Nail Primer Or Base Coat: Making The Best Choice For Your Nails

Key Takeaways
  • Nail primers are typically used in professional settings and are more suitable for acrylic or hard gel nail applications.
  • Base coats are ideal for both professional and at-home use, providing a protective layer for natural nails and enhancing polish adhesion.
  • Base coats protect natural nails from staining caused by pigmented nail polish.
  • Using a base coat can extend the life of your nail polish, preventing chipping and peeling.

Whether you are a nail polish newbie or a seasoned pro, it can be difficult to know which one is better to start with when it comes to the traditional base coat and the modern nail primer.

Whilst both do an amazing job at prepping the nails for color application, it all comes down to what you want to have done next. 

Which One Should YouUse Nail Primer Vs Base Coat

So, without further ado, let us take a look at what both the base coat and nail primer are, and why they are useful depending on the process you choose to have.

What is the Base Coat?

A base coat is something you can buy at the local drugstore to use before you apply a colored polish.

It means you can use it on your nails in the comfort of your own home, and it is usually inexpensive to buy.

It has two main jobs. They are to stop the color from staining your nails and to keep the color on for a lot longer than if you were just to paint polish directly on top of your natural nail. 

Whilst you do not have to use a base coat, it is always recommended. It can help to make your nails look great because the polish will appreciate the smoother surface to paint on.

Plus, as well as protecting your natural nail from staining, it also protects the nail from any stronger ingredients within a colored polish.

Before You Decide On a Nail Primer or Base Coat

  • Consider whether you’re doing a professional nail enhancement like acrylics or gels (nail primer) or a regular polish application (base coat).
  • Evaluate the condition of your natural nails and decide if you need added protection, such as a base coat, to prevent staining and damage.
  • Determine if you want to enhance the longevity of your nail polish and prevent chipping, in which case a base coat is more appropriate.
  • If you’re unsure, seek guidance from a nail technician or expert to make an informed choice.
  • Select the product that best suits your needs and the type of nail service you plan to undertake.

What is the Nail Primer?

A nail primer is multi-use and can be used to prep nails for an acrylic extension, as well as before gel or regular nail polish. It also looks like a base coat, in texture, and in bottle shape.

It is available in two different forms: acidic and acid-free primers. The acid-free type (which does actually include acid) is rather sticky and acts a little like double-sided adhesive. 

Nail Primer Vs Base Coat

Even so, the acid primer is normally the top choice for adding acrylic nails due to its strength of dehydrating the nail and stripping it of any oils it may have, ready to add the nail upon it.

The acid-free primer is commonly used alongside gel or regular nail polish because it helps the color to stick on the nail better, a little like how primer on the face helps the foundation to stay put all day.

Why Are They Different?

Even though you could point out that they are pretty much similar, they do have their differences, despite both being used to prepare the nail for the next step in the nail care process.

As stated previously, a base coat will help the nail polish stay on the nail for longer and stop it from chipping straight away. It provides a smooth coating and stops nails from being damaged from the polish. 

You can also wear it alone as a clear polish to give your natural nails a manicured look without the bright color. As well as having the product protect the base of your nails, it stops them from breaking so easily. 

Which One Should You Use Nail Primer Vs Base Coat

It also dries quickly and allows you to easily apply colored polish over it without any stickiness or movement of the base polish. 

A nail primer is best used before applying acrylic nails, though it can be used before a gel or regular nail polish application, though it is not as common. 

It is much stickier and can be less smooth to paint over if you are not experienced with using a primer. 

Quick Nail Primer Vs. Base Coat Guide: Choosing the Right Nail Foundation

  • Nail Primer: Ideal for acrylic or hard gel nails; maintains adhesion. Maintenance involves applying primer sparingly and allowing it to dry before nail application.
  • Base Coat: Suitable for natural nails and standard polish; prevents staining. Maintenance includes reapplying before each manicure and avoiding excess layers.
  • Nail Health: Using primer frequently can weaken natural nails. Base coats protect natural nails from polish pigments and damage.
  • Longevity: Primer ensures strong adhesion in artificial nail applications, while a base coat extends the life of nail polish. Regular maintenance prolongs the benefits of both.

What is a nail Base Coat and Nail Primer Made of?

 Nail Primer

Image by @oprema_za_nokte_magic_nails via Instagram

Nail primer is essential to the nail extension and enhancement process, mainly when working with acrylic or UV gel systems.

It plays a critical role in promoting adhesion and ensuring a long-lasting manicure. Nail primers typically contain vital ingredients such as:

Acid: The primary ingredient in nail primers is usually an acid, most commonly methacrylic or ethyl methacrylate.

These acids create a slightly roughened surface on the natural nail, improving the adhesion of the subsequent layers of acrylic or gel.

Dehydrating Agents: Nail primers often contain dehydrating agents like acetone or isopropyl alcohol to remove residual moisture or oils from the nail plate. It ensures a clean and dry surface for better adhesion.

Ethanol or Ethyl Acetate: These solvents help in the evaporation of excess moisture and contribute to the primer’s drying process.

Other Additives: Some nail primers may contain additional additives, such as UV inhibitors, to prevent yellowing or other chemicals to enhance adhesion properties.

