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9 Best Top Coats for Chip-Free Manicures

best top coat

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In my search for the best top coat, I have been guilty of several nail crimes. I’ve used bad top coats because it’s what I had around or I’ve used two-in-one top and base coat combinations–and it’s always caused my polish to chip after a day or two.

There are many top coat options to choose from, all with different specialties from gel-like shine to ultra-quick drying so let’s go through the top options. See the end of the article for tips and tricks to make your nail polish last.

What Are the Best Top Coats?

Smith & Cult top coat Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Extra long-lasting
  • Won't smudge nail stamping
  • Dries very hard
Price: $18.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Black bottle of Londontown Lakur top Kur coat Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Air dries but cures in the sun like gel
  • Highest gloss finish around
  • Very long-lasting
Price: $20.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Bottle of Jessica top coat with black cap Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Hard as glass finish
  • Gel-like gloss
  • No shrinkage
Price: $13.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Bottle of Essie top coat with pink label Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Dries polish layers below it
  • Glossy finish
  • Less shrinkage
Price: $9.87 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Clear bottle of Seche Vite Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Dries in a flash
  • Dries polish layers below it
  • Won't smear nail stamping
Price: $7.02 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Black bottle of CND Vinylux with box Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Air dries but cures in the sun like gel
  • Can give you a week of wear
  • No UV lamp needed
Price: $11.90 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Bottle of clear nail polish with black cap Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Cheap
  • Less shrinkage
  • Quick-drying
Price: $7.45 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Box with frosted bottle or Orly Quick Dry Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Dries nail polish layers below it
  • Easy-open bottle
  • Not goopy
Price: $8.60 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Black bottle of Sally Hansen Diamond top coat with chrome top Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Easy to find brand
  • Contains diamond dust
  • Three-free
Price: $32.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Our Unbiased Reviews
  1. 1. EDITOR’S CHOICE: Smith & Cult Above it All Top Coat

    • Long-lasting protection
    • Trusted, high end brand
    • Can be used with nail stamping
    • Extra hard finish
    • Bottle design makes it hard to get the last few drops
    • Not quick drying
    • Pricier than some

    Smith & Cult has a seriously dedicated following and it’s not surprising. I tried this top coat out recently doing some nail stamping and my manicure lasted and lasted. I got tired of the color before it was chipping badly enough to take off. 

    I was also impressed to see that Above It All didn’t smear my nail stamping like a lot of top coats will. You still have to have a gentle hand with it, but it’s great for extending the life of your nail art.

    This lacquer is eight free, meaning eight of the common but toxic polish ingredients have been eliminated from their formula. This isn’t a quick drying top coat so expect it to take as long as your normal polish.

    All of Smith & Cult’s lacquers come in gorgeous bottles that look more like high end perfume than nail polish. If that handle looks bulky and awkward to use, no worries–the large gold piece lifts up to expose a smaller, ribbed brush handle.

    Above it All has a very high gloss, wet-looking finish that won’t dull in a few days. As far as sealing in your polish, this top coat will protect your polish from chipping for around four days on average and up to 10 depending on how rough you are with your hands throughout the day.

    I use their base coat, Basis of Everything, any time I’m using regular polish.

  2. 2. Most Gel-Like: Londontown Kur Gel Genius Top Coat

    • Plump, wet-looking finish
    • Super long-lasting
    • Gluten and cruelty free
    • Contains nourishing rapeseed flower oil
    • High end brand
    • Eight free
    • Perfect applicator brush
    • UV reactive
    • Not as quick dry as others
    • A little pricer
    • Not as hard as a few

    If you’re looking for that wet, gel-like shine that lasts and lasts, you need to check out Gel Genius by Londontown Lakur. I was sent a sample of this one and it immediately pushed its way into the best top coats of my collection.

    It comes in an opaque bottle because while it air dries, this one is also reactive to the UV rays in sunlight. When light hits it, it cures in the same way that gel polish does, making it stronger as you wear it. You don’t need any special lamps or any special steps to remove it though–it’s the best of both worlds.

