Hate to Break It to You, But You Need to Use a Base Coat

It's key for a long-lasting, chip-free manicure.

Updated 10/28/19

Have you ever wondered how to make a DIY manicure (or any manicure for that matter) last just a few days longer? Hate to break it to you, but the answer is step we all skip: A base coat. While most people question this preliminary polishing step, any nail expert will tell you this layer of clear coat is crucial to a chip-free mani.

Read on to separate fact from fiction with Varnish Lane co-founder Lauren Dunne and Olive & June founder Sarah Gibson Tuttle.

Base Coats Help Smooth the Nail Surface

"Nail polish will apply more evenly if you have applied a base coat first," explains Varnish Lane co-founder Lauren Dunne. "Most nail beds have ridges— a base coat will help to create an even surface for the nail polish to be applied."

Base Coats Give Nail Color Something to Adhere To

"Base coat is a critical step to a long lasting manicure—is the bond between the nail plate and the polish," says Dunne.

Many Base Coats Go So Far As to Strengthen Nails

"In addition to creating a manicure that lasts, base coats will often provide other benefits to the nail plate," Dunne adds. "A favorite of ours, Zoya Anchor Base Coat ($10), includes nail strengthening proteins. Use others that include healthy vitamins such as Vitamin E and C, and your nails will thank you." 

Base Coats Help Prevent Dark Colors From Staining Your Nails

"When dark colors are painted directly on the nail plate, they can cause yellowing of the nails for long periods of time," Dunne notes. "With applying a base coat to the nails first, this will be prevented."

Buff the surface of your nail prior to applying a base coat for even stronger staying power.

Our Favorite Base Coats

Not sure what to look for when purchasing a base coat? With hundreds of options on the market, we don't blame you. To help you add a quality formula to your routine, ahead you'll find 15 of our favorite base coats. Whether you're looking for an option that doubles the life of your nail look or a clean version that simply extends it, we've got you covered.

Bottle of Deborah Lippmann base coat on a white background.
Deborah Lippmann All About That Base $20
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This ever-so-slightly tinted base coat works effortlessly to create your healthiest, most flawless-looking manicure. It's formulated with a patented hydrating complex that moisturizes, strengthens, smoothes, and brightens nails with just one coat.

Bottle of essie Here to Stay Base Coat on a white background.
essie Here to Stay Base Coat $10
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This lightweight base coat touts itself on being able to extend any manicure by two days. It's made with color-adhesive technology that ensures color will stay put without chipping as soon as it dries.

Bottle of Nails Inc. NAILKALE - Superfood Base Coat on a white background.
NAILS INC. NAILKALE Superfood Base Coat $15
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This antioxidant-rich base coat works to harden, hydrate, and nourish nails so that they're less likely to split, peel, or chip. It's made with keratin and kale extract to get the job done.

Bottle of Sally Hansen Ultimate Shield Base & Top Coat on a white background.
Sally Hansen Ultimate Shield Base & Top Coat $4
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Love a product with multiple uses? This best-selling base coat doubles as a top coat and is touted for strengthening nails beds however it's used.

Bottle of Piggy Paint Basecoat + Topcoat on a white background.
Piggy Paint Non-Toxic Nail Polish Basecoat + Topcoat $5
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This sheer, kid-friendly nail polish works equally well as a base coat or top coat. It's non-toxic and low-odor, making it a pleasant painting option.

Bottle of pale pink Smith & Cult base coat on a white background.
Smith & Cult Basis Of Everything Base Coat $20
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This fast-drying base coat gives nails a natural luster that looks stunning on its own but pairs well under other colors. All you need is one coat to ensure that your manicure stays put for a week or more.

Bottle of Ella + Mila Nail Care on a white background.
Ella + Mila Nail Enamel Primer All About the Base $11
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This top-rated nail polish base coat has earned a whopping 5-star review from over 230 shoppers. It's applauded for its 7-free formula and quick-dry finish.

Bottle of tenoverten nail strengthening base coat on a white background.
tenoverten The Foundation Nail Strengthening Base Coat $18
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This vegan, non-toxic base coat features an 8-free formula designed to strengthen nails with every stroke. The slightly tinted finish looks lovely on its own and pairs seamlessly under color.

Bottle of clear LONDONTOWN base coat on a white background.
LONDONTOWN kur Nail Hardener & Base Coat $18
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This hardening base coat is created to make nails stronger, thicker, and even glossier. Wear it on its own or paired under your favorite lacquer for a gorgeous mani that stands the test of time.

Bottle of blue base coat on a white background.
Base Coat Base Coat W/ Garlic Extract $20
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This garlic-infused base coat is designed to extend your manicure by up to seven to 10 days. It's formulated with clean ingredients that are sourced with shoppers and the environment in mind.

Bottle of pale pink base coat on a white background.
100% Pure Horsetail Base Coat Polish $14
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This 10-free base coat is the epitome of clean beauty. It's designed to strengthen nails and promote growth.

Bottle of Chanel base coat on a white background.
Chanel La Base Protective and Smoothing $28
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This vitamin E and argan oil base coat is designed to strengthen and smooth nails with every coat. It has the subtlest pale pink glow that acts as a color corrector and makes nails look brighter.

Bottle of Dior base coat nail polish on a white background.
Dior Diorlisse Ridge Filler $28
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This luxe base coat is designed specifically to fill ridges for a naturally flawless nail look. It can be worn on its own or under your favorite nail color for a mani that lasts.

Bottle of Pacifica top coat on a white background.
Pacifica 7 Free Top & Base Coat $9
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Free of many of the chemicals found in mainstream base coats, this clear formula is a great option for anyone looking to make the move to a cleaner beauty routine. In addition to the formula itself, the brush bristles are made with vegan hairs in a wide array for easy painting in a single stroke.

Bottle of purple tinted base coat on a white background.
Deborah Lippmann Genie In A Bottle Nail Tone Perfector Base Coat $20
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This purple-tinted base coat might look like sheer color, but it's actually an undetectable color-correcting base coat. It helps brighten nail beds and camouflage yellow stains for a picture-perfect manicure that last for days on end.

A Final Word on Base Coats

While base coats are most definitely beneficial for prolonging the life of a manicure, Olive & June founder Sarah Gibson Tuttle has two addition notes. First, she points out that some nail colors come with base coat built in (as is the case for Olive & June polishes). Second, she stresses that the most essential step in ensuring your polish lasts is the way you prep your nails.

"When nails are prepped correctly, two step systems are formulated to last longer than the traditional base + polish + top coat approach," says Gibson Tuttle. "Prepping nails removes excess oils that prevent polish from sticking. "

Her favorite way to prep includes dipping nails into the Olive & June Nail Polish Remover Pot ($8) right before painting. "Make sure not to touch your nails again prior to painting," she reminds.

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