Top & Base Coat

You know you've wondered: Can I just skip all the extra time and effort it takes to apply base coat when painting my nails at home? Apparently you shouldn't, says celebrity nail designer Patti Yankee. "Just like when you build a house, you need to start with a good foundation — and a base coat is the basis for a long-lasting manicure." Need more proof of why it's really worthwhile? Here, we break down all the benefits. Benefit #1: Base coat makes your manicure last longer. Think of it like double-sided tape for your nails. Along with plasticizers to make them flexible, base coats contain an extra boost of cellulose chemicals to give them "stick," says Dr. Heidi Waldorf, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "They stick to the nail below and the polish above to prolong the manicure, and allow for enough flexibility to move with the nail as it bends." Without this sticky, elastic surface for the pigment to adhere to, your manicure would chip a lot faster. Benefit #2: Base coats prevent polish from staining your nails. Ever tried that hot new red only to find it left your nails stained yellow? Chances are, you didn't use a base coat, and staining has occurred because of a chemical reaction between the ingredients in the polish (dyes and chemicals) and your nail plates. A base coat is your best defense against staining. It "provides a clear protective layer between the nail and the pigment of the polish above," says Waldorf. A good rule of thumb is that the darker the color, the more important it is to use a base coat. The one exception: neon. "Neons aren't dark, but because of the fluorescent dyes, they stain more than regular nail polish," explains Jin Soon Choi, editorial manicurist and creator of JINsoon Nail Lacquer Line. If you're in a pinch and simply must skip the base coat, avoid dark colors and go with natural shades, from sheers to pastels, that aren't as likely to stain your nails. But keep this in mind: when you apply pigment directly to the nail bed, it's especially important to use a high-quality, long-lasting formula. Benefit #3: Base coats can be handy problem-solvers. Some base coats are packed with ingredients to address a number of nail issues, and there are lots on the market to try. Read the labels to decide which one best suits your needs. Have extra dry nails? Choose one that's moisturizing to keep nails in tip-top shape. If the surfaces of your nails are uneven, opt for a base coat with ridge-filling properties. "It will provide a thicker base to even out ridges or indentations in the nail before applying the color coat," says Waldorf. If you suffer from weak, brittle nails, go with a strengthening formula. Just "beware of base coats that claim to be nail hardeners," says Yankee. "These usually contain a high content of formaldehyde and will temporarily harden your nails, but will later cause them to split and crack easier because they'll become too hard." If you're not plagued with any of these issues (lucky you!), simply look for the same qualities you do in any nail polish, says Waldorf. "Avoid formaldehyde resins and toluene, which are common contact allergens." One more tip: Resist the urge to use your topcoat as a base coat and vice versa. "Generally, a base coat doesn't have the shine of a topcoat, and a topcoat doesn't have the 'sticky' surface that's important in a base coat," says Waldorf. So switching between the two isn't a good idea.