Nail Polish Lingo Dictionary

3-Stroke Method: a method of applying polish where only 3 brushstrokes are used.

3-Free: a polish that does not contain Toulene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) & Formaldehyde in its ingredients.

4-Free: a polish that does not contain Toulene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde and Camphor.

5-Free: a polish that does not contain Toulene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde, Camphor and Formaldehyde Resin.

Blog Sale: a sale set up by someone who runs a blog, where they sell previously owned new or lightly used items.

Clean-Up: the act of using a makeup brush, art brush or nail art brush to clean the edges around your polished nail, creating a crisp, clean line.

Core: a polish or collection that is part of a brand’s permanent line and therefore not at risk of being discontinued.

Crackle (aka Shatter): a type of polish that you apply on top of another that dries quickly and shatters as it dries, creating a cracked finish.  (Example:  The base in this pic is gold, the crackle is green.)

Crelly: a type of formula that is similar to a creme (in opacity) but is squishy and sometimes a bit sheer on the first coat.  It is buildable.  (Example)

Crelly-Shimmer: a polish with a crelly formula with a fine ribbon of shimmer running throughout.

Creme: a creamy, opaque polish with a glossy finish.  Usually opaque in 1-2 coats.  (Example)

Cruelty Free: products that are not tested on animals. (Click HERE for a list of beauty companies that do and do not test on animals.)

Decanta small (mini) sized bottle filled with polish from a full sized bottle.  Usually done to share a polish with someone who might not otherwise be able to own it.

Destash: a sale set up by someone who doesn’t have a blog, where they sell previously owned new or lightly used items.

DISO: an acronym for Desperately In Search Of.  Used in polish sale groups, forums, etc. when a person is looking for a certain item and is usually willing to go to great lengths to obtain it.  Example: “DISO Chanel Holographic!  I’ve been looking for it for so long!”

Double Stamping: a nail art technique using the regular nail art stamping method but layering 2 designs on top of one another.

Dry Brush: A nail art technique where you wipe off most of the polish on the brush and then lightly drag it over the top of the nail to create a dry, cracked, distressed and/or weathered look. (Example)

Dry Marble:   A nail art technique where polish is haphazardly blobbed onto the nail and then smudged with a piece of plastic to emulate the look of marbled stone.  (Example)

Duochrome A polish that shifts between two colors depending on the angle and lighting.

Dupe:   An exact copy of an original polish recreated by a different brand.  Example:  Revlon “Whimsical” is a dupe of Deborah Lippmann “Glitter In The Air.

Finish:  Having a particular texture or appearance when the polish is dry.  Example: “This polish has a glossy finish.”

Fishing:  The act of putting in a lot of effort to get glitter from a nail polish onto the brush.  Sometimes requiring tools (like a straightened paperclip) to mix up the polish and get at the glitters. Example: “It required a lot of fishing to get those big glitters on my nails.”

Flakes/Flakies:  Small sized flecked glitters that come in a variety of colors and are not uniform in shape.

Foil:   A type of finish that has high shine and a metallic base with very fine particles which creates a sparkly but smooth, finish.

Foil Method:   A technique used to remove glitter or gel nail polish.  Using a cotton ball/cotton pad and pure acetone, place the cotton ball/pad on the nail, then wrap foil around it and leave it sitting for 5-10 minutes.  Glitter or gel polish should slide right off.  (Tutorial).

Formula:   How the polish applies.  Example:  “The formula was not very good.  It was sticky and hard to use.”

Franken:   When multiple pre-made polishes are used to create one personalized color.  May also include solvent resistant glitter, spectraflair, etc.

Frankener:   A person who creates “Frankens”.

Frankening:   The act of creating a “Franken”

Free Edge: The very tip of your nail when it goes beyond the tip of your finger. The underside of the nail is usually visible.  (Diagram)

Frost:   A type of finish that has a frosted appearance.  This style of polish was especially popular in the 80’s/90’s.  (Example)

Glitter:   A type of polish that has glitter in it.  (Example) (Example)

Gradient:   A form of nail art that can be defined similarly to a linear color gradient in computer graphics: a linear color gradient is specified by two points with a color at each point and blending seamlessly toward the center.  To create this look on nails, you use 2 (or more polishes)  with one color toward the tip and another color toward the cuticle and the colors blend together in the middle of the nail.  Similar to the way a sunset might look when pink fades to orange.  You can find a great explanation and example HERE. (Often confused with or considered interchangeable with Ombre Nails.)

