Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Beginners Guide to Indie Nail Polish Part 1

If you're here and reading my blog, I'm going to go ahead and assume you're aware that there is such a thing as indie nail polish, if only because I refuse to shut up about them. I'm obviously hugely in favour of supporting the indie nail polish community - I love helping people make their own businesses a success, I love the creativity and geekery in a lot of indie polishes, and I love the sense of community that comes from getting into a hobby so many other people hold so dear. It's kind of staggering to realise the industry is only about two years old - Lynderella was the first indie brand to go public in July 2011, and Hare Polish followed soon after. But since then the number of creators has expanded exponentially - what used to be a microscopic little corner of the cosmetics market is getting more and more crowded, and a broader customer base can bring with it exponentially more drama. I've been seeing a lot of customers flying off the handle on various Facebook pages and forums over the most nonsensical of complaints, and it drives me nuts.

I think that there are a few things that newcomers to the "scene" need to know, and a few tips and tricks I find myself repeating over and over, that will help you get the most out of the world of indie polish.

Do your Research

Like any new hobby or interest, I think it's important to do at least a little bit of research before diving into the world of indie polish. This is partially to protect yourself from getting ripped off - as with any other industry, there are assholes out there who are happy to take your money and give you shit in return. This is a small, TINY minority, but unfortunately a bad enough experience right out of the gate can understandably put people off the entire industry. So have a look around before you get your wallet out.
Read some blogs - if you're not sure which ones, I highly recommend the Gumleaf Mafia feed as a good place to start (and not just because I'm on it) The Gumleaf bloggers tend to swatch a lot of indie polishes, and some of the Australian indie creators have their blogs there too. Join some communities - Facebook is full of polish fanatics, and there are approximately one billion different groups. I can personally recommend Polishaholics Anonymous as a good  place to start.


In order to help you guys out with this research phase, I've laid out the beginnings a Shopping Guide (the tab is right up the top next to all the stuff about me), where I'll be listing all the awesome sellers I know, how to get their stuff, and what they sell.

Indie Polish Is Not Like Other Polish

The thing about indie nail polish is that it's by and large HAND MADE. Pretty Serious and Picture Polish both have theirs manufactured professionally, but all the other brands? Femme Fatale and Shades of Phoenix and Loki's Lacquer , Alanna Rennee, and all the others? They're just one person bent over a tiny glass bottle mixing up beautiful potions to make your nails look amazing.

Teneil from Shades of Phoenix working on a new batch of magic
Mixing by hand means that these creators can make polish that is amazingly unique - but this uniqueness does come with inherent quirks, especially when talking about polishes with tons of glitter in them. If you leave the polish sitting upright for an extended period of time, the glitter WILL sink to the bottom. This is physics in action, kids. You can mix it up again, but when left alone glitter WILL sink. FYI, this happens with mainstream glitter polishes as well - but since there are SO MANY indie glitter polishes it tends to be seen as an "indie polish" problem.

There are also some indie polishes that are inherently "Advanced" polishes. Polishes like the lovely holographic ones from Lilypad Lacquer have much the same consistency as mainstream polishes, so there's no real trick to them - they're what I call "Beginner" polishes. Anyone can pick them up, have a bash, and probably come away with an acceptable manicure.

Lilypad Lacquer True Blood looks good on just about anyone.
Glitterbombs like Cold Fire from Femme Fatale look incredible if you put them on the right way - but they can also end up looking like a big old mess if you don't. You have to put glitter heavy polishes on differently to plain creme polishes - again, it's simple chemistry. The formula is different, the texture is different, there are bits all in the liquid; logically, it has to be applied differently. If you try and swipe it on the same way you do a plain creme, you're not going to get results as good as someone who knows how to work it. This is not a flaw of the product as such - it's just what happens when you fill a gooey liquid base with tons and tons of glitter.

Femme Fatale Coldwraith is tricky, but totally worth it.
Science Is Awesome

Another quirk of polish comprised of gooey, see-through liquid filled with glitter is that it often looks best with a plain colour layered underneath. Not all indie polishes need this - but it often helps a lot of them really pop. This is a side effect, if you will, of any super sparkly polish. In order for it to BE sparkly, it needs to be glitter suspended in a relatively transparent base. If the base isn't transparent enough, the glitter can't sparkle. If the base is transparent, you will often need to wear a plain colour underneath for full coverage. It's just how it works - refraction is what makes so many indie polishes look so "deep", and if the base is totally opaque refraction through the layers isn't possible. The right colour layered underneath can also bring out colours in the polish that might otherwise fade away - Lab Muffin has an excellent post on the effect of putting different colours under shiny polishes, that explains the whole thing in a much more knowledgeable way than I can.

Lasers are also awesome.
If layering one colour over another is too much stuffing around for you, I totally get that. But if you're not interested in layering, you're also going to have to deal with the fact your choices will be relatively limited. This is not a fault with indie polish - it's just a matter of how fiddly you're willing to get to achieve the results you want.

Handmade = Quirky

The handmade nature of indie polish also means that sometimes your bottle of polish might be ever so slightly different to another bottle of polish from the same recipe. Some makers are not particularly careful with their consistency, but 99.9 per cent of indie makers take enormous care to measure out all their ingredients in as precise a way possible. Sometimes though, they stuff up - they are, after all, only human.

There are also some indie makers with a habit of tweaking their recipes without actually announcing each reformulation - sometimes, if you go back to buy a second bottle of something you loved, it might not be exactly how you expected.  Take these two examples - both are alleged duplicates of what should have been the same polish.

