Nail Experts Share Base Coat Nail Polishes to Make Your Manicure Last
Whether you have normal nails or nails that peel, crack, or are lined with ridges, we've rounded up the best base coats for all nail types to ensure that you get an amazing at-home manicure.
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Learning how to give yourself the perfect at-home manicure is arguably one of the best things you can do for yourself. Not only is it relaxing, but it’s also fun and can improve your overall nail health. Once you’re done stocking up on the best nail polishes, learning the right way to file your nails, and reading up on how to make your manicure last longer, let the pampering begin. Just know that there’s one important step you should never skip, and that’s applying a good base coat nail polish. Besides giving your colored nail polish something to stick to, base coats actually protect your nails and, depending on which one you use, can help strengthen, nourish, or repair them as well.
Why base coat nail polish is so important
A base coat acts as a protective barrier between your nail and the color, says Syreeta Aaron, an educator with LeChat Nails. “When using darker colors like red, navy, or black, for example, these shades can bleed through to your natural nail, and therefore you need a base coat,” she explains. In other words, those fall nail colors and even those irresistible winter nail colors you love so much can actually stain your nails if applied without a base coat.
And what about those of us whose nails need a little TLC? If you have ridges in your nails or nails that tend to peel, you’re not alone. “Nails can be susceptible to daily wear and tear and external factors, such as exposure to hot water, soaps, and detergents, which can contribute to peeling and ridges,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, a New York City–based board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Cornell University. “There are also some medical conditions, such as thyroid abnormalities and nutritional deficiencies, that may contribute to nail changes.”
According to Dr. Garshick, people who have nail peeling or ridging should do their best to keep their nails moisturized and protected. She recommends simple steps, like applying Vaseline Healing Jelly Ointment or another cuticle treatment to the nails to help lock in moisture, and wearing gloves when doing dishes. She also has some suggestions on what to look for when shopping for base coat nail polish.
What to look for when buying a base coat
When shopping for base coat nail polish, look for ingredients that hydrate, strengthen, and nourish your nails, suggests Dr. Garshick. Ingredients such as vitamin E and castor oil can be hydrating for the nails, while keratin and calcium strengthen them. Look for base coats that contain soy protein or bamboo extract to strengthen and nourish nails.
How we chose the best base coat nail polishes
To make an educated decision about the best base coat nail polish for you, we asked the experts for their recommendations on the best options for normal nails, weak and brittle nails, and nails with peeling or ridging. Then we sifted through thousands of reviews to see what real users had to say, and even tested some on our own nails to see if they made the cut.
Whether you’re looking for the best non-toxic nail polish, gel nail polish, or something that can help strengthen your nails, we’ve found the best base coat nail polish for you. And don’t forget to add this $8 nail product to your cart for serious salon-level results—especially if you’re trying out nail art.
Overall best base coat nail polish
OPI Natural Base Coat
If you want a base coat that checks all the boxes, then OPI’s Natural Base Coat is it. Not only was this base coat at the top of our list, but it was Dr. Garshick’s number one recommendation as well. “This easy-to-find and easy-to-use base coat is a great option to prevent staining of the nails, and it helps to enhance the overall appearance of the nails,” she says. This relatively thin base coat applies smoothly and evenly thanks to the large application brush, and it dries in under a minute. Once your manicure is completely dry, keep your hands looking beautiful with one of these hand creams that have nearly perfect reviews. We also love the Pink Armor Nail Gel—not only does it promote nail growth while strengthening, protecting, repairing, and restoring your nails, but it acts as a base coat, top coat, and nail color, