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Is Nail Polish Just A Fad? Weigh In!

By on December 21, 2013
in News with 45 Comments

Is nail polish a fad?
There was an interesting article on AdAge.com this week, citing that the nail polish market is plummeting, that lipstick is once again claiming the top spot in beauty and suggesting that nail polish is just a fad. So is it?

Granted, they mention that the biggest sales drop is in special effect polishes (Crackle, Matte, etc) rather than traditional nail polish but the massive overall growth seen in 2011 and 2012 is over Since we are doing better economically, the fact that nail polish sales are declining would suggest that the “nail index” concept is true. And Google searches would agree as “lipstick” has superseded “nail polish” for the first time in years.

Of course, I’m not about to stop wearing nail polish anytime soon. And even though I’ve come around to the idea of nail art and enjoy my feeble attempts at it, I wouldn’t cry if it went away. I mean, if the spring runways filled with pale, muted nails are any kind of indicator, nail art’s glory days could be behind it.

Obviously, I’m a bit biased, as are most of you, being nail polish fanatics and all, but I’d love to hear your take on the article. Is this just the natural progression of business? A plateau and not a plummet? Will big brands stop creating new and innovative nail products to focus on a more profitable sector of the industry? What say you? 

image: CVS Saran Wrap Manicure
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  1. Jen says:

    LOL, this makes me think of the old country song…”I was country when country wasn’t cool”…I was nail polish when nail polish wasn’t cool…ha ha! Dating myself here, but back in the 80′s I wore the crackles and neons almost every day to school, I wore the blues and blacks during the grunge 90′s, and the beiges, greys, greiges, and stamping of the 2000′s. I’ve gone with the fads, but have also worn pretty much whatever tickled my fancy on any given day (or night…I usually paint at night when the kiddos have gone to bed). Will ALWAYS wear whatever polish I have a hankering for at that particular time…it’s my thaaaang! Merry Christmas all!

  2. Cindi says:

    I say I have cut back on my polish buying because I have a super large stash and limited storage space so a polish only comes home with me now if it is different or unique. I realize that I’ll probably never finish up all the polishes I currently have. (I used to feel almost guilty about all that until I’ve seen what some of my favorite bloggers have) I love nail art and I get bored with a single shade of polish on my nails. For me polish is and always has been more important than lipstick.

  3. Jessica W says:

    I think there’s a reason that nail polish is always a big seller – even in up economic times. It’s a quick, and effective way to feel pretty and bolster spirits. My hope is that mainstream brands will start to move away from the texture trend and move towards more complex color combinations & glitters.

  4. TropicalChrome says:

    I don’t think that nail polish is just a fad – it waxes and wanes in popularity, but it’s been around a long time and I don’t see it disappearing from our makeup drawers any time in the future!

    But having said that, the sheer number of new collections and trends and finishes is getting tiring. My own observation is that the market is slowing down some, from both the manufacturers and the buyers. I know I look at all my untrieds and it really makes me think twice about buying another polish!

    I’m not sure the muted, pale nails are anything more than the natural reaction to the bright colors of the past couple of seasons. Fashion goes in cycles, and we’re just in this part of the nail cycle.

  5. Diane says:

    Nail art, textured polishes, certain fiinishes, etc are all fads. They will come and go. A well-finished manicure is timeless, and I don’t think it’s fair of them to say that “nail polish” as a whole is a fad.

  6. Lorraine says:

    if there is any slowing, it is because we are readying our wallets for Spring Collections! I think the “fad” has made experimenting for those who were polish averse or polish shy to start wearing it. It has become more acceptable and never been easier or more affordable to access the fun of DIY nails. I wonder if they measure by dollar sales or number of bottles? And is inclusive of all other nail products(strips, kits, sprinkled add ons, decals, stamping plates etc) Luxury nail sales and mainstream brands might be slowing down but only due to fierce competition from indies and drugstore bargain brands. Last word is that all the companies have upped their creative game, and that is nothing but good news for us nail polish addicts!

