5 Reasons Why You Need a Top Coat for Perfect Nails


Even though my nail polish collecting days are behind me, there are still some staple products that I hold on to for my at-home manicure and pedicure to get perfect nails. I actually remember my very first ‘serious’ top coat purchase—it was Orly’s Top2Bottom base coat and top coat in one. To be honest, a two-in-one is a great purchase if you’re on the fence about needing a top coat in the first place. However, if you SERIOUSLY want to make your nail polish last longer, you’ll want a separate top coat and base coat.

Close up of Essie Gel Setter and Essence Shine Gel nail polish top coats.

What is a top coat (and how does it give me perfect nails)?

A good top coat is more than just clear nail polish! Tell me this—do you find your manicure always chips faster than you want it to? (I know, this makes gel manicures really tempting, but hear me out). Seriously, the answer to the question, “How long does nail polish last?” depends on your base and top coat. These are two key products that you need to get perfect nails.
Or maybe you find waiting for nail polish to dry takes way too long? Believe me, it shouldn’t take hours—what if a top coat did that for you? How to fast dry nail polish is really, really easy with the right top coat. On nails, a good top coat makes a huge difference.
A high quality nail polish top coat does all this and more. I literally don’t do my nails without top coat—even if I’m just putting on a sheer nail polish, adding a quick-drying, glossy layer over the top is just *chef’s kiss*. Perfect nails, instantly.

1) It makes your manicure last longer

Nail polish top coat adds a glossy seal over the polish you’ve just put on, ensuring it doesn’t chip away as easily. This glossy, shiny final layer makes it harder for chips to form in the first place—and works especially well if you’re wrapping your tips.
How make nail polish last longer is something that I took forever to figure out too—however, it’s really easy to get perfect nails when you stop relying on the nail polish alone and use a good top coat.

2) It helps your nails dry faster

How to fast dry nail polish is really freaking easy with a dry fast top coat. Who would have thought?
I totally get it—many of us are fidgety, impatient people and we need this polish to dry RIGHT NOW. How long does it take for nail polish to dry, anyway? (Pssst, that depends on your top coat.)
To be honest, I don’t even consider a top coat these days if quick dry isn’t mentioned anywhere on the label. I’ve got things to do and I can’t wait around for my nails to dry all day! To put it simply, quick dry top coats work by literally solidifying faster, making bumps and nicks harder to make in the nail polish itself.
However, there is a limit to what a quick-drying top coat can do. You can help it work better by not applying super thick coats of nail polish and allowing them a little bit of time to dry before applying top coat. Usually, the time it takes me to paint all my nails is enough!

3) It can make your manicure look like gel

A really good top coat adds some serious gloss to your manicure, too. Seriously—pay attention to how your nails look before and after applying top coat. The nail with the top coat will usually look shinier and thicker—literally more polished to perfection.
Top coats add a more glossy finish and high shine to perfect nails, giving them the illusion of a thicker layer of polish that looks like gel. This is how top coats with ‘plumping and volumizing’ claims work—they’re SUPER shiny in a way that looks like there’s more layers on your nail.

4) It smooths over any application mistakes

This is another thing that helps to lift at-home manicures to the next level. Obviously, you’d hope for no smudging, no little nicks—but sometimes, they just happen. Even when you swear that you stayed still the whole time, there are still tiny little bumps and scrapes that seem like they appear out of nowhere, right? However, there’s no reason to stress—your perfect nails aren’t ruined!
In most cases, they’re small enough that the whole nail doesn’t need redoing. This is where the top coat comes in. It’ll smooth over and fill any tiny little nicks and bumps just enough so that they’re not noticeable, saving you from doing over your nails.

5) It makes your at-home nail art look pro

It is so easy to do nail art at home these days, and half of making it look like a pro did it comes down to using a top coat. When you apply top coat over nail art, it unifies everything and makes it look like a single image (and no, I don’t mean blending all your hard work together)!
It adds that finishing touch and makes everything look 100% better—I promise. There’s also nothing worse than working on some amazing nail art from home, only to have it look less than stellar when you’re done because you don’t have a high-gloss top coat!

Which top coat is best?

