Mega Comparison: Nail Appliques

I am huge fan of stickers. When I was child, sticker-related bribery was the only reason I didn’t throw up on the dentist. Stickers make everything easier, from mailing packages to informing the people driving behind you who you voted for in 2004. One of the many ways that stickers make my life better is by easily facilitating adorable nail art.

If you are like me, nail art can pose a significant challenge. My carefully doodled-on nails usually end up too unattractive to wear, but not so absurdly ugly that it warrants being photographed for posterity.ย I am also kind of terrible at waiting for nail polish to dry. A few nights ago I painted my nails while on the toilet because I have terrible decision-making skills, and I ended up trapped. Even when I think that shit is dry as a British standup comedian, I end up trying to casually pick up my guinea pigs and find my fingernails with deep gashes of polish-less-ness.

That’s where nail stickers come in. I have been a dutiful devotee of Sally Hansen Salon Effects for years now.ย Sally Hansen Salon Effects are stickers made of nail polish that come with a variety of adorable patterns that you can stick on your nail to pretend that you are talented.

Nothing to see here. Just a TOTALLY normal, not at all weird and obsessive, collection of Sally Hansen Salon Effects.

All you need to do is pick out a strip that vaguely matches your nail, stick it on, bend it over the edge of your nail and sort of rip it off, and then cut your nails because you probably did that last step wrong. The strips effectively double up, so you can easily get two applications out of a single box. In addition, I like to coat it with a layer of my Seche Vite top coat to ensure maximum staying power. (Even I can handle sitting through one coat of Seche Vite drying.) From then on, it acts like nail polish… except that it stays way longer. Indeed, I have had to remove Sally Hansen nail polish strips not because of chips, but because I got bored of the design, or because my nails had grown so much that the whole shebang looked awkward.

Unfortunately, as much as I love Sally Hansen, you can only look at the same patterns over and over again before you decide that really, you’d like to try a new pattern, please. Thus, my experiment began. Did any of the competing brands measure up to my tried-and-true favorite? Ultimately, I tested nine brands, including Sally Hansen. (Reader, if you doubt my dedication to your beauty-related knowledge, please consider that I have been dutifully working on this comparison since the middle of January.)

Individual reviews for each of the brands that I tried follow in chronological order, but summary data is available at the end of this post. I should note that I operationally defined “no longer wearable” as five small chips or chips that were large enough that my nails looked like shit. Also, all numbers are with a coat of Seche Vite, except for the two brands that were incompatible with a topcoat.

Brand #1: Loreal
Style: The Artsy Muse
Date Applied: January 10th
Date of First Chip: January 11th
Date Until No Longer Wearable: January 16th
Price: $7.49
Real Nail Polish?: No.
Were two applications per unit possible?: ย No.
Impressions: Unfortunately, these were a huge disappointment. Nail appliques that are made of real nail polish are pretty easy to smooth out and apply adequately. These were too stiff tear off my nail, making them a pain to apply. Additionally, because the stickers on these strips were way too big, I had to adjust their size, which was only really possible by cutting them with scissors. The whole thing was a mess… and the final product wasn’t even attractive! It looked weird and wrinkly! Then, when I went to apply my topcoat, the stickers shriveled like raisins, meaning I needed to reapply some of the ones I had ruined.
The fact that they chipped after a single day was also hardly a point in their favor. I would NEVER re-buy these. I likely won’t even use the extra strips… right now they are serving as a perfectly functional bookmark.
Color availability: Overall, there are very few designs of these nail appliques. Although some of them are cute, they pretty much all seem to be limited edition, meaning that even if you fall in love, your choices my be difficult to find.

Brand #2: China Glaze

Style: Cherry Blossoms
Date Applied: January 16th
Date of First Chip: January 21st
Date Until No Longer Wearable: January 22nd
Price: $6.99
Real Nail Polish?: Yes.

Were two applications per unit possible?: Yes.

Impressions: These ones were also a bit too difficult to rip, making them a challenge to apply. However, the lasting power was totally adequate and the final product was acceptable. I bought three different packs of these, and I will use them all up, but I probably won’t re-buy them unless I find a pattern that I can’t live without.
Color availability: This is another brand with relatively limited design options. A lot of them are cute, though, in a sort of “clip art” kind of way.
Brand #3: Sally Hansen
Style: Antique Chic
Date Applied: January 27th
Date of First Chip: February 6th
Date Until No Longer Wearable: February 13th
Price: $9.00
Real Nail Polish?: Yes.

Were two applications per unit possible?: Yes.

Impressions: These have always served me really well. The quality is consistent, they last forever, and they are a breeze to apply.
Color availability: There are buttloads of designs. Furthermore, Sally Hansen does a good job constantly introducing new options. For example, their limited edition collection with Prabal Gurung (the source of Antique Chic) was truly divine. That being said, a fair number of their designs are either juvenile or just plain tacky.
Brand #4: OPI
Style: Parisian
Date Applied: February 17th
Date of First Chip: February 22nd
Date Until No Longer Wearable: February 27th
Price: $12.99
Real Nail Polish?: Yes.

