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Differences Between Top Coats & Base Coats

by Danielle Jennings, studioD

When you spend time, energy and creativity to do your nails, you don't want your hard work to be ruined by a chipped manicure. The easiest way to make sure your manicure lasts as long as possible is by using a base coat before you apply nail color and a top coat over it. There are formulas in each to help your nails withstand the rigors of daily activities.

Pros of Top Coats

Largely known as the final step in the manicure process, a top coat is more than just a shiny finishing touch added to your nail polish. Once your nail color has fully dried, a top coat is applied as a sealant of sorts. The clear nail lacquer of a top coat creates a barrier between the surfaces of your nails obstacles that can cause chipping and breaking. Many top coats help nail polish dry faster and also provide a glossy shine.

Pros of Base Coats

A base coat preps your nails for the polish to come, and is essential in the manicure process because it also stops the colors from causing yellowing on your nails. Once you've trimmed your cuticles, filed and shaped your nails, apply a base coat to help your polish stay around for the long haul. A base coat adheres to your natural nail and makes it more receptive to the nail polish, forming a secure bond.

Top Coat Cons

The most alluring thing about a top coat is the high shine it adds to your nails. While it also helps prevent the chips that come with daily wear and tear, it can lack the toughness of a base coat. The shine that's so regarded in a top coat comes with a price. The thicker the top coat, the more shine it creates -- but it will also take longer to dry. So if ultra shine is one of your ultimate manicure goals, be prepared to sit longer for your nails to dry. The base coat already acts as the binder needed to ensure your polish stays put before a top coat is applied.

Base Coat Cons

Every procedure needs the proper prep time and materials, exactly what a base coat does to great effect. However, many prefer to skip the base coat altogether and just apply a polish and a top coat to give the manicure its desired look. You can't really see the effects of a base coat like those of a top coat. Also, many newer top coats have a "two-in-one" formula, meaning they combine the elements and benefits of a base coat with the shine and chip-resistance of a regular top coat.

About the Author

Danielle Jennings began writing professionally in 2005 and is an expert in fashion, entertainment and lifestyle journalism. She has written for "Jezebel," "Creative Loafing" and "Haute Living." She attended Clayton State University, earning her bachelor’s degree in communications and media studies.

Photo Credits

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