Can Olive & June's internet-famous nail polish replace your salon manicure?
Spoiler: It's just as cute in person as it is on your Instagram.
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I’ve loved painting my nails since my middle school days and I’m not half bad at it, either. In the time I’ve played nail technician to myself, I’ve learned that not all nail polish is created equal—some goop up with little air exposure, some take too long to dry, and others pass both of those tests only to chip within a few hours of application.
I’d much rather have bare nails than half-chipped ones. As soon as I see the polish I’m wearing start to flake off, I can’t help but pick at it and peel it back. This is reason enough to stick with gel manicures at the salon, as they are way less likely to show wear and tear and I can get a full two weeks out of them before my nail bed starts to look too overgrown. I recently heard about Olive & June, though, with its bold-faced claims of giving a salon-like, at-home manicure. If it can keep me from picking and peeling, I’m down to try it. Like I said, I have a decently steady hand and can do the work, but I need the polish to hold up its end of the bargain.
What is Olive & June?
The millennial pink-festooned nail brand, which first caught my attention on Instagram, was founded in 2013 in Beverly Hills. Founder and CEO Sarah Gibson Tuttle is a self-proclaimed “mani-obsessee,” which led to her opening a nail salon and eventually a line of products for at-home use. “We believe in beautiful nails for everyone. That’s why we make polish, tools, and care to make mani and pedi dreams come true,” the Olive & June site states. “No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, you deserve to feel like your best self.”
What does Olive & June claim?
The brand claims that the polishes are long-lasting on the nails with a gel-like finish. Gel polish typically is thicker than regular polish and needs to be removed at the salon, but Olive & June leaves that attribute behind with its line. The brand also claims that its nail polishes are "cruelty-free," vegan, and free of seven controversial ingredients: dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, and xylene. Other than formaldehyde, I do not recognize any of those ingredients enough to know if they are typically used in nail polishes, but I suppose less is more when it comes to chemicals.
How did I test Olive & June?
To get a feel for Olive & June’s polish and tool offerings, I opted for The Mani System. At the time of publication, this kit includes six polishes of your choice, a glossy top coat, a handle for the top of the polish brush, cuticle serum, a polish remover, a brush for cleaning when you color outside the lines, a nail buffer, a set of nail clippers, and a nail file. It all cost $80, which the company says is a value of $109. Considering I used to spend $40 per gel manicure, it’s a steal … if it works.
At the time I tested, the polish line included pale colors, medium shades, deep tones, and metallics, all of which range from sheer to opaque in finish. (The collection now includes glitter options, too.) Instead of typical cutesy nail-polish names, these polishes are identified by the initials of someone the owner knows or admires. I chose at least one shade from each of those categories to get a good cross section of the range: HD (a pure white), GH (a baby pink), BI (a peachy coral), CHM (a sheer tan), CV (a cherry red), and OJSM (a metallic rose gold). I then used each one at least once over the course of a few months, and tried all of the tools to give myself a manicure. This involved cutting, filing, and buffing my nails and trimming my cuticles. I’m used to giving myself manicures but I usually use tools from the drugstore, so I was curious to see how Olive & June could improve my usual routine.
What’s it like to use Olive & June nail polish?
From the moment I received the Olive & June Mani System, I liked it. Inside a baby pink box were the tools and the polishes I picked out, as well as “The Olive & June Guide to Your Best Nails Ever” (an informational leaflet) and a sealable, reusable plastic pouch to hold the tools. The presentation was cute, yes, but also really helpful for storing everything together—if you have a pre-existing polish collection or if you plan to order more from O&J, this box can fit way more than the six polishes you receive. (I’d say you could easily fit a couple dozen bottles before it wouldn’t close.)
The O&J polish colors are stunning. Each one looks exactly as pictured and described on the site, and seeing them in person only makes me want to buy more now that the company expanded the color selection. I’m particularly impressed with the opacity of the formula—even the crisp white HD shade is completely opaque with no shadows or streaks. And the sheer shades, like CHM, are translucent with one coat, looking like a beautiful stain on the nails, but can be made more opaque with two or three coats.
I’m equally impressed with the fluidity of the polish’s formula. Even after months of use, my most-used shade (CHM) still runs thin in texture and glides on without any globbing or streaking. I noticed some streaking with HD despite it being one of my lesser-used shades, but the others remained true to how they were on day one.
One disappointment was that two of the six brushes had bristles that were bent and splayed out upon arrival—with one brush way worse than the other. I was surprised to open a brand new polish and see this, but I was able to (carefully) apply the color to my nails anyway. Other than this, which could be a fluke, the brushes were a perfect size and shape to hug the edges of my nail and coat the whole nail in two or three swipes. It only took two coats for the polish to look neat and completely opaque, and the addition of the shiny top coat made the nails look salon-finished.