Were two applications per unit possible?: Yes.

Impressions: After the China Glaze disappointment, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for these. To my surprise, they turned out to be great! They were even easier to apply than Sally Hansen and they looked gorgeous. They also lasted admirably. I would definitely re-buy these.
Color availability: OPI has a small but decent selection of nail appliques. The James Bond tie-ins are particularly snazzy.
Brand #5: Sephora
Style: Chinese Blossom
Date Applied: March 3rd
Date of First Chip: March 6th
Date Until No Longer Wearable: March 6th
Price: $12.00
Real Nail Polish?: Yes.

Were two applications per unit possible?: Yes.

Impressions: A bunch of these strips were the same size, and it was a size that didn’t match any of my nails. Furthermore, they ripped far too easily, tearing apart like tissue paper. To my irritation, I even accidentally ripped some of them in half while trying to apply them. The opportunity to feel like the Incredible Hulk did not make up for the wasted product.
They also didn’t last long. They weren’t the worst ones I tried, but I would not re-buy them.
Color availability: There is relatively low design availability. One nice thing, though is that when they do introduce new designs, the old ones go on sale.
Brand #6: Essie
Style: Over the Moon
Date Applied: March 19th
Date of First Chip: March 23rd
Date Until No Longer Wearable: March 23rd
Price: $10.25
Real Nail Polish?: No.

Were two applications per unit possible?: No.

Impressions: Like Loreal, these are not made of real nail polish. And, again, like Loreal, these are a huge challenge to apply correctly, requiring ample nail trimming and scissor snipping, only to end up with an awkward and wrinkly product. They also did that weird raisin-y thing when you try to apply a topcoat.
What’s more, they didn’t wear very well. Tipwear appeared almost immediately. My analysis of four days until the first chip is more than generous, since they were looking a bit raggedy after only a few hours of wear. I would not re-buy these, either.
Color availability: Although it appears that a moderate number of designs were made, it seems that only a few are easy to track down.
Brand #7: Incoco
Style: Behind the Scenes
Date Applied: March 24th
Date of First Chip: March 30th
Date Until No Longer Wearable: April 1st
Price: $8.99
Real Nail Polish?: Yes.

Were two applications per unit possible?: Yes.

Impressions: Out of all the nail appliques that I tried, these were the most similar to Sally Hansen. The sizes were a bit awkward (many were too big or too small, but not many were medium-sized), but the application went well and they lasted a comparable amount of time. I would re-buy these if there were patterns available that I liked.
Color availability: Incoco designs seem to be consistently boring to me, unfortunately. Although the product is high quality, I feel that the prints are uninspiring.
Brand #8: Sephora by OPI Trend Tips
Style: Mod
Date Applied: April 9th
Date of First Chip: April 11th
Date Until No Longer Wearable: April 16th
Price: $12
Real Nail Polish?: Yes.

Were two applications per unit possible?: Yes.

Impressions: Although the pattern on these is adorable, I think that it was a hinderance to them. Instead of ripping in a straight line, these ripped in a wavy line along the pattern. The first chip also occurred along the pattern. To me, this suggests a bit of a quality control issue. I would not re-buy these.
Color availability: There is moderate design availability, but most of the designs are quite adorable.
Brand #9: Nail Rock (Rock Beauty)
Style: Metallic Cheetah Split
Date Applied: April 17th
Date of First Chip: April 18th
Date Until No Longer Wearable: April 19th
Price: $8.00
Real Nail Polish?: No.

Were two applications per unit possible?: No.

Impressions: These were the worst nail applique that I tried. They were impossible to apply and ended up wrinkly and unpleasant. What’s more, they made my nails sharp. Although a topcoat application was possible, the topcoat simply peeled off the nail, leaving me with what looked like deformed contact lenses. Tipwear occurred immediately, and chips followed soon after. I would not re-buy these unless you held me at gunpoint.
Color availability: Irritatingly enough, there are buttloads of adorable patterns of these guys. The exclusive-to-Asos ones are particularly appealing to me. I just wished the product didn’t stink!
Summary Data
So, let’s sort through the details. Which products lasted the longest? I created a handy dandy table organized from longest period of time until first chip to the shortest:
For the visually inclined among you, I have the same data in graph form:
It seems that Sally Hansen is the reigning champion. They are unsurpassed in terms of design availability and in terms of lasting power. Furthermore, their easy application and relatively inexpensive pricing makes it impossible to pledge allegiance to another brand. Additionally, they were the only product that I tried that divided their strips into two airtight containers, easily encouraging users to get multiple uses per package. The other ones I tried required extensive taping to prevent the rest of the strips from drying out.
Still, anyone looking for a slight change might check out Incoco and OPI as moderately successful alternatives.


1. Brilliant. I have never tried any nail stickers before since I am a biter but I still really enjoyed reading this ๐Ÿ™‚


2. SH is definitely my favorite, I haven’t tried any other brand and I don’t need to cuz I love the salon effects strips!

