Raise your hand if you’ve ever skipped your base coat when doing your nails.
Now that we all have our hands up, let’s take a moment to talk about if base coats are worth your time.
The argument for base coats.
Yes, they add one more bottle to fit into your polish stash, but for the most part, the main reason people skip the base coat step is to save time. It’s an extra step, more drying time, and no one looking at your nails can tell you skipped it (probably) so what’s the harm? The thing is, the lasting power your manicure is only as good as your base coat. So if the problem is you barely have time to do your nails as it is, skipping a base coat almost guarantees your polish will be chipping in a day or two and you’ll have to spend more time taking your now messy manicure off and polishing again. Base coats make your nail polish last chip-free longer so you won’t need to do your nails twice a week if you won’t want to. It’s a time-saver overall.
Skipping your base coat is like trying to plant flowers in a pot without dirt. If you want your polish to last, you have to start at the foundation.
What do base coats do anyway?
Prevent staining. I have a favorite deep blue lacquer that stains my nails an awful light blue color whenever I wear it without a base coat so it looks like I’m in a constant state of hypothermia. Base coats are a protective layer that keep lacquer pigments from discoloring your nail bed. Your nails take a long time to grow out, so if you don’t want oddly colored nails for months, base coats keep your nails a healthy color.
Make your manicure last longer. I’m sure you’ve noticed that your fingernails aren’t naturally sticky. (Thank goodness.) That’s great for everyday life, but when you want something to adhere to your nails, having smooth nails puts us at a disadvantage. Base coats are liquid double-sided tape. They anchor to your nails and create a surface that your lacquer can really grab hold of. This (along with a great top coat) prevents chipping. Base coats are also more flexible than most nail polish. They create a middle ground between bendy nails and rigid polish that keeps nail polish from flaking off when your nails flex while typing or opening a seltzer can.
Fill in nail ridges. A lot of us don’t have completely smooth nails and that can be a problem. Genetics, diet, medications, and disease can all cause your nails to grow with ridges or dents in them. I have an autoimmune condition that makes my nails grow with horizontal ridges that are visible under nail polish an this kind of bumpy surface affects the strength and stability of dried nail polish. Buffing your nails can create a flat surface but for those with thin nails already, that can cause more problems than it fixes. Ridge filling base coats are thicker base coats that pool in the low spots of your nail and dry to a flat, even nail surface so it’s ready for the next coat of paint.
Keep your nails healthy. Many base coats contain vitamins, moisturizers, proteins, and botanicals that are great for improving the health of your nails. They can actually make your nails stronger and less likely to split or flake by wearing them. Base coats also provide a layer of cover between your porous nail and lacquers that might not have the friendliest ingredients. Lots of quality nail polish brands have gone three, five, or even 10 free, meaning they have removed that number of toxins from their formula, but a lot haven’t. Base coats seal off your nail from chemicals you’d rather weren’t directly on your body.
Ultimately, the path to a long-lasting, boss-looking manicure is healthy nails. When your nails are healthy they can grow long, hold the shape you want, keep polish from chipping, and survive color changes pain-free. Your nail health routine will be individual to you, but it probably includes finding the right products and tools for your hands. To find a nail polish remover you won’t dread using, read my guide to the best nail polish removers. If your dream of long nails seems impossible, see my guide to the best products that grow nails fast. If you’re still using drugstore nail files, check out my post of the best manicure kits. And once you’ve got your base coat picked out, you’re going to need to protect your manicure so read my guide to the best top coats for long lasting nail polish.
One base coat tip–before applying your base coat, give your nails a quick wipe with rubbing alcohol to remove any lotions or national oils that may be on your nails. These oils prevent your polish from properly adhering. It’s a small thing, but it makes a huge difference. But now, let’s get to the foundation.
1. Best Base Coat for Ridged Nails: Butter London Nail Foundation Priming Base Coat
This is a ridge filling base coat that goes on thick and creamy to fill in any uneven parts of your nail so it’s a nice flat surface. It’s an atypical opaque base coat that dries to a dull tan color. In this sense, it works just like the kind of primer you would use when you’re painting a wall. It smooths out the surface, gives the paint something to stick to, and provides a flat neutral tone so the lacquer you put over it really pops. With how opaque this is at one coat, you can really count on it protecting your nails from staining. To promote healthy nails, this butter LONDON base coat is eight free and contains hydrolized silk and horsetail extract. It’s fast drying, but may not the longest lasting base coat of the bunch depending on your nails. If you’ve found that your nails love butter LONDON polishes, give the base coat a shot. This should extend your manicure to last around five days.
