not a professional. just crazy.

These Sheer, Your-Nails-But-Better Polishes Make My At-Home Manis Foolproof

Photo: Rio Viera-Newton

In 2020, for obvious reasons, I went from a person who took pride in her long, vibrant gel manicures to someone with short, bare, usually broken nails. When stay-at-home orders were first enforced, I tried my best to perfect my DIY manicure routine by buying a proper nail file, cuticle oil, and clippers to replicate the spalike treatments I once received from my favorite tech Fleury Rose.

But ultimately I had to face the truth: No matter how much I try to mimic the pros, I’m terrible at painting my own nails. Anytime I brought out my pretty, rich-in-pigment polishesNails, Inc.’s bright pale blue “Jeans Pur Lease” or JINsoon’s deep red “Audacity” — my nails would come out messy, uneven, and wobbly, like they’d been painted by a toddler. Convinced a clean, DIY polish job was simply not in the cards for me, I was ready to give up on my nails until they could again be manicured by a professional. But one day, when they were looking particularly scuffed and damaged, I decided to attempt one more at-home mani and discovered some polishes that are so flattering (and forgiving) they make my toddlerlike application actually look kind of professional.

I had purchased a set of top and base coats from Pear Nova — a Chicago-based Black-owned brand founded by Rachel James — back in March because I thought its vegan, cruelty-free, and five-free formulas might be helpful at maintaining the longevity of my at-home manis. But I hadn’t opened them up until this point, and when I actually got around to applying the base, “Beneath Me,” I was shocked to discover how much I loved the way it looked on its own. One coat gave my nails a simple, muted, off-white shade that had a lovely, milky haze. This transparent, cloudy shade also made my application foolproof: Even with my wobbly, unsteady hands, my mess-ups were barely noticeable, which had definitely not been the case with any of my other opaque polishes.

I was tempted to leave it at that. But when I saw the shiny, pinky shade of the top coat, “Clearly” — which reminded me of the cult-favorite, clear-rose Dior Nail Glow polish — I wondered if it might add some extra oomph. It does: On top of “Beneath Me,” “Clearly” gives a gorgeous pink tint and high-shine twinkle; the two polishes together create a sophisticated your-nails-but-better look that’s not only gorgeous but insanely easy to apply. Those with steadier hands should know that “Clearly” and “Beneath Me” aren’t just amazing on their own — they also work phenomenally well at their intended jobs as top and base coats. My mom (a much more capable home manicurist than I) recently used them with the highly pigmented J. Hannah Blue Nudes polish, and it didn’t so much as chip for a whole week.

Two more sheer polishes I love

If you’re looking for a more beigey polish, the shade “Loretta” from Zoya is an excellent option. It’s not quite as off-white as Pear Nova’s top and base coats but instead adds a beautiful, barely there, dusty tint.

If you want a polish that’s as milky and nudey as Pear Nova’s top and base coats but a touch more opaque, try this muted, ballet-slipper-pink color from Ella+Mila. The brand is cruelty free and 17 free (that’s a lot of free!) and quick drying to boot.

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These Two Sheer Polishes Make My At-Home Manis Foolproof