Making your manicure last can be tricky business. Dings happen, often within hours of painting your nails, and nail polish can chip or peel off during everyday activities, such as washing dishes or working with your hands. Top coat nail polish is a clear polish that will protect your manicure and prolong its life. It also gives your nails a sleeker, more polished (so to speak) appearance.
When selecting a top coat, there are a few things you want to look for. Read this brief buying guide to make an informed purchasing decision. Our No. 1 pick is this luxury quick-dry top coat polish by Deborah Lippmann.
Considerations when choosing top coat nail polishes
Shine finish: The most popular type of top coat delivers a glossy finish and glass-like shine. If you're getting a mani or pedi, this is the type of top coat that your manicurist will likely use.
Matte finish: Matte finish is a newer trend in nail art and will leave a non-reflective surface on your nails for a look without any shine.
Glitter finish: These top coats are sparkly for a shimmery finish. They vary in the texture and size of glitter particles.
Gel finish: Gel top coats give your regular manicure the look of a gel manicure, which is a shinier, longer-lasting lacquer. Some gel top coats may require UV lighting to set. Many are used in tandem with gel nail polish.
Specials effects: Some top coats allow you to create special effects like a "crackle" that gives your manicure a shattered appearance.
Top coat features
UV protection: A great feature if you spend a lot of time outside, top coats with UV protection will help prevent your nails from yellowing from sun exposure.
Nutrients for nails: Some top coats feature nail-nourishing nutrients, like vitamin C and E, to strengthen your nails. However, these ingredients may be more beneficial in a base coat than in a top coat.
Quick-drying: This popular feature allows your manicure to dry lickety-split. It's always best, however, to apply a top coat after the rest of the layers are completely dry. By the time you get to the top coat, you're often itching to be done with the process, so a fast-drying product may be worth the purchase.
Scratch-resistance: While all top coats should protect your manicure from dings and scratches, some are better formulated to do so. Look for top coats labeled scratch-resistant if you work a lot with your hands or in the garden.
Toxin-free: Especially if you're pregnant, you want to select top coats free of harmful chemicals. "Big 3 Free" polishes are free from formaldehyde, DBP, and toluene. If that's not natural enough for you, look for top coats labeled "Big 5 Free" or "Big 7 Free," which eliminate additional chemicals from their formulas.
Moisturizing: Because top coats are generally drying -- and result in dry, brittle nails -- you might want to select a top coat that's labeled moisturizing or hydrating.
Top coat nail polish prices
Drugstore-brand top coat nail polishes will likely cost you less than $10. You may pay up to $30 for a name or luxury brand.
Q. Can I use a top coat to paint my nails clear?
A. You can, but for a shiny, no-color manicure, it's best to apply a base coat first, then a clear nail polish, and then a top coat for protection.
Q. Can I use a gel top coat with regular nail polish?
A. You can but it won't provide the kind of long-lasting results that using it with a gel polish will. However, removing your manicure will be a whole lot easier than if you've used a full gel system.
Top coat nail polishes we recommend
Best of the best: Deborah Lippmann Addicted to Speed Ultra Quick-Dry Top Coat
Our take: A luxury top coat that dries with lightning speed for smudge-proof nails.
What we like: Dries in one minute for some users. High-shine finish. Long lasting. Doesn't streak or bubble.
What we dislike: Formula is thick.
Best bang for your buck: CND Vinylux Longwear Top Coat
Our take: A gel-like, shiny top coat that will make nails stronger over time.
What we like: Light exposure strengthens top coat. Keeps manicure from yellowing. Zero toxins ad cruelty-free. Extends life of manis and pedis.
What we dislike: Takes a long time to dry.
Choice 3: OPI Nail Lacquer Top Coat
Our take: An affordable top coat with different finishes from a name brand.
What we like: Comes in four finishes, including high gloss and rapid dry. Even, smooth coverage. Can also be used as a base coat.
What we dislike: Takes some time to dry.
Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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