Here is an example using multiple polishes.

Here is an example using 3 polishes.

Here is an example using 2 polishes.

Half Moon Manicure:   A form of nail art where nails are painted a base color then taped off using a circular piece of tape at the moon or lunula of your nail.  Then painted with a different color to create the look of a half moon. (Tutorial HERE.)

Haul:   Getting a large amount of items all at once.

Helmer:   Popular amongst the nail polish community for being a convenient and organized way to store nail polish, a Helmer is a small set of drawers, similar to a file cabinet and can store upwards of 500 polishes.

Hidden Shimmer:  A type of shimmer that is apparent in the bottle but mostly or completely disappears when it dries on the nail. (Example)

Holo:   Short for holographic.  Holo(graphic) polishes have very fine microshimmer-like material (Spectraflair) that gives off a rainbow-like effect when viewed at different angles and in different lighting.  Holo can be either linear or scattered.

HTF:   Stands for Hard To Find.  These are polishes that are usually discontinued or limited edition and in high demand.  Therefore sometimes costing a lot of money (in eBay or swap groups.) Example: “OPI DS Glamour for sale. HTF.”

Hungry Glitter: A glitter polish that seems to suck up the topcoat, therefore usually requiring multiple layers of topcoat to get a smooth finish.

Indie or Indie Polish:   A handmade/hand-mixed polish usually sold by the creators themselves on websites such as Etsy, Big Cartel, etc.  (There are also 3rd party websites that sell polishes on behalf of the creator such as,, etc.)

ISO:   Stands for In Search Of.  Used in polish sale groups, forums, etc. when a person is looking for a certain item.  Example: “ISO Lynnderella Liquid Valentine.”

Jelly: A type of finish that has a squishy appearance and sheer application.  (Example)

Jelly Sandwich: A technique where you layer jelly polish, a glitter polish and then another coat of the jelly polish on top.  (Example)

Latex (Latex Barrier, Liquid Latex, Liquid Palisade, Latex Tape, Poli Peel, etc.): A product (sold by many different brands or you can make your own) that is painted around the nail bed to protect the skin while creating nail art that is easily peeled off when finished.

Lemming:   Per Urban Dictionary: “A lemming refers to a purchase/wished-for-item which results from reading an enthusiastic post about a new fabulous product. Overcome by compulsion, readers follow like lemmings diving off a cliff.”  Can be a noun or verb.  Examples: “That polish is one of my biggest lemmings!” or “I am totally lemming the new OPI Collection after reading her blog post!”

Linear Holographic:   When a polish has smaller particles creating a strong holographic effect. (HERE is an excellent post explaining how holographic polishes work!  And HERE is a great post showing the difference between the different holo effects.)

Manicure/Mani: a cosmetic treatment of the hands involving cutting, shaping, and often painting of the nails, removal of the cuticles, and softening of the skin.

Mani Shot/Mani Bomb: Similar to a bath bomb but in a smaller size, it’s a concoction that, when placed in water, fizzes and bubbles.  It’s used to moisturize and soothe hands and/or feet.

Matte:  A type of finish this results in dull, non-shiny look.

Matte Top Coat:  A top coat (various brands make matte top coats) that can go over any polish to give it a matte finish.

Mainstream:   A polish made by a large company such as Revlon, OPI, China Glaze, etc.  Usually sold in drug and/or department stores and many online retailers. 

Melmer:   A smaller, particle board version of a Helmer.  Found at Michael’s Craft Store.

