Nail polish color should do two things: flatter your coloration and look appropriate for the occasion. Manufacturers now produce a wider range of colors, finishes and consistencies than ever before, but only a subset of that wide variety look appropriate for a business setting. For casual events, however, just about anything goes. Neon, glitter and metallic polishes look terrific for a beach vacation or a party.

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Decide on a color family to choose based on where you’ll wear the polish. Conservative office jobs typically mean wearing an unobtrusive pink, peach, mauve or clear. More relaxed business environments might also embrace the reds and neutral metallics. Purples, blues, greens and yellows work in creative occupations and for personal time.

Hold a piece of white paper to the inner surface of your wrist to find the undertones for your skin color. A blue or purple tint to the veins near the surface of your skin means you have cool undertones. Greenish or yellowish hues define your skin’s underlying color as warm.

Narrow your nail polish color selection based on your skin’s undertones. Cool skin tones look best in colors with a hint of blue or with cool undertones, such as cotton candy pink, silver, lilac, fuchsia, rose red and true blue. Warm skin tones go well with peach, melon, bronze, gold, orange, cafe au lait and chocolate.

Decide how light or dark a color you prefer. For office wear, choose nail polish that lies within a few shades of your skin tone; anything goes for casual wear, including dark or black polish on fair-skinned hands and cream or silver polish on dark-skinned hands.

Choose a finish. Creme colors have little to no sparkle and work as well for business as for casual wear, while pearly or frosty formulas look business-like only on the most subdued hues. Keep to traditional metallics–gold, copper, silver and bronze–for office wear, but try the more unusual shades such as green or purple for casual wear. Select glitter polishes for fun, festive events.


  • Lighter nail polish visually lengthens nails, while darker polish appears to shorten them. So consider this optical effect when choosing a color.

  • If you like unusual colors but have a conservative job, wear your favorite shades on your toes; your color can remain hidden at work, but you’ll enjoy the splash of color when you wear sandals or go barefoot.

  • Enhance a clear or translucent glitter polish by painting it over black, white or vividly colored nail polish.