Hi all! I am only just getting to grips with all the many ways of describing polish, manicures styles, acronyms and words relating to nail art now I am blogging on a regular basis.

After following various blogs for a few years, I am familiar with the terminology of nail polish types, techniques, manicure styles and the mryiad of nail art available online. But when I first ventured in the polish world, it was so easy to get in a muddle!

So I felt it was time to pop up a Nail Polish Dictionary to learn all these key terms. Something you can refer to if you are ever in doubt what a particular word or phrase means in the polish blogging community.

If you have any terms which you feel I have left out, please post in the Comments below this post and I will add them to the Nail Polish Dictionary.


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 also is not tested on animals.

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

Clean-Up: When you use a makeup brush, art brush or nail art brush to clean the edges around your polished nail, creating a crisp, clean line.

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.

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

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

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

Decant: A small (mini) sized bottle of polish created by pouring 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: Stands 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!”

Duochrome: A polish that shifts between two colours 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 creme finish.”

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.

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 personalised colour. 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.

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

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

Gradient: A form of nail art that can be defined similarly to a linear colour gradient in computer graphics: a linear colour gradient is specified by two points with a colour at each point and blending seamlessly toward the centre.

To create this look on nails, you use 2 (or more polishes) with one colour toward the tip and another colour toward the cuticle and the colours blend together in the middle of the nail. Similar to the way a sunset might look when pink fades to orange.

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

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

Helmer: Popular amongst the nail polish community for being a convenient and organised 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. Popular with american bloggers.

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Multichrome: A polish that shifts between multiple colours depending on the angle and lighting.

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.

NOTD: Stands for Nails Of The Day. Example: “My NOTD is Topshop Rose Petal!”

NP: Stands for Nail Polish.

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

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.

Ruffian: A manicure style where nails are painted one colour and then painted a different colour 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.

Saran Wrap Technique (aka “Glad Wrap Technique” 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 colour underneath to show through. Top it off with a top coat to even out the look.

Scattered Holographic: A polish that has larger and less dense holographic particles. Often appearing to look more like a shimmer polish.

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.

Shimmer: A type of finish with shimmer, usually in a coloured base.

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.

Spectraflair: “A specialised diffractive colorant for automotive and industrial coatings that show multiple rainbow colours as the viewing angle changes. This pigment is based on microscopic aluminium flakes layered with glass and inorganic pigments. The combination of SpectraFlair’s rainbow-like colour, aluminium 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.
Stash: A person’s personal collection of nail polish.

Striping Tape: Very thin, coloured 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.

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.

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.

Water-colour: 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 water-colour effect.

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.

Water marble: 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.

Wrap 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.