The Best Essie Polishes For Your Skin Tone

There are two main strategies we use when shopping for nail polish (or picking a color at the nail salon under pressure). You're either the person who leaves the store with a new bottle and 10 fingers painted different hues, or you grab the first polish name you recognize. Either way, it can be hard to find a shade you love, especially when each brand offers (what feels like) endless color options.
Take, for example, Essie. The popular brand is a salon, pro, and consumer favorite, and many of us are on a first-name basis with popular colors like Clambake and Mademoiselle. But with dozens upon dozens to choose from, you're majorly missing out if you never stray beyond your go-to orangey-red. For help navigating the massive selection, we turned to nail artist Michelle Saunders, who also serves as the brand's official celebrity manicurist (and has an encyclopedic knowledge of its color offerings).
Ahead, Saunders takes a break from her A-list clientele to share her favorite foolproof shades for every skin tone, from everyday nudes and pale pinks to more unexpected brights and, of course, the best reds.
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Best Bright For Fair Skin Tones

"This may be much brighter than you're used to wearing, but it's actually pretty classic on the nail," says Saunders. "People constantly ask about this shade when I use it [on shoots]."

Essie Nail Polish in Fiesta, $8.50, available at Essie.
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This unique, bright purple is perfect for summer. Deciding to wear it on your fingers or toes, however, is a bit tough.

Essie Nail Polish in Designated DJ, $9, available at Essie.
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Who wouldn't want to ring in a new year with this striking violet shade on their digits?

Essie Nail Polish in New Year, New Hue, $9, available at Essie.
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If Fiesta is a little too bright for your liking, a magenta shade like this one will be just as eye-catching. Plus, the polish is part of the brand's new Gel Couture line, which boasts an updated brush stem and a gorgeous Frank Gehry-inspired bottle.

Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish in Sit Me In the Front Row, $11.50, available at Essie.
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For those not looking for a fuchsia, but still want something vibrant, go for this bubble gum in a bottle.

Essie Nail Polish in Excuse Me, Sur, $9, available at Essie.
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This bold teal has a hint of shimmer running throughout and looks so good with colorful sandals.

Essie Nail Polish in Naughty Nautical, $9, available at Essie.
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Best Bright For Medium Skin Tones
"This color looks great on medium skin tones, and I think we're going to be seeing this color more this spring. It's the perfect sky blue," says Saunders.

Essie Nail Polish in Bikini So Teeny, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Nothing says summer like a bright sunset orange on toes.

Essie Nail Polish in Meet Me At Sunset, $9, available at Essie.
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A subtle, golden orange that can pop just as much as its fiery counterpart.

Essie Nail Polish in Fondant of You, $9, available at Essie.
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This seafoam green is bright and cheery, without being overwhelming.

Essie Nail Polish in First Timer, $8.50, available at Essie.
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A cantaloupe hue like this one is a great option for those who want to experiment with brighter nails, but want something more unusual than reds or pinks.

Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish in Looks To Thrill, $11.50, available at Nordstrom.
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"If you want to add a little more flair to [a bold color], you can apply it over a coat of Blanc, Essie's opaque white, and it almost looks neon," Saunders says.

Essie Nail Polish in Blanc, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Best Bright For Dark Skin Tones
“This super-bright purple called Shades On is probably the most on-trend color to wear right now,” Saunders told us.

Essie Nail Polish in Shades On, $8.50, available at Essie.
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"There is a another color that people don’t really know about that I love for [dark skin tones] called Play Date," Saunders says. "It's basically a neon lavender, and it's perfect for pedicures, and I use it all the time for nail art, too."

Essie Nail Polish in Play Date, $8.50, available at Essie.
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This indigo shade may look dark in the bottle, but when it's layered onto the nails it provides a pop of shiny, bold color.

Essie Nail Polish in All Access Pass, $8.50, available at Essie.
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This bright pomegranate color is essential for summer — and just about every season. (It's that flattering!)

Essie Nail Polish in B'aha Moment, $9, available at Essie.
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Best Dark For Fair Skin Tones
"For those who want to dip their toes into a dark shade, but not go too dark, my pick is Chinchilly," Saunders says. "It's like a deep neutral, almost like a warm gray. There is also this color that I love called Carry On. It feels like a rich, kind of mahogany wine color, which is good for a dark color that is also very on-trend."

Essie Nail Polish in Carry On, $8.50, available at Essie.
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This deep plum looks really dark in the bottle, but it's not goth on — even if you're ultra-pale.

Essie Nail Polish in Kimono-Over, $9, available at Essie.
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Best Dark For Medium Skin Tones
"Wicked is a bit like a plum burgundy, and it's one of the best colors, maybe ever," Saunders says. "I have to say, in my career, Wicked and Mademoiselle are the two most requested colors."

Essie Nail Polish in Wicked, $8.50, available at Essie.
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"I [also] love the color Smokin' Hot and the shade Licorice, which is like a patent-leather black," says Saunders. Unfortunately both shades are sold out, but Luxedo is a great alternative to get those vampy vibes.

