The 17 Best Top Coats for DIY Nails

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Best Top Coats

Byrdie / Sabrina Jiang

Applying a coat of clear polish is an essential step in painting your nails or toes. And for those who like a natural look, it's the only step. A top coat creates a shiny (or sometimes matte) finish, but its work goes beyond aesthetics.

According to nail care expert Nadine Abramcyk, the clear coating is just as important as the colored lacquer. "Top coats help seal your polish, prevent the color from fading, and protect from chipping," she tells Byrdie.

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 have your glossies and your mattes, plus quick-dry, long-wear, and chip-resistant formulas.

To help you narrow it down, we rounded up the best top coats below.

Meet the Expert

Nadine Abramcyk, nail care expert and co-founder of Tenoverten.

Christine Doan is a former nuclear engineer turned licensed cosmetologist and content creator. Her brand, Gloss House, features nail art and design services in the San Diego area.

Best Overall: Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat

Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Dries quickly

  • Long-lasting

  • Resists yellowing

  • Expert-recommended

What We Don't Like
  • Contains toluene

When it comes to clear nail polish, Seche Vite is a shining star. This quick-dry top coat has a well-deserved following among both the DIY and professional crowds. Swipe it on 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!"

Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Budget: Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Anti-Chip Top Coat

Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Anti-Chip Top Coat
What We Like
  • Budget-friendly

  • Dries quickly

  • Bubble-free finish

What We Don't Like
  • Not long-lasting

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 bubble-free finish that's dry to the touch within 30 seconds and entirely hardened within minutes.

Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Drugstore: Revlon Quick Dry Top Coat

Revlon Quick Dry Top Coat

Walmart

What We Like
  • Dries quickly

  • Unique satin finish

  • Resists yellowing

What We Don't Like
  • Not long-lasting

Revlon also makes a great quick-drying top coat. This clear lacquer sets in 30 seconds with a chic satin finish, plus it resists yellowing and prevents your color from fading.

Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Satin | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Splurge: Hermès Les Mains Hermès Top Coat

Hermès Les Mains Hermès Top Coat

Saks

What We Like
  • Mirror finish

  • Light optimizers

  • Light-protected bottle

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Yes, Hermès nail polish is undoubtedly a novelty. But if you can swing the price, this fancy French top coat might be worth a splurge. It promises a mirror-like finish with light optimizers that give your nails a curved, full-depth effect.

Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Chip-Resistant: China Glaze No Chip Top Coat

China Glaze No Chip Top Coat
What We Like
  • Long-lasting

  • Strengthening

What We Don't Like
  • Takes 30 minutes to harden

This pro-level top coat sets quickly and hardens completely within 30 minutes, and it offers a glossy finish while protecting any nail polish underneath. More to the point, the formula resists chipping, cracked polish, and peeling for several days.

Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Protective: OPI Brilliant High-Shine Top Coat

OPI Brilliant High-Shine Top Coat
What We Like
  • Resists chipping

  • Dries quickly

What We Don't Like
  • Can dry a little streaky

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.

Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Quick-Dry: Essie Good to Go Top Coat

essie top coat

Courtesy of Essie

What We Like
  • Penetrates fresh polish

  • Dries quickly

  • Resists yellowing

What We Don't Like
  • Not long-lasting

Short on time? Reach for Essie Good to Go. The exceptionally quick-drying formula penetrates through wet nail polish and hardens in minutes, leaving a high-gloss shine and a non-yellowing finish in its wake.

Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Long-Wear: Tenoverten The Shield

Tenoverten The Shield

Violet Grey

What We Like
  • Dries quickly

  • Protective

  • Long-lasting

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

"My favorite top coat is The Shield," says Abramcyk. "It's quick-drying, provides shine to your color, and acts as a protective guard."

Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Strengthening: Habit Cosmetics Non-Toxic + Vegan Nail Polish in Top

Habit Non-Toxic + Vegan Nail Polish in Top

Courtesy of Habit Cosmetics

What We Like
  • Supports nail growth

  • Gel-like formula

  • Toluene- and formaldehyde-free

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

This top coat from the eco-friendly brand Habit Cosmetics contains cuticle-strengthening myrrh extract to promote healthy nail growth. The gel-like formula is also vegan and free of toluene, formaldehyde, and parabens.

Size: Not listed | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best High-Gloss: Cirque Colors Looking Glass Top Coat

Cirque Colors Looking Glass Top Coat

Amazon

What We Like
  • Dries quickly

  • Gel-like formula

  • Long-lasting

What We Don't Like
  • Consistency changes quickly

If you want mirror-like shine, Cirque Colors Looking Glass is your best bet. This high-gloss top coat boasts a gel-like formula that dries quickly and protects your manicure for days.

