Nail polish takes centre stage

With market share having grown exponentially in recent years, nail polishes have now rooted their position in the cosmetic market. Indeed, growth curves have return to more measured, and therefore potentially more sustainable levels.

State of play of the market

In Western Europe, overall, the nail polish market is growing by about 1 to 2% in value sales, with disparities like in Spain, where the market has experiencing a decline in value, or Germany, where there is still room for progress, with an increase of about 5% for nail polishes. “Although the European market is the third largest in the world (on track to overtake the US market), just behind the United States and Brazil, it is highly segmented through the diversity of its distribution networks, the diversity of cultures and regulations.” The offer must thus adapt, highlighted Aurélie Ignaccolo from IL Cosmetics, the second world leader in the manufacture of nail polish.

After the ‘lipstick index’, theorized by Leonard Lauder in the 2000s to refer to the sales of lipsticks, whose growth curve was opposite to the one of the economy, we can now talk about a ‘nail polish index’ amid this economic crisis. Indeed, it is one of the few global markets to have grown in this depressed economic climate. “Today, it is easy to lift up one’s spirits by applying nail polish,” noted Pierre Miasnik from Fiabila.

Nail polish has finally managed “to earn the respect it deserved,” noted Eric Wimmer, a Consultant, specialised in nail polish. This product has reached a certain level of maturity and is now an integral part of women’s beauty rituals. “In Europe and the United States, the market is stabilizing, but in no way collapsing. Women have taken to putting on nail polish, and this should last.

According to Ignaccolo, “the market is expected to experience a less exponential growth phase until 2016, to eventually stabilize.”

Nail polish, a fashion accessory

Nail polish has become a fully fledged fashion accessory as a number of brands take their inspiration from podiums for their collections. This is evidenced by the creation of make-up spaces, particularly with ready-to-wear brands, like Top Shop and H & M for example. Brands like Dior, Clinique, Estée Lauder or Yves Saint Laurent are taking up a strong position on this segment. “Nail polish is the only make-up product that the consumer has constantly under her eyes, unlike face make-up which can only be seen through a mirror,” emphasised Miasnik. This certainly strongly encourages women to match their nails with their outfits and/or accessories (shoes, handbag)!

“Before, nail polish was simply another range addition for brands. In stores, it was even relegated to bottom shelves, therefore difficult to access. Today nail polish is playing in the big leagues. It is a cosmetic product in its own right,” stressed Wimmer.
The use of nail polish is also evenly distributed over the age range, with attractive prices and fun packagings for younger consumers, and further nail care claims for older consumers.

“The market has had a huge nail polish development, especially in recent years.
A great phenomenon linked to the desire of hands care where we see nails as the absolute protagonist; in the past years, the nail polish has become a subject of great interest for the brands that have greatly intensified the re-launch of this product in all its facets both from the point of view of the color and of the decorative effects focusing especially on the applicative aspect and on the use of innovative applicators. The nail polish is no more a simple beauty accessory but a real make-up product. “ adds Romualdo Priore from Chromavis.

Effects and colours

The advantage of nail polish is that you can play with colours and effects at leisure. A very broad palette of colours and effects can be obtained by varying the concentration of pigments, nacres and other materials. Fiabila, the leading nail polish manufacturer in the world, claims having more than 180,000 shades in its catalogue to date, among which 30,000 are currently on the market.

Nail polish has become a flagship product for brands and they should continue to promote it to support its growth. Indeed, nail polish enables brands to have a strong image identification or to stand out with a strong message. The British brand Ciaté for example, has gained many market shares with its ‘caviar’ creation or its ‘sand’ or ‘feathers’ textures which revolutionized women’s everyday use of nail polish, shifting it in the domain of nail art.

Brands operating in other sectors are also working with nail polish designers to give peps to their image, like Mercedes or Electrolux (see picture). Conversely, nail polish brands draw their inspiration from other sectors to create new shades, like Mavala (, which has launched a campaign on social networks, ‘# ThatsMyColour’, to get the opinion of consumers on everyday products they would like to see transformed into nail polish (

Like Ciaté, many brands have emerged in recent years and others have created or enriched their range of nail polish. The Italian brand Kiko, owes its success to its range of attractive and affordable nail polishes that won over customers and boosted sales. The slowing growth rate, we are noticing since 2013 is more the consequence of a lower number of launches, than a drop in interest in the product.


