No Polish Manicures: The Best Polish-Free Ideas, from Press-On Nails to Bare Nails

May 20, 2022 (updated February 13, 2023) — Written by Emily Barth Isler

Want your nails to look polished without the actual polish? We’ve tested the best of the best when it comes to press on nails and no-polish manicures. Here’s our hot take for summer 2023.

a close up of hands with olive and june press on nails

By: Emily Barth Isler


Recently, I showed a friend the manicure I did on myself at home. I was pretty proud because I’ve gotten so much better at the DIY version of this task that I always used to outsource (pre-pandemic, ofc).

My friend examined my nails and said, very kindly, “You should try that tool that Olive & June makes that helps you paint your nails more neatly!” 

I burst out laughing. “I DID use that tool,” I said, in between fits of giggles. “This IS the ‘more neatly’ version!”

RELATED: These are the best nontoxic nail polish brands and Summer nail polish colors and trends.

We both laughed. I’m not sensitive about my ability to paint my own nails—I’m the first one to tell you that I’m really, really bad at it, and I’m confident enough in my myriad other skills and talents that I can admit that painting nails isn’t my forte. I’m honestly not even good at painting other peoples’ nails—just ask my kids!—and that’s okay.

But I do have a system. I paint way outside the lines, no matter how many helpful tools and tutorial tips I’ve gotten from my favorite brand, Olive & June, and then I pick the excess polish off after it dries. It’s…not the most elegant solution, shall we say, but it works for me. Kind of.

Needless to say, this lack of talent has led me to wonder about alternatives for people like me, who just cannot color inside the lines (literally, figuratively, etc.). Are there eco-friendly ways to adorn our nails and get the look we want without, you know, painting the whole finger and peeling off excess polish like kindergartners peel glue off their hands?

Yes!…and no. There are definitely other options, and each has pros and cons, and I’m going to lay them alllll out for you.

RELATED: On trend spring nail polish ideas.

a hand holding a container of pink colored press on nails

Press on nails | $10+

These are not your mom’s Lee Press On nails of yesteryear. Savvy brands like TNK fave Olive & June have redefined this genre with an array of shapes, lengths, designs and colors and, most importantly, upcycled materials! There’s no painting outside of the nail bed with these, and they are very easy to clip and file to shape or shorten as you wish. 

What I like: 

  • So many choices!
  • Looks neat and professional
  • Fairly easy to apply and remove
  • Olive & June’s press on nails are made from 94% post-consumer recycled materials (this is NOT true of all press on nails, so do your research!)

What I didn’t like:

  • Time consuming (O&J says it can be done in 10 minutes, but it takes a few tries to get good at it!)
  • Even though the press on nails themselves can be made from upcycled materials, there is still a lot of waste generated by both the packaging and the unused nails
  • Lasts up to 7 days, while some nail polish can last 7-10 days
  • Wearing press on nails is a feeling that takes a little getting used to!

Save using code THENEWKNEW for 20% off all Olive&June systems purchases (including the Summer Press on Set System).

close up of a hand with ocean waves bubble pop no polish nail color wraps
Image of Ocean Waves pattern courtesy of Bubble Pop Club

Nail Wraps | $5+

Nail Wraps are kind of like stickers made out of nail polish that go on your nails without the mess of polish (though they do require a clear topcoat, and sometimes a base coat, depending on the texture of your nails). Like any product out there, the safety and materials of nail wraps vary widely, but we’re fans of Bubble Pop Club, which uses ingredients with scores of 2 or lower on the EWG’s scale. For people like me who really struggle with the neatness aspect of nail polish, nail wraps are a great alternative. 

What I like:

  • Super easy!
  • Tons of choices
  • Looks very professional once you get the hang of it
  • Lasts 7-10 days (and sometimes longer)

What I didn’t like:

  • Still requires a top coat, so you do end up having the nail polish smell and drying time
  • Some plastic packaging waste—not as much as from press on nails, but still more than using nail polish
  • Requires some trimming of the edges (and as we’ve established, I am not particularly good at fine motor skills!)

a hand holds a nail polisher by bare hands brand

Buffers| $ varies

Buffing one’s nails is a nice throwback—I remember my grandmother buffing her nails regularly and then applying cuticle oil (see below) or clear polish over them. While there’s no color or design choice with buffing, it is a fairly fool-proof way to look like you have your act together and take good care of your hands without goopy, messy polish that can chip or press ons/wraps that can come off. You can get great systems or kits, like this one from Bare Hands that is under $40, lasts for 6-9 months with regular use, and contains a great cuticle oil and “The Polisher.” The Polisher is a tool made from a blend of glass and mineral that gently binds keratin cells to give your nails a nice shine that lasts about a week.

What I like:

  • Very little waste in most cases!
  • Quick and easy 
  • Travel-friendly 
  • No downtime (no waiting for polish to dry, etc) 

What I didn’t like:

  • No color or decoration
  • Bare Hands’ The Polisher isn’t recyclable; most nail buffer blocks are not, either, which accounts for a lot of waste both at salons and at home

a bottle of Carter and Jane Pickfix oil sits on a mirrored surface
Image courtesy of Carter+Jane

Cuticle Oils | $7+

I first learned about cuticle oil in New York City’s ubiquitous nail salons. Dispensed from a huge vat into smaller containers, no one could ever tell me exactly what kind of oil—not to mention what other mystery ingredients—was in there! I started bringing my own cuticle oils to nail salons, and now use them at home, too. 

You can use most organic or natural body oils on your cuticles, but I love the ones designed with my ragged cuticles in mind, like Carter + Jane’s PickFix, formulated with the brand’s award-winning organic Moroccan prickly pear seed oil, organic Roman chamomile, Bulgarian lavender, Australian tea tree and South African eucalyptus essential oils. 

For travel-friendly, use on-the-go options, I love the Citrine Cuticle Oil from Bare Hands (which comes in the kit mentioned above or is sold separately) and this one from GLU that contains nourishing pomegranate oil to reduce inflammation and add anti-microbial benefits. If you like something a little more solid (and less likely to spill!), I adore Badger’s Cuticle Care (it’s only $6.99!) or Maya Chia’s multi purpose, incredible-smelling Chia Waterless Wonder Balm.

What I like: 

  • Nourishing and good for your hands
  • Very little waste, especially if you use sustainable oils in recyclable packaging
  • No downtime (no waiting for polish to dry, etc) 

What I didn’t like:

  • No color or decoration
  • Greasy hands—you have to wait for oils to soak in so you don’t leave oily fingerprints everywhere

With these new and improved options, I’d say no polish nails are nailing it. What’s your go-to for a put-together look without the effort or cost of a manicure?

xo, Emily

TNK Team Note: This article contains affiliate links. TNK uses affiliate links as a source for revenue to fund operations of the business and to be less dependent on branded content. TNK stands behind all product recommendations. Still have questions about these links or our process? Feel free to email us.

By Emily Barth Isler

Emily Barth Isler lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two kids. A former child actress, she performed all over the world in theatre, film and TV. Emily writes about sustainable, eco-friendly beauty and skincare for magazines and websites such as Organic Spa and Allure, and also writes novels for kids and families. Her debut Middle Grade novel, AfterMath, will was published 2021 by Carolrhoda/Lerner Books, and she has also written web sitcoms, parenting columns and personal essays. She has a B.A. in Film Studies from Wesleyan University, and really, really loves television. Find her at and on Twitter and Instagram at @emilybarthisler.

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