bite them, so this is what I do instead. It’s even more delicate than a light girly pink and it has a matte finish and applies in thin coats. It doesn’t chip or look bad if it does, since it’s the most subtle your nails but better shade. Plus there is enough opacity in two layers to hide stained nails. If you have to have painted nails for work (what job would this be???) but hate doing your nails check this out for sure!

Pass, Hard Pass, polishes

OPI nail laquer


Shades owned – gold?, others I threw away

This stuff is expensive and when I first started I bought into the hype that you get what you pay for. Not in this case. I actually threw out about 4 shades because all the above were better. I kept this gold one, labeled 50 years of style, because it was half decent and newer. Plus it’s good enough for my toes. Why is it that toe polish can survive months and nuclear war on toenails but even the best nail polishes chip in 4 days on your hands? I’m not much nicer to my toes than my hands either.


Shades owned – 5 but I threw them all out

Just like OPI I started buying Essie polishes since you must be paying for quality right? They chipped like crazy plus the formulas were all over the place some thin and had no pigment others were goopy and they all take forever to dry. I had about 5 and I thew them all out.

Sally Hansen – Miracle gel


Shades owned -digi-teal and electra-cute

After the mariposa impressed me with gel polish I bought the blue shade and top-coat when they were newly out. They don’t chip and do stay on a long time but… they both crack and then the cracks turn brown from life dirt. Investing in one shade is over $20 USD of investment. I thought it might be the one shade but the orange one I picked up on clearance did the same thing. So now I only wear it on my toes and keep it because it wasn’t cheap. Plus on your toes the top coat means more work. Pass on this one.


Shades owned – hard-core party and three others I got rid of

I got four shades of this last Christmas from honey’s daughter. I was super excited since I loved the shades and if she picked them they were probably even trendy. I tried to make them work but they sucked so much chipping almost instantly and requiring 4+ coats. I was sad to get rid of them since they were a present from someone special to me so I kept one shade. This is literally the only polish that even chips in my short, runners toenails. We keeps them super short so they don’t turn black from pressure and fall off otherwise. I’ve sweated off these polishes in a day under work gloves or in scuba boottles on my toes. They can’t even get wet and stay on!

I would literally love to know about your favourite tough as nails brands or any that I should avoid. But if I’m happy with the good ones here considering my high expectation and the tourture I put them through you probably will be too!

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