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Okay, so a nail base coat might not exactly be the most exciting beauty product out there, but choosing the right formula will improve any DIY manicure twofold. You want something that will provide grip, strengthen the nail, prevent stains and promote wear, not to mention something that dries quickly.
That’s where we come in. Here, we’re looking at the best nail base coats that will ensure your at-home manicure is the best it can be. We’ve also considered every type of nail need, whether you’re looking to add shine, prevent chips, harden the nail, or D. all of the above.
Keep scrolling to shop the best base coats.
Best Overall: OPI Natural Nail Base Coat
Sometimes simple is best, and such is the case with this base coat from OPI. The leaders in nail care have ensured this product ticks all the boxes: wards off stains, smooths the nail, and ensures the longest-lasting mani possible—a big yes from us. Of course, the recommendation is to use it with other OPI products, but we can confirm it works a treat across brands.
Best Budget: Sally Hansen Color Therapy Beautifiers Strengthening Base Coat
Enriched with silk powder and castor oil, this base coat from Sally Hansen glides over the nail, leaving it strong, shiny, and prepped for polish. It prevents staining, provides some grip, and will extend the life of your mani for a good few days.
Best Drugstore: Essie First Base Coat
With rubber adhesive in the formula, this iconic buy from Essie is an especially good choice when you want a DIY manicure that lasts as long as humanly possible (i.e. all the time). The glossy finish adds a professional-looking touch if you’re using it alone, too.
Best Quick-Dry: REVLON Quick Dry Base Coat
The only caveat that comes with DIY manicures is the time spent waiting around for polish to dry. Revlon gets this, so they’ve blessed us with this quick-drying base coat that really does speed up the entire process. Within seconds, it’s touch-dry, so you can paint each nail and by the time all ten digits are done, you’ll be primed and ready for color.
Best for Weak Nails: Nails Inc. Nailkale Superfood Base Coat
Kale has officially infiltrated every subsection of beauty, including our nail care. Nailkale by Nails Inc. is almost like a treatment product and base coat combined. There are kale extracts and keratin present to help prevent splitting, cracks, peeling, and breakage. Plus it primes nicely for polish, too.
Best for Damaged Nails: duri Rejuvacote 1 Original Maximum Strength Nail Growth System
Gel polish addicts will appreciate the restorative powers of this base coat from duri. It’s formulated with a combo of wheat and soy proteins, keratin, and calcium to strengthen the nail and reduce that soft, brittle feeling that comes with gel or shellac removal. While it makes for a top base coat, we personally love it as a stand-alone treatment, too.
Best Long-Lasting: Orly Bonder Base Coat
This product is made on a base of rubberized resin, so it’s designed to give polish the best chance at longevity. It actually dried slightly tacky, but this is on purpose to give polish something to hold on to. Try it out if your manicures are prone to chipping, peeling, or cracking.
Best for a Naked Manicure: Diorlisse Abricot Smoothing Perfecting Nail Care
This iconic product has been a Dior staple for years, and with good reason. It’s a really nourishing, smoothing formula that evens out the nail and leaves it looking brighter and more polished. It comes in two shades (Pink Petal and Snow Pink) both of which impart a subtle tint to the nail, so it’s fantastic if you’re going for a naked nail look. But the fact it’s so smoothing makes it great under normal colored polish, too.
Best for Peeling and Splitting: OPI Infinite Shine Strengthening Primer
If your nails are weak or prone to splitting and breaking, this base coat primer from OPI will help. It contains antioxidant-rich lotus flower extract and bamboo extract to strengthen, plus hydrolyzed keratin to prevent tearing and peeling. It will help speed up nail growth, too. Apply one thin coat and top with your color of choice.
Best Two-in-One: Sally Hansen Double Duty Base and Top Coat
We’ve never met a multi-purpose beauty product we didn’t like, this double-duty nail treatment included. It contains both panthenol and nylon to nourish the nail and provide grip for a long-lasting mani. It’s ultra-shiny and dries quickly, too.
Best Brush: Givenchy Beauty Nail Polish Base & Top Coat
Givenchy might not be your normal port of call for nail care, but this dual base and top coat are really impressive. The brush is big, soft, and flat, so you can cover the entirety of your nail in one swift coat. It’s quite thick and super glossy too, so it gives a professional-looking finish, should you choose to use it on top of color as well.
Best Luxury: Chanel La Base Protective and Smoothing Nail Treatment
It feels rude to call this merely a base coat because truthfully it’s so much more. Soft pink in color, it glides over the nail, leaving it strong, shiny, and healthy-looking. It contains vitamin E and argan oil, so it’s really nourishing and works to prevent staining and damage from colored polish. While it’s first and foremost a base coat, it works a treat on its own as well.
Best for Nourishment: Zoya Naked Manicure Naked Base Coat
Soft, mistreated nails that need TLC will benefit greatly from this Zoya Naked Base Coat. Made from a proprietary blend of vitamins, proteins, botanicals, and sulfur amino acids that mimic the natural keratin structure of the nail, this stuff will support growth and hydration improving both flexibility and strength of the nail.
Turns out, there’s a ton of 10/10 base coat options out there for every type of mani. But we’re particularly fond of Orly Bonder Base Coat, Revlon Quick Dry Base Coat, and the Chanel La Base Protective and Smoothing Nail Treatment. Orly is best if you want a long-lasting, chip-resistant mani, whereas Revlon is a stellar choice if you’re in a rush and want your nails to dry, stat. And then there’s Chanel, the nourishing base coat of dreams. And because of the healthy pink tint, it’s perfect when worn alone, too.
What to Look For When Buying a Base Coat
The main feature to look out for when buying a base coat is the nail-caring ingredients it contains. If you suffer from weak, brittle, peeling nails or are a recovering gel polish addict, look out for things like keratin, vitamin E, soy protein, calcium, bamboo, and castor oil.
For those who prefer a one-and-done nail product, be sure to reach for a dual top and base coat. These are formulated specifically to both preps the nail and seal in a colored mani.
What are you applying afterward
Are you going in with a colored polish or hoping to keep the nail bare? This should guide your base coat product choice. If you’re keeping things bare, go for a milky, slightly opaque option to give the nail an even, healthy appearance.
Why use a base coat with regular polish?
According to Australian-based mobile manicure service Purely Polished, a base coat is an essential step in any DIY or professional normal polish manicure because it smoothes the nail, provides nourishment, and protects against staining. In some instances, base coats act as a primer too, giving the polish something to hold on to.
Can you use a base coat as a top coat?
Basically, this depends on the product in question. Some base coats are designed to simply prime and nourish the nail, in which case a separate high gloss, long-wearing top coat should probably be used. But there’s a lot of two-in-one formulas on the market that are perfect for both prepping the nail and sealing in color.
Can you use a base coat with dip powder?
According to the team at Purely Polished, dip powder should be used in conjunction with the specific matching bonding agent. These are slightly different from regular base coats as they give the powder something to grip.
Do you need a base coat for gel polish?
Similar to the above, gel polish should also be used with a specific gel base coat. If you apply a separate base coat to the bare nail, you risk your gel peeling or not adhering properly. Save the regular base coats for normal polish only.
Why Trust Byrdie
Aside from the fact that Emily Algar spends many hours giving herself desk-side manicures (ahem, don’t tell the boss), she's also spoken to numerous nail technicians and read countless Sephora/Ulta/Amazon reviews scouting the best base coats, so you know you can trust the edit here is a good one.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any base coats from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.