Metallic:   A type of finish that is high in shine and mirror-like.  Due to it’s formula, it can sometimes show brush-strokes or nail imperfections.  (Example)

Multichrome:   A polish that shifts between multiple colors depending on the angle and lighting.  (Example)

Nail Buddy (aka Polish Buddy, Polish Pal or Swap Buddy):   A friend or acquaintance in the nail polish community who sends you polishes and/or other items (often times these are items that you can not get in your area) in exchange for payment.  Or a friend or acquaintance in the nail polish community with whom you swap items with.  (Also See: “Swap”)

Nail Mail: Can be one of three things: 1) when you receive nail polish in the mail that you may have ordered online or through a blog sale; 2) When you and a friend (or nail buddy) swap polishes, nail supplies and/or treats and exchange them in the mail; 3)  When you pay a friend or nail buddy to buy polishes for you that they send to you in the mail.  Example:  “I can’t wait to get home, I’m expecting nail mail [from Jane]!”

No-Buy:  An allotted amount of time picked out by an individual, during which they will not buy any nail polish.  Example: “I can’t get the new collection because I’m on a no-buy.”

NOTD: Stands for Nails Of The Day.  Example:  “My NOTD are KBShimmer Hex Appeal!”

NP:  Stands for Nail Polish.

Ombre:  A look created by using 5 polishes in the same color family but just “one-off” from each other.  Each nail is painted a different color from lightest to darkest to create a gradual color change.  (Often confused with or considered interchangeable with Gradient Nails.) (Example)

Pedicure/Pedi: a cosmetic treatment of the feet and toenails involving cutting, often painting of the nails, and softening of the skin.

Peel-Off Basecoat:  A type of basecoat, usually used under hard to remove glitter polishes that peels off the nail without damaging the nail bed.  These are either store bought (OPI and essence make one) or made at home.  See below for a picture tutorial.

DIY Peel-Off Basecoat

Click HERE for detailed instructions.

Pond Manicure: A nail art technique where a jelly nail polish and nail art is overlayed multiple times creating depth and dimension to the overall look.

Reverse Stamping: A nail art technique using the basics of stamping but “coloring-in” the underside of the stamped design before placing on the nail.  (Tutorial HERE)

Ruffian:   A manicure style where nails are painted one color and then painted a different color on top but with a gap between the cuticle and nail walls and the second polish to show the polish underneath in a crescent shape.  (Tutorial HERE.)

Saran Wrap Technique (aka “Glad Wrap Techinique” or “Shrink Wrap Technique”):   A form of nail art  that creates a two-tone marble like design  using saran wrap (not to be confused with water marbling.)  There are 2 techniques used to create this look.

1)  Paint your nails as you normally would and allow it to dry, then paint a different color on top and using a scrunched up ball of saran wrap, lightly dab the top layer of polish while it’s still wet.

2)  Paint your nails as you normally would and allow it to dry, then take a scrunched up ball of saran wrap and brush some polish on it.  Then, touch the saran wrap to the nail.

Both methods allow for the color underneath to show through.  Top it off with a top coat to even out the look.  You can find a good tutorial for this technique HERE

Satin: A type of finish that give the polish a not shiny but not entirely matte finish.

Scattered Holographic:   A polish that has larger and less dense holographic particles.  Often appearing to look more like a shimmer polish.  (HERE is an excellent post explaining how holographic polishes work!  And HERE is a great post showing the difference between the different holo effects.)

Scraper: a product made of thin, flat plastic that is used to scrape the excess polish off of a stamping plate while doing stamping nail art.  It could be something as simple as an old gift card or credit card, or a piece of plastic specifically designed for this.

Shattered Glass: a nail art technique using iridescent cellophane wrapping cut in small pieces and laid on the nail to create a “shattered glass” effect. (Tutorial HERE)

Sheer:   A type of finish that is intended to be translucent when applied.  Some Sheers can be built up to opacity after 3 or more coats but they are meant to be worn transparent.  (Example

Shimmer:   A type of finish with shimmer, usually in a colored base.  (Example)

Shrinkage:   Something that happens to a new manicure after a topcoat is applied.  The polish underneath shrinks away from the tips (and/or cuticles) of the nails making it look like there is obvious wear/tip wear.  A common problem for many people when using Seche Vite topcoat.

ShredsMedium to large size shredded glitters that come in a variety of colors and are not uniform in shape.

Skittle: A manicure where there is a different color on each nail.