  7. I had heard about this decline in polish sales and I actually put it down to a rise in at-home soak-off gel polish vs a decline in regular polish. It used to be we’d buy bottle after bottle of regular polish but now, because we can get such extended wear out of gel, we can buy less of it. Not only that, but there aren’t as many shades of it available so once we’ve accumulated all the shades, there’s really nothing left to buy. It’s not like there are that many gel companies doing seasonal releases and it’s not like we change gel polish every other day, either.
    I think too, that with the rise in soak-off gel technology, more and more people are going straight to the salon and by-passing polish purchasing all together – they just use what the salon has on offer. Everyone I know (in the 23-50 year age group) has jumped on the gel train. They’re either using kits at home or they’re heading to the salon. Nobody is wearing regular polish anymore unless they’re wearing it over top to hide the grow-out from their gel.

    Going forward, I can imagine more and more trusted nail polish brands coming to market with soak-off gel. Even Essie had to get on board to compete.

    As for nail art and special effects polishes, I too wouldn’t cry if it went away – some of the latest finishes coming out are absolutely horrifying. But kids are SO into nails these days – I can’t see it disappearing any time soon.

  8. Personally I think nail polish could never be over. It is such a cheap pick me up and can make your nails look great instantly. I have so much of it now both in soak off gel and regular polish, so there is no way I’ll quit wearing it anytime soon :)

  9. Ker says:

    Yes, I am biased, as you mentioned. But, like Snail Mail, I refuse to let nail polish go away! It’s a small, but personal way to show part of my personality, as well as a way to simply kick up my style a notch. I love polishing my nails, and I plan to keep on doing it!

  10. Colleen says:

    I hope not! If they’ve watched the sales trends, companies ought to be reaching for all groups of enthusiasts. I’m also guessing that Ad Age isn’t looking at the growth of the boutique and indie brands.

    I’ll be honest, I’m much more of a nail polish girl anyway. I’ve been one for years (white-out and highlighter nails in school, anyone?) and if I’m going to buy a high-end product, I want it to LAST. I recently bought my first-ever Dior product – a polish. Not a lip color, not perfume – nail polish. Lip color tends to fade quickly on me, and I’m quite demanding when it comes to fragrances (plus I have to really pay attention to perfumes – darn migraines).

  11. I certainly hope nail polish is not a fad. I’ve got nearly 500 polishes at this point, most of which is untried since I don’t change my polish every single day. Then again, I never was really a fad kind of girl. I do what I like and what I like right now is polishing my nails so..if it’s dead then call me a die-hard nail fanatic. I won’t mind in the least.

  12. Holly Nelson says:

    I think it definitely can be. I go through phases off really enjoying it and changing my colours all the time and then not bothering, or finding something else. It lasts for such a long time that nail polish need not be bought all the time – esp. once you have built a big collection! So I guess it is all subjective, but I can see how it can be!

  13. Nathalie says:

    I read the article.I think there is some weight to give to statistics.I also think that with so much nail polish having flooded the market in 2011-2012, there are more choices than anyone needs.Nail polish or the “tinting of nails” has been around since Ancient Chinese times. Lipstick is an accessory, along with nail polish.I am not an economist, so I wouldn’t presume to predict what may come.I do admire all the beautiful nail art from the talented ladies on the Internet,and hope it doesn’t die out just because women are adding lipstick back to their shopping carts.Nail polish, nail art and all it’s forms, I believe is here to stay.

  14. Kimberly says:

    I think these numbers only include mainstream brands ,which have seen a decline in sales due to more people buying indie brands.

  15. Marilyn says:

    I wouldn’t call something a fad that’s been around for this long. I do think the crackle/matte/flakies were fads of nail polish types – but I think lots of people are always going to wear polish, even if it’s just a French manicure or traditional red.