The bigger disappointment: I didn’t find the polish lasted anywhere near as well or as long as the gel manis I hold as the gold standard. I noticed chipping within the first two days, which is typical for non-gel polish on me even if I get my nails done at a salon. So, no the polish didn’t last “chip-free for days and days” as the leaflet claims, but it held up just as well as traditional salon brands like O.P.I. and Essie, which tend to cost a dollar or two more than the O&J’s $8 a bottle, depending on where you buy them.
What’s it like to use Olive & June nail tools?
The tools in the Mani System make the kit worth it, even if the polishes chip after a few days of wear. Each one felt high quality and worked well for the purpose it was designed for (except for one). The main flaw with the tools is that they aren’t all sold individually. Some are only available in certain bundles with other tools and others you can only get in the Mani, Pedi, or Complete Systems. Here are my thoughts on each tool, ranked in order of how much I liked them:
Nail file: I didn’t know I possessed such strong thoughts on nail files until I used this great one. Every time I did my nails, even when I wasn’t specifically testing the box, I wanted to use this nail file over my $1 drugstore ones—and I liked those $1 ones before! The O&J file has enough grit to quickly file down and shape the nails, and somehow, it never seems to wear down, even after plenty of use and me wiping it clean on a towel. The only way to buy the nail file outside of the Mani System is in a kit that includes the cuticle serum, the top coat, and a carrying pouch, and that trio costs $26.
Nail clippers: The head of this nail clipper has a convex curve, which I especially appreciated. I shape my nails to be square and when I use a typical nail clipper with a concave head, I have to be careful not to round off the edges of my nails too much. It’s a small detail and it’s not a design that’s unique to O&J, but I appreciate it nonetheless. I also noticed that this felt sturdier and looked sleeker than any nail clipper I’ve owned before (again, I typically buy my supplies at Target or CVS). The Olive & June nail clippers are only sold in the “Systems.”
Clean-up brush: I was so happy to see that this kit included a tiny brush to clean up the edges of my nails where I colored outside of the lines. I keep a precise brush in my nail kit already for this purpose. The O&J brush, which comes in its own plastic cylinder case for storage, hardens when it’s not in use, but it quickly un-stiffens when you dip it into the nail polish remover. The bristles don’t shed and they’re flexible enough to curl around the edge of the nail if you’re trying to reach into that tough spot at the corners of the fingernail. A la carte, the brush costs $8.
Nail polish remover pot: Dipping the brush into this pot while you’re in the middle of doing your nails is super easy and keeps you from spilling yucky-smelling remover on your work station. I also dipped my fingers into it to remove polish in a pinch (read: if I majorly smudged a nail) and it took it off in a jiffy. The pot, which holds two fluid ounces, is priced at $8.
Cuticle serum: Olive & June says that the key to a great manicure is finishing it off with cuticle serum to get a shiny, healthy-looking cuticle. I don’t know how necessary that is, but I liked the inclusion of a skincare item in this kit. The milky solution claims to hydrate and soothe with cactus flower and absorb quickly into the skin and nail for a non-greasy finish. I didn’t notice a huge difference in my nail health from using this, but my nails and the skin around them get very dry, so I was happy to have the targeted moisture it provides. The serum dispenses through a cushion at the end of a twist-up cylinder and a set of two costs $30. The serum is also sold in a duo with the Hand Serum, which wasn’t in my kit, for $32.
Nail buffer: I was surprised at how gritty the surface of this buffer is compared to what I’m used to using, but it works really well to smooth the nail in preparation of the polish. My nails start to get grooves in them if I don’t buff them out regularly, and this takes care of that easily. Unfortunately, the nail buffer is not sold on its own or in a bundle with other tools, so you’ll need to opt for the Manicure or Complete System to try it.
The Poppy handle: A handle for the top of the nail polish brush, this tool is a point of recognition for anyone curious about Olive & June. When I told a coworker that I was testing the manicure kit, she asked me if I tried The Poppy yet. Well, I did ... and I don’t understand the hype. The leaflet describes this tool as a “universal polish bottle handle [that] makes painting your own nails a dream” because “the patented shape and soft silicone material create a comfy grip that gives you more control whether you’re painting with your dominant or non-dominant hand.” I didn’t expect this tool to make me ambidextrous, but I thought I would feel some kind of difference when I painted with my left hand. Most of the time I used the Olive & June polishes, I didn’t bother with The Poppy because I didn’t notice an improvement with it. Also, I’ve never had issues with nail polish handles slipping out of my hands and I’ve never known polishes to have left- or right-handed tops. If this tool is your selling point for the brand, I’m not sure it’s worth it—it’s the only part of the kit that I didn’t like.
Should you try Olive & June?
If you already paint your nails at home, I recommend trying Olive & June polishes. Depending on what you typically buy, these polishes may be more affordable than the salon brands, or more expensive but worth the upgrade from drugstore brands for better shades, opacity (or sheerness), and a smoother application. The colors are beautiful and I guarantee you will find ones that suit your mani style. Plus, the results rival the shiny, sleek look of a salon manicure and last just as long as regular polishes (but not as long as gel). Even if you don’t love painting your own nails, the manicure tools are a great investment for at-home nail care and may make polishing them a little easier.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.