Polish Finishes 101: The Classics

Polish Finishes 101: The Classics

October 15, 2020

Nail polish has come a long way. It's a lot more than simple shades inspired by basic auto paint colors. Figuring out how to describe things is tricky, even for old timers like us. Our favorite robot, Lisa of Cosmetic Sanctuary, and I have been collaborating on an illustrated glossary to help decipher the world of sparkles.  



These classic finishes are the ones most folks are familiar with, thanks to "mainstream" brands. They have been around for decades, and are very common in both indie and mainstream brands.

  • Cream/Creme: a solid, opaque finish without glitter. Occasionally featuring slight shimmer.
  • Frost: ultra shimmery. It tends towards brushstrokes, which will arrange the strong shimmer in neat rows.
  • Metallic: reminiscent of metal finishes.  
  • Pearl: a classic finish. Similar to Shimmers and Frosts, but has a subtle inner glow.
  • Shimmer: very similar to Pearl and Frost, but often more diffuse and disorganized.

These are the bread-and-butter of the Indieverse. We tend to see these finishes, especially "crelly" and "holo" in almost every brands core line. These dazzlers are the finishes that really catch the eye and draw us down the rabbit hole.
  • Crelly: a hybrid between a creme and a jelly. Starts off semi-sheer, but can be built to opacity in two to three coats. Has a beautiful depth, despite the simplicity.
  • Flake: thinner flecked glitters that come in a variety of colors and are not uniform in shape.
  • Foil: a very shiny, reflective finish. Often requires a special base.
  • Glitter: small metallic or plastic shapes suspended in a base polish. 
  • Holo: a metallic pigment that reflects light in a beautiful rainbow arc. Made for sunny days.
  • Jelly: a sheer wash of color. Can't be made opaque without multiple coats. Often described as "squishy". 
  • Multi/Duochrome: a finish that shows different colors depending on angle and lighting conditions.