sally hansen red lipstick
photo: Revelist/Brittany Fowler

I am a nail polish fanatic.

I started painting my nails when I was 10, as a way to help me stop anxiously biting my nails. I no longer bite my nails, but giving myself a manicure every week remains one of the most important elements of my self-care routine.

As you can imagine, I've given myself hundreds — maybe even thousands — of manicures. I have tried every nail polish, at every price point, in every combination. And people always ask me if there's *really* a difference between cheap nail polish and the expensive designer brands.

I decided to find out.

I put the most expensive nail polish in the world to the test against my favorite drugstore brand to find out, once and for all, which is best.

And the answer might surprise you.

This is Louboutin Beauty's Rouge Louboutin nail polish. At $50, it's the most expensive nail polish you can buy.

photo: B Fowler / Revelist

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This nail polish ($50, Sephora) is the exact shade of red as the red soles of Louboutin heels. Making this red nail polish brings the Louboutin full-circle; if you're not up on your expensive shoe history, the story goes that Christian Louboutin found his early shoe designs somewhat lacking IRL, so he grabbed his assistant's red nail polish and painted the soles.

Open up the split-top, red-lined box, and there it is — the Rouge Louboutin nail polish, looking like a gorgeous murder weapon.

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This nail polish ($50, Sephora) looks like a fetish object — and that's not a coincidence. The long, icepick-looking handle is the exact same height as the famous 8" Loubi ULTIMA ballerina heels. Like those shoes, this nail polish is meant to be a beautiful sculptural object first, and something of use second.

The faceted glass bottle is TRULY something to be admired.

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Honestly, this is beautiful to look at — really heavy, thick glass with a black gradient revealing the actual red polish ($50, Sephora) at the top.

But though the bottle itself is large and heavy, you don't get much product for your money. According to the brand, a bottle of Rouge Louboutin nail polish contains 0.4 oz of varnish. To compare, a classic bottle of Essie nail polish contains 0.46 oz, and both OPI and Sally Hansen bottles contain 0.5 oz each.

So how tall *is* the Rouge Louboutin bottle? Let's do a height comparison.

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There's no way you're going to be able to store the Rouge Louboutin polish ($50, Sephora) in a drawer — it is GIGANTIC. As you can see, it's much taller than a can of Coke. It's nearly the same height as a wine bottle. If you want to buy this nail polish, you'll need to commit to having it sit out somewhere; there's absolutely no way it'll fit in a small space.

You might be wondering why I'm spending so much time talking about the packaging of this nail polish. To be completely honest, the packaging is the best thing about Rouge Louboutin.

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This nail polish is FIFTY DOLLARS OF ACTUAL U.S. CURRENCY. You could literally buy every shade of nail polish that Wet N Wild makes for that price, and still have enough for a coffee. Like the Louboutin heels themselves, this polish is outrageously priced — so I was expecting the actual product to be really, really good.

I was disappointed.

The formula of the polish itself, though a very bright red, is extremely thin and watery.

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 According to the brand, I could expect "Highly pigmented, super glossy formula achieves in just two coats the effect of 20 layers of traditional lacquer" from the Rouge Louboutin ($50, Sephora). Just taking the brush out of the bottle and seeing how runny the polish really was — well, it left me skeptical.

The design of the Louboutin brush filled me with dread.

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The brush is very thin and slightly triangular in shape. The bristles are very long, extremely flexible, and are all the same length (which means you have a "flat" tip, rather than a rounded brush shape). This means the brush will be harder to control as you paint your nails, especially when paired with a thin polish formula.

And finally, there's that beautiful cap.

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This ice pick-looking cap is #aesthetic as hell. It looks beautiful on a vanity. It's stunning on Instagram. If I had to fight to the death using only beauty products, Rouge Louboutin is definitely the first nail polish I'd pick up.

This stabby cap makes the polish an absolutely nightmare to use. Because it doesn't come off.

Many high-end nail polishes have decorative caps — Smith & Cult, Butter London, jinSOON, Cle De Peau. But the "fancy" caps are removable, and when you pull them off, there's a short, easy to hold cap underneath. This is so you can, y'know, actually *use* the polish comfortably.

Louboutin's seven inch long, weighted Death Eater wand cap does not come off.

Though the brand promised "ergonomic" control, this cap is heavy, it's awkward, and I found it impossible to hold comfortably. And my manicure suffered accordingly.

I swatched the Rouge Louboutin on a piece of white paper to see what I could expect from one, two, and three coats of polish.