A lot of people think that their nail polish chips because they’re using a cheap brand. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what brand of nail polish you use—if you’re using a good quality top coat and base coat, you can make ANY nail polish last (and look good!) for perfect nails.
Some top coats that I’ve purchased again and again in the last few years include Seche Vite, Essie Good to Go, and Essie Gel Setter. I’ve also enjoyed top coats from Sally Hansen and Essence, too—as long as it’s labelled high shine and quick dry, I’m usually happy with most top coats that I try. Let’s break down some of my favorite top coats together.

Seche Vite Top Coat Review

Seche Vite Quick Dry Top Coat

Seche Vite Dry Fast top coat is a classic— as a nail polish blogger, I saw it being recommended again and again, so I thought I’d give it a go. There’s a good reason it comes so highly recommended—I don’t think I’ve ever had my nails look so much like gel before. However, it thickens very quickly and requires the Seche Restore brand thinner to use it again due to Seche Vite’s unique formula. Aside from this, it only has two cons (or one, depending on your perspective).

First, Seche Vite is notorious for causing shrinkage. This happens when the top coat shrinks away from the edges of the nail—here’s a good example of it happening. I’ve only ever had this happen with Seche Vite, but it can be prevented most of the time by wrapping your nail tips (I touched on this earlier in the post). The second thing is that Seche Vite contains toluene, a solvent that some people prefer to avoid.

Essie Good to Go Review

Essie Good to Go Gel top coat

Essie Good to Go is one of my original favorites—I used this before Essie released their Gel Setter Top Coat, and I think it’s one of their first fast-drying top coats. I used this so long ago that I think the packaging has changed twice since I started to use it!

It dries quickly and super shiny, but doesn’t make nails look as gel-like as other top coats. However, it’s one that I relied on for a long time and I would happily recommend it.



Essie Gel Setter Review

Essie Gel Setter Top Coat

I was really curious about this one when it was released because at the time, I was such a fan of the existing Essie Good to Go top coat—so I wondered how Essie Gel Setter could be even better. There was a big trend of nail polish brands adding ‘gel’ to their top coats—the thing is, these aren’t real gel top coats. They’re just making claims about making your regular nail polish look and last as long as gel.

So how did Gel Setter fare? Well, I loved it (and still do!). It’s definitely similar to Good to Go, but to me has a little more plumping and a gel-like finish for nails.



Sally Hansen Big Shiny Top Coat

I was actually sent this one in a PR parcel yonks ago, and I gotta say I used it up until the last drop. I really, really liked the Sally Hansen Big Shiny Top Coat. It was Big, Shiny, and quick-drying—and easy to get and cheap. What’s not to love? I know, it seems like I don’t have a lot to say about this one, but at a certain point if a top coat claims that it’s shiny, it dries fast, and it lasts for at least a week, it speaks for itself (and it’s a tick in my book).

I’ve also heard good things about Sally Hansen’s Insta-Dri in the red bottle—this one has been around for a long time and still gets recommended, along with Mega Shine.



Essence The Gel Top Coat

I actually have a post reviewing this top coat, but I think it’s worth adding to this roundup list. It’s another cheap and cheerful top coat that just works. It ticks all the boxes for me: I get at least a week of chip-free wear, it’s beautifully shiny, and it dries fast. That’s all I ask for in a quick dry top coat to give me perfect nails.

Plus, Essence is an affordable brand pretty much everywhere you go. I’ve spotted it here in Georgia (Eastern Europe, not the American state) and I’m relieved to know that I can get my hands on some old favorites here.


What about matte top coats?

Ooh, I love a good matte top coat. I think they look great over nail art to bring another dimension to your mani—here’s a dry brush manicure I did a while ago, and I think it looks even better matte than glossy.
The thing with matte top coats is that they’re a ‘special effect’ top coat. Even the best matte top coat isn’t designed for this. They’re not formulated to make your manicure last longer or dry faster—so don’t expect them to do that for you. The best way to use a matte top coat is after you’ve sealed everything in with a high-shine, so you get the best of both worlds: a long-lasting mani, and a unique matte effect on your nails.
So, what’s the fastest way to dry nails again?
Answer: with a top coat—so skip all those Pinterest hacks about putting your hands in iced water. Apply thin coats of nail polish, let it dry a little in between, and seal everything off with a good top coat (and your nails will probably look better and last longer than gel, too!)
Here’s to good manis and pedis ahead!
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