From Base To Top: The Dual Purpose Of Nail Coats

Key Takeaways
  • Base coats and top coats can be used interchangeably to achieve different results. Applying a top coat as a base coat can help improve nail adhesion while using a base coat as a top coat can add shine and protection.
  • Using a base coat is crucial for protecting your nails from staining and damage caused by nail polish. It forms a barrier that prevents pigments from seeping into the nail.
  • Applying a top coat as a base coat can help your nail polish last longer and adhere better to the nail. This is particularly useful if you want your nail color to remain vibrant for an extended period.
  • Using a base coat as a top coat can give your nail polish a glossy finish, enhancing its appearance. However, it may provide a different level of protection than a dedicated top coat.

Although the title might be a bit of a mouthful, whether you can use a base coat as a topcoat or a topcoat as a basecoat is a question that lives in many people’s heads after they have had a manicure.

You might think it is a simple answer and that surely they are the same thing? Well, unfortunately, they are not, and we’re here to tell you why.

Purpose Of Nail Coats

So read on to find out whether you can use them interchangeably and what result you might get if you do!

Before You Get Started 

  •  Ensure your natural nails are clean and dry, free from any oils or residues, before applying nail coats.
  • Start with a quality base coat to protect your nails and provide a smooth canvas for your nail polish.
  • Apply your nail polish color in thin, even layers, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.
  •  Seal nail polish with a high-quality top coat for added shine and protection, ensuring your manicure lasts longer.
  • Allow ample time for the base, color, and top coats to dry or cure properly to avoid smudging or imperfections in your nail art.

What Is A Base Coat And What Is A Top Coat?

A basecoat is a clear product that is applied to the nails before you apply nail polish. It is used to create a barrier between the nail polish pigments and the fingernails and to hold the nail polish to the nail.

It serves as a separating layer between the nail and the first layer of polish. A topcoat, however, is the final step of any manicure or pedicure and is a clear polish that seals the layers of color underneath.

It helps to prevent chipping, cracking and peeling, whilst also leaving your nails looking pretty.

It can give you either a high-gloss, matte, or shiny finish and helps you achieve the final effect you have been after.

Can You Use A Base Coat As A Top Coat Or A Top Coat As A Base Coat?

Technically, you can use the two interchangeably. However, if you did decide to do this, you would not get the same level of performance as if you just used the right coat.

Sometimes, using the wrong coat can affect your manicure and make it more prone to chipping and peeling.

This is a result of base and topcoats having different ingredients and being made for different purposes.

A basecoat acts as an anchor for your nail polish whereas a topcoat is more of a shield.

Though they use similar ingredients a lot of the time, they use these in different proportions.

A basecoat for example would use more plasticizers and sticky resins, whereas a topcoat would have more film formers.

Using A Base Coat As A Top Coat

Purpose Of Nail Coats

There are several reasons why you should avoid using a basecoat as a topcoat and these include:

1. It Will Not Protect Your Nail Polish 

A proper topcoat will protect your nail polish from the environment, whether this is UV light, water, or other chemicals that make them lose color or make them prone to peeling.

Top coats, unlike basecoats, have film formers to help them for a hard and durable layer. This protects and seals your nails off.

basecoats on the other hand create a much softer layer and therefore will not protect your nails as much if used a topcoat.

Some basecoats have a sticky top layer and this will not protect but simply ruin your manicure.

2. You Will Not Get A Glossy Sheen

Top coats give your manicures a lovely long-lasting glossy and shiny appearance. A lot of basecoats will create a similar glossy effect but it will not last as long and will be washed away easily.

3. It Will Not Bond With Nail Polish 

Top coats are specifically designed to stick firmly to your nail polish so that it lasts longer.

Basecoats, however, bond firmly instead with nail plates, and this creates a surface for your nail polish to attach itself to.

This means if you applied a basecoat on top, it would simply wash away.

Quick “Base To Top: The Dual Purpose of Nail Coats” Guide

  • Understand that the base coat protects natural nails and helps the polish adhere, while the top coat seals, adds shine, and prolongs your manicure.
  • To maintain your nail art, regularly apply a fresh top coat and reapply a base coat when changing your nail design.
  • Protect your nails from prolonged water exposure to prevent base coat peeling and chipping.
  • Allow ample time for the top coat to dry and cure to achieve a glossy, smudge-free finish.

Using A Top Coat As A Base Coat

Purpose Of Nail Coats

Similarly, there are several reasons why you should avoid using a topcoat as a basecoat and these include:

1. It Will Not Adhere To Your Nail Plate

A basecoat is almost like double-sided sticky tape and holds to your nail plate which creates a sticky later for your nail polish to bond with.

They usually have high levels of resins and this allows them to bond with your nails.

A topcoat on the other hand won’t stick to your nail plates the same as they are designed to only bond with the nail polish.

This means if you use a topcoat as a basecoat, you will not create a good foundation, and your nails will be prone to peeling.

It might even reduce the duration your nail polish lasts, instead of extending it. This is why we recommend you not apply anything before your polish if you do not have a proper basecoat.

Keep In Mind

  • Nail Health: Always start with clean, dry nails to ensure the base coat can protect them from staining and damage.
  • Base Coat Thickness: Apply a thin layer of base coat to provide a smooth surface without making your nails appear too thick.
  • Nail Polish Adhesion: Use a base coat to help nail polish adhere better, preventing chipping and ensuring a longer-lasting manicure.
  • Top Coat Application: Finish your nail art with a high-quality top coat to achieve a glossy finish and protect your nail design.
  • Regular Maintenance: Reapply a top coat every few days to refresh the shine and seal your nail art, extending the life of your manicure.

2. It Will Not Protect Your Nails From Staining

A lot of basecoats prevent the polish from staining your actual nails. Some nail polishes have a lot of pigmentation and this can cause your natural nails to stain.

A lot of basecoats create a solid layer over your nails to prevent the pigments in your nail polish from ever reaching your nail plate.

Since topcoats do not offer this protection, if you use it instead of a proper basecoat, your nails might get stained and in the long run, will develop a slightly yellow tinge.

Pro Tip

Apply a top coat every 2-3 days to refresh the shine and protect your nail art, ensuring a longer-lasting and more vibrant manicure.

All In One Base And Top Coat

Purpose Of Nail Coats

This is exactly what it sounds like! Because so many people want to use them interchangeably, many brands are offering a 2 in 1 product, so you can use the polish as a basecoat and as a topcoat.

However, a lot of these brands tend to not do a good of a job as they would do if you bought them separately and they will not perform as effectively.

The products tend not to adhere as well to nail plates. They, therefore, do not offer as much protection for your nails and nail polish. 

That being said, there are some reasonable and affordable options on the market and if you’re someone who prefers an all-in-one kind of product, do not let us dissuade you.

They are great if you are on a budget, or trying to save money and they do the job, just maybe not as effective as specialized products might do.

Did you know?

The base coat in nail care not only protects your natural nails but also prevents them from absorbing the pigment in nail polish, preventing staining and maintaining the health of your nails.

Final Thoughts

We hope by reading this article, you have learned a little more about what a topcoat is and what a base coat is, and how they differ from one another.

Although they can be used interchangeably, it is not recommended, and for best results, you are much better off buying one of each and using them for their specific purpose.

Using both will not only preserve your manicure but also your nail beds, and keep your nails healthy, glowing, and shiny for as long as possible!

Ariel Coleman

Leave a Comment