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On the bright side, the color of the polish doesn't change with more coats — it's exactly as bright red with three coats as with one.

On the less bright side, that shit is STREAKY. It's streaky with one coat, even streakier with two coats, then opaque but blobby with three.

This didn't fill me with confidence, but hey. Paper is just paper! It could surprise me... right?

A heavy, hard to hold cap + a VERY thin and flexible brush + a runny polish formula = an application nightmare.

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Let's get this out of the way first: Even using my non-dominant hand, I can paint my own nails as well as a professional manicurist. I have polish skills that I worked hard to develop.

But when I picked up the Rouge Louboutin, my confidence in those skills was murdered.

Using this expen$ive polish, I had disaster after disaster. I couldn't get a good grip on the cap, so I flooded my cuticles. The brushes were so flexible that they slipped and slid all over the skin around my fingers. I felt like a clumsy baby, and it was WEIRDLY demoralizing.

And because the Rouge Louboutin cap was so thick and heavy, there were parts of my nail that I straight up couldn't reach without contorting my entire body.

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This felt like trying to sign my name using a down feather attached to the end of a remote control.

The results were messy. REALLY messy.

Luckily, all the nail disasters cleaned up quickly and easily, without staining my skin. Here's my finished $50 Rouge Louboutin manicure. Despite the application dramas, it looked really good!

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I layered two coats of Loubi red over my favorite Nutra Nails Green Tea base coat ($5, Amazon), then topped it off with a coat of Sally Hansen Insta-Dry top coat ($3, Walgreens).

This is my perfect recipe for chip-proof nails, and I was sure it would stand me in good stead — even with the confidence-destroying Loub red.

From here, I lived my life normally for the next seven days to see how the Louboutin polish held up.

one week later spongebob
photo: Giphy

I typed. I texted. I cleaned my apartment. I played with my dog. I nervously fidgeted.

And here's how this ~incredibly expensive~ nail polish held up.

The results were... NOT GREAT.

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On the bright side: My nails weren't stained, which does often happen with really bold red nail polishes (yep, even though a good base coat — those pigments aren't a joke).

That's the only good thing I can say about the Rouge Louboutin nail polish. Let's take a closer look.

On my right hand, the polish had chipped badly, and the tips had visibly worn down. For a product that cost $50, this is straight-up DISRESPECTFUL.

If I'm paying $50 for nail polish, it had better cure my acne, bless my crops, and help me win an Oscar. It had BETTER not come the hell off my fingers while opening a bottle of wine (true story).

This is not what I expect from a luxury brand like Louboutin. Beautiful packaging is great, but the quality of the product itself has to match up with the aesthetics.

I don't do a lot of manual labour — I type on a laptop. There's no reason for a manicure to have worn this poorly after seven days — especially when the polish costs $50 of human money!

Overall, my experience with the Louboutin nail polish can be summed up in a single image:

I was not into it. The day I could take this off my hands was the best day of my life.

Now it was time to select the "cheap" nail polish competitor. First, I tested eight of my red drugstore polishes to see which was the closest color match to the Louboutin red — and right away, there was a winner.

louboutin red drugstore
photo: Alle / Revelist

Never let it be said that I don't do the most in the name of research.

This is Sally Hansen Color Therapy nail polish in Haute Springs. It's bold. It's bright. And it's $8.

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Haute Springs ($8, Ulta) is a bright, cool-toned red polish that is about half a shade darker and a touch more pink than the Louboutin red.

Haute Springs doesn't come in fancy designer packaging — but it DOES have a secret ingredient.

best drugstore red nail polish
photo: B Fowler

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The Sally Hansen Color Therapy line ($8, Ulta) is infused with Argan oil, which supposedly adds moisture and helps prevents chipping. As someone with breakable, peely nails, I stan HARD for the entire Color Therapy collection — it helps my otherwise fragile nails grow long and strong.

The Haute Springs bottle is exactly the size you'd expect, with a cute rose gold cap. It is also 84% cheaper than the Louboutin red, AND you get more bang for your polish buck.

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According to the brand, a bottle of Haute Springs ($8, Ulta) contains 0.5 oz of red nail polish. Compare that to Rouge Louboutin, which contains 0.4 oz of polish for $50.

But you can't use the Sally Hansen as a potential weapon, or as your wand if you're suddenly accepted to Hogwart's. So.

And the Color Therapy formula is awesome — Haute Springs might be the best bright red nail polish on the market right now.

