Home Beautygab Can You Use Base Coat As Top Coat? – And Vice Versa

Can You Use Base Coat As Top Coat? – And Vice Versa

by Gabbi

A fresh manicure can help make you feel new and put together. However, most of us agree that our biggest nightmare is ruining our manicures. The last thing you want to see is your polish chipped, which is why a base and top coat are necessary. 

If you want nail polish to last for weeks on end, you’ll want to invest in a base coat and a top coat. Both of these products protect your polish and your nails in various ways. You’ll notice your manicure won’t chip or smudge that easily.

However, learning the difference between a base coat and a top coat can be confusing. They are both clear polishes that aid in nail prep, so does it really matter if you don’t use them in the correct order? Surprisingly enough, base and top coats aren’t the same.

Can you use a base coat as top coat, and vice versa? Technically you can use them interchangeably, but you won’t receive a flawless result. It’s okay to switch them if you’re in a pinch, but you’ll quickly see why you shouldn’t use one as the other. 

Top coats might be able to act as a base layer, but you won’t be able to reap the same benefits for your manicure as a base coat. The same goes for using a base coat as a top coat. So, what else do you need to know about these two products?

What Is A Base Coat?

A base coat is a crucial step in a nail prep routine. Every manicure should have a prep routine to ensure the nail polish will last. This includes clipping the nails, filing the nails, pushing back the cuticles, and cleaning the nail plate before painting. 

These steps will ensure you have nails that are ready for nail polish. You’ll want to use a primer, dehydrator, or alcohol wipe before applying a base coat to ensure all the moisture from the nails is gone. Moisture can cause chipping or lifting.

Once your nails are dried and prepped, it’s time to apply your base coat. The purpose of the base coat is to protect your nail plate from polish. For example, it will prevent the color from staining your nails. It will create a sticky layer once it’s applied.

Most base coats will have a tacky finish because it will allow the nail polish to stick to the base coat rather than your nails. This will also ensure that your manicure lasts as long as possible. 

What Is A Top Coat?

A top coat is also necessary to use when performing a manicure. 

Without a top coat, your polish can easily get ruined. For example, your polish will move around, smudge, or it can even pick up lint, dust, and debris and ultimately damage your mani.

A top coat will add a protective layer for your nail polish color. You’ll notice that your nails can look dull or unfinished without a top coat. Every mistake, streak, or flaw with your color will be on display. Thankfully, a top coat will fix everything.

So if you want to make your nail polish last or achieve that shiny salon finish, you’ll need a top coat. The top coat will dry with a nice protective layer so external elements won’t damage it. It will blur and smooth out any mistakes like streaks.

Lastly, you can receive impeccable shine. However, top coats can have many finishes, so you can even opt for a matte top coat if you want a more subtle look. 

Why Do You Need A Base and Top Coat? 

While you technically can apply nail lacquer without base or top coat, you won’t receive a salon-quality result. Using nail polish on its own will look unfinished, and it can also be prone to smudging, chipping, or staining the nail plate. 

A base coat will protect your nail plate so the color won’t stain your actual nails. It will provide a nice sticky layer for your color to latch onto, which will, in turn, prolong its wear time.

It will also smooth out any bumps or ridges that are on your nail plate so the polish can apply evenly. 

A top coat will help blur any mild imperfections while applying the polish. It will smooth out texture and create a glossy finish. It will dry down to a rigid protective shiny shield to prevent chipping, smudging, or lifting. 

Can You Use Base And Top Coats Interchangeably?

It won’t be the end of the world if you interchangeably use a top and base coat, but you won’t achieve a salon-quality manicure. Both top and base coats have their own functions and purposes, so switching them around will create unexpected results.

Using these products interchangeably won’t allow you to reap the maximum benefits. For example, your nail polish won’t last as long as you like, and it won’t have a flawless finish. However, if you’re in a pinch, you might be able to make it work for a day.

Beware of using a base coat as a top coat. As mentioned earlier, most base coats dry with a sticky or tacky layer because it creates the perfect base for polish. If this is used as a top coat, it will likely catch lint, dust, dirt, or debris.

While a top coat is not best as a base coat, it is the better option out of the two. If you’re interested in learning more about various tips and tricks to use a top coat as a base coat, make sure to follow along! 

Why You Shouldn’t Use Base Coats As A Top Coat  

Base coats are designed to adhere to your nail plate and provide a seamless base for your polish. Base coats will smooth out any ridges or bumps that are present on your nails. They also prevent staining if you decide on bold nail color.

So why wouldn’t you want to use a base coat as a top coat? Some reasons include not having a shine, being prone to chipping, and creating a sticky surface.

No Shine

Base coats are designed to be the layer underneath your nail lacquer. So they won’t dry down the same as a top coat will. Some base coats even dry down tacky or sticky because it will prolong the life of your nail polish shade. 

If you apply a base coat as a top coat, you’ll notice your finishing result will look dull or drab. It may even resemble a matte top coat more than a regular top coat. That may work for some people, but most of us agree we want a glossy-salon look.

