15 Best Iridescent Nail Polish Colors

Iridescent nail polish evokes the magical shifting colors of fire opal and moonstones, the smooth inside of seashells, and shimmering of faerie wings. Let’s get magical with the best iridescent shades of 2021.

See the end of the article for more info on how iridescence works and how to tell it apart from other shimmers like multichrome nail polish or holographic nail polish.

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Shift those colors.

Color shifting nail polish (and makeup) is all the rage right now, but not all color shifting polishes are the same. You've got colors that change with temperature, colors that change in sunlight, holographics, duo-chromes, iridescents, and just plain shiny glitter. Problem is, thanks to marketing, they're often mislabeled.

Iridescent or opalescent nail polish.

The star of the show. Like glitter, iridescence is a result of reflection, but like duo-chrome it shifts between a limited range of colors. It may look rainbowy, but it isn't a true refraction.

The pretty language: Iridescence is like unicorn dreams and mother of pearl. It's the shimmering blue of butterfly wings and the swirling colors of soap bubbles blown into the wind.

The science language: When light hits an iridescent surface, some of the light waves reflect off the surface, but some of the light travels further into the barely translucent surface and then hits something else and reflects off of that.

These beams of light are reflecting off different levels of the polish and the separate wavelengths act in concert to strengthen each other, kind of like if you give someone on a swing a push on every swing, they'll go higher and higher even if you aren't pushing harder.

These magnified waves of light create stronger, more brilliant pigments than normal colors which gives iridescence its radiant sparkle effect that seems to glow.

To make these color pop, even more, make sure you're using a high gloss top coat. Check out my other guide to find the best top coat for you.

Reflecting nail polish.

We all love shiny things. With how fervently I'm about to rave about color-changing nail polish, I don't want to neglect to say that traditional glitter is awesome. Glitter reflects light, kind of like a mirror. Some glitter nail polish is also holographic, duo-chrome, or iridescent.

Mood nail polish.

This is color changing nail polish that shifts color depending on the temperature of your fingers. It's generally a gradient that shifts from one shade to another shade as temperatures rise and fall.

Holographic nail polish.

Be still my heart. Unlike reflective glitter, holo refracts light. An example of this happening naturally would a rainbow. Yes, holographic nail polish creates tiny rainbows on your nails. That's an important distinction because the other color changing polishes have a limited number of colors they can shift to. Polishes must have full rainbows to be holographic.

Duochrome nail polish.

Also called multi-chrome or chameleon, duo-chrome shifts between two to three colors as you view it from different angles. This also works by refraction but in a different way. Small treated flakes suspended in the polish refract light, bending it into a specific color wavelength instead of breaking normal white light into all the colors of the rainbow. Multichrome nail polish is sort of the love child of holo and iridescent.

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