    Gel Genius dries with a high shine that looks constantly wet and won’t dull on you even after days. For me, it didn’t feel as hard as Jessica’s Brilliance, but it’s also been rainy so there hasn’t been much sun. I will update if I see a change.

    I’m very impressed with how long it lasts. The first time I tired it I smudged my thumb badly enough to see the top of my nail and figured, “Well, that nail’s done,” but I left it to see how the top coat handled even with the seal compromised and that polish lasted four days before it started wearing. The nails that I didn’t smudge lasted much longer and never lost their shine.  As long as you have a quality base coat, this could last you a week easy.

    It says it’s quick drying, but it seemed fairly average to me in drying time. Totally worth it for how it extends the life of your manicure.

    The applicator brush is thick and full. Perfect for applying in one to two strokes without leaving brushmarks. 

    This is an eight free, vegan, gluten-free, and cruelty-free top coat that also contains rapeseed flower oil to nourish your nails.

  3. 3. Most Durable: Jessica Brilliance Top Coat

    • Long-lasting
    • Gel-like, high gloss finish
    • Fast-drying
    • Extra hard for nail protection
    • Hard to find in stores
    • Will smudge nail stamping
    • Not as fast-drying as others

    Jessica is a lesser known top coat that ought to be giving  everyone a run for their money for the title of most popular top coat.

    I use this top coat when I’m not doing nail art (because it will smudge your nail stamping)  but and I’m impressed every time by how hard it feels. I’ve yet to find another top coat that feels as rock solid as this one. 

    Its high gloss surface will stay glossy. It has a thick, look to it like glass. It feel like a UV gel but it isn’t. A lot of top coats lose their beautiful shine after a couple of days, but Brilliance keeps on shining.

    It dries thicker than traditional top coats giving you that high profile, glossy gel manicure look without putting your nails through the gel process. It won’t make your polish last two to three weeks like a gel manicure, but you can extend your manicure to last about five days with Brilliance which, for someone who abuses their nails like I do, is no small feat.

    While it won’t dry as fast as Seche Vite, it will definitely dry faster than your average lacquer. The formula includes UV protection to keep your colors bright and prevent yellowing.

  4. 4. Best Essie Top Coat: Good to Go

    • High gloss finish
    • Trusted, high-quality brand
    • Fast-drying
    • Thickens in the bottle
    • Won’t last a week chip-free
    • Essie's thin brush

    Good to Go Top Coat is a three-free polish so you know your lacquer doesn’t contain DBP, toluene, and formaldehyde–chemicals that aren’t great to be putting on your body. This one will dry not quite as fast as Seche Vite, but it’s pretty close.

    You can start going about your day in under 10 minutes as long as your day isn’t entirely digging ditches with your hands. The finish is a wet looking, gel-like shine and will keep its gleam for a long time.

    Good to Go applies with average thickness for the first half of the bottle, but tends to thicken up by the second half. It won’t become unusable, but there’s a noticeable difference. This top coat shouldn’t shrink on you as it dries or create awkward edges.

    It creates a decent seal for your polish and will give your polish some protection, but don’t expect to get past four or five days without chips. Good to Go’s priorities are fast drying and high gloss foremost and extending the life of your polish seem secondary.

    I personally don’t mind because I like to change my polish up often, but that may be a downside to some folks.

  5. 5. Quickest Drying: Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat

    • Dry to the touch fast
    • Bright, glossy shine
    • Bonds all layers of your polish
    • Won’t smear nail art
    • Can chip or peel if not applied wet
    • Thickens in the bottle
    • It has chemicals not safe for you if you’re pregnant
    • Known to have shrinkage

    I would be flat out remiss if Seche Vite wasn’t included in this list. This top coat has fans across the globe singing its praises for being able to dry your polish quickly.

    I’m always smacking my manicure on things and I know that if I use this top coat, I’m not going to smudge my polish even minutes after applying it. It’s a true miracle.

    It’s also one of the more misunderstood top coats because of its unique application. The biggest critique about quick dry top coats is that they tend to be quite brittle. Your polish dries quickly but it also chips the next day.

    To counter this, Seche Vite is meant to be applied while your previous layers are still wet. If the idea of that made you twitch, you’re not alone.

