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Julep’s Korean Beauty Product-Inspired Nail Polish Checks All the Boxes

The Seattle-based cosmetics company is one of the few that our beauty reviewer regularly recommends to friends.

Nail polish seems like a very frivolous thing. As far as essentials go, most of us only make a prompt trip to the beauty aisle when our mascara has become too dry to apply, or we’re down to the last milliliter of face wash. Polish is typically that rarer, whimsical purchase when summer weather hits and you’re strapping on sandals.

When I sat down to an online beauty restock on a particularly indulgent self-care day awhile back, a $14 bottle of electric coral-colored Julep nail polish ended up being just what the doctor ordered. I justified the purchase with its cruelty-free and “5-free” description, meaning the polish does not contain formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, DBP, camphor, and animal ingredients or byproducts. Then I learned that Jane Park, Julep’s founder/CEO, was an Ivy League-educated Korean-American lawyer who left her position at Starbucks corporate to start Julep in Seattle. My curiosity was more than piqued, and soon to be rewarded.

Park has cultivated a brand that is for women, by women, and for women to have fun with on their own terms. Each of Julep’s dozens of colors in different finishes and opacity is named after a woman. Maybe a famous actress, maybe an employee in Julep’s accounting department—but every color has a name.

All of Julep's nail polishes are named after inspiring women. (Julep)
All of Julep’s nail polishes are named after inspiring women. (Julep)

And it’s damn good nail polish. The color went on in a thick, even layer, looking finished even without a top coat. True to the brand’s claims of a formula that permits more oxygen to permeate, my natural nails didn’t have the usual discoloration after a week or so of wear. They actually looked more healthy than when first painted.

That thoughtful approach to product formulation has translated into Julep’s expanding line of skin care and cosmetics, many of which are inspired by current Korean skincare trends.

Their eyeliner? Stays put on greasy lids without any primer or powder to hang on to, and is a creamier glide than other luxury longwear standouts like Marc Jacobs’ pencils. Their Love Your Bare Face cleansing oil is a soothing way to break-up makeup at the end of the day, with emollient ingredients like squalene and rosehip seed oil.

And I’m not even gushing yet! Julep’s clear, absorbent 40 SPF face sunscreen  is nothing short of a game-changer. The lightweight gel doesn’t cause break-outs or have the usual chemical smell of higher SPF protection. It even acts like a primer, holding makeup in place and creating a barrier between your skin and exterior toxins.

Editor's note: sign me up for the sparkly purple Aimee! (Julep)

For a product as trivial as nail polish, Julep has created a varied lineup so strong that not only is it one of the beauty products I routinely recommend to friends, but the brand’s improvements on skincare staples has kept me subscribing to their beauty box program long after the first free month. For $20/month, you get $40 worth of customizable products, a discount on everything else on the Julep website, and you can always choose to refuse that month’s box if you feel like saving more than splurging.

Or, take a note from my book and use one of your products as payment to your roommate for your half of the Netflix bill.

Shop Julep on Ulta Beauty

Shop Julep on Nordstrom

(Cool Stuff is a new feature at Willamette Week where we feature product reviews, roundups, sales and other commerce and shopping-oriented content. All Cool Stuff reviews are editorially independent, meaning we provide honest reviews and aren’t paid by the brands we write about. If you do choose to purchase something after following one of our links, Willamette Week may receive a commission, which helps fund our journalism.)