  16. Michelle says:

    Yes! I think to the “non-nail fanatics” nail polish was just a fad. I started my polish collection [aka obsession] around 2008. I did my nails religiously every single night all through high school and my friends could not believe how dedicated I was! I always had the newest trends (matte/suede, glitters, shatters, magnetic) I even waited outside of ulta for the OPI Katy Perry collection, totally unheard of at the time to stalk a store for polish. Anyway everyone always asked me “how’d you do that?” or “where’d you get that?” and I just thought to myself “no one else reads nail blogs? Huh, weirdos.” And back then people thought it was strange to have a nail polish blog! If someone ever saw me looking at swatches they would just say “why are you looking at pictures of other people’s hands!?” Being inspired by all my favorite nail bloggers (ALU :), Scrangie, and Lextard’s Flickr) I made a Flickr page as an outlet and to share my obsession with other polish fanatics that understood! But I didn’t tell anyone I actually knew because they would totally think I was crazy! Now almost 6 years and about 1k bottles of polish it’s totally acceptable to have a blog or IG specially for nail polish. But I do think that the trend is dying down for girls that really only were into it because it was cool at the time.

  17. Lindsey says:

    There are some of the special effect polishes I definitely won’t miss (lookin’ at you, crackle and magnetic), but since getting SO into nail polish in the past year… It would be hard for me to go back to [almost] never painting them. I like the way my hands look more when my nails are painted. :) I read another article about this (don’t remember where it was) that put forth the idea that possibly sales were slowing down because people like me, who had only recently gotten into polish heavily, had finally gotten so many that they have a harder time finding new polishes that aren’t dupes. I can guarantee you that’s why my polish-buying has slowed down. Haha! I’m not done though!

  18. Lindsey says:

    Forgot to add: I WOULD miss the “new and innovative” polishes, but I could live with not getting new effect polishes as long as companies don’t stop doing ANYTHING unique/new. For example, I could live with fewer textured polishes if it meant getting more polishes with circle or square glitter (instead of the hex glitter all the drugstore brands seem so fond of). ;)

  19. Arathael says:

    I have amassed a GIANT nail polish collection this year… I had no idea about everything going on in nail polish (indies, glitter, flakes/shards, holo, textures). I bought Revlon Moon Candy Orbit, looked it up online, discovered blogs, and the rest is history! :D
    Hmm well, I don’t like the feel of lipstick and haven’t worn it in years. I do buy a lot of lip balm…lol…but that’s about it for lip products.
    Everything has its cycles. I think this has been a big year for nail polish. I can’t possibly imagine what else is left to do with nail polish, but somebody will… :)

  20. Roz says:

    I don’t agree. I know I’m hooked. Not that interested in “neutrals” either.

  21. Phyrra says:

    I don’t think it’s a fad. People have been wearing it for decades, I think they’ll continue to wear it.

  22. Julie says:

    I think that the appeal of nail art for the masses has certainly died down and will probably continue, especially if future fashion seasons include less and less of it. Although I do see just simple nail polish as something that could stick around for a while longer. I’ve always seen nail art in particular as having a much more niche audience, and I think that specific audience will continue to embrace it for a while longer.

  23. Daanielle says:

    I think even before the recent nail art and unique finish trends, there was no shortage of women getting their nails done, and we’ve spent the last few years developing a polish addiction. I don’t think any amount of lipstick is going to sway me away from polish, I’m just going to need more storage space. :)

    I also think even if the makeup trend goes to neutrals that the market for crazy glitterbombs is going away. People have colorful hair, body art and wear loud clothes regardless of what Vogue says.

  24. JB says:

    It may be a fad for some of the population, but for us diehards, nail polish isn’t going away any time soon! I think there has been more of a focus on nail art in the media over the past couple years, and that was bound to taper off at some point. Hopefully we will continue to get new collections from the drugstore brands in addition to the usuals – OPI, CG, etc…

  25. Marie says:

    I’d say yes and no. In some senses it is, especially when it comes to the specialty stuff (so the crackle, matte, texture, even nail art), because it’s gotten super popular and everyone’s been really into it over the past couple of years. I could see some of the big focus we’ve seen dying out, or some of the newer or spinoff brands going away (so, for example, maybe OPI goes back to just OPI instead of having NOPI and SOPI also), but I don’t think we’re ever going to lose the core stuff and I don’t think that they’ll stop releasing new and innovative collections.

