When it comes to doing my own nails, I consider myself pretty advanced. There are very few polish brands I haven't tried, and I can generally identify friends' manis down to the specific company and shade name. (Please clap.) One rare and elusive brand? Ella+Mila, best known for their range of vegan polishes in every colour of the rainbow. (The company is named after the twin daughters of the co-founder.)
I'll be totally honest: As someone who obsessively collected OPI limited-edition collections as a teen and owns a wall of Essie polish, I was skeptical of how a vegan formula could stack up compared to salon brands. With nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain, I embarked on a journey of swapping my go-to system with all Ella+Mila. And, as an extra-special treat (because we like to share our best secrets), Ella+Mila is giving R29 readers an exclusive discount to experience the polish yourself. Simply pop in promo code R2920 at checkout for 20% off your ellamila.com order, and enjoy a new world of clean nail polish.
With fall in full swing, I chose the shade Holiday Fling, a gorgeous deep burgundy, for my inaugural Ella+Mila manicure. After filing and shaping, I applied a thin layer of the brand's All About The Base base coat onto clean, dry nails. Next came two coats of polish. Compared to other brands I've tried, Ella+Mila's polish dried relatively quickly between coats — that's a big plus for ensuring that your manicure sets properly. I will say, the application was a bit streaky at first coat, but fully opaque and richly dark (swoon) after two. Once I let the second coat dry some more, I used a swipe of the brand's quick-drying top coat, In A Rush, to seal it all in. (Ella+Mila actually makes an impressive array of top coats ranging from gel finish to mattifying, but I tend to prefer fast-drying ones because I'm impatient.)
Right off the bat, I noticed that the brushes for the bottles are very short. While this is great for not taking up a lot of space, the shorter the brush, the more difficult it is to apply. If you don't have a steady hand or aren't super great at painting with your non-dominant hand, you might need to do some post-polish cleanup. Another option is to get an ergonomic grip handle (like the Olive & June Poppy pictured below) to add stability to your polish application. Last step: Finish off your mani with a few drops of cuticle oil (I used Ella+Mila's lavender one) to hydrate cuticles and make your polish look extra shiny.
Going into my test, I didn't expect Ella+Mila's polish to be indestructible — and that's okay! I personally try to use clean products wherever possible in my beauty routine, knowing full well that a natural deodorant won't realistically perform as well as a tube of mainstream antiperspirant. For the purposes of this review, I did two back-to-back manicures using only Ella+Mila; after the first, I (unintentionally) ended up doing a bunch of chores around the house and generally used my hands a lot. This resulted in chips after a day. After a week, I took it off and redid the mani from scratch.
For round two, I ended up being far less busy and mostly took things easy at home. This made a significant difference in how my nails held up: My polish was still glossy after three days (with no reapplication of top coat), and I was only getting chips at the top of my nails — the first area to show signs of wear and tear.
All in all, I was pretty impressed at the performance, given that it's a 17-free formula and therefore one of the cleaner ones on the market. (Many formulas are 5- or 7-free, meaning they don't include ingredients like Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde and/or formaldehyde resin, and camphor.) Ella+Mila takes things a step further with a no-no list that also includes acetone, animal-derived ingredients (shellac resin, a common ingredient in gel nail polish, is actually derived from female lac bugs), and gluten, parabens, sulfates, among others. The brand is also PETA-certified.
As a nail polish obsessive who went into trying Ella+Mila with a stacked roster of favourite brands, I didn't think I'd be so blown away by what a vegan nail polish is capable of. (My rationale was, If it's 17-free, then what's *actually* in it?) While they may not replace my entire polish wardrobe, I'm super excited to start building my Ella+Mila collection, and will be recommending them to friends and family who are looking for a more ingredient-conscious manicure.
Price in USD.
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