3. Maybe I’m just sticker challenged or something but I have yet to make these (Sally Hansen or any other brand) work for me. I keep trying but I have a lot of curve from the bed of my nail to the tip so when I got them on I always get wrinkles at the free edge on either side. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong but I’ve kind of given up on trying them. Thankfully I’m pretty darn good at my own designs (I did pineapples today!) so it makes up for it but I have my lazy days when I just want to slap on something pretty.

Any idea what I’m doing wrong? Maybe make a tutorial for us sticker stupid people?

4. I have the same problem! My nail beds are very curved and that can make application difficult.

Here’s what I do: I start by centering along my nail, making sure the design is positioned so it will cover both sides of my nail. I push down along the center line, then move to one side and gently stretch the design to the edge of my nail bed, smoothing out wrinkles. I do the same thing for the other side, then push down along the cuticle really well before tearing off the unneeded portion of the design.

(That was a lot of words to describe a simple process!)

5. The one thing I’ll add to Tasha’s explanation: the nail strips are a little bit… stretchy? Not much, but there’s a bit of give. So you can tug on them a bit to get a smoother application.

6. I just found your blog the other day via Reddit, and so I went through and read a bunch of old posts, and I actually kind of wondered about all the nail strips in your photos! Mystery solved.

I love these comparison posts. Your dedication to sticking through crappy nail appliques is much appreciated. ๐Ÿ™‚

7. Ha! Well, I do wear nail polish strips a lot. But yes, the ones you’ve been seeing were a part of a specific effort

8. Wow, this is so epic!! I’ve never tried any nail strips because I don’t trust myself to be able to apply them correctly, but now I’m inspired to pick up some of the Sally Hansen ones. Thanks for your dedication to the polish strip cause ๐Ÿ™‚


9. I also have been a big fan of the Sally Hansen, because they work so much better than just regular nail polish when I’m trying not to bite my nails. But in case you want to try just one more, there’s a coupon for a samples of Kiss Nail Dress in the newest Cosmo (I GET IT FOR RESEARCH). It was in the month before, as well, I think, or my 2 year old is getting her own subscription, because she’s been running around with her own set of samples. I bought some this weekend and put them on last night, and they’re 3D. I have regrets, but also I don’t.

10. A couple days ago when I went to my CVS, there was Kiss Nail Dress $1.00 off coupons attached to a Nail Dress display that was on a shelf on one of the islands in the beauty area (as oppose to in an aisle – not sure if that makes sense) , Kiss also releases printable coupons often. A little tip, if you have a Family Dollar near you, they sell packs of 18 strips (with no file or cuticle stick) for $3.00 there. Which means with a coupon you can get them for $2.00 and you can still get 2 applications out of 18 strips.

I personally do not like the Kiss Nail dress but whenever I can get a pack for $2 I grab them for my 9 yo daughter to mess around with. They do that weird wrinkly thing when you put on a top coat. In my experience the ones that have gems on them are very difficult to put on or file straight across your nail where the gems are. It took me hours to put them on and then they ended up getting caught on every piece of fabric and my hair, they lasted less than 24 hours before I peeled them off.

11. When your nails are longer, the SH ones apply completely different. They are awkward and wrinkly. ๐Ÿ™ But the are the still the best of the bunch. I think they are better for shorter nails though.

12. OMG I LOVE YOU!! I have been searching for reviews of nail strips the past couple of weeks in comparison to Sally Hansen’s Salon Effects. I too love Sally Hansen’s Nail Strips but I’ve found they are so expensive so I have been looking for a comparable alternative with good designs that are a couple bucks cheaper. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any reviews that fit my needs but THIS is exactly what I have been looking for so THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

I have found that I can get the Salon Effects on Amazon cheaper than in retail stores BUT it’s all the older patterns that are cheaper, all the newer designs are the same as retail prices or more expensive.

I’ve been considered purchasing nails strips from a website called OMG Nail Strips that I’ve seen favorable blog reviews about + they are only $4.29. I’m mentioning this because I was wondering if you’ve ever heard of these? If you do ever use these in the future I’ve be very interested in seeing what you thought of them in comparison to the other 8 brands you reviewed here.

(did not know if I could put the link for the strips but I know you can just google the name of them if you were interested and it comes up right away.)

13. The essie nail stickers have to be cured with a uv light otherwise they don’t really work. I suspect the Revlon ones are in the same boat, but I can’t be sure because I don’t see any mention of it on the front of the packaging.

14. Loreal not Revlon. Sorry.

15. I had a cruddy experience with the Essie nail stickers not so long ago (before I’d read this unfortunately!) so I checked into it… they say on their website that they are already pre-cured? The instructions don’t mention needing to cure them again. Hmm.

15. Love Sally Hansen stickers! they work really good.
Just wondering if you can revive them after they got dry.. for example I think many of them would look good if apply just for 1-2 nails and polish other nails.

16. None of the images in this post are showing up for me. Anyone else having this problem?