Overall, using a base coat as a top coat won’t give you a seamless finish like a top coat would. You may even bring attention to streaks or imperfections after you’ve applied the color. 

Prone To Smudging/Chipping

Another reason you might want to avoid using a base coat as a topcoat is because it will not prevent chipping, lifting, or smudging. A base coat can make matters worse due to its tacky finish and make it more likely to snag onto something.

Remember, a base coat won’t dry to a hard glossy finish like top coats can! So yes, you may get more of a matte finish, but it won’t protect or prolong your polish in any way. 

Tacky Surface 

Lastly, we’ve mentioned multiple times that base coats can be sticky or tacky. What does this mean if you use it as a top coat? Well, you will attract lint, dirt, dust, and debris to your nails. You’ll get textured nails, but maybe not in a cute, artsy way.

To make matters worse, it will be challenging to remove whatever gets caught on your nails without completely removing your polish. Your nails can easily latch onto fabrics or other materials.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Top Coats As A Base Coat 

Top coats are designed to seal in all the hard work you’ve done to paint your nails. They smooth out minor imperfections like bubbles, streaks, bumps, and more. Top coats can expand your creativity because they are available in multiple finishes. 

However, a glossy finish is the most popular. Top coats will also dry down almost like a shell and create a protective barrier so nothing can ruin a manicure.

A top coat should keep your nail lacquer intact for at least two weeks before it starts to chip.

Of course, your nail prep and application methods also play a significant factor in making your nail color last. So, why shouldn’t you use a top coat as a base coat? Staining, polish chipping or fading, and even creating a slippery base all play a role.


Base coats are fantastic because they prevent the nail lacquer from staining or harming your nail plate. However, top coats will only create a protective seal for your nails that can still be prone to staining. 

Top coats won’t necessarily protect your nail plate as an actual base coat would. It won’t create an excellent base for the polish to latch onto either. Finally, you’ll notice polish won’t last due to its smooth and shiny finish.

Polish Won’t Last

We mentioned earlier that your polish wouldn’t last if you used a base coat as a top coat. The same goes for using a top coat as a base coat. A top coat will create a smooth and shiny base, which can be difficult for the polish actually to stick onto.

This is not ideal because a shiny base will be too slick, and the nail color will be prone to chipping within days of application. However, this will also depend on your top coat’s formula because they can be matte, shiny, glittery, satin, and more.

Top Coat As A Base Coat 

However, if you find yourself in a pinch or need a quick fix, it might be better to use a top coat as a base coat rather than a base coat as a top coat. 

Of course, using a top coat under nail polish is better than nothing, but you can still seal your chosen color properly.

How Can You Use a Top Coat As a Base Coat?

For starters, prioritize nail prep as much as possible. 

Clip your nails, file them down, push back your cuticles, and wipe them down with an alcohol pad. This will ensure you get enough moisture away from your nail plate for the top coat to apply seamlessly.

Once you apply your top coat, please wait for it to dry before applying your color. Choose a light or pastel color to prevent staining. Once you use your color, make sure to apply it to the edges and the tips of your nails to avoid chipping.

Lastly, you’ll want to go back in with your top coat and seal everything in. Don’t forget to cap the tips of your nails to ensure they last for as long as possible. 

Using a top coat as a base coat will at least create a barrier between your nails and the polish. You can still use a top coat to finish your manicure correctly, so you are still left with a hardened, glossy finish that will also protect your color.

2-In-1 Top And Base Coat Products 

You may have heard that 2-in-1 base and top coats exist. However, do they work, or is it worth purchasing? Like most 2-in-1 products, you run the risk of not having either component work to its fullest potential.

So you’ll get a top coat that’s lousy and a base coat that doesn’t work. However, it still might be better than nothing. If anything, it can be handy to keep in your bag or on the go if you ever find yourself in a nail mishap.

A 2-in-1 top and base coat can prevent nail tragedies, but it won’t be as effective as a regular base and top coat. However, a standard base or top coat will still be the best way to prolong your nail polish.

The Takeaway 

A base coat and a top coat is essential for any manicure. A base coat will protect your nail plate, create a smooth base, and prevent the polish from staining your nails. A top coat will eliminate minor imperfections, add shine, and avoid chipping.

While you technically can use a base coat as a top coat and vice versa, it won’t be ideal. You won’t achieve the same finish or longevity if you use these products as intended. However, you can make it work if you are in a pinch. 

If you must choose between the two, try to use a top coat as a base coat. 

The top coat will still create a barrier between your nails and the color. You can still finish your manicure as intended and get a glossy, hardened finish that keeps your color safe. 

The best way to use a top coat as a base coat is to prep your nails as much as possible. For example, push back your cuticles and wipe your nails down for an alcohol wipe to remove moisture that can disrupt your manicure.

Apply your top coat, follow it up with your color, and seal in your hard work again with your top coat. This won’t be as effective as a regular mani, but it can last a day or two!

Up Next: Base Coat Vs. Topcoat – Essential Guide

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