Which nail polish sets are best?

If you’re ready to save money on your manicure, it’s time to invest in a nail polish set. Besides being a cost-effective purchase, it’s an easy way to test and try new shades.

Nail polish sets may include as little as two or three shades, whereas deluxe sets may come with as many as 40, some of which have other manicure tools. If you’re one of many people who embrace the longevity of gel manicures, the Red Carpet Gel Polish Pro Kit is a great beginner gel nail polish set. 

What to know before you buy a nail polish set

Types of nail polish sets

Nail polish sets fall into one of two categories, classic polish sets and gel polish kits. Classic polish sets have traditional polish formulas that promise up to a week of wear time. They’re quick and easy to apply without too much preparation. Many of these sets are packaged with topcoats and base coats, as well. 

Gel polish kits, on the other hand, have light-activated formulas that may last upward of 3 weeks. Some of these kits include gel polish assortments, whereas others include LED or UV curing lamps and other manicure tools. Gel manicures have an involved application process that may take close to an hour from start to finish. 

Why you should buy a nail polish set

In many cases, it’s much cheaper to buy nail polish in a set than individually. Several nail polish sets are themed or have color stories, which lets wearers sample similar shades and find new favorites. Nail polish sets that come with base and top coats also take the hard work out of finding complementary formulas for the polish.

What to look for in a quality nail polish set

Shade collections

Nail polish sets are usually sold in coordinating collections, in which there’s a central theme or color story that ties them together. Take a neutral nail polish set as an example; it may contain a range of shades that begin with light pink and get progressively darker to deep brown. Other nail polish sets include a colorful variety of shades that may include a few glitter, ombre, iridescent or matte polishes. 

Bottle sizes

The average full-size nail polish bottle is around 0.5 fluid ounces, whereas mini bottles are closer to 0.15 fluid ounces. Many classic nail polish sets include full-size varieties, but it’s far more common for gel sets to only include mini bottles. However, most nail polish sets with top and base coats include full-size bottles.

Clean formulas

Many nail polish manufacturers have decided to embrace cleaner formulas with fewer chemicals, like formaldehyde, gluten, toluene and dibutyl phthalate, just to name a few. Instead, clean formulas use gentle alternatives, like plant-derived or eco-friendly materials. Many self-described clean nail polishes indicate they are “X-free” on the packaging, in which they list the number of toxic ingredients their formulas don’t include. 

How much you can expect to spend on nail polish sets

Nail polish sets made by drugstore brands cost $10 and below, whereas salon-quality sets cost anywhere from $12-$50. Gel manicure sets cost $20 for polish only and closer to $100 for those with curling lamps and other manicure tools. 

Nail polish set FAQ

What is the shelf life of nail polish?

A. It depends on the formula. On average, classic nail polish will last up to two years if it’s kept in a cool, dark spot. Gel polish is highly sensitive to heat, but if it’s kept at room temperature and tightly sealed, it can last up to three years. There are mixed reviews on whether nail polish should be refrigerated. 

Does my manicure need to match my pedicure?

A. Some people prefer matching manicures and pedicures, especially when they wear sandals or go barefoot. However, it’s no longer considered a major fashion faux pas to have different shades on hands and feet. It’s also perfectly acceptable to only have a pedicure or a manicure. 

What’s the best nail polish set to buy?

Top nail polish set

Red Carpet Gel Polish Pro Kit

Red Carpet Gel Polish Pro Kit

What you need to know: This starter gel polish set, suitable for beginners, comes with an LED curing lamp and topical manicure products. 

What you’ll love: The kit has user-friendly instructions for easy application. It comes with all gel polish essentials, including the oft-forgotten cuticle oil. It’s also one of few kits that comes with a full-size bottle of gel polish remover. Manicures look like they were done in salons.

What you should consider: There’s a bit of a learning curve with application, which leads to mixed reviews. 

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta

Top nail polish set for the money

Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish + Top Coat Kit

Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish + Topcoat Kit

What you need to know: Made by a favorite salon-quality brand, this two-bottle kit includes a bestselling shade and a long-wearing topcoat. 

What you’ll love: The polish is Fairy Tailor, a nude-pink shade that is simple and elegant. It’s buildable from sheer to opaque. The topcoat dries quickly with a high-gloss finish. When used together, they offer up to 2 weeks of chip-free color. 

What you should consider: Wearers love the color, but they say it takes several coats to achieve opaque color. 

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta

Worth checking out

Nailtopia High Tides, Good Vibes Skittle Mani Kit

Nailtopia High Tides, Good Vibes Skittle Mani Kit

What you need to know: If you’re looking for a modern polish set, this cruelty-free ocean-inspired trio is worth considering.

What you’ll love: The shade assortment is trendy, with three eye-catching shades of blue. The cruelty-free, plant-based formulas are enriched with vitamins that nourish nails. The plant-based polish is vegan and free of harsh chemicals. 

What you should consider: The deeper blue is highly pigmented, and wearers may need to soak nails to remove the color. 

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta


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Sian Babish writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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