The variety of colour and texture palettes, but also the wide range of prices allows nail polish to meet the needs of a broad spectrum of consumers. With its brand Maybelline, L’Oréal has launched a nail polish at € 4 (ColorShow) when premium products are sold often more than 20 € (Dior, Estée Lauder). The affordability of products and the mushrooming of Nail Bars offering a quick and cheaper “beauty salon” nail care, also encourage consumption. Each distributor or brand wants to have its Nail Bar to attract customers. Essie (L’Oréal) for example, plans to open 20 Nail Bars in the next two years in Paris, Chanel opened its own Nail Bar in London after the launch of a successful pop-up version several months ago. Distributors rival with each other in ingenuity, like the French distributor Nailmatic, who launched a concept of nail polish vending machine. Even in distribution brands and consumers can have fun, which makes the product all the more attractive.


On the innovation side, manufacturers had to meet ever higher constraints to ensure the stability of their formulas. A nail polish must meet basic constraints: purity of colour, brightness, resistance, ease of application and drying time. It is difficult to obtain all these features by playing with effects. “Continuously working on colours and different textures, while making sure to guarantee these five intrinsic qualities of polish. This product is unique. Our acute market knowledge allows us to constantly launch new lines and to be a driving force for brand owners (with in particular the summer 2015 collection, consisting of 72 colours, which will be released in April 2014). Innovation has enabled us to bring more fluidity to the product and to reduce by 30% the drying time in five years,” declared Miasnik.

In terms of innovation, Ignaccolo explained that “brands must play on effects to boost their image. The colour positioning should also be in line with fashion trends to continue to attract consumers on more seasonal products, while offering through regular ranges, avant-garde formulas or formulas that adapt to consumers’ expectations in terms of intrinsic qualities of the nail polish. To meet market demand, ILCosmetics will launch in April, through more than 200 colours, new generation formulas with a technological breakthrough in terms of make-up finish.” Wimmer adds to this argument on trends that “the shapes of bottles and the variety of colours allow consumers to collect nail polish bottles, thus accentuating the product’s ‘accessory’ and ‘fashion’ side.

To play on this trend Chromavis will launch 80 new colors and unique different ‘ special effects ’ in its new collection.


After the craze for effects, it seems that the long-term trend is moving towards more ‘sober’ nail polishes. With the maturing of the market, there will always be some seasonal products, but also some classics. This is reflected in the strategy of luxury brands that are choosing to work more on colour than texture, like Lancôme who translated its lipstick Absolute Désir in nail polish, or Chanel with its Rouge Rubis now available as a nail polish. Mirrors or metallic effects are also trendy (Estée Lauder’s Pure Color Metallic, Dior’s Vernis Mystic).
Another trend is the gel or the gel effect. Gels have the advantage of having a longer hold, but this technique is heavier because it requires UV drying and its removal can damage the nail. Brands have therefore come up with innovative versions of the gel, like Allessandro with its Striplac product (see picture). Other brands are setting foot in the segment with ranges with a gel effect claiming an increased sustained hold and brightness.

On the other hand, natural colours (Nude) are increasingly in demand. This goes hand in hand with the search for innovative ingredients, currently focusing on more gentle and natural formulas for the nail, which is demonstrated with the new English brand Eve Snow, who launched a line of nail polishes containing vitamin E, argan oil or ginkgo biloba and which is becoming increasingly popular, in particular thanks to an interesting media coverage ( Brands like Une, also communicate on formaldehyde–, toluene– and phthalate–free formulations with a 72 to 85% natural ingredient content.

Anyway, as far as ingredients are concerned, it is difficult to play the sorcerer’s apprentice given the regulatory constraints. “The cosmetic regulation is discarding a lot of raw materials,” explained Miasnik, “products are more and more reliable, less irritating and easier to apply.”

In this regard Chromavis focused its attention on the elimination of raw materials that may be harmful for the nails and is therefore working on a new texture containing an innovative raw material that allows the nail to “breathe” thus being non-occlusive while ensuring great application performances in terms of color and lasting . Following the great ” gel -like” trend we have also launched a KYT4D 4D Shine formula that guarantees a typical thickness of a gel, an incredible brilliance and a perfect hold, says Romualdo Priore.

Nail polish still has a bright future ahead, since it is still below the market’s maturity curve. It remains a very competitive and coveted product for an increasing number of brands who want to add this featured product to their range. It remains to be seen what form or colour nail polish will take, in the months and years to come, to dress the nails of women!