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The Difference Between Nail Polish Textures

Confused About Nail Polish Textures? Here's Help

Confused about what, exactly, a matte polish is compared to an opalescent one, or how cream polishes are different from frosts? You've come to the right place. Nail polish texture terminology can get iffy, but once you know a few easy phrases, you'll be discussing the fine points of texture trends like a pro. So to clear things up once and for all, just keep reading.

  • A cream polish is the easiest to explain, because it's the classic nail polish texture: glossy, but not glittery or shimmery. It's the texture we think of for retro nail polishes and archetypal red nails.
  • Matte nail polishes are also pretty easy to grasp — they're simply not glossy. They look "flat" and more like marker or pencil rubbed onto your nails than enamel the way other nail polishes do.
  • Frost (also known as pearlescent) nail polishes are your standard-issue icy-toned shades. While there's no individuated glitter in them, they sparkle subtly instead of shining brilliantly.
  • Opalescent nail polishes have a distinctive "mother of pearl" effect, and they glisten the same way the inside of a shell does.
  • Glitter nail polishes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from subtle microglitter to big and chunky. But you can tell that what you have is a glitter polish instead of a frost because you can see the individual glitter bits.
Image Source: Thinkstock
Join The Conversation
Beauty Beauty 7 years
Hey guys! Thanks for all the brills questions! Anon, metallics are less a texture than a shade category, so you can have traditional frost metallics, the newer matte metallics, or something like Minxed nails, which are actually appliques and not polish at all. The best way to tell with a metallic is to look at it and see whether it's glossy or not—if it's a frost, it'll still have that lacquered, liquid look that most polishes do. If it's matte it'll look dull but kinda shiny, like pencil lead, and if it's Minx it'll look like those gold foil stars you get for doing a good job in second grade. Skigurl, I've been encountering just that problem with matte polishes. For the mani to last, you need to use topcoat, but it totally does un-matte the polish. Fortunately, Essie now makes a matte topcoat called Matte About You, which is additionally nice because it can also turn any regular nail color you have matte. I'm thinking of trying it on top of a chunky glitter polish, because I think the effect might be really cool.
skigurl skigurl 7 years
Bella. I have a burning question I've been wanting to ask: If I apply matte nailpolish, can I use topcoat? I guess that would defeat the purpose, but then wouldn't the polish come off much more quickly? Thanks!
amandasunly amandasunly 7 years
Love this! Thanks for the mini-guide, Bella!
Ellenora Ellenora 7 years
The difference between a shimmer and a frost is that a frosts are notorious for leaving brushstrokes. A frost looks like you have that "frost on a windowpane" effect on your nails. Take a look at Nail Juices's "Different Nail Polish Finishes" (
Marian55 Marian55 7 years
What's the difference between a shimmer polish and a frost?
Beauty Beauty 7 years
Hi Citgirl! Good question :) Gel and jelly polishes are glossy, translucent shades that give your nails a transparent wash of color and lots of shine. Basically, even with a few coats on, they're not opaque, which gives them a really interesting finish, and makes them particularly nice for layering over other polishes to create a jewel-like effect with lots of depth. You can make your own jelly polish, too, by combining 1/4 regular cream polish to 3/4 top coat.
pss pss 7 years
Glitter polish are very cute but they are hard to remove...Cream and matte are the best. And think that frost and opalescent aren't cool, I see them more for elder women.
zzleigh zzleigh 7 years
Thanks, Bella! I was looking at swatches yesterday and was wondering what the exact differences were!
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