Personally, I think this is a somewhat dodgy practice, and I can't say I fully support it. Some people don't mind - some polish addicts enjoy the surprise, watching the evolution of a recipe. But if it's something that would bother you a lot, this one of the areas where your research comes in handy - if a creator tinkers with their recipes regularly, there WILL be chatter about it, giving you a heads up. For example, the first indie polish I went completely mental for was Across The Universe by Enchanted Polish.

Clearly an old photo - my nails haven't been this short in forever.
Eventually, I decided I wanted a backup bottle, so I did some Googling and came across some people talking about how Enchanted Polish changed the formula of this particular polish. I found some swatches of the new formula, and decided it was close enough to the one I had, and got me a new bottle. If I hadn't liked the new formula, that little bit of research would have saved me time and money - not to mention disappointment.

As with the issue of layering, if this kind of research is too much hassle for you, I do understand. Nail polish just isn't that big a deal to a lot of people. But if you're not interested in dealing with the occasional inconsistency, if you need to know every bottle of polish you buy will be absolutely and exactly how you expected, then indie polish is possibly not for you.

There is of course, a chance that your bottle might be not just a bit different or not what you expected, but actually substandard. Maybe the formula has gone funky because it got too hot and/or cold in transit. Maybe the glitter sunk and solidified due to a chemical reaction. Maybe the creator didn't test their recipe for long enough, and the glitter has reacted with the base and gone all "taco" (curvy). Maybe it's separated in a weird way and won't reintegrate. Chemistry can be unpredictable, and it does happen that every now and then there is a "bad" bottle or a "bad" batch of indie polish. A tiny percentage of indie polish makers are simply not very good at what they do, like in any industry. But even for the best of the best, there are no measures that anyone can take to absolutely 100 per cent guarantee that there will never ever be a bad bottle.

So what to do when you've gotten all excited about something, got your hands on it, and it's just shit? Stay tuned to my next post!


  1. Great post! I'm definitely going to pass this on to my nuggle friends who are just discovering indies :)

  2. Awesome post! I personally have never had a bad experience with indies but I really think Aussies are the best of the best!

    I think it's worth pointing out to people that if they don't want to deal with some of these issues, that's fine BUT - try to find a polish anything like it out there in the big brand name market! Sure, OPI has a Polka.com here and there, and a few duochromes. But on the whole, the reason indies are so successful is because they are so unique, and it's worth taking the time to learn about application to get such a great result.

    1. I absolutely agree with you both on the awesomeness of Aussie indies, and the relative blandness of mainstream polishes - but I didn't want to rag on people with different tastes. Even if they're boring :D

  3. This post is amazing! And hey! Theres my covered face!

  4. Cool post, very interesting. I buy high end nail polish and sometimes end up mixing up colours and using loose glitters to get a more unique look.
    I love my nails and will definitely keep my eye out for indie brands and I will also keep track of your blog.x

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  6. I'm very new to the world and I am so curious as to how the process goes on behind the scenes. It does seem so complex, and I wouldn't necessarily think that all bottles of a certain shade would (or could?) be the same.. fascinating!
    Thank you so much for this!

  7. This is wonderful, I'm only new to even knowing where to buy indie polishes but the fact that so many are hand made (and wearing masks, whoa!) I mean. How they are as affordable as they are with that much work, I'll never know! Thank you so much

    1. The price point for indie polishes is more or less set by supply and demand - a lot of people simply aren't willing to pay as much for an indie as they are for a brand like OPI.

      As for what happens behind the scenes, I'd love to know more too, but understandably most creators are pretty hush hush about the details. Trade secrets and all! The masks are pretty much required if you're making polish from scratch to protect you from the fumes that come off the polish base, as well as stray particles of pigment and glitter which apparently go EVERYWHERE.

  8. Fantastic article! I own more indies than mainstream but jumped in without knowing much about them. It's good to catch up!

  9. Nice article! =) Btw, do you have a blog post regarding on how an indie polish is made from scratch? like what are the ingredients needed?


    1. That's a good question, but unfortunately I don't have a lot of that information as I don't make it myself. My understanding is that most creators start with a pre-made base solution, and then add pigments, glitters, tints, and dyes from there to make their pretties.

    2. oh i see, thanks for the information Cassie =D at least, now I know, where I can start my research =D I've been trying to research these past months but do no know where to start =D Thanks again! This help a lot! ;)

  10. Interesting article. Thank you for breaking down, and explaining some of the differences and quirks of Indie Polish.

  11. I had NO IDEA about the indie polish industry! I know a lot about indie BOOKS, but not polish! LOL! Anyway, I've discovered Enchanted Polish and got my hands on it. I thought my Butter London was expensive. Thank goodness I have some cheap cremes from Julep and Essie that I can layer my topcoat holos over and make them look spectacular! Thanks for the information!

    1. Hahah, yes, Enchanted can get pretty darn pricey! I mean, it's gorgeous, but the prices I've seen some people pay for rare bottles is baffling.

  12. Thanks so much for this resource. I am still not sure if I should go into the indie nail polish thing at all but truth is I am a bit tired of those everyday regular launches and I need a break. Still not sure...

  13. i have just gotten my first batch of indie polish and am completely bowled over by the colors!

  14. I read thru Part 1 and 2; before I realized this was more about buying Indie then becoming an Indie Maker! Heh.

    Would you know where I should go to get into studies needed to begin my own polish making that is NOT the Franken-Polish way?


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