Essie Nail Polish in Luxedo, $8.50, available at Essie.
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If you're not willing to wear black, but still want the inky look, try this deep plum.

Essie Devil's Advocate, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Best Dark For Dark Skin Tones
"My top pick for deep skin tones is Bahama Mama," Saunders says. "It's flattering for all darker skin tones."

Essie Nail Polish in Bahama Mama, $8.50, available at Essie.
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For a lacquer with the same rich hue, but a metallic finish, opt for It's Genius.

Essie Nail Polish in It's Genius, $8.50, available at Essie.
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This deeper shade of purple is flattering on its own, but the iridescent sheen makes it extra memorable.

Essie Nail Polish in Damsel In A Dress, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Best Neutral For Fair Skin Tones
"A good overall neutral color for a fair hand is a color like Sugar Daddy. It's a traditional shade that gives your nail bed a healthy, sheer sheen. It's especially great for spring, because we're seeing a lot of pinks that lean on the sheer side," says Saunders.

Essie Nail Polish in Sugar Daddy, $8.50, available at Essie.
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If you like the idea of a soft, sheer neutral, but want something a little less… pink, this delicate translucent beige will be your new go-to.

Essie Nail Polish in Sandy Beach, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Best Neutral For Medium Skin Tones
"There is a traditional color called Ballet Slippers that is great for medium skin tones, but if you want something that is a bit more on-trend, I love Lady Like," says Saunders. "It looks like a natural flush of color if you apply it on hands [with a medium skin tone]."

Essie Nail Polish in Lady Like, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Don't be fooled by Penny Talk's metallic finish, when on the nails the color is subdued and soft.

Essie Penny Talk, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Somewhere between rosy pink and barely-there beige, the shade Eternal Optimist is the perfect subtle mauve for medium skin tones.

Essie Eternal Optimist, $9, available at Essie.
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Best Neutral For Dark Skin Tones
"The most traditional color that looks really great on a dark skin tone is Mademoiselle — you just can’t go wrong with that on dark skin," Saunders told us. "But, if you want to go more [trendy], I love this color called Mamba. It's the perfect peachy hue that we're seeing a lot of. I would almost call it a secret color, because not many people know about it."

Essie Nail Polish in Mambo, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Another brown girl favorite (especially on Pinterest) is this creamy, red-violet spiked caramel.

Essie Nail Polish in Picked Perfect, $4.75, available at Beyond Polish.
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Swipe on this taupe shade while clutching your go-to seasonal latte for the perfect fall-themed Instagram.

Essie Nail Polish in Truth or Bare, $9, available at Essie.
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Best Metallic For Fair Skin Tones
Looking for a color to pop against fair skin? Think deep—like ocean deep. “Aruba Blue is one of those colors I just can't get enough of,” Essie Celebrity Manicurist Julie Kandalec says. “It has a bright reflection that definitely reads azure, not black, so it's not too dramatic for fair skin.”

Essie Nail Polish in Aruba Blue, $8.50, available at Essie
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Best Metallic For Medium Skin Tones

There's nothing quite like a memorable chrome mani to stand out in a crowd — and against warmer skin it's impossibly gorg.

Essie Nail Polish in No Place Like Chrome, $9, available at Essie.
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Best Metallic For Dark Skin Tones
Kandalec’s all-time favorite metallic for dark skin? This amped-up mocha. “It's slight transparency and warm hue reflects a stunning warm glow,” she says.

Essie Nail Polish in Buy Me a Cameo, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Peachy neutrals not your jam? Go for something with taupe tones, like Glamour Purse.

Essie Nail Polish in Glamour Purse, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Best Red For Fair Skin Tones
"For fair skin, there is a color I love called Fifth Avenue," Saunders tells us. "People may look at it and think that it could be too coral, but on the nail it's not; it's a really bright red. I would call it a spring red."

Essie Nail Polish in Fifth Avenue, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Best Red For Medium Skin Tones
"I know that people think that this shade, A-list, may be too dark, but I think this is the real red of all of Essie's colors," says Saunders. "It's a true red, and I have had it in my kit forever. It's a classic, traditional red and a cult favorite. It looks great on anyone, and I love it on medium skin tones."

Essie Nail Polish in A-List, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Looking for something a little less vampy? You can't go wrong with Russian Roulette.

Essie Nail Polish in Russian Roulette, $8.50, available at Essie.
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Best Red For Dark Skin Tones
"A few red colors that I love on dark skin tones are Berry Naughty, Bordeaux, and Lacy Not Racy. If you look them up online, they look very dark, but they go on quite red. Lacy Not Racy is my pick, If you see someone wearing it you can't help but think, Wow, she has really beautiful deep red nails," Saunders says.

Essie Nail Polish in Lacy Not Racy, $8.50, available at Essie.
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