10 Best Quick-Dry Nail Polishes for a Smudge-Free Manicure
Confession: I’ve completely given up on in-salon manicures. Be it from long-lost keys in the deep, dark depths of my purse or pre-made salad with packaging that simply won’t open, I’ve wasted more precious dollars on quickly-ruined paint jobs than I have on overpriced almond milk lattes.
So in the spirit of more saving, less smudging, I decided to get back to my DIY roots utilizing the best quick-dry polishes available on the market. Surprisingly, the results haven’t been disappointing. With hydrating ingredients and different packaging options, not only do these polishes boast a variety of flattering shades and other perks, they also dry super fast, getting me polished, sealed, and delivered out the door in about 10 minutes flat. You may be wondering: How the hell can a polish dry that quick? Well, according to cosmetic chemist Ginger King these products contain a higher amount of solvent like ethyl acetate or butyl acetate.
What is quick-dry nail polish?
Quick-dry nail polish is a family of formulas that contain a greater amount of solvents (liquids that mix together to make the product a uniform consistency). The solvents evaporating are what cause the nail polish to dry, so the more the polish has, the quicker it can set.
Keep scrolling for the best quick-dry nail polishes that might replace your monthly mani habit with tips from industry experts.
Best Overall: Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Nail Color
What do buyers say? 9,400+ Ulta reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.
Sally Hansen’s Insta-Dri formula is already legendary, boasting both an impressive color range and easy accessibility (just pop into any drugstore). It has a built-in base and topcoat, which is excellent for manis in a rush. “If you are concerned about time, there are some 3-in-1 formulas that work well,” says Kelly Hanna Thompson, a freelance nail artist, and former manager of Paintbox in New York City. Tack on a mere 60-second dry time, and there’s no reason there shouldn’t be one bottle (or five) in every nail enthusiast’s lineup.
Shades: 49 | Size: 0.3 fl. oz | Finish: Shine, glitter
Best Budget: China Glaze Nail Lacquer with Hardeners
Specifically formulated to rival professional-level enamels, this quick-dry polish from China Glaze boasts a strategic blend of polymers and resins for a worry-free result that won’t chip, fade, or dull. This formula will never get thick or gloopy in the bottle, which will speed up dry time. “When polishing with a quick-dry polish, avoid applying too many coats. It’s actually quicker to remove too thick of an application and start over with a thinner coat,” says Michelle Saunders James, owner and founder of Saunders and James Nail Care and the brand’s salon in Oakland, CA.
Shades: 35 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Finish: Shine, glitter
Best Drugstore: Essie Expressie Quick-Dry Nail Polish
Another long-time drugstore staple, Essie is beloved the world over—the shade “Ballet Slippers” is the only color the Queen of England will wear. Expressie, their quick-dry line, introduces a uniquely shaped, angled brush to make painting faster and easier, even when you’re using your non-dominant hand. “A wide, flat brush will give you an even application with fewer strokes, but a round brush is better if your nail plate is smaller,” says Rebecca Isa, Creative Director at Zoya Nail Polish. Get the best of both worlds with this product.
Shades: 39 | Size: 0.3 fl. oz | Finish: Shine
Best 10-Free: Suite Eleven Nail Lacquer
The founder of Suite Eleven started the line after having to toss almost all her beauty products after she discovered she had several chemical allergies. The result is a fast-drying formula that’s “10-free”—it contains none of the harmful chemicals that exist in more old-school polish formulas. If the smell of nail polish is quick to give you a headache, this purist option might be for you.
Shades: 15 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Finish: Shine
Best Treatment: Orly Breathable Treatment + Color
The only thing better than a no-fuss formula is a polish that makes your nails better while you wear it. Orly’s Breathable Treatment+Color line contains Argan oil and vitamins B5 and C meant to add nutrition and hydration to brittle tips, and advanced oxygen technology keeps application quick but wearability long, according to the brand. Plus, we dare you to name a place or time this beautiful rose gold shade wouldn’t work.
Shades: 18 | Size: 0.6 fl. oz | Finish: Shine, glitter
Best Under 60 Seconds: Nails, Inc. 45 Second Speedy Gloss
Okay, so you’re running late. Really late. Like only-45-seconds-to-do-your-nails late. Impossible? Not anymore. Nails, Inc.’s Speedy Gloss line will get you out the door, fast. The color range is a tightly edited selection of versatile shades that can work everywhere.
