How To Wear Dark Polishes Without Damaging or Discoloring Your Nails—And the Best, Moodiest Shades for Fall

Photo: Getty Images / F.J. Jimenez
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We’re all looking for ways to add a little extra fall flair to our routines now that autumn has officially arrived. One easy way to do so that won’t break the bank (like, say, buying a whole new wardrobe might) is to embrace a dark nail polish color. If you’re thinking there’s no way you could do such—not wanting to stain your nails and all—we’re here to help.

Working with dark nail colors can definitely be challenging for those who aren’t the most practiced in DIY manis. After all, if you don’t properly prep your nails, you can stain them, and if you veer the slightest bit outside the lines, it’s much more apparent than if you were to use a pale or neutral color. Don’t let that discourage you, though. You can do a few things to make your dark and moody nails look like a pro's work. Ahead, find not only nail-safe dark polishes, but tricks that'll keep nails healthy and bright no matter how many times you paint 'em black or dark cherry red.

To kick things off, prep your nails.

"Go back to the basics," says Morgan Haile, Marketing and Morgan Taylor spokesperson. "Before applying your desired color, prep your nails with light grit buffer, apply Gelish Ph Bond ($12) to the natural nail, and apply a base coat. Buffing will help even out the nail surface. Ph Bond dehydrates the nail’s surface so extra oils are eliminated. Base Coat not only helps your manicure last longer, but it protects the natural nail pigment from the nail polish." The Orly Bonder Base Coat ($9) is also a shopper-favorite.

You can also try the FAMILIFE Professional Manicure Kit ($30), which has everything you need to clean and trim nails, push back cuticles, and more.

Then, after applying your nail color, finish your mani with a top coat and quick-dry drops to speed up the process. The Olive & June Super Glossy Top Coat, $9, and Dry Drops, $10, are great for fast, glossy shine. Another favorite (that a lot of salons use) is Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat ($7).

Don't over-apply.

Applying too many layers can lead to uneven coating and difficulty removing (which can damage the nail). "Less is more, when applying dark shades use two thin coats. Applying excess coats can lead to tougher removal time," Haile tells us.

Lastly? When you're removing the polish, take your time.

It's better to give your nails a soak when removing polishes, especially dark polishes. "We are all guilty of quickly wiping off our polish. When it comes to dark colors, soak with a lint-free nail wipe/cotton ball or wrap nails with a cotton ball in foil," Haile says, and suggests Gelish Wrap It Off ($24), a foil remover system that makes polish removing so much more seamless. "Soak for a couple of minutes. This will help ensure the remover is contacting the nail polish, and helps avoid any additional cleaning," Haile adds.

Now that you're prepared, it's time to shop for the best dark polishes that are way less likely to leave your nails in a bad place.

The best dark nail polishes that won't damage your nails this fall

jin soon
JINsoon Absolute Black — $18.00

If you’re looking for a classic black, JINsoon has you covered. The applicator brush is extremely easy to use, and the color is so opaque, you can cover the entire nail with a single coat! The formula is super smooth, and long-lasting. JINsoon is our senior commerce editor’s absolute favorite polish brand—it’s on the pricier side, but worth every penny (plus, the color options are divine, including this confetti-style shade that the internet can’t get over).

Sally Hansen Insta-dri Nail Polish in the Shade ‘Go Garnet’ — $6.00

Dark oxblood-red nail polish is a seasonal staple come autumn, so this fast-drying option from Sally Hansen is a shoo-in. Best of all, the richly-pigmented polish is designed to offer optimal color payoff in just one coat, so it makes the DIY mani process especially speedy.

Chanel Le Vernis Longwear Nail Colour in the Shade ‘941 Désir’ — $30.00

Love the idea of a rich oxblood manicure, but prefer a slightly earthier tone? Chanel’s new 941 Désir shade has a deep brown undertone, making this polish your perfect choice. The color isn’t the only awe-worthy aspect of this nail lacquer, though. The brush has a wide, squared design that makes painting each nail in a single stroke (two at most) easier than ever.

Essie Nail Lacquer in the Shade ‘Force of Nature’ — $10.00

Switching gears a bit here: Green is one of the most popular colors of 2022 and come fall, you’ll want to reach for deep, mossy-hues. If you’re hoping for your mani to pop, this gorgeous new forest green hue is a great option. It offers just enough moody vibes without being ultra-dark.

olive and june HJ
Olive & June Nail Polish in the Shade ‘HJ — $9.00

If you’re craving an eggplant-inspired nail look sans shimmer, Olive & June’s HJ nail polish is a beautiful choice. The richly pigmented polish doesn’t only look great thanks to its hue, though. The fact that it’s renowned for staying chip-free for a week or more makes it top-notch.

(Psst: If you love fall polish colors but are hoping for something a little less dark and moody, be sure to check out Olive & June’s new cafe-inspired autumn collection.)

Smith & Cult Nail Polish in the Shade ‘Goodnight Ashbury’ — $18.00

If the darker, the better in your book, look no further than this nearly-black forest green polish from Smith & Cult. As one of the brand’s new fall 2022 shades, it’s an obvious choice for the coming months.

ILNP Nail Polish in the Shade ‘Eclipse’

Love autumn’s earthy tones, but still want to have fun with shimmer and metallics? The ILNP Eclipse Nail Polish will make you swoon. The graphite base is infused with holographic rainbow pigment that makes for one seriously magical (but totally moody) mani.

J.Hannah Nail Polish in the Shade ‘Ikebana’ — $22.00

Not all moody nail polishes have to be extra dark. Case in point: This grayish-plum shade that’s perfect for fall. It’s self-described as a moody haze, and we couldn’t agree more.

OPI Long Lasting Nail Polish in the Shade ‘Midnight Mantra’ — $3.00

Blue might seem like more of a wintry color, but this sultry navy hue will leave you reaching for it all fall. Once dry, it has almost a dark gray allure. It all depends on the light.

Hermès Beauty Les Mains Hermès Nail Enamel in the Shade ‘Gris Etain Métal’ — $45.00

Gray is a perfectly appropriate nail color for autumn, as well. Rather than reaching for any boring charcoal shade, though, consider this shimmer graphite option from Hermès Beauty. It’s a beautiful choice—both on the nails and in the bottle (not to mention the mini iconic Hermès box it comes in).

Dior Vernis in the Shade ‘111 Night’ — $28.00

This reddish, brownish, blackish polish is one of Dior’s newest creations and it’s bound to be a big hit this fall. Point blank: It’s a versatile shade that’s hard to describe and easy to ogle over.

Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Color in the Shade ‘Love Yourself’ — $20.00

Part purple, part oxblood, this pretty plum nail polish is one of Deborah Lippmann’s best-sellers. While it’s designed to create the look of a gel mani, this polish doesn’t require any UV curing to make it look its best or last its longest.

Dear Sundays Nail Polish in the Shade ‘No. 42’ — $18.00

Last but not least, we have a traditional black polish that can be worn on its own, or layered beneath shimmer or glitter polish. In either case, it’s sure to make your mani stand out.

Londontown — $16.00

Whether you’re looking for the perfect polish to accompany your Halloween costume or you simply love the color purple, Londontown’s Black Thorn nail polish is a fan favorite. The light-reflecting purple polish has the finest-milled glitter, as well as a perfectly-shaped brush for first-time painters and pros alike.

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Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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