A Visual Guide to Picking the Right Nail Polish Colors for Your Skin Tone

Victoria Moorhouse
A Visual Guide to Picking the Right Nail Polish Colors for Your Skin Tone
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We pay so much attention to our nails (it always takes us no less than 20 minutes to pick out the perfect shade every time we get a mani, be it at home or the salon)—but turns out we’ve been doing it all wrong. We shouldn’t be matching our nail color to our outfits our even our moods, because just like our hair and our makeup, our nails should be matching our skin tone. That’s right, there are certain colors that make for the best nail polish for pale skin, and other nail colors that complement dark skin tones better. How did we not realize this before?

MORE: Laverne Cox Is Launching a Nail Polish Collection With ORLY Nails

We asked the experts and rounded up come cute nail colors in shades from nude to blue to guide you on your way to manicure perfection.

Nail Polish for Skin Tones

Photo by Tiffany Hagler-Geard; Graphic Design by Candace Napier

Light skin tones

Behold the polish shades that will look divine on you! The trick with pale skin tones are finding polish shades that compliment, rather than competing with or washing out, your fair complexion. Here’s a special selection of hues to get you started.

Nude: Nude polishes constantly top the most popular lacquer lists, but picking out the right nude for you is definitely a trial-and-error process. Celebrity manicurist Elle, who works with stars like Blake Lively and Jennifer Lopez, says that those with fair skin tones—think Emma Stone–should try a sheer pinkish nude rather than a beige, as she says that could show up yellow.

Red: Go for a classic color, like the red on the bottom of Christian Louboutin’s iconic shoes. It’s a color that Elle says will flatter everyone, even those with light skin tones. When shopping, though, make sure to hold your red polish up to the light. If you can see through it, you know it’s going to be sheer. Likewise, celebrity manicurist and nail guru Deborah Lippmann suggests going for a clean and cool blue-toned red to really make the most of pale complexions.

Pink: When it comes to pinks, those with light skin tones have a ton of options. Deborah says that fair skin can totally rock both sheer pinks or super bright fuchsias  with cool undertones.

Purple: For fair skin, Elle says that pastel lavenders look amazing, but to be wary of how much white the color has in it. Generally, you want to make sure it won’t look more white than lilac when it’s sitting against your skin.

Blue: You may be tempted to go for that cobalt, but Elle says that if you have a light skin tone, navy is a fun option. In fact, it’s another that works especially well if you have a warm undertone. “I would say that this color is almost universal,” she says. “Navy goes so great on anyone’s skin tone, you can’t get it wrong.”

Try our suggestions picture above, from top to bottom: Smith & Cult in Kings and Thieves; Nails Inc. Nailkale Polish in St. Duke Street; Essie Neon Nail Color in Coacha’bella; Christian Louboutin ‘Rouge Louboutin’ Nail Color; Dermelect in A Shore Thing.

Nail Polish for Medium Skin Tones

Photo by Tiffany Hagler-Geard; Graphic Design by Candace Napier

Medium-olive skin tones

Medium skin tones vary—from a bronzy glow to olive—and that changes the colors you wear best depending on your undertone. However, these nail polish picks are universally flattering and gorgeous for your medium-toned complexions.

Nude: While those with very fair skin may lean towards something with a pinkish hint, medium skin can handle something that is a bit more beige. Lippmann describes her favorite beige-nude, “Fashion” (pictured above) as a “full-coverage yellow-based color.”

Red: Orange-reds may reign your lipstick collection, but that shade can work well with your mani, too. Elle explained to us that if you had a skin tone similar to Kim Kardashian, she would choose a red that had a pop of orange to it. Similarly, Lippmann says that she would choose something with gold undertones. “A red with gold undertones will bring out this complexion’s natural glow,” she told us.

Pink: Those with medium skin tones may find peachy-pinks especially flattering, according to Deborah. Look for polishes that are sheer yet pigmented for a juicy, summertime-appropriate look.

Blue: While medium skin tones can do pastel blues, an intense sky blue is an even more flattering choice. Elle says to make sure that any shade you choose has enough pigment in it to really stand out next to your skin, especially if you have warm undertones.

Purple: Purple isn’t just taking over your eyeshadow palette; it turns out that purple polish is super versatile. Elle recommends staying away from pastels with a white base and going towards something with more pigment, like a deep grape shade.

Try our suggestions picture above, from top to bottom: Essie Nail Polish in Kimono Over; Essie Nail Polish in Make Some Noise; Essie Nail Polish in Petal Pink; Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy in Get Lucky; Deborah Lippmann Nail Polish in Fashion.

MORE: 28 Times Celebrity Manicures Blew Mere Mortal Nails All the Way Out of the Water

Nail Polish for Dark Skin Tones

Photo by Tiffany Hagler-Geard; Graphic Design by Candace Napier

Dark skin tones

Complement your deep skin tone with nail polishes that offer a punch of high impact color. While every shade of lacquer looks amazing on dark skin, these are our picks for the very best shades.

Pink: Elle says that those with dark skin should stay away from light, baby pinks. “Make sure you’re really wearing pink,” she says, pointing to neons and bright fuchsias.

Purple: Deep skin tones can wear both pastel and dark purples equally well. So how should you narrow it down? Try a universal shade that holds a darker berry-tint to it—Deborah Lippmann suggests trying her shade, “Drunk in Love.”

Blue: Got the blues? It’s time to embrace intense the brightest cobalt shades, which will really stand out next to your skin. If you want to do a baby or heather blue, you need to make sure there isn’t too much of a white undertone to the formula.

Nude: When it comes to picking out the best nude for you, cream and beige nail polishes with sheer, jellylike formulas win again. Elle says that when she’s worked with Kerry Washington, she picked OPI’s “Samoan Sand,” pictured above, for the perfect nude shade.

Red: While almost every red looks amazing with dark skin tones, Lippmann says that deep reds work well with darker skin tones and give “a slight variation.” Think full, rich shades that you might find in gemstones or a glass of amazing red wine.

Try our suggestions picture above, from top to bottom: Deborah Lippmann Nail Polish in Single Ladies; OPI Nail Polish in Samoan Sand; OPI Brights Nail Lacquer Collection in Blue My Mind; Deborah Lippmann Nail Polish in Drunk in Love; Sinful Colors Professional Nail Color in Thimbleberry.

Updated 9/29/2017.