  26. Lizzy says:

    If it is the case, I’d have to blame facebook. Every time a company tries something new it’s met with “gross” and “so totally over” and “how disappointing”. The slightest production slip is met with malice beyond imagining. The trolls are speaking loud and clear regardless of those of us who do like polish innovation and variety. If I were on the receiving end of all that I’d take my ball and go home, too.

  27. Dana says:

    I know I spend much less on big name polishes now because my polish budget is devoted to indie brands, but I still buy just as much polish as I ever did. But then I’m not really into lipstick, so I don’t have to choose! Beauty products are trendy by nature, so of course popularity will fade for some people. Not me though!

  28. Brenda Howell says:

    I’m wondering if the increase in independent polish makers is creating a dent in the mainstream polish market?? Nowadays
    I rarely buy mainstream now instead buy from the makers ….

  29. Chris says:

    While there are some uncomfortable truths in the AdAge article for nail polish fanatics, I think calling nail polish just a fad is an overstatement. The industry might not continue to grow as quickly as it has in the last couple of years, but I don’t think the popularity of nail polish will ever go back down to where it was, say, 5 years ago and before.

    New technologies that make manicures longer lasting and more convenient, plus the online communities that have developed that make sharing ideas and photos easier than ever, will help keep the industry afloat.

    So no, I don’t think this is a plummet. But of course, like you say, I’m biased :)

  30. Fedoraharp says:

    Honestly, the idea of gimmick nail polishes might be a fad. But what’s here is here to stay, in my opinion. Big companies might stop trying to come out with the next big thing, or the newest texture or whatever, but I don’t think they’ll discontinue the stuff they already came up with! Plus, there’s always indies. I consider nail polish a serious hobby of mine and I’ll keep buying it even if the “boom” dies down, so I might be a little biased too :) I won’t be especially devastated if there stops being a new gimmick every week, as long as I can keep adding to my collection.

  31. Faith says:

    Most new nail polish innovations start with polish-only brands like China Glaze, Zoya, or Sally Hansen. I don’t seem them stopping just because the market shifts. It may just be that cosmetic companies that make a wide range of products, like most drugstore brands, will become less likely to come up with their own version of a new texture, etc.

  32. jessika says:

    Interestingly, I personally have become less interested in nail polish and more interested in lip products lately. This is coming from someone who went from maybe a dozen polishes to over 700 in one year. I’m no longer as excited about painting my nails as I once was. I’ve even been considering – gasp – going bare-nailed!!!! Something must for sure be changing in the atmosphere! But then again, if the predictions are true, why did Sally Hansen just release a ton of new nail art items? Though how “current” Sally Hansen is, I don’t know…. Only time will tell!

  33. I think there are definitely certain fads IN nail polish (crackle, matte, texture, etc) that will pass, but I don’t think nail polish as a whole is a fad. My almost 96 year old grandmother still paints her nails! :) Perhaps they are seeing a decline in sales of big mainstream brands because indie polish lines are flourishing…?

  34. Elisa says:

    Of course it’s a fad. I remember being way into nails in my pre-teens and then suddenly nail polish was so out that everyone seemed to have bare nails. And now we’re back.

    It’s like a sports team that wins a championship. When a team is suddenly winning everybody’s on board and becomes a huge fan. Once they are no longer winning, only the true die hard fans are left (hello, Chicago Cubs fans). So once the nail trend dies down we’ll have only the true fans instead of the “follow the crowd” sector. Which I’m okay with.

    As far as spending cutting down…I think many women just put a limit on how many bottles of polish they want to have around and they’ve bought all they want. Most jobs don’t allow for crazy nail art/colors, just as they don’t allow for neon hair, so I believe the bulk of the trend has been for the youths and we all know how fickle they are. Once “grown-ups” start accepting the trend, it’s no longer cool and the crowd moves on.