Shades: 16 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Shine, glitter
Price isn’t always an indicator of quality, but when it comes to quick-dry polishes, it can be an indicator of how good the formula is. “Price can give you an idea of how quality the pigment and plasticizers (for flexibility) are since they cost more,” says Thompson. These are other components of quick-dry polish to take into consideration.
Best Long-Lasting: JINSoon Nail Polish
JINsoon polishes only need two coats for total color saturation, and the formula includes a built-in UV filter to prevent the pigment from fading or turning yellow. It’s excellent news for on-the-go manicures and choosing a color. “Sometimes it helps, when choosing a color, to wear dark opaques or light sheers for the best coverage and fastest drying times,” says Saunders James.
Shades: 90 | Size: 0.3 fl. oz. | Finish: Shine, glitter
Best Splurge: Butter London Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquer
Courtesy of Khol’s
Yes, this is a mouthful of a name, but hold on. Although this fast-drying option from Butter London is one of the list’s spendier options, it’s also one of the most covetable. Its shock-resistant polymers fight chipping; it has diamond powder for the most brilliant shine and bamboo extract meant to strengthen the nail. Your nails certainly won’t look rushed with this formula.
Shades: 41 | Size: 0.4 fl. oz | Finish: Shine
Best Nudes: Zoya Naked Manicure Perfectors
One of the best methods for a polished mani, when you’re pressed for time, is to go for the slightest whisper of color instead of a bright, bold hue. The Zoya Naked Manicure Perfectors are for just that purpose. They offer a sheer wash of color: enough to hide any discoloration or texture, but not so much that your cuticles are suddenly purple with no time for clean up.
Shades: 1 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Finish: Sheer
Best Non-Toxic: Taupe Coat Nail Polish
The color selection in nail polish products is dominated by reds and pinks. Enter Taupe Coat, a small-batch boutique nail polish line with burnt orange, mint green, and slate blue shades for anyone tired of their tips looking like everyone else’s. “A good quality solvent-based polish will dry dent-free in under five minutes,” says Isa. So, have faith that even the most independent of brands will still meet your time-crunch standards.
Shades: 7 | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Finish: Matte
If buying yet another nail polish will make your vanity burst open, you can opt for a modifier for your existing bottles. Drying spray, like OPI’s RapiDry Spray Nail Polish Dryer ($11), or Drip Dry Lacquer Drying Drops ($14) also from OPI, will help absorb the solvents in nail polish more quickly than they would evaporate on their own. They basically turn any bottle of nail polish into a quick-dry formula.
What to Look For in a Quick-Dry Nail Polish
Nail polish is too much fun to play with to stick with the same tone every time. Whether you prefer classic neutrals and reds and pinks, or trendy pops of colors on your nails, find a quick-drying polish with a wide shade range so you’ll have lots of variety at your fingertips. With many brands hopping on the quick-dry bandwagon, you won’t have to look hard to find an impressive array of stunning shades.
Some quick-dry nail polishes also come with the same built-in benefits as a nail treatment, plus color. Look for formulations that are meant to address nail concerns like weak, brittle nails or ones that include UV protection to address fading. And in the same vein, if you’re conscious of what cosmetics you use, look for companies that omit the harmful chemicals of yesterday’s nail polish. Especially if you’re sensitive to the smell of nail polish, choosing a conscious formulation free of common offenders can provide some relief while you paint.
Not all nail polish brushes were created equal. Choosing a product with an angled brush or one with a larger surface area can make it easier to get a chip-free manicure or pedicure. Take a look at the shape of the brush too, as there are pros and cons to both round and flat brushes. Using the right brush can help you save even more time when polishing your nails.
How do you instantly dry nails?
Aside from using a quick-dry nail polish, an essential step to getting a mani or pedi, stat, there are several tricks many people swear by to dry nails quickly. From dipping your hands or feet into ice water for five minutes to spritzing with hair spray, shortcuts can be used in a pinch when there’s no time for a full dry.
Which nail polish dries the fastest?
Nails, Inc. 45-Second Speedy Gloss. While all the products on this list offer a fast finish, Nails, Inc. polish dries nails in an impressive 45 seconds. Most other quick-dry polishes take about 60 seconds to dry in comparison.
Do quick-dry top coats work?
Yes. Quick-dry top coats work in the same way as regular quick-dry nail polish and can save you time as the last step in your nail care routine. Most brands claim the polish dries in about a minute. OPI, Sally Hansen, and Seche are a few brand mainstays that offer quick-dry top coats for nails.