I probably mentioned that I'm really OCD about my nails. They are always polished. Always. I'm seriously not exaggerating. Of course, they've been slathered in nail polish for so long that now I have to alternate using nail hardener and nail polish to keep my poor nails from falling off (they did that, and it really, really hurt). Being a protein-phobic vegetarian doesn't help. So I've tried every topcoat/nail strengthener/polish I can get my hands on, and here are my favorites:
Nail Strengthener: Sally Hansen Hard As Nails, $2.99 at drugstore.com. I've tens of nail strengtheners, and not only is this the best, but it's the cheapest. It actually keeps my nails from peeling and splitting, and that's a serious accomplishment. Plus, it's clear and shiny, so it looks just like clear nail polish. No one has to know that you have weak nails...not that you would keep that a secret...I'm going off on a weird tangent here...
Top Coat: Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat, $9.99 at drugstore.com. I loveeee this top coat. Yes, it is expensive, but for how much longer it makes you manicure last, it pays for itself. I can get 5-6 days of chip-free wear with this (and that's much longer than when I get my nails professionally done). It does start to thicken once you've used up about half the bottle, but that's easily solved with the next product.
Polish Thinner: Orly Nail Polish Thinner, $2.50 at buynails.com. This stuff is magical! You know when you get all excited to paint your nails with this specific polish and then when you dig it out you realize that you didn't close the lid all the way and said fantastic polish is all dried up and gross? That's when you need this. I haven't found a polish disaster that this can't handle. Plus, it works perfectly for thinning out a top coat (like the one above).
Nude Polish: Essie Polish in Mademoiselle, $9 at essie.com. It's not quite as white as it looks in this pic. It's actually a superflattering, really pale pink nude color. Basically "your nails, but better" in a bottle. I always go back to this when I just want to feel polished and pretty, and the color payoff and opacity are actually pretty high for Essie. Highly, highly recommended.
Just for fun, here's my favorite vampier nail polish. Well, not really vampy vampy, since I'm kind of tired of that whole super dark red/purple polish thing, but it's a medium-dark shade. Pretty sure I already reviewed this, but still.
OPI Polish in Parlez Vous OPI?, $8.50 at aveyou.com
It's this awesome grey-purple shade that's fashion forward but not so fashion forward that your grandma would be disturbed by it. Which is always a good thing.
Sally Hansen: drugstore.com
Seche Vite: drugstore.com
Orly Thinner: buynails.com
Essie Mademoiselle: essie.com
OPI Polish: aveyou.com