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Haute Springs ($8, Ulta) applied a bright, poppy red, then dried about half a shade darker. The polish itself is thick, but not too thick, which made it really easy to maneuver and control across the nail.

It also dries really fast, and perhaps because of the Argan oil, has a unique floral smell. The smell goes away when the polish dries, but you *will* open this bottle and be like "What IS that?"

But the best thing of all is the brush.

The Haute Springs brush is short and thick, with stiff bristles and a rounded tip. This makes it absolutely PERFECT for doing your own nails.

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The wide, flat wand attached to the brush ($8, Ulta) is ALSO a gift — it allows the polish to flow slowly and evenly down the wand, onto the brush, then onto your nail. I never appreciated how much this one teeny detail improves my DIY manicure experience, but holy hell, it REALLY does.

That said, if you're used to a thinner brush — say you're a die-hard Essie fan — it may take some practice to get used to a more thicc version.

I swatched Haute Springs on white paper, and right away, I could tell this was going to be a VERY different manicure experience.

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One coat of Haute Springs ($8, Ulta) was lighter red, but unlike the Louboutin, remarkably unstreaky.

Two coats gave you a fully opaque, bright red experience.

Three coats looked exactly the same as two did — always a good sign. The fewer layers I have to pile on, the better.

The well-designed brush, easy to hold cap, and quality polish formula made the Sally Hansen a manicure DREAM.

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Even using my non-dominant hand, I couldn't have asked for a better manicure experience. Haute Springs ($8, Ulta) flowed evenly and non-streakily off the brush. The brush fanned out perfectly and covered almost the entire face of my nails. It didn't flood my cuticles.

This cheap polish didn't just apply better — it made me FEEL better and more confident.

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After my expensive Rouge Louboutin failure, my manicure confidence had taken some knocks. Maybe I really *wasn't* good at doing my nails. Maybe the problem wasn't the very pricey product I was using — maybe it was me.

Five minutes with the actually good Sally Hansen Haute Springs red, and I realized that was all nonsense. I am GREAT at doing my nails! The problem WASN'T me!

And of course I have the pictures to prove it.

Here's one coat of the $8 Haute Springe polish, applied with my non-dominant hand. Very little mess. Very little fuss.

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The power of a great brush and a quality formula.

The minor mistakes I made cleaned up really easily. Here's my finished $8 red manicure.

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As with the Louboutin red polish, I applied two coats of Haute Springs over my Nutra Nails Green Tea base coat ($5, Amazon), then finished my manicure with a coat of Sally Hansen Insta-Dry top coat ($3, Walgreens). I thought that this manicure using $8 red polish looked just as good — if not better — than the $50 version.

But there was one key difference between the two — which soon became very, very clear.

For the next week, I lived my life exactly the same normal to test the wear of this $8 polish.

one week later card
photo: Giphy

Once again, I typed on my laptop. I scritched my dog. I fidgeted nervously.

Here's how this cheap polish held up after a week.

I. Was. SHOOK. If I didn't tell you this $8 Sally Hansen manicure was a full week old, would you even know?

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Because truly, I would NOT.

Haute Springs didn't chip. It didn't peel. It didn't bubble. The most significant "damage" to this manicure was some wear at the tips of my nails, which was especially visible on my right hand.

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This is the degree of damage I'm used to seeing with my nail polish, honestly — anyone who spends most of their time typing probably knows it, too.

Overall, my experience with the $8 Sally Hansen red nail polish can be summed up in one image:

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I love Sally Hansen.

I love Color Therapy.

I ESPECIALLY love Haute Springs as a color.

And I love that it's $8 — because everyone deserves amazing nails!

So which nail polish won in this epic battle of Expensive versus Cheap?

Hands down, the winner was the $8 bottle of Sally Hansen Color Therapy nail polish in Haute Springs ($8, Ulta).

It was far and way the better polish in terms of design, use, price, value, and wear — the only thing the Rouge Louboutin did better was crush my confidence and look awesome on my vanity.

After this test, I'm a believer — this $8 nail polish is LIFE-CHANGINGLY good.

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If money is really no object, or you're looking for a really intense paperweight which could (but shouldn't) double as a murder weapon, by all means, spend $50 on the Rouge Louboutin nail polish. It is undoubtedly a lovely piece of sculpture.

But if you want a nail polish that is easy to use, looks amazing after a full week, AND doesn't cost a bananas amount of money — get yourself an $8 of Sally Hansen Color Therapy Polish in Haute Springs. I may never use a more expensive brand ever again.

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