Barring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Casablanca, red nail polish is quite possibly the most classic thing in the known universe. Of course, classic doesn't have to mean monolithic: The best red nail polish for you will depend on your preferred finish (muted, glossy, or even holographic), as well as your preferred shade of red (vermilion, berry, tangerine, et cetera). What all of the nail polishes featured here have in common, however, is their intense pigmentation, smooth and even application, and unparalleled staying power.
Red nail polish basically exists to make you feel more confident, so you should ultimately pick whichever shade you naturally gravitate toward. But there are certain occasions for which a certain red may feel particularly appropriate: for example, the holiday season often calls for metallic finishes and sparkles, fall and winter were practically made for Burgundy, and you can't go wrong with a gorgeous coral-red during peak summer.
Scroll on to discover eight of the best red nail polishes you can get your hands (and toes) on right now. Then, be sure to pick up one of the best nail polish base coats and a quick-drying top coat to complete your collection of at-home mani/pedi essentials.
1. The Classic
No list of red nail polishes would be complete without an appearance by Big Apple Red, the textbook definition of a classic red polish. It’s bright, gleaming, and saturated — the exact shade and finish of a crisp red apple. It strikes the right balance between blue and orange undertones, so it looks absolutely beautiful on all skin tones, too.
2. The Bright, Shiny, 8-Free Red
Think of Smashing as an updated version of Big Apple Red: It’s a little glossier, a little punchier, and the orange-leaning undertones read a little more vibrant. Plus, the gel-inspired formula gives this polish a juicy, glossy finish. It’s the candy apple to Big Apple Red’s McIntosh. More to love: A patented blend of chip-resistant polymers keeps the polish looking shiny and fresh for up to 10 days, and the formula is free of eight major toxins.
3. The 10-Free Orange-Red
For an instant mood boost, go for Chili Pepper Red, a warm, vivacious, orange-toned red that’s like a sunrise bottled up in a jar. It hails from Sundays, a cult-favorite (and woman-owned!) salon in New York City that makes some gorgeous, sophisticated, non-toxic nail polishes (they're all 10-free). This shade in particular gets lots of love on Amazon, where reviewers rave about its creamy finish and ultra saturated pigmentation.
4. The 7-Free Fire Engine Red
Celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann is a celebrity in her own right, so it’s no surprise that her own polishes are among the most luxurious ones out there. It’s Raining Men is well on its way toward becoming a modern classic: It’s a seven-free, fire-engine red with a high-shine finish and neutral undertones, so it complements every skin tone beautifully. This is the stuff of your screen-siren fantasies.
5. The Vampy, Dark Blood-Red
Go for Vixen if you like your red vampy (or, dare I say, vixenish). The first coat will look slightly thin, but a second coat seals the pigment into a moody, wine-red hue with an opaque finish. Just to drive home the glamorous goth factor, this is a near-exact shade match to Anjelica Huston’s nails in The Addams Family. An impressive showing all around for this $4 drugstore polish.
6. The Shiny Blue-Red
For a really long-lasting manicure, try this Sally Hansen polish in Rhapsody Red, a vivid tomato-red with blue undertones. The gel-like formula dries into a hard, shiny, chip-resistant finish without the use of a UV lamp, so it’s as close as you can get to a salon gel manicure sans all that time/money/leaving your house. Pick up the accompanying top coat to complete this two-step system.
7. The Most Versatile Red
If the phrase “business in the front, party in the back” were translated into a nail polish, it’d be Smith & Cult's Kundalini Hustle. This poppy-red shade is somehow both brilliant and muted at once — good for both office and after-hours situations alike. I also can’t resist that hammered-gold handle. Looks like something you’d get at a thoughtfully curated home decor store, though it also provides an ergonomic hold for easier application.
8. Writer's Pick
Cirque Colors is one of my favorite indie nail polish brands, firstly for their non-toxic formulas, which are handmade in small batches from their Brooklyn HQ; and secondly for their inventive, non-traditional shades and effects. I’m a little obsessed with this Ruby polish, a rich scarlet shot through with holographic flakes that glitter under direct light. It’s not quite as durable as the gemstone that inspired the name, but it’ll remain chip-free, and utterly dazzling, for about a week.