    All that being said, I will always love my polishes and will do as many crazy colors as I can get away with. :) Often with glitter gradients.

  35. TeriG says:

    Maybe sales are falling for brands like Coty and L’Oreal because Indies have become so popular with customers, and certainly with nail polish enthusiasts. It doesn’t look like the article even addresses the effect of Indies on national brands. That being said, maybe many customers have built their nail polish collections over the last couple of years (I know I have!!), and are becoming more selective. Oddly enough, while I’m never going to move away from nail polish, I have recently found myself wanting to revamp my lip color stash, as I’ve revamped my nail polish stash. Although I doubt I’ll ever have as many lipsticks or glosses as polish (over 600 polishes and counting)! Overall, I think if Indie polish makers continue to keep the category fresh, there are plenty of nail polish lovers to keep them in business. Just my opinion, though….I’m not an expert in the beauty industry.

  36. Rachel says:

    I know you don’t really do indie polish, but I think that is why the major retailers are seeing such a drop in sales. I have purchased less than 10 salon brand polishes this year, and I don’t even know if I’ve purchased 1 drugstore polish, but I’ve bought TONS of indies – 100+. They are creating more interesting polishes, so that’s where my money is going. I’m sure I’m not the only one! Many of the major brands are taking tips from big indie polishes – take a look at all the black/white glitter combos which are all derived from Lynnderella’s Connect The Dots. If the indies are influencing the polishes the big brands are putting out, of course the indies are also affecting their sales!

  37. Linda says:

    I can definitely see nail art and texture polish falling away, at least at some point. For me, I was thrilled to find Jinx (Liquid Sand from OPI Bond) a couple days ago! I loved that color so much but by the time I decided to get a full size it was sold out. (If you know a good dupe in non-sand, pls let me know!)

    I do think that being “manicured” is going to be with us for the forseeable future!

  38. Lena says:

    there has been really a pick up in lipstick formula: they are more vibrant in color, longer lasting, have a wide variety of textures and colors, etc. I would not be suprised that the lipstick category is picking up fast in sales. But nail polish will continue to grow, I think.

  39. Melynda says:

    I wouldn’t miss nail art so much. I don’t really bother with it myself. As for nail polish itself… I’ve pretty much been wearing it non-stop since middle school (so, awhile) and I honestly only started paying attention to what other people have been doing with nail art, indie polishes, etc. I think polish is like anything else, it comes and goes but I don’t think it’ll ever completely go. I do know that I currently have more polish that I could ever wear and have been cutting down my buying to shades I need for a particular purpose (this is mostly neutrals, I don’t usually bother with them) or if I see something I feel I HAVE to have.

  40. Jay says:

    I do kind of agree, but I feel like the indie polish market will likely suffer the most as people begin to lose interest. I know I lost interest and would rather just go to Shoppers and see what they have. But that’s me and me being lazy. But in all honestly, lipstick is so much less maintenance so it’s more appealing sometimes to use that as a creative outlet.

    I think that instagram and other pic-heavy social media platforms really took it from a thing a few people were crazy about, to nails becoming “the new IT thing” to do. All of a sudden everyone wanted to get on it and do the craziest things and became obsessed. But most obsessions fade over time. I know I go through phases where I change my nail colour everyday and then I’ll never want to look at the 300+ polishes I own and I want to sell them all on ebay.

    Then there’s times I think “how many new things and colours can be invented? Isn’t it over yet?” So it may not be as crazy as it is right now, but it’ll probably make a come back. Sometimes a simple mani is all I want. I mean for the common person, there’s only so much crazy you can add to nails. And I think the crazy blinged out gemstones, and extreme nail art, or appliques are probably whats going to fade away instead of the whole market. It was on an upswing so I think it’s just going to come back down to the baseline.

  41. Lynda says:

    Lipstick is indispensable, of course, but I only need a shade or two. Nail polish allows me to be creative and about as edgy as I get (not very.) Blue, green black, glitter or holo lips? Nah. But for nails? Yes!