- Eight free
- Contains horsetail extract and hydrolyzed silk
- Ridge filler
- Prevents staining
- Some may not like the opaque base
2. Best Best Coat for Problem Nails: Jessica Recovery Base Coat
This base coat is part of Jessica’s line of specialized base coats with different formulas for different nail types. The Recovery Base Coat is for brittle nails and contains with keratin and wheat protein. This base coat can help your polish last just under a week. If your nails aren’t brittle, go for Jessica’s Reward Base Coat for normal, healthy nails which contains calcium, aloe vera, mineral oil, and vitamins A, C, and E to maintain nail health. If you have dry nails try Jessica Rejuvenation with jojoba oil. And if your nails are recovering from acrylic, gel, or other damage, Jessica Restoration with echinacea and moisturizers is for you. If you have deep ridges on your nails though, you may want to stick with a ridge filling one. I own this base coat (bought with my own money) and my ridges really affected the staying power of this one. I also bought brand’s top coat Jessica Brilliance which was was featured in my best top coats for long lasting nail polish and it’s my go to top coat.
- Different formulas for different nail types
- Contains moisturizers and botanicals
- Long lasting
- Not a ridge filling base coat
3. Best Long Lasting Base Coat: CND Stickey Base Coat
This Stickey Base Coat by Creative Nail Design has been a popular favorite for years. Don’t let the green scare you, it dries almost completely clear and it dries fast. It has a slightly tacky finish when dry for an increased grip on your polish. This one is great especially if you get chipping at your tips early on in your manicure. This can push your polish up to or even past the one week mark chip-free. It’s a three free polish so you don’t have to feel bad putting it on your bare nails all the time. The included brush is very dense and spreads out to a nice wide fan for easy application. The formula is a little thin for my tastes so you do want to make sure it doesn’t pool in your cuticles. CND’s Vinylux Weekly Top Coat was featured in my best top coats for long lasting nail polish.
- Long lasting
- Tacky finish for great grip
- Prevents chipping
- Three free
- Formula is a little watery
- If worn on its own it may looks a tiny bit green
4. Best Luxury Base Coat: Smith & Cult Basis of Everything Nail Polish Base Coat
This base coat by Smith & Cult, besides being gorgeous to look at, is eight free and long lasting. Smith & Cult has a very dedicated following and it’s easy to understand once you give the products a try. It goes on clear and provides an ultra-resinous base for your polish to stick to. Along with a good top coat, Basis of Everything can help your manicure last around a week chip-free. The cap might look large and unwieldy to hold, but it actually lifts up to reveal a smaller twist off cap attached to the brush. Smith & Cult’s top coat Above it All was featured in my best top coats for long lasting nail polish.
- Eight free
- Long lasting
- Great matching top coat
- Wide bottles are a little chunky to store
5. Best Base Coat for Discolored Nails: Zoya Naked Manicure Base Coat
This Naked Manicure Base Coat is part of Zoya’s Naked Manicure Line which is formulated to heal damaged nails, especially nails recovering from acrylic or gel, by nourishing the nail and having different sheer lacquer colors meant to correct discolored nails. For example, if you nails are yellowed, you would use the lavender-tinted corrector which turns your nails a healthy pink. The line starts with this base coat which is vegan, five free, and contains sunflower oil and garlic extract to promote nail health. Don’t worry, I promise your nails won’t smell like garlic. while it isn’t necessarily a ridge filler, the formula will smooth out the surface of your nails if your pitting isn’t too extreme which is great for people with damaged nails. This base coat can help your polish last five to seven days.
