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Applying a coat of clear nail polish is an essential step in painting your nails or toes. And for those who like a mostly neutral, somewhat natural look, it's the only step. A top coat creates a shiny (or sometimes matte) finish, but its work goes beyond aesthetics. The right formula will also safeguard your manicure or pedicure, helping to prevent chipping, cracking, and peeling.
Needless to say, if you paint your nails regularly or even once in a while, you'll want to have a good top coat on hand. As with all beauty products, there's an overwhelming amount of options. You've got your glossies and your mattes, plus fast-dry, long-wear, and chip-resistant formulas. Then there's regular nail lacquer and gel.
Not sure which product is right for your digits? We've got you covered. These are the best top coats out there today.
Best Overall: Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat
When it comes to clear nail polish, Seche Vite is a shining star. This quick-dry topcoat has a well-deserved cult following among both the DIY and professional crowds. Swipe it on your nails for an ultra-glossy, crystal-clear effect that lasts several days without chipping, peeling, or yellowing.
"This formula acts like a gel without the difficulties of removing gels by yourself," says nail artist Christine Doan of Gloss House. "I like to do two coats of this one. I've gotten close to three weeks' wear with it!"
Best Budget: Revlon Nail Enamel Clear
Revlon's classic clear Nail Enamel will only set you back a few bucks, but the high-quality formula acts like a pricier product. This top coat goes on smoothly without any bubbles. It resists chipping and fading, too, helping your manicure look fresh longer.
Best Drugstore: Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Anti-Chip Top Coat
If drugstore nail polish had a queen, it would be Sally Hansen. The brand's Insta-Dri Top Coat glides smoothly and precisely over your nails, leaving a flawless, bubble-free finish that'll be dry to the touch within 30 seconds and entirely hardened within minutes.
Best Splurge: Butter LONDON Hardwear Shine UV Top Coat
Butter London nail polish is definitely on the spendier side, but you really can't go wrong with the brand's chic colors and impressive formulas. This superstar top coat dries fast with a smudge-free, ultra-glossy finish. What's more, the hardware formula has UV protection to help prevent fading and chipping.
Best Quick-Drying: ella+mia In a Rush Quick-Dry Top Coat
The aptly named In a Rush top coat by ella+mia is ideal for when you're short on time. It dries in under three minutes and can help harden up to four coats of polish underneath. This clear coat is also formulated to protect your manicure from discoloration in natural lighting. It's a cruelty-free, PETA-certified product too.
Best Long-Lasting: Morgan Taylor React Extended Wear Top Coat
If there's one thing all nail enthusiasts want, it's a long-lasting polish that comes off only when you want it to. React Extended Wear goes on like a regular lacquer, but thanks to its gel-infused formula, it delivers a dependable, shiny finish free of chips and cracks for up to 10 days. You don't need an LED light to cure it either. Plus, it's easy to remove—no soaking required.
Best Anti-Chip: China Glaze No Chip Top Coat
This pro-level top coat offers a glossy, clear finish and protects any nail polish underneath. It dries quickly and hardens entirely within 30 minutes. Best of all, the formula resists chipping, cracking, and flaking for several days.
Best Protective: OPI Brilliant High-Shine Top Coat
OPI is another salon-level brand with lots of standout products. The Brilliant High-Shine Top Coat protects your nails and any layers of nail polish underneath from chipping and breaking. For best results, apply two coats, making sure to swipe the brush over the tips of your nails and slightly underneath.
Best Clean Formula: Habit Cosmetics Non-Toxic + Vegan Nail Polish in Top
If you’re seeking a glossy, gel-like finish to your mani and only want to introduce clean ingredients into the mix, look no further than this top coat from Habit Cosmetics. Its ten-free formula is infused with myrrh extract, a natural nail strengthener, and helps prevent breakage. In addition to its clean formulas, the brand also aims to be as responsible as possible, opting to only use plastic that’s recycled (and recyclable!) for any of its packaging components that require it. Plus, it’s PETA-certified as vegan and cruelty-free.