Skittlette: A manicure where there is a variety of different colors and designs on each nail.

Spectraflair:   From Wikipedia:  “A specialized diffractive colorant for automotive and industrial coatings that show multiple rainbow colors as the viewing angle changes. This pigment is based on microscopic aluminum flakes layered with glass and inorganic pigments. The combination of SpectraFlair’s rainbow-like color, aluminum core, and fine particle size creates an iridescent, liquid silver metallic appearance.”  Spectaflair is often used by indie makers or frankeners to create linear or scattered holographic polishes.

Spun Sugar:  A nail art technique where semi-dried nail polish is strung over the tops of your nails.  Similar to the spun sugar technique used in baking.  (Example)

Stamper:   A nail art tool used to transfer stamping designs, usually with a silicone top/head that is fitted in a metal of plastic handle.

Creative Shop Space Colletion Stamper Review | Peachy Polish

Stamping: A nail art technique using stamping polish and stamping plates (see definitions below), a scraper and a stamper (see definitions above) where a design is transferred from the plate to the stamper and then from the stamper to the nail. (Example)

Stamping Marble: a nail art technique using regular polishes blobbed onto a stamper and then dabbed onto the nail to create a marbled effect.  (Tutorial HERE)

Stamping Plates: Metal plates with designs etched into them that are used for stamping nail art.  There are many different brands that make them and they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs.

Stamping Polish: Nail polish that is very opaque and thicker than regular polish and is used for stamping nail art.  They are generally only ideal for stamping and not for painting your nails.  There are many different brands that make stamping polish and it comes in many colors and finishes.

Stash:   A person’s personal collection of nail polish.

Striping TapeVery thin, colored tape.  Used for nail art or to create precise lines when creating nail art.

Swap:   When you and a friend (or nail buddy) swap polishes, nail supplies and/or treats.  (Also see “Nail Mail.”)

Swaplifter:  A person who makes a deal with another person to swap nail polish or goods but they never hold up their end of the deal.  Example: “I sent the polishes to her but it turns out she is a swaplifter because I never got polishes from her!”

Swatch:   When a polish is applied to one or more nails (or on a swatch wheel) for a brief period of time.  Usually done in order to photograph it for a blog post.

Swatch Stick:   A plastic stick with a fake nail attached to it.  Used to swatch polish or practice nail art.

Swatch Wheel (aka Nail Wheel):   A plastic circle with multiple fake nails attached to it.  Used to swatch polish or practice nail art.

Texture:   A type of finish that purposely has a gritty, bumpy, lumpy and/or other textured appearance.  The texture can feel like anything from leather to rough sandpaper.

Thermal: A type of nail polish that changes color when warm or cold.

Tip Wear: When the nail polish rubs off of the tips of your nails from every day wear and tear.

Undies: A polish you would wear underneath another polish.  Usually used under a glitter polish that has a clear base or a polish that is too sheer to be worn alone.

Untried(s):  Polish(es) that you have purchased but remain unused.  Example:  “I got that collection over a month ago and it’s still in my untrieds.”

VHTF:  Stands for Very Hard To Find.  Example:  “Enchanted Polish Marge’s Blue Beehive is VHTF.”

VNL: Stands for Visible Nail Line. When you wear a polish (often sheers or jellies) and you can see the white (tip/free edge) of your nail through the polish.

Watercolor:  A type of nail art where a small blot of polish is put on the nail, then, while still wet, a drop of acetone is put on top to spread the polish out in a watercolor effect.  (Example)

Water Decals/Waterslide Decals: a nail art product. A design is printed on a special kind of material and placed against a paper backing.  You soak it in water and place the decal on your nail.  (Tutorial HERE)

Waterfall:  A type of nail are where thin stripes are painted starting at the base of the nail and fad out toward (but not at) the tips of the nails to create the resemblance of a waterfall.  (Example)

Watermarble:  A type of nail art where drops of polish are added to water and swirled.  You then place your nail in (one at a time) for a marbled effect.  (Example)

Wrap Your Tips:  The acting of brushing polish over the tips of your nails.  There are different takes on doing this but here is one and here is another.

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