It’s important to note that nail primers are intended for professional use and should be handled with care.

They are applied sparingly and precisely to the natural nail, following manufacturer instructions, to ensure the best results and to minimize the risk of overexposure to the chemicals in the primer.

Additionally, they should be used in a well-ventilated area or with appropriate protective measures to avoid inhalation or skin contact.

Keep In Mind

  • Application Purpose: Consider whether you need nail primer for artificial nails or a base coat for natural nail polish to make the right choice.
  • Nail Health: Frequent use of nail primer can weaken natural nails, so use it sparingly. Base coats protect and nourish natural nails.
  • Stain Prevention: Base coats are essential for preventing pigmented polishes from staining your natural nails.
  • Compatibility: Ensure your chosen product is compatible with the nail service you plan to receive or perform.
  • Maintenance: Regularly reapply base coats before each manicure and follow maintenance guidelines for nail primers to ensure lasting results and healthy nails.

Nail Base Coat 

Nail base coats are essential to a manicure, serving as a protective layer between your natural nails and the colored polish.

The composition of nail base coats can vary slightly among different brands and formulations, but they typically contain the following vital ingredients:

Polymer Resins: Base coats often contain polymer resins like ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, or nitrocellulose.

These resins help adhere the base coat to the natural nail and create a durable foundation for the colored polish.

Adhesion Promoters: Some base coats include adhesion-promoting ingredients such as methacrylic acid or formaldehyde.

These substances help the base coat bond securely to the natural nail, preventing chipping and enhancing the manicure’s longevity.

Plasticizers: Plasticizers like camphor or dibutyl phthalate are sometimes added to base coats to increase flexibility and prevent the polish from becoming brittle.

UV Inhibitors: To protect nails from harmful UV or sunlight exposure, base coats contain UV inhibitors that prevent yellowing or discoloration.

Strengthening Agents: Some base coats include maintaining agents like keratin or calcium to promote healthy nail growth and minimize breakage.

Nail Health Ingredients: Recently, nail base coats have been formulated with nail-nourishing ingredients such as vitamins, biotin, or botanical extracts to promote overall nail health.

Solvents: Base coats typically contain ethyl alcohol or acetone to ensure even application and quick drying.

It’s important to note that some base coats are specifically designed for certain nail types or concerns, such as ridge-filling base coats for uneven nail surfaces or peel-off base coats for easy polish removal.

When choosing a base coat, consider your nail needs and preferences, and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best results.

Pro Tip

Use nail primer sparingly and only when necessary to avoid overexposure, and always apply a base coat before your nail polish to prevent staining and improve longevity.

Positives of the Base Coat

Not only does a base coat protect the nails and help with the color application, but it often it includes a lot of benefits such as calcium and vitamin E.

This helps to protect the nails and make them stronger.

They can be nourishing, and even work to look after the nails the more you use it, a little like a moisturizer.

So whilst you use ‘toxic’ nail polish, the base coat will be doing more than just protecting the nails from color stains.

Disadvantages of Using a Nail Primer

A primer is sticky, and for good reason too. Even so, they stick to the surface of the nail rather than just being placed on top like a base coat and can cause issues with the nail over time.

One thing you really do not want is a dry and brittle nail, and a nail primer is a good way to make that happen if you overuse it. 

Which One Should You Use Nail Primer Vs Base Coat

When it comes to acid primers especially, they can cause the most damage to a nail plate such as thinning and reactions to the chemicals used. 

Keeping this in mind, when it comes to a nail primer, less is certainly more – whether that is in the application itself, or how many times it gets applied to your nail. 

An acid-free primer will not cause the same damage and can be handled by the nail a lot easier. 

Base Coat vs Nail Primer

Unlike a nail primer, base coats contain plasticizers that help to keep the nail flexible. This means that your nail can withstand day-to-day snubs without causing any damage. 

The cellulose chemicals within the makeup of the product make sure the base coat can ‘stick’ to the nail, without being sticky once dried.

This means you can easily apply nail polish on top without it being difficult to do so.

This particular chemical is what helps the polish to stay put, so without using a base coat, your nail’s color is likely to chip away faster.

Base Coat vs Nail Primer

A nail primer on the other hand is much more useful when used alongside acrylic nails.

Whilst you can use it before gel or regular nail polish, you might as well just use a nourishing base coat that is smoother to paint on top of.

Applying a nail primer before acrylic nails will create the perfect base to help the plastic nail to set and adhere well. It means your new full set of acrylic nails will last much, much longer.

Despite not being recommended to be used before a gel or polish, it will make the manicure last a lot longer than a base coat, especially if you get it done professionally. 

However, never use a base coat as a primer for acrylic nails, it just will not work.

Did you know?

Nail primer and base coat serve different purposes; nail primer is primarily used in professional artificial nail applications, while base coat is a versatile choice for all-natural and polished nail care, providing protection and stain prevention.

Final Words

So whilst a base coat and nail primer might seem similar, they do have different reasons to be used at the beginning of nail care.

If you are looking to get acrylic extensions, then a nail primer will suit the job well. If you are applying nail polish at home, then a base coat will be your go-to choice.

Ariel Coleman

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