Best Nourishing: Sally Hansen Color Therapy Top Coat
Besides leaving your manicure with a glossy, protective finish, Sally Hansen Color Therapy works double-time to nourish your nails. With ingredients like argon, primrose, and castor oil, it hydrates and strengthens weakened or brittle nail beds.
Best Shiny Finish: CND Super Shiney High-Gloss Top Coat
If you're all about that gloss, we think you'll appreciate CND's Super Shiney Top Coat. Swipe it onto your nails and revel at the bright, lustrous, crystal-clear sheen. This polish is also resistant to scratches, fading, and discoloration.
Best Matte Finish: OPI Matte Top Coat
Shiny nails aren't for everyone—or every day. If you're in the mood for a matte mani, reach for a bottle of this flat-sheen top coat by OPI. It eliminates the shine of your colored polish and leaves your digits with a velvety-chic finish.
Best Gel: AIMEILI No Wipe Top UV & LED Soak Off
If you're interested in dipping your toes (or fingers) into the world of gel nail polish, we recommend this top coat from AIMEILI. Apply it like a normal lacquer, then cure it under a UV or LED lamp. The result? A mirror-like shine that'll last for up to three weeks.
Best No-Wipe Gel: Après Top Gelcoat Non-Wipe
Doan is a big fan of Après Top Gelcoat. "I've been using this formula for about four years now, and it will always be one of my favorites," she says.
As long as you have an LED or UV light, you can use it as a finishing coat over any brand of gel polish. It goes on smooth without bubbling or wrinkling and stays strong for as long as a month.
Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Nail Coat (view at Amazon) is—hands down—the best top coat. This superstar polish dries notably fast and delivers a long-lasting, ultra-glossy finish that resists chipping and discoloration. The best option for matte nails is the OPI Matte Top Coat (view at Ulta), which provides a velvety smooth, flat sheen. On a budget or want something that dries incredibly quickly? You can't go wrong with Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Anti-Chip Top Coat (view at Amazon).
What to Look For
Most top coats leave your nails with a shiny finish, though some provide a more reflective, high-gloss effect. If your nails dull within a few days, you can always apply a touch-up coat to refresh the shine.
Then there's matte polish, which delivers a flat sheen. Matte top coats can be applied over regular shiny polishes to dull the finish and provide a shine-free velvety effect.
Many top coats are formulated to dry fast. If a product dries within a few minutes, it will usually be indicated on the label.
Otherwise, you can expect most clear coats to be dry to the touch within about 10 minutes and fully hardened in roughly 30 minutes. That said, the more coats you apply, the longer the dry time.
Lacquer vs. Gel
Regular nail lacquers are similar to paint in that they air-dry. Gel nail polish, on the other hand, will only dry and cure under a special UV or LED lamp. You can get one of these lamps online or at a beauty supply store.
"When working with gel, you want to make sure that it does not have a high heat spike (the burning sensation when you're under LED lights)," says Doan. "For gel top coats, I like a long-lasting non-wipe that stays shiny for weeks to come! I like the non-wipe formulas because they allow the highest shine."
What does a top coat do?
A top coat is the final step of a manicure or pedicure. The clear polish seals the colored layers underneath and helps prevent chipping, cracking, and peeling.
But that's not all—it also leaves your nails with a pretty sheen. Whether you like a high-gloss, shiny, or matte finish, a top coat helps you achieve the desired effect.
Can you use a top coat as a base coat?
You can use a top coat as a base coat. In fact, some specifically indicate they can be used for both. Having said that, top coats and base coats are usually formulated differently.
A base coat bonds with your nail bed, providing a smooth surface to paint over while helping to prevent staining. While base coats protect your nails from your manicure, top coats are more about protecting your manicure from everything else.
Can you use a gel top coat over regular nail polish?
As long as your regular nail polish is completely dry, you can apply a gel top coat over it. For best results, wait several hours before applying the gel on top to ensure the lacquer is completely hardened underneath.
Why Trust Us
This roundup was written by Theresa Holland, a content creator with substantial experience covering cosmetics. As a life-long DIY manicurist, she's tried many of the products on this list and can personally vouch for their quality. With that said, she most often comes back to Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Anti-Chip Top Coat.
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 top 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.