Nail blogger secrets for pretty nails 5: Nail addiction on the cheap

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How to cite: Wong M. Nail blogger secrets for pretty nails 5: Nail addiction on the cheap. Lab Muffin Beauty Science. March 28, 2014. Accessed May 23, 2024.

I’m not going to lie: I have spent a LOT of money on nail-related items. But probably less than you’d think, from the size of my collection. Being Asian, I take great pride in bargain-hunting – here are some of my favourite tips for being able to afford a polish addiction AND a place to sleep.

More expensive doesn’t mean higher quality

Every brand has duds. That $40 price tag is no guarantee of quality. And conversely, the fact a polish is cheap doesn’t mean it’s poor quality either. The ingredients that go into nail polish – solvent (ethyl and butyl acetate, isopropyl alcohol), nitrocellulose, resins, plasticisers, suspension agents, pigments – aren’t expensive, unlike, say, some skincare products.

(Some pigments like Spectraflair, used for linear holos, can be more expensive, but not so expensive as to necessitate a price over $14 or so. There are also some collector polishes packed with diamonds and such, but if you’re reading this article, you’re probably not in the market for them.)

For common finishes and colours, you can save plenty of money by sticking to budget brands without losing out on quality. Australia’s ulta3 brand retails for $2 a bottle, and while not every shade is perfect, most are excellent. Other good quality commercial brands available in Australia for under $5 a bottle include Sinful Colors, Essence and Savvy.

“OPI” is basically the standardised unit of measurement for nail addicts.

Handmade indie nail polish generally retails for $7-12 a bottle, which isn’t dirt cheap, but still a lot cheaper than the average store-bought OPI (RRP 20 AUD) or Essie (RRP 17 AUD). It’s also guaranteed to be more interesting on your fingertips! Being Australian, I tend to avoid international postage and go for Aussie indie brands – here’s a comprehensive list of links to their stores and stockists. If you “like” an indie brand’s Facebook page or follow them on Instagram, you can also keep track of their sales. Buying in bulk also saves costs – if you can find a few polish fans in your local area, you can split postage costs, and take advantage of sales that happen while you’re unavailable.

Going non-retail

There are also ways of getting your hands on commercial brands, without paying full price, if you’re willing to put in some work. Apart from waiting for sales, you can also explore the world of salon supply stores – while some require proof of professional qualifications, many don’t (you can see some Australian polish stores on this map). Blog sales are also a great way of scoring lightly used polishes for cheap – frequently a blogger will buy a polish, swatch it, realise it doesn’t suit them, then put it up for sale. Discontinued and limited edition polishes frequently show up. Online stores like Cherry Culture and Beauty Joint have some great bargains and hard-to-find brands like China Glaze, and as I mentioned before, indies are excellent quality and value, offer the best customer service and usually undergo more stringent quality control than commercial polishes.

Hello, old friend and harbinger of impending debt.

Some polish brands are unavailable in certain countries, while others have bargain prices or massive sales that are only accessible to certain areas (I’m looking at you, Zoya). In this case it’s handy to have an overseas mule or a swap buddy to pass on the savings. Before you start sending money to strangers though, make sure you’re aware of some sensible precautions to take – groups like the Safe Swap Society are good places to seek advice.

However, there are risks to buying from unauthorised retailers – fake OPI in particular are very common, and getting really difficult to tell from the real deal.

Nail art supplies are also often cheaper if you do some digging, and you can access a greater range – eBay has super cheap nail art tools, beads, foils, decals, glitter and decorations, often with free shipping. Discount online stores Born Pretty and KKCenterHk stock pretty much anything you could possibly need for nails.

MacGyver that shit 

There are heaps of things in the nail world where DIY is just as good, if not better. Some of these:

– Acetone (from the hardware store) + glycerin (from the laxative section of the pharmacy) + water = the perfect combination of gentle and effective polish remover
– PVA glue + water = glitter-friendly PVA base coat
– Tea bag + super glue = magically repaired nail (also inelegantly known as “tea-bagging”)

And most of the cool nail art looks can be achieved with dirt-cheap household products:

– An amazing water spotting effect with alcohol spray and a cup of water
– Crisp lines can be easily achieved with sticky tape
– Kitchen and makeup sponges can be repurposed for gradients
– Cotton buds are great for glitter gradients too 
– Toothpicks and needles are great for swirly drag marble goodness
– You can use a bobby pin or a nail stuck in a pencil for dotting

Not your usual nail haul.

For some amazing DIY nail art ideas, I recommend checking out More Nail Polish – in my humble opinion, Cathy is the queen of inventing DIY nail art.

More money saving tips

Need more polish, but computer (online banking) says no? Here are some extra money-saving tips that might help you:

You don’t need to buy everything all at once. It’s very tempting to just buy everything you “need” when you’re just entering your nail addiction, and tell yourself that it’s for building up a good foundation, but there will always be new polish coming out, new polish to discover. So pace yourself! You can’t own it all.

Join a No Buy! This is where you pledge, with some other recovering addicts, to limit your spending for a set amount of time (usually one month). This way, you’ll have other people to answer to and share in your pain.

Join a swap. This is counterintuitive, since you spending the same amount of money as your swap partner, but if it’s a swap based on your stash list, you’re barred from buying new polish for the duration of the swap just in case you purchase something your partner has picked for you.

Swap polish with local nail addicts. If you’re lucky enough to have found some polishaholics in your area, you can offload some of those tried-and-failed polishes that just didn’t work on your nails and score some new and exciting polishes, without the hassle or postage cost of a blog sale.