Size: Not listed | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Matte: Triple O Matte Top Coat

Triple O Matte Top Coat

OOO Polish

What We Like
  • Long-lasting

  • Vegan

What We Don't Like
  • Not fast-drying

For those partial to a shine-free finish, we recommend OOO's Matte Top Coat. It goes on smooth and dries into a satiny matte finish. While this polish doesn't set as quickly as others, it lasts longer than most glossy formulas.

Size: Not listed | Finish: Matte | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Pearlescent: Pleasing Pearly Tops Polish

Pleasing Pearly Tops Polish

Pleasing

What We Like
  • Subtle iridescence

  • Pretty on its own

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Yep, Harry Styles has a beauty brand now—and it's pretty good. The Pearly Tops Polish is transparent with an oh-so-subtle pearlescent sheen and a satiny matte finish. It's great over colored lacquer or on its own for a pared-down look.

Size: 0.4 oz. | Finish: Matte | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for French Manicures: People of Color Nail Polish Top Coat

People of Color Nail Polish Top Coat

Beyond Polish

What We Like
  • Pink tint

  • Versatile

What We Don't Like
  • Not fast-drying

This top coat from People of Color has a slight pink tint, making it the best glossy finish for DIY French manicures. It's also lovely on its own and over opaque polish colors.

Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Brush: Dior Top Coat Abricot

Dior Top Coat Abricot

Nordstrom

What We Like
  • Wide brush

  • Dries quickly

  • Protective

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Sometimes, it's more about the brush than the lacquer—but Dior Abricot stands out in both categories. Thanks to the wide bristles and gel-like formula, a single sweep is all you need to coat your nails in a protective, glossy shine.

Size: 0.3 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best for Brittle Nails: Nails Inc. Retinol 45 Second Quick Drying Top Coat

nails inc top coat

Courtesy of Sephora

What We Like
  • Dries quickly

  • Resists chipping

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

If you're working with brittle nails, go with Nails Inc. This top coat is formulated with retinol, which, according to the maker, hardens the enamel, prevents chipping, and prolongs wear time. Not only that, but it's dry to the touch in 45 seconds.

Size: 0.5 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best With UV Blockers: Butter LONDON Hardwear Shine UV Top Coat

Butter LONDON Hardwear Shine UV Top Coat
What We Like
  • Resists yellowing

  • Prevents fading

  • Expert-recommended

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Doan is a fan of Butter London, and we're here for it. The brand's Hardwear top coat is formulated to prevent ultraviolet light from yellowing or fading the polish underneath.

Size: 0.4 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Gel: Londontown Kur Gel Genius Top Coat

kur

 Ulta

What We Like
  • No UV lamp needed

  • Nourishes nail beds

  • Resists chipping

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Unlike most gel formulas, Kur doesn't require special LED or UV lights to set. It cures in the natural sunlight while nourishing your nail beds and forming a protective barrier that resists chipping and fading.

Size: 0.4 oz. | Finish: Glossy | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Final Verdict

Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Nail Coat is—hands down—the best top coat. The expert-recommended formula dries quickly with a high-gloss, crystal-clear finish that resists yellowing, chipping, and fading. That said, Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Anti-Chip Top Coat is a close runner-up and slightly more affordable.

What to Look for in a Top Coat

Finish

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.

Drying Time

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."

FAQ
  • What does a top coat do?

    Considered the final step of a professional-looking pedicure or manicure, a top coat 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.

  • Can you use a top coat as a base coat?

    Though formulated differently, you can use a top coat as a base coat. Some specifically indicate they can be used for both.

  • 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 Byrdie

Theresa Holland is a content creator with substantial experience covering cosmetics in the commerce space. She interviewed two experts for this piece, including a nail artist and a nail care specialist, for product recommendations and insight into formulations. As a life-long DIY manicurist, she's tried many of the products on this list, including Seche Vite, OPI, Revlon, Butter London, Pleasing, Essie, and Cirque Colors. However, Sally Hansen's Insta-Dri Top Coat has been a fallback for upwards of a decade.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Cao B, et al. Seeing the Unseen of the Combination of Two Natural Resins, Frankincense and Myrrh: Changes in Chemical Constituents and Pharmacological Activities. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland). 2019 Aug;24(17):3076. doi:10.3390/molecules24173076

Related Stories