Home Beautygab Base Coat Vs. Topcoat – Essential Guide

Base Coat Vs. Topcoat – Essential Guide

by Gabbi

One of the first things you learn about painting nails is how crucial a base coat and top coat are to a manicure. Regular nail polish on its own doesn’t have any staying power, and it can chip easily. A base and topcoat can solve this issue. 

What is a base coat? A base coat is a clear lacquer that preps the nail before nail polish is applied. It increases the staying power of nail polish so it can last for weeks on end. A topcoat is also a clear lacquer that seals in your nail color to add shine and vibrancy and prevent the paint from chipping.

Base coats and top coats are crucial for any nail routine, no matter if you are working with polish, gel, acrylic, or something else. Just like you would add a heat protectant to your hair before styling, you apply a base coat. Think of a topcoat as your hairspray.

Protecting the health of your nails is crucial, primarily if you paint them regularly. Likewise, it’s also ideal to ensure your nail color is protected from chipping, breaking, or becoming dull. But can they be used interchangeably? Why do you need both? Let’s dive in!

Base Coat Vs. Topcoat 

When you’re just getting into doing your own nails, all the different products can be a bit overwhelming to pick and choose from. So to make this a bit easier for you, we’ll discuss a bit about base coats and topcoats individually below.

Base Coat 

Using a base coat will ensure your nails are protected from nail polish, and it will also increase the staying power of your color. Base coats are an essential step for a nail prep routine that will offer the best results for your manicure. 

Base coats provide an extra layer of protection between your nail color and the nail bed. This comes in handy to prevent bold or intense nail colors like red from staining your nails. For example, using a red shade on the nails without a base coat could stain.

Well, of course, it won’t be the end of the world, but stained nails are an annoyance that could easily be avoided if you use a base coat. Those who love bold and bright colors will be able to rock them without fear if they apply a high-quality base coat first.

Base coats also create a smooth surface on your nail bed to ensure a silky application of your nail color. You won’t have to worry about bumps, uneven textures, bubbles, and other imperfections disrupting a sharp and clean manicure. 

Another advantage of a base coat is that it creates a tacky surface for the nail polish to adhere to without fault. You want your nails to last, so it only makes sense to choose an adhesive base coat that your polish will want to latch onto. 

Base coats will help your polish become budge-proof. They can also be infused with yummy and nail-strengthening ingredients. These features will protect the nails from breaking, and they will get a healthy dose of vitamins for strength.


Topcoats are essential to use when finishing up a manicure because after all that hard work you’ve put into painting your nails, you’ll want to protect them. In addition, topcoats are a versatile product that can change the look of your manicure in a flash. 

There is a topcoat to fit all your needs. For example, topcoats can give you a shiny finish, matte finish, fast-drying capabilities, extra strength, high shine, and much more. Also, topcoats can transform the look of your manicure for the better. 

Topcoats are more useful than simply improving the beauty of your nail polish. They also prevent your nail polish from getting scratched or prematurely chipping. It acts as a protective layer for your nail and your polish color so it can last for weeks. 

A top coat can offer extra benefits to your nails. For example, there are plenty of “gel” topcoats that aren’t gel or don’t require a UV light, but they act as a hard protective layer. There are also fast-drying topcoats that are a lifesaver for busy individuals. 

Topcoats add extra oomph to your nail color, creating shine you didn’t know you needed. It also minimizes the appearance of minor imperfections like tiny bubbles, lint, and streaks so you can be left with a crisp and clean look. 

In addition, a topcoat won’t leave an uncomfortable, sticky residue and will instead leave you with a glass-like finish. Investing in a proper topcoat will allow your manicure to last for at least 2-3 weeks. They can be worn on natural nails by themselves or over nail polish. 

Are Base And Top Coats Interchangeable?

Many of us can agree that we have all used a base coat as a top coat and vice versa. So what’s wrong with that? It makes sense since they both are clear lacquer/polish that protects the nails and nail polish color from getting damaged. 

However, it’s not the best idea. But, of course, we all have personal preferences, and what works for some may not work for others. Base coats do have a different formulation than topcoats. They both provide varying benefits for your manicure.

You may have noticed if you have used a base coat as a topcoat, your nails are left with a thin, sticky layer of clear polish. This has the potential to attract lint, dust, dirt, and more to the nails because base coats tend to be tacky and need something to latch onto. 

If you use a top coat as a base coat, your natural nails will be protected from stains, but your polish could slip and slide around. In addition, the top coat’s nature to provide a glossy finish can mess up the smooth and opaque application of your nail color. 

While they share extreme similarities, it’s not recommended to use a base and top coat interchangeably. This is a recipe for an undesired, messy manicure that you’ll have to redo. You won’t be guaranteed a manicure free of imperfections. 

Do You Need Both Products?

Surprisingly enough, it’s not absolutely necessary to use both a base and topcoat. However, don’t expect a high-quality or long-lasting manicure. Beware of nail polish formulations. Bold colors can stain the nails, and the polish can chip away easily.

Both top and base coats are essential to achieve a manicure that can last for weeks or even a month. Base coats will protect the natural nail from damage or stains, while topcoats will prevent chipping or breaking, and add an extra finish to your nail color.

Together, they will offer a professional salon look that you can apply with ease in the comfort your home. In addition, your nail color will stick to your base coat, while topcoats can offer a wide variety of finishes and benefits to strengthen your nails.

How To Use Base And Top Coats

Now, applying a base and topcoat is easier than you think. Sure, all you have to do is swipe it on, and you’ll be good to go. However, there are a few tips and tricks to using a base coat and topcoat to ensure your manicure will receive the maximum benefits.

Here’s how to use base coats and topcoats:

  1. First, prep the nail. Preparing the nail will allow the base coat to lay on the nail bed smoothly. To start the nail prep, file your free edge into your desired shape and lightly buff the nail bed to even out any sneaky ridges or texture.
  2. Then, wipe the nails down with an alcohol pad. You will want to ensure that the nail beds are free of moisture and excess oils. This moisture can disrupt your manicure, and your nail polish has the potential to chip quicker than expected. 
  3. Now it’s time for the base coat. Again, you will want to work in small amounts and thin layers. Thick layers of polish and lacquer can also make your manicure prone to chipping. Thin layers will adhere to your nail, and it will be ready for your color.
  4. Next, apply your desired nail polish color of choice. It’s also recommended to work in thin layers to make sure your polish is opaque and even. Thin layers will be less prone to chipping. Then, apply two coats of your nail color for the best results.
  5. Finally, it’s time for your topcoat. If you feel like you need extra security, you can also apply two thin layers of topcoat to ensure your nails won’t be chipping prematurely. Add a thin layer over the color and a small amount to your free edge to seal the deal.
  6. Allow yourself an adequate amount of time for your polish to dry fully. You can watch your favorite show, read a book, anything that makes the time pass by without using your fingers. 

A base and topcoat can upgrade any manicure or pedicure at home. Once it’s dry, you’ll have a salon-grade manicure that’s made to last! 

Up Next: Nail Hardener Vs. Nail Strengthener

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