When you’re looking for your manicure to really pop, neon nails are about as bright as polish can get it. They’re attention-getting, unique, and perfect for summer.
Why are neon colors so much brighter?
Most colors are produced by the normal rainbow spectrum found in the visible light range but neon, also called fluorescent, colors use a little something extra.
A lemon looks yellow because it absorbs all the wavelengths of visible and invisible light other than yellow so what you see is yellow reflected back at you.
A fluorescent yellow highlighter looks so bright because it absorbs all visible light except for yellow, just like the lemon, but it also contains special molecules that absorb invisible light and release it as bursts of visible light. Neon colors look like they are glowing because they are–they appear to create visible light out of nothing.
Why do neon nails dry matte?
Most neon nail polish has a matte finish because the formula is so intensely jam-packed with pigment that it can’t dry as evenly or smoothly as normal colors, giving it a dimpled, matte texture. Like I talk about in my Matte Top Coats article, because of its structure, matte polishes are more prone to chipping.
This makes protecting most of your neon nail polish with a quality top coat that much more important. See my guide to the Best Top Coats for glossy options.
Now let’s look at some ultra bright neon polish.
1. Race Against Slime by KBShimmer
Starting off strong we have Race Against Slime, an intense neon green by KBShimmer. This dayglow color will definitely attract attention with its intense pigmentation and creamy coverage.
It’s a true lime green that doesn’t stray off into chartreuse in order to achieve its neon color. It reminds me of Nickelodeon slime from late 1990’s kid’s shows and Ghostbuster’s Slimer.
KBShimmer claims that this one is opaque in two to three coats without needing a white base and as skeptical as I was, this is completely true. The creme formula is very easy to work with and won’t pool on you.
It will dry patchy on that first layer but depending on how thick your layers are you can get away with two to three coats for full opacity. Being a neon, this will dry more matte than most so you’ll want a good glossy top coat. For a matte finish, this has impressive staying power, like all KBShimmer lacquers.
2. Cliff Notes by Color Club
Cliff Notes is a matte highlighter yellow shade from Color Club’s Pop Chalk Collection. It has a chalkboard finish that pulls the bright yellow toward the pastel side of the spectrum but a glossy top coat brings out the neon.
The formula is slightly thin and streaky on the first and second coat, but is opaque on the third without the need for a white base coat. Like all Color Club polishes, Cliff Notes is cruelty-free and made in America.
3. Funfetti by Polish Me Silly
For a different take on neon, check out Funfetti by the indie nail polish maker Polish Me Silly. It’s a clear base with polka dot, star-shaped, and bar glitter in six different bright shades.
The glitter pieces themselves are slightly sheer so the effect they have is slightly different depending on the base color you put them over. They look their brightest over light colors.
When these sheer glitters are placed over white, the brightness of the white comes through giving the colors that dayglow, neon look. Funfetti is also black light reactive so this polish is extra fun if you’re heading out to a club. This is a fun party look.
If the stars and bar glitter aren’t your thing, Polish Me Silly also makes a neon polka dot lacquer called Clowning Around.
4. Misbehaving by ILNP
For something a little bit different, Misbehaving is a neon holographic jelly polish. It’s this juicy cool neon pink that reminds me of summer taffy.
As a jelly, it’s transparent so even with three layers, it will still be a little sheer. It’s supposed to be and that allows the sun to shine through and hit all the holographic flakies and all the layers creating an intense sparkle.
A lot of people shy away from polishes that don’t have full coverage or need more coats, but I have some ILNP jellies and they’re fast drying, lightweight, and totally worth it. Plus if you really dislike seeing a hint of nail line through your polish, you can use a white base like you would other neons.
The tiny flakies create a scattered holographic effect that twinkle like sunlight on water. The best part about ILNP’s flakie glitter is that it’s a breeze to remove, unlike normal glitter which puts up a fight.
Crystal at Seriously Lacqueing has great in-depth review of this Summer Jellies collection with awesome macro-shots of swatches of each color.
5. Hang-Ten Toes by China Glaze
This neon popsicle pink is perfect for summer. Hang-Ten Toes really pops with a tropical flamingo pink that stands out but is a little more widely wearable than a more extreme neon yellow.
The formula is a little shear so you’re going to need two to three coats for good opacity. The finish is slightly matte so it will need a top coat for the glossy look.
Like my experience with many China Glaze colors, this isn’t the longest lasting polish so that’s another reason you absolutely don’t want to forget your top coat because that’s what’s going to determine how long your manicure can last before chipping.
6. Glowstick by Orly
Glowstick is a true neon lemon yellow that will look like you took a highlighter to your fingernails. Like most dayglow yellows, it’s fairly sheer.
This is a neon that looks best when put painted over a white creme base. On top of your favorite white nail polish, Glowstick can look a little streaky on the first coat, depending on your application, but with two coats you’ll have that smooth yellow glow you’re looking for.
It’s very fast drying and dries to a chalkboard matte finish. I like that the polish itself has UV inhibitors in it to prevent the color from dulling in the sun because this is definitely a color you’re going to want to wear out in the summer sun.
7. Right On by Color Club
This one is unique among the other neon shades on the list because it has an iridescent shimmer on top of its bright neon coloring. Right On is a bright and fresh pinky purple with intense pigmentation.
It has a much better formula than most neon lacquers making it easier to work with and opaque in two coats. It dries to a semi-matte finish and when you add your top coat, the purple-blue iridescent shimmer is revealed.
Right On is three free and thankfully chip-resistant for a neon polish.
8. Please Don’t Glow Girl by KBShimmer
If you’ve been searching for a great traffic-cone orange nail polish, check out Please Don’t Glow Girl by KBShimmer. This is a creamy true orange that doesn’t rely on yellow for its brightness. The formula is nice–a little thin and sheer for regular polish but much thicker than most neon colors.
You don’t need to layer this one over a white base and it’s opaque in two to three coats depending your preference. It’s not streaky or patchy at all. It dries matte so you’ll need that top coat. Like all KBShimmer lacquers, Please Don’t Glow Girl is three free and long-lasting.
9. Neon Rosebub by ILNP
The only thing better than one bright neon color is several bright neon colors. With this multi-chrome from the idie brand ILNP, your bright neon fuchsia nails will shift to bright yellow, green, and aqua simply my moving your hand in the light.
Neon Rosebud is a clear base with chrome flakies which have the benefit of being much easier to remove than traditional glitter particles. These types of flakies look best over black but can be worn as a topper for any color or layered for more opacity.
ILNP is known for their high flakie loads so even just one coat will give you a great effect. I love that ILNP is cruelty-free and I’ve found their polishes to be very long-lasting.
10. Cana by Zoya
Another super juicy, summery shade, Cana is a perfect poolside pink. While not streaky or too thin, it is sheer so you’ll want two to three coats for full opacity.
You can get away with not using a white base color but the color pops a lot brighter if you layer Cana over a white creme polish. That also means you have some options for what shade of pink you’re in the mood for which is nice.
It’s slightly crelly so you will want the full two to three coats of Cana even over the white. Here’s a great swatch video from YouTube that watches Cana over bare nails and over white so you can compare.
11. Neon Heat by Orly
Finally, one more creamy hot pink with Neon Heat from Orly. This is another perfect summer pink with a raspberry sorbet tone to it. The formula is great although it does go on a little streaky on the first coat.
It’s opaque in two to three coats and doesn’t need a white polish base underneath. Like all fluorescents, this one will dry matte and needs that top coat to really shine.
Neon Heat has the benefit of vitamins A, E, and B5 in the formula to strengthen and nourish your nails.
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