Make a stash list. This is a good way of making sure you don’t forget what you own and buy the same polish again. A spreadsheet in Google Drive, for example, can be easily accessed when you’re out shopping.

Start a swatching system. Many polish addicts have an organised system of swatch sticks or wheels, which show what the polishes look like on the nail. This is a great way to weed out similar polishes and can highlight colours you own too many of (for example, I have a coral problem).

Some swatch sticks marked for death

Don’t throw out old polish! Nail polish doesn’t really expire (unless it’s terrible and changes colour over time), and if it’s getting thick and gluggy, you can purchase nail polish thinner to restore the original texture (don’t use nail polish remover to thin your polishes unless you’re certain the ingredients are compatible). Additionally, nail polish can become vintage and sell for megabucks on eBay – if it’s unusual or limited edition, you might get lucky someday.

What’s your best budget-friendly nail tip? Share it in the comments below! 

Nail Blogger Secrets for Pretty Nails
Part 1: Top coat the mother
Part 2: Prep that base
Part 3: Clean-up is your sneaky BFF
Part 4: Glitter isn’t normal polish
Part 5: Nail addiction on the cheap

Skincare Guide

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22 thoughts on “Nail blogger secrets for pretty nails 5: Nail addiction on the cheap”

  1. Awesome post in this awesome series. I have a purple and blue (holo and not) problem. I even keep a spreadsheet, which I thought would help me keep things straight. It does, more or less, unless I don’t check it before ordering. I recently ordered Models Own Southern Lights on sale at llarowe. I discovered when swatching to nail wheel last night I actually now have two bottles of Southern Lights, both from llarowe, and never have had Northern Lights. Oh well!

    • Thanks Arathael! I have a weakness for purple holos as well – they’re just so pretty! My main problem is with cremes though – I own so many dupes, it’s ridiculous. I just can’t resist a smooth-as-butter creme!

  2. Thanks! I have a strict budget of 2 euros per bottle and thanks to living in Berlin, I have lots of cheap possibilities, from sales like Kiko for 1 euro or 1,50, to “normally cheap ones” like Essence (1,55 euro or so) but most of my polishes are around 1 euro or cheaper.

    I have my collection painted on clear plastic strips and always have it in a cheque card size cover in my purse (see in my blog) so I can check all polishes easily with my stash. My “problem zone” is green :o)
    I haven’t got too many bottles I think, estimated less than 200. Well, I wish I had more fingers, but you can paint more things than fingers with polish…:-P

    When I find I lose the overview (not knowing anymore, that I had “a green like that” I’ll hopefully stop buying O:-)

    • My “budget” is no more than 5 bottles a month, which is surprisingly easy now that I’ve stopped checking Instagram so much!

      That portable swatch collection is a really good idea for smaller collections! I wish I did that – I have an overflowing Helmer now, so unfortunately I don’t think that’s an option anymore…

    • Interesting you have a number of bottles for a budget … I’ve just redone my sample stripes… but I guess my collection is just about one helmer drawer and maybe a bit…? About 200.
      I guess ypu would have a book of samples then, not just five strips or so. 😛

  3. I actually indexed all my polishes in Excel a few weeks ago 😀 I don’t know that I’ve added every single polish i’ve bought since then but I think I came close!

  4. Hey fellow chemist here! I’m just getting in the world of DIY-ing everything since you know our measly stipend won’t afford me to go get a nice manicure every week.

    What are your best suggestions for nail polish that stays and won’t chip for someone like us who’s handling acetone on a daily basis (and cries when I take off my gloves and see my polish is ruined ;~; I mean other than wearing 3 pairs of gloves)

  5. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.A fantastic presentation. Very open and informative.You have beautifully presented your thought in this blog post. Treatment for Shopping Addiction

  6. Many entrepreneurs do not think they need a Commercial collections to get their money for them. They believe that delivering several characters and making telephone cellphone calls will gradually get them outcomes.

  7. Question: I know polish does not ‘go bad’ — and yet, what about polishes with clear bases where the formerly-clear base yellows? I admit, I have tossed a couple less-liked polishes that have had this issue, but kept others that I liked more despite not yet bringing myself to use them post-yellowing.

    Is the yellowing just pigment-bleed or something equally innocuous or is it something to look out for?

  8. Michelle, have you ever used fake nails? I’m an incorrigible nail biter and considered putting ‘falsies’ on while the real ones grow. Then I checked out the ingredients on the glue remover and it said cyanide. Erm. Suffice it to say I was less keen on doing the whole thing after that.
    Do you know anything about this matter!
    Thanks – and, once again, great post!

  9. Hi Michelle, I have several old (literally about 5+ years) bottles of nail polish where they are separating into a colourful clear layer at the top with the polish underneath. How do I fix this? They mix back together if I shake it up but the polish is not performing well. I was about to ditch them but you’ve said mail polish basically doesn’t expire! Are my polishes salvageable??

  10. Hi,
    i was looking to see if you had an article on physical addiction to skin care: like can you get addicted to moisturizer, cleanser, certain actives? Can they make your skin lazy?
    I have used pure Volufiline on my breasts for a while now (polyisobutene+active) forgot it for a few days, now my breasts are super dry! Makes me not sure whether to use moisturizer in general. Maybe I will try moisturizing just one side of my face for a while. Anyway, would love an article on this topic. 🙂

    • PS: I read on some sites that the heavier the cream, the more your skin will get dehydrated longterm. So if you have super dry skin, you go for a body butter with lots of occlusive ingredients, get a great result at first, then make it worse longterm! aargh!


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