  42. ddrD says:

    These are just my two cents. I hate collecting dupes, and since I’ve a limited budget and storage I have the golden rule of never purchasing a bottle if it’s similar to one I’ve already in my stash. This said, I love bizarre colors since childhood and I hope uncommon colors and finishes will still be largely available, but, if that’s really a fad, probably just “boring” conservative colors as pinks, reds and nudes will survive and finding blues or yellows or greens from mainstream common brands will become hard.
    I’m convinced that there’s a certain “tumblr aesthetic” that has widespread and created aficionados of bold, ultra pigmented and detailed nail and makeup looks you hardly see in real life, so I hope there still will be a market and audience (maybe underground) for flashy colors. Who knows. Also where I come from (Italy) we don’t have as much indie companies, at least in the nail polish realm, this means we must rely mostly on mainstream brands that aren’t necessary interested in uniqueness and experimentation.

  43. elci says:

    No I don’t think nail polish in general is merely a fad. Well manicured, beautiful nails and luscious cremes will be with us forever, methinks. In terms of the “fads,” like the various finishes, they will probably fade in popularity a bit as they become standard rather than new and exciting, but for me, gorgeous polish is gorgeous polish. I am the hugest fan of texture and, for me, they are as iconic and classic-looking as a red creme. I own a few textured polishes (mainly from Zoya and OPI) I think possess an innate beauty that exists outside and beyond the trend that introduced them. Same goes for mattes – I think that is just a insanely gorgeous finish, esp. if one wants a break from hi-gloss shine (which I sometimes do) and even holos (but I can see how those might be seen to be more trendy and ephemeral by others). I am just not sure what MORE can be done with textures and holos, so in that sense they are totally fads that will die down. But like everything in fashion polish works in cycles, so what ebbs today might flow tomorrow. If some of these finishes went away I would be slightly bummed as I adore them, but I would understand.

    If glitter releases slowed down I would be more than fine with that – I am reaching my glitter limit. I would gladly trade those in for more textures, but I am sure there are others who feel opposite, depending how many glitter polishes you own, and perhaps what age you are.

    Polish as a whole is not a trend though, and even nail art will be around in some capacity forever, I think. As far as nail polish sales going down, those statistics might need further examination. In terms of drugstore or salon brands, I know I only buy a handful of OPIs and Zoyas – but that has nothing to do with being “over” nail polish and everything to do with being far more excited with what independent brands are turning out. Most of my money goes to indie brands on Etsy or etailers such as Llarowe.

    It also depends how far along people are in their nail polish obsession and how large their stash is. I am finding I am purchasing dupes without even realizing it, so I need to cool it when it comes to purchasing, or be far more selective with my purchases. But I still devour blogs and swatches voraciously and eagerly anticipate new releases from most every brand – I just need to make sure the polishes pass some “uniqueness tests” before I purchase.

    Lipstick surpassing nail polish in sales in popularity? Nah uh – no way, not in my house. There are only so many lip colors that work on me or that I feel comfortable wearing. Also, I have far greater nail self-esteem than I do face self-esteem, so I am much more eager to use my nails as a canvas rather than my face. There is really only so much I can do with my lips – the possibilities for play and creativity with nails are FAR greater. I would be satisfied owning 10 lip color products – only corals and pinks and neutrals ever work on me. The idea of owning only 10 polishes is like blasphemy. So this trend AdAge is observing would never ever be true for me – I have to think I am not the only one to feel this way.

    Polish is here to stay. “Trends” by nature will die down in popularity, only to come back again in time. Cycles, baby, cycles.

    PS – I have no interest in gel colors or manicures – give me a quality polish and glossy topcoat and you can keep your gels away from my nails.

    PPS – I still kind of like magnetic polish – don’t throw tomatoes at me! I only own 2 though, and that is more than enough ;)

  44. Sandi says:

    My grandmothers wore nail polish. It’s not going anywhere.

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