As a professional nail stylist, I get asked my opinion on a lot of different products (some professional, some not). Here is a short list of my favorite products:
1. Favorite cuticle oil -- CND Solar Oil is my absolute favorite. I love the smell, the consistency, and the fact that it comes in a bunch of different sized bottles which makes it convenient to have in multiple places. If, however, you're allergic to nuts or nut oils, my second fave is OPI Avoplex cuticle oil.
2. Favorite base coat -- OPI makes a ton, all made for different nail types. I like most of them. Natural Nail Strengthener is my go-to for thin/weak nails. Nail Envy comes in different formulas depending on your needs; my favorite is Matte Base; it's great for just about everyone.
3. Favorite top coat -- again, OPI wins. I use the traditional Top Coat, but they have others to choose from (including Matte for a non-shiny finish).
4. Favorite quick dry -- OPI's "Drip Dry Drops". Many companies make drops as well as sprays. I don't like sprays because you always, no matter what you do, get it on other things. These drops are precise, and really work.
5. Favorite brand of gel polish -- You know... I don't have a favorite. As I've told many people (pros and non-pros alike), there isn't one formula/brand that works for everyone. I carry my top four favorites -- OPI GelColor, CND Shellac, Gelish, and Artistic Colour Gloss. Between these four, I have enough for my clients to find something they like and that will work with their body's chemistry.
6. Favorite brand of gel -- CND. Hands down... I've tried other brands in the past, and currently carry two soft gels each from both CND and ACG (ACG has recently come out with a hard gel that is LED-curable; once I get some and test it out, I will blog a review for you). I also carry, and use, traditional hard gel by CND. I like their ease of application.
7. Favorite brand of acrylic -- First, let's start calling them by their correct name: Liquid & Powder (or L&P). Chemically, L&P and gels are both in the acrylate family, they just apply & cure differently. That aside, I still favor CND. They have a few different liquids and a couple different powders so you can customize for any client. If done using the correct ratios, you can also customize further by adding glitter or pigments to your mixture.
8. Favorite brand of traditional polish -- OPI. I love that I can match their traditional polish to their GelColor line (for those who are still in the dark ages and have to match their toes & fingers, and for those who are so hard on their nails that they need a little touch up between appointments). I love the formula & I love the brush. I do *NOT* love that some of you don't understand the concept (or don't care) of diversion... please STOP buying OPI in grocery stores!
9. Favorite remover -- This one's a tie. I prefer the smell of CND's Nourishing Remover, but the price of OPI's Expert Touch is better. Both can be used as a traditional polish remover, a gel polish remover, and a soft gel remover. Both have nourishing oils in them, so don't use them as a nail prep!
10. Favorite non-professional product -- This is actually not a nails-specific product. It's a skin product. O'Keefe's products -- they both WORK! As much as I gripe at my clients who don't wear proper shoes, don't take proper care of their feet, etc... there are still those who have super-dry feet, and/or cracked heels. This, I know, can be painful. O'Keefe's really does work, and can be found in any grocery or health&beauty store.
11. Favorite nail prep -- CND's Scrub Fresh. This will remove all oils in the nails, and prep them for better adhesion of whatever nail products you choose to apply.