- Rated five out of five stars by users on Amazon
- Moisturizes and strengthens
- Five free
- Works best with the Naked Manicure Line
6. Best Breathable Base Coat: Julep Stick It to Me Bonding Oxygen Base Coat
Stick It to Me Bonding Oxygen Base Coat is part of Julep’s breathable nail polish line which is formulated to have microscopic pores in the nail polish that allow air to reach your nails without compromising the strength of the lacquer. To be clear, your nails don’t literally breathe, but I think we can all testify to the difference allowing your nails (and other parts of you body–hello, creepy white band-aid skin) to be uncovered for periods of time. It’s good to give your nails a break every now and then and this breathable polish helps with that. That’s not the only reason breathable polish is so exciting.
Muslim persons often remove and reapply their nail polish several times a day for their hands to be uncovered for prayer. Be sure to check with your personal religious leaders, but most agree that breathable nail polish can remain on which is really fantastic for polish-lovers. This bonding base coat acts as double-sided tape to stick to your nail and your varnish, holding them together. It’s five free and will give you five or more days of chip-free wear.
- Rated 4.5 out of five stars by users on Amazon
- Five Free
- Trusted brand
- Smallish bottle
- Not a ridge filler
7. Best Overall Base Coat: First Base by Essie
First Base is a three free polish that is great for extending your manicure and keeping your polishes from staining. This is one of the very top base coats out there. It’s a thin, easy to apply formula that dries quickly so you can get on to the fun stuff. It has a strong bonding base that holds tight to nail polish and your manicure lasts five to seven days with this one. Essie’s top coat Good To Go was featured in my best top coats for long lasting nail polish.
Price: $8.54 (5 percent off MSRP)
- Three free
- Fast drying
- Long lasting
- Great at preventing staining
- Formula might be a little thin for some
- Slight green tinge
8. Best Strengthening Base Coat: The Foundation Base Coat by Tenoverten
The Foundation is a strengthening base coat meant to treat weak, peeling, splitting, and soft nails. It’s eight free so you don’t have to worry about damaging your nails with chemicals like DBP or formaldehyde. The Foundation contains horsetail extract to strengthen nails and is a cruelty-free lacquer. The creamy formula fills ridges and pits in your nails, supporting them and giving your polish a flat surface to bond to. The high polymer formula makes this base coat extra sticky to nail polish while drying fast and smooth. If you’re looking for a base coat and top coat combination, you can save a couple of dollars buy picking up The Foundation and Tenoverten’s top coat, The Shield, together in the Tenoverten Nail Care System.
- Eight free
- Ridge filler
- Formula isn’t clear
9. Best Sticky Base Coat: Zoya Anchor Base Coat
The Anchor Base Coat by Zoya is strengthened with calcium for a tough foundation that really sticks to your nails. At the same time, the formula is focused on flexibility so you’re not going to have to worry about those little creases and chips that happen when your nail happens to bend even the littlest bit. It’s great at preventing stains and, like all Zoya products, is five free. This base coat is part of Zoya’s Color Lock System which includes this base coat, Zoya nail polish remover, their UV blocking top coat Armor, and their nail polish drying treatment Fast Drops. The line was made to create a manicure that really adhers to polish and lasts around a week. They also offer a ridge filling base coat in this line called Get Even which is a thick, cream colored base coat. I do have ridges, but I still prefer Anchor for it’s sticking power and that fact that it dries clear.
- Five free
- Long lasting
- Works best with Zoya nail polish
10. Best Cheap Base Coat: Orly Bonder Rubberized Nail Base Coat
This Rubberized Nail Base Coat by Orly is an internet favorite. It has a tacky finish when dry creating a surface your nail lacquer can really stick to. The strong, flexible adhesion protects nails from breaking and prevents dark colors from staining. This base coat claims to make your manicure last up to two weeks, but there’s no way your regular nail polish is going two weeks without chipping. That’s not to say this base coat won’t significantly extend your polish’s life. As far as longevity, the Bonder Rubberized Base Coat seems to work better for some than others possibly depending on nail type. Some people start chipping after only three days, but others, often those who have nails prone to breaking, are finding their manicure lasting them over a week. So the results aren’t entirely consistent, but for the price, it’s worth seeing if you’re in the majority who have great success with Orly’s Bonder. Orly’s top coat Sec’n Dry was featured in my best top coats for long lasting nail polish.
Price: $5.25 (19 percent off MSRP)
- Rubberized, tacky finish
- Long lasting for most
- Prevents breaking and staining
- Smaller than standard bottle
- Not everyone gets best results
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