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What is the Difference Between a Top Coat and Base Coat?

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So what is the difference between a topcoat and a base coat? Base coats and top coats may look like similar clear polishes, but they serve two different purposes. Below, I’ll break down key differences, what to look for in a good base/top coat, and base/topcoats that I recommend that you use.

What is the difference between a top coat and a base coat.

Basecoat Vs Topcoat

A base coat is a clear nail polish that is applied before your nail polish and it does two things. Number one, it helps your nail polish stick better. Number two, it helps prevent staining from nail polish pigments because it creates a barrier between your nail and the nail polish.

A topcoat is a clear polish that is applied on top of the nail polish and it serves two purposes. Number 1, it creates a protective layer on your nails which prevents chipping. This increases the longevity of your manicure. Number 2, it can give your nails a shiny gel polish like finish( You can also get a matte look from a topcoat if you choose that option). 

How do you Apply a Base coat and Top Coat Nail Polish?

1. Start off by prepping your natural nails. You want to grab a cuticle remover and remove any dead skin off of your nail plate. This helps the polish stick better to your nail bed.

2. After you prep your nails, you want to apply a base coat of your choice and let it dry for a few seconds. One coat usually does the trick for a regular base coat. However, you might want to apply 2 coats if you are using ridge fillers. Ridge fillers are special types of basecoats that help fill in and masque ridges. Find out more about ridge fillers here.

3. Once your base coat has dried, you want to apply 2-3 coats of your favorite nail color in thin layers. I recommend letting each coat dry a little bit before you go into the next coat. This will help prevent bubbling in your manicure.

4. Finally, apply a thin layer of top coat and cap your free edge for best results. This helps give you a long-lasting manicure with a shiny finish. 

Can you use Base Coat as a Top Coat?

I would not recommend using a base coat as a top coat. The main difference between these two products is that one helps nail polish stick better to the nail surface, while the other creates a durable layer to help the nail paint last longer. It is very difficult for one nail product to both create a protective barrier for your nail polish and create a solid foundation for nail polish to stick to. Your best bet is to get a quality base coat and a quality topcoat. 

What to Look for in a Good Base Coat?

Remember, the main use of a base coat is to help your nail polish stick better. So the right base coat is usually thicker and stickier.

Thick– It is thick so it creates a barrier between your nails and colored polish to prevent nail staining.

What to Look for in a Good Top Coat?

The main purpose of a top coat polish is to make your manicure last for a longer time while giving it a nice finish.

Fast Drying- Having a fast-drying top coat is a lifesaver. The last thing you want is to do your nails just for them to smudge quickly. 

Thin- I recommend getting a topcoat that is not too thick. If the topcoat is too thick, I notice it can apply in globs and cause air bubbles in your manicure. This is because if you apply layers of nail polish too thickly, the top dries faster than the bottom which causes air bubbles.

TopCoat Recommendations

Seche Vite

This is the fastest-drying topcoat on the market. It is one of my all-time favorites and dries your manicures in minutes. If you do not want to sit and wait for your nails to dry all day, this is the topcoat that I recommend. You can get it from Amazon here.

Orly Sec N Dry Topcoat

The Orly top coat is super fast drying and gives you a nice glossy finish. It also is in a mini bottle which is very travel-friendly. On Orly Site Here

Best Base Coat Recommendations

Orly Bonder

This acts as a double-sided sticky tape and really helps prevent nail polish chipping. On Orly Site Here

Londontown Ridge Filling Base Coat

This base coat is especially good if you have ridges that you want to fill. It applies smoothly and dries matte. It fills in ridges in two coats. You can check it out here on Amazon.


Do You Have to Use a Base Coat and Top Coat from the Same Brand?

Most nail brands you go to will recommend that you use their entire system for best results. That includes base coat, nail color, and top coat. However, I don’t find an issue when I use top coats and base coats from different brands with regular nail polish. However, this is a big deal if you mix and match products with your gel manicure. If you combine different brands with gel, very different things can happen.

Can You Wear Topcoat Alone?

You can wear a topcoat alone. This will give your nails a nice glossy finish. It’s also great if you don’t have time to do your nails that week and want to keep your nails protected. One of the number one reasons that your nails can peel and break, is if they are constantly absorbing water. One of the best ways to prevent this is by wearing nail polish to help block some of the absorption. If you are interested in more ways to stop nail peeling, check out my blog post here

Can you Wear a Ridge Filler Alone?

You can wear a ridge filler alone. You just want to get the right ridge filler to do this. Londontown and Dermelect are two good ridge fillers that look great without polish. Londontown dries with a nice matte finish that you barely notice which gives you the perfect natural nail look. Dermelect gives a pink shimmery finish and can be worn alone. I wouldn’t recommend wearing Dermelect as a base coat for nail polish due to the shimmer. 

Does Base Coat Help Hydrate Your Nails?

I’ve seen many brands state that their base coats are hydrating, but it is honestly hard to confirm this. If you really want to ensure that your nails are moisturized, I recommend adding cuticle oil to your routine. Here are a few cuticle oils that I recommend. Cuticle oil recommendations.

Do you Always Have to Use a Top and Base Coat?

You don’t always have to especially if you are in a rush. It just helps you get a longer-lasting manicure. Also, when I’m in a rush, I like to use 1 to 2 coats of the Londontown Nail Veil or Nail concealer. These are sheer polishes that you can wear alone that give your nails a nice put-together look without the hassle. If you are interested in these products, feel free to check them out on my Amazon Storefront here.


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