What Is Sheer Nail Polish?

The tips of your nails show through a coat of sheer polish.

Photo: Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Things that shouldn't be sheer: your pants and your makeup when you have a zit. Things that can be sheer: shirts you wear over a camisole and fingernail polish. These polishes provide less-opaque coverage than typical matte fingernail polish and typically have an iridescent look. If you're not ready to commit to a matte fingernail polish, a sheer polish can provide a lady-like or bridal look.

Sheer vs. Opaque

If you hate black and blood-red nail polish, yet want something to make your nails glisten, sheer nail polishes can be for you. Sheer polish is the kind that goes on your nails and you can still see your underlying nail -- especially the white fingernail portion. Sheer polishes are typically girlier-looking. Glamour magazine recommends pairing a sheer polish with edgier-looking shoes, such as a pair with leather or metal studs.

The Right Shade for Your Skin

Although sheer nail polish may be slightly see-through, there’s still the right degrees of sheer based on your skin tone. For example, Martha Stewart Weddings recommends women of darker skin use semi-sheer polishes with peach, pink or nude instead of sheer pink, which may all but disappear on fingertips. If you have olive-toned or medium skin (which means tanned), try sheer polishes that have a yellow base such as peach or buttermilk. Cool tones like bubblegum pink may make you look discolored. For fairer skin tones, try juicy colors like apricot or petal pink.

Don’t Get Fooled

A lot of times you might buy a nail polish thinking it’s opaque, and get home to find it’s sheer instead. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, always read nail polish labels before purchasing because many of them will be labeled sheer. Most sheer nail polishes are pale colors, such as pink, white, nude or pale purple. Before you purchase, it’s important to try on the color -- and remember: even if you layer five coats on, your sheer nail polish will still show your underlying fingernail.


Since sheer nail polish shows what’s underneath your nail, it’s important to start with an even, un-ridged filled base. You may wish to use a nail buffer to even out the ridges on your nails prior to applying your sheer polish so the nails underneath look even and shiny. Another option is to apply a protective base coat, which will extend the life of your nail polish and make your nails appear shinier.

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