Nail Basics: Favorite Base and Top Coats

February 16, 2012

It’s been on and off rainy here so the Chanel swatches will be delayed until the sun comes back. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of my nail care tips. Many of you have asked what are my favorite base and top coats. I’m by no means a nail expert (even if I am addicted to Chanel and Dior nail polishes) but here are my top picks.

A brief intro: I think the right base coat or top coat will depend on what kind of nail color you are using. Formula matters. Some top coats are not compatible with all brands of nail colors due to ingredients. For the most part, I’ve found top coats and nail colors within the same brand work well together. However, I rarely stick to 1 brand of nail polish so I’ve looked for base coats and top coats that are versatile among the brands I use the most. These include Chanel, Dior, Rescue Beauty Lounge, Dolce & Gabbana and OPI.
What else I look for: The things I’m most picky with include bubbling and shrinkage. For actual nail colors A number of drugstore brands caused bubbling (I can’t recall which ones, but Poshe is one that did). I found OPI’s top coats just ok, they lacked long-lasting shine for me. The highly acclaimed Seche Vite only worked on Essie and OPI, but for all other brands I’ve tried caused extreme shrinkage. Nail shrinkage is when you see the top coat shrink from the tips and cuticles after application so it looks like it just wasn’t applied over the entire nail. There is debate about what exactly causes shrinkage, I found threads on The Purse Forum and an article on Beaut.ie extremely helpful. I’ve concluded that since SV isn’t 3-free it’s what causes messy-unfinished-looking nails. I even tried adding their thinner (which many have recommended) but it did not work for me.
My picks: I’ve by no means tried every single base or top coat on the market. I can’t say whether these are the best or better than other brands, I just know they work for me for the brands I like to wear.
  • Deborah Lippmann Rehydrating Base Coat ($18 for 0.50 oz at Nordstrom) – This one I have Amy from Café Makeup to thank. We were chatting about swatching one day and I mentioned that changing colors frequently to do comparisons was harsh on my nails and that my fingers were starting to hurt. She suggested Deborah Lippmann’s base coat which is a wonderful hydrating base coat. It contains aloe and while it won’t solve dry cuticle issues, I’ve noticed a visible improvement in my nail texture after using this. It helps nail color apply smoothly as well. I don’t use a base coat all the time but when I do this one is among my favorites. (Chanel’s is also nice but pricey.) You can read Amy’s review here.
  • Rescue Beauty Lounge Top Coat ($18 but sold out on Rescue Beauty online) – I purchased this in their Treatment System Trio and fell in love with this thin but super shiny hard-finished top coat. I really hope Ji Baek decides to bring it back. I agree with other reviewers this one takes a bit longer to dry (just a few minutes more) but the finish is shiny and protects the nail polishes pretty well. The thin texture makes it easy to apply smoothly and quickly in a few strokes.
  • Chanel Laque Brilliant Extrème ($25, I purchased mine at Nordstrom but I’m not sure if they still carry this instore) – A few years back Chanel released a new reformulated base and top coat in the US. I never tried the originals although they were raved about my a number of Chanel fans as the best in the market. I gave the new ones a try. At first I was not impressed, mainly due to the price (versus the $6 OPI options at Ulta). I kept trying this one and really love how shiny and lacquered they make the nails look. They add a shiny smoothness that has a slight cushy look. The texture is slightly thicker but not too thick. Drying time is a bit longer but the result are freshly polished nails. I found that it helped with lasting power as well.
  • Creative Nail Design Super Shiney Top Coat ($8.50 at Ulta) – This is hands down my favorite top coat for the price that I’ve ever tried. I discovered it at one of my local nail salons. Out of all the different kinds of top coats they’ve used this one provides the longest lasting manicures that are shiny and glossy. The shine is just as good as Chanel’s although not quite as cushy-glassy looking. For the price and quality it can’t be beat. It’s one of the few that I’ve found doesn’t bubble or shrink. It’s 3-free with a slight tint which is supposed to be a UV absorber that guards against fading and discoloration. (I’ve stopped using the nail dryers at the salons and prefer the fans or air drying even though it takes longer. I’ve found that sometimes the light dryers change the color of reds or purples and darkens them.)

My personal top 2 picks: Deborah Lippmann and CND. What are your favorites?

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