    It’s a common rule that all your layers need to be dry before adding the next, but Seche Vite works by bonding together all the layers before it into one solid brick of polish (except pretty.) When you apply it to dry or even mostly dry polish, it can’t work its magic.

    The majority of complaints people have about Seche Vite tends to be that it peels polish off in large pieces or that it shrinks away from the edges of the polish. I have run into this, but these things can be avoided when applied to wet nails, across the free nail edge, and applied thickly which seems to break all the rules.

    Let the top coat bead on the end of the brush and carefully place that drop onto your wet nail. Use the brush to guide the top coat around to cover your whole nail and free edge.

    Don’t press so that the brush flattens out like you would for a regular polish. Don’t worry, it won’t dry that thick. You wouldn’t think so, but even with that thick layer, in just a few minutes you can touch your nails and after 15 minutes they’ll feel like you painted them yesterday.

    Is Seche Vite the end all be all and I can stop the list right here? No, it’s not perfect or for everyone.

    It’s not the longest lasting top coat on the list and it has warnings on the box that it contains some nasty chemicals.

    Like a lot of quick drying lacquers, this one tends to get thick and goopy in the bottle. Seche Vite makes its own polish thinner brand called Restore that you can use to get your top coat, or any other polishes, back to the consistency you like.

    For some that may be a hassle, but for others it’s worth having dry nails in under 10 minutes. This is my current go to to coat for nail art (I bought this with my own money) as it won’t smudge your lines if you apply it thickly with light pressure.

  6. 6. Best UV Reactive: CND Vinylux Weekly Top Coat

    • Long-lasting
    • Actually gets stronger as you wear it
    • Trusted brand
    • Reacts to UV light but doesn't need a lamp
    • Not quick drying
    • Not as high gloss as others
    • No plump gel-like fnish

    The name kind of says it all: Weekly Top Coat. And that name is promising a lot.

    I know the bottle looks like a gel, but this is an air dry lacquer. Creative Nail Design’s Vinylux collection is built to have gel-like lasting power, and it’s nearly there.

    Wear varies depending on your personal nail type, but this top coat can make a manicure last well over a week. To get the most out of its staying power, use it over the Vinylux nail polish line, but the Vinylux Top Coat works with any standard lacquer.

    It applies thinly and dries at the rate of regular polish so you’re looking at closer to 10 to 15 minutes of waiting for your nails to stop being tacky, but Vinylux is well worth it.

    The reason the bottle is opaque like gel and Shellac polishes is that while this top coat is air dry and doesn’t need a special lamp to cure, it does contain polymers that react to light. As you wear this top coat and it is exposed to light, the lacquer continues to harden even after it is completely dry.

    The longer you wear it, the harder it gets. This one really benefits from the practice of adding a new layer of top coat every few days, but even without that, Vinylux Weekly Top Coat will outlast most top coats out there.

  7. 7. Best Cheap Option: INM Out the Door Top Coat

    • Lots of staying power
    • Fast-drying
    • Won’t go goopy on you
    • Affordable
    • Less shrinkage to deal with
    • Doesn’t dry as fast as others
    • Not as glossy as others
    • Not as long-lasting as some non quick-dry options

    If there’s a top coat that’s going to steal the throne out from under Seche Vite, it could be Out the Door by INM. In a fast drying race, Out the Door would come in behind Seche Vite, but only just slightly.

    With Out the Door you can expect to feel comfortable going back to your normal activities between 10 and 15 minutes after applying, which isn’t bad considering that normally 20 minutes after applying a standard top coat I’m gingerly picking up everything I touch like it’s about to bite me.

    As far as how long it will protect your manicure from chipping, Out the Door is in front of Seche Vite by a mile. It isn’t quite as glossy as some of the others, but it makes up for it with sheer staying power.

    You can get three or four days easy out of this and likely longer. A nice surprise for a fast drying polish, this top coat won’t dry up in your bottle and become a goopy mess forcing you to either throw out the last quarter of your bottle or buy a thinner. 

  8. 8. Thinnest: Orly Sec’n Dry Top Coat

    • Fast-drying
    • Won’t thicken up in the bottle
    • Bottle isn’t a struggle to open
    • Helps to dry nail polish layers
    • No gel-like shine
    • Chip prone after a few days
    • Doesn't work for everyone

    Sec’n Dry goes on much thinner than other top coats and is intended to speed up drying time. This Orly top coat is continuing to prove that what we often really want out of a top coat is not having to sit on our butts for an hour before we can go about our lives without a stiff breeze messing up our polish. 

    It works best when applied to tacky or mostly dry polish so this isn’t one like Seche Vite where you want to apply it immediately over wet polish. Your top coat will be dry to the touch after a minute or two, you’re reasonably safe to move around after five minutes, and after 10 minutes you can forget about your nails and get on with your day or go to sleep without worrying.

    While Sec’n Dry has a gloss finish, it won’t deliver that thick, glass-like shine that other top coats will. No one will mistake your manicure for gel, but that’s not everyone’s goal.

    This one will give you a couple of days without chips but expect to see some chipping around the nail edge by the end of the week. This is definitely a top coat you’ll want to strengthen by applying to your free edge and just under the tip. If what you want is pristine nails for a week, you want the next one on the list.

    Plus all of Orly’s bottles have this easy grip top which makes it a breeze to open no matter how tightly you’ve closed it.

  9. 9. Best Drugstore Top Coat: Sally Hansen Diamond Flash

    • Contains diamond dust
    • Fast drying
    • High gloss
    • Lasts about half a week
    • Three free
    • Shine fades a bit
    • May bubble for some
    • Not as long lasting as others
    • Brush isn't great

    Sally Hansen is probably the best known brand in drugstore type top coats so I’d be remiss not to include one. It’s where many of us started out and where many of us go back to after trying other brands.

    This one is not joking around when it comes to shine. Diamond powder is listed in the ingredients along with platinum powder. If the idea of covering your nails in literal diamonds appeals to you, there’s a top coat made for you though but even with diamonds it will start to dull after a few days of wear.

    As far as fast drying, Diamond Flash can compete with the other quick dry polishes and is dry to the touch after a minute or two and safe to go about your day within 10 minutes. This one goes on thin and will keep your manicure looking fresh for three to four days in most cases.

    Diamond Flash has picked up a bit of a reputation for leaving tiny bubble marks after your polish has dried, but that’s not a universal experience. If you don’t shake your polishes up before using them, prep your nails, and wait for each layer to dry you should be able to prevent any bubbling. 

As someone who grew up using cheap top coats, choosing a quality top coat makes an absurd amount of difference. The best top coats seal your polish off from the hazards of our daily life.

We expect our nail polish to hold up to a lot--showers, hand washing, exercise, cooking, rooting around in our bags looking for keys. A top coat is that extra coat armor that keeps our manicures looking glossy and perfect for days.

How to make your manicure last longer without gel. 

Cap your tips. If you only change one thing in your nail routine, make it this one. With each layer of base, color, and top coat make sure you're swiping along the tip of the free edge of your nail and even under your tips a little if you can. This will prevent shrinkage and extend the life of your polish by reducing edge wear.

It blew my mind how much this helps your polish last. I like to cap my tips first and then paint the rest of the nail to avoid any uneven spots.

Prep your nails, top and underneath, by wiping them with rubbing alcohol before you polish them. This removes any lotions or natural oils on your nails that keep lacquer from properly sticking.

Use a good base coat and avoid products intended to be an all-in-one base and top coat. A base coat should be adhesive. Its job is to be the perfect foundation for things like nail polish to stick to.

A top coat should be slick and tough and should slide off of anything that hits it. They have totally different purposes and trying to use one for both will only wind up with less than average quality layers of both. 

Use a quality top coat. Believe me, once you try a non-drugstore brand, you'll see why.

Avoid hot and humid environments for at least six hours. Even when your nails feel dry to the touch, it takes closer to 24 hours for them to fully set up. Nail polish dries best when it is cool and dry. Activities like taking a shower, washing dishes, swimming, or hanging out in a sauna will only prolong the drying process and leave your manicure vulnerable to dents and smudges.

Apply another layer of top coat every two to four days to stretch your polish even farther.