The panel: Nail polish
When it comes to getting this season nailed, there seems to be everything but pink in the polish spectrum.
Nude shades remain high on the hit list, running all the way from milky whites to downright dirty-looking hues, while classic reds endure, albeit with a twist, and burgundies have darkened further into aubergine.
Basically, the lip trends you might not dare to wear are big in nails, too, and less challenging to carry off.
Texture is big this season, with sparkle becoming more a sweet-wrapper shine and matt making a comeback.
Nail length is up to you, and good news for those who nibble is that the deepest dramatic shades are best on short nails, unless you're going for a Dynasty look.
Further, it has been a pleasure to discover how some of our favourite colours come with foolproof brushes, given that professional manicures are but a distant memory for many of us.
The golden application rule is two thin coats and a good top coat and you should remain beautifully polished for longer.
Catrice in Lost in Mud, €2.79, available nationwide
When it comes to some of the nude nail polishes knocking around this season, there's a thin line between modish and muddy. Oddly, despite it's name, this isn't one of them. Where some polishes have a mucky brown hue, this has a lilac-grey tinge that is very flattering to all skintones, and the finish and staying power are excellent, particularly for the price. "I've tried the nail-art products from this brand, which are very good but more fun products; this is proper polish -- cool and chic. I'm impressed," said a panellist.
Best Rapid Red
Rimmel Lycra Pro in Red Carpet, €5.55, available nationwide
This range can't be beaten for the speed at which it dries and the ease with which it applies, thanks to the Maxi Brush, but the choice of shades is great, too. This on-trend strawberry-red has a sheen just like a sweet wrapper from the Roses tin. "Super shiny and very flattering," said one panellist. "Lovely on the hands for a night out; my toes can look a bit piggy-pink with red polish, but this seemed to revive the remnants of my tan."
Best Neutral Nude
Leighton Denny in Creme de la Creme, €10, The Beauty Parlour, Terenure, D6W, tel: (01) 492-7017
As there is such a broad range of nudes in terms of shade and sheerness, a second example on the spectrum merited inclusion. This is far more transparent than the Catrice colour, more a perfecting coating of pale beige than a coat of paint. It's beautiful as part of an understated French manicure, too. "If your nails are in good nick, this is very pretty," said a panellist. "I liked the milky-nude colour and it's exceptionally shiny."
Best Dark Delight
Essie in Carry On, €11.99, selected salons nationwide, tel: (01) 460-0645
Best of the almost blacks this season. A deep purple of the aubergine variety, it's grown-up Gothic and much easier to wear than the greys and khakis that abound. The fine brush is very effective in applying those two thin layers that the instructions demand. "The feminine way to wear borderline black, I reckon," said a panellist. "It goes with everything and my nails don't have to be perfectly manicured to pull it off."
Best Transforming Top Coat
Chanel Top Coat Velvet, €22, Chanel counters nationwide
If you have all the nail colours you could ever use, but wouldn't mind ramping them up a little, give this top coat a thought. A little weird when you first apply it, as it obviously dulls the nail polish beneath, it does dry to a very pleasing suede-like finish. Also nice on naked nails, making them appear smooth and ridge-free. "Gave a whole new life to my favourite reds and taupes," said a panellist. "It's initially unnerving when your polish doesn't catch the light, but I really liked it."
Pictured, clockwise from top: Rimmel Lycra Pro in Red Carpet, Catrice in Lost in Mud, essie in Carry On, Leighton Denny in Creme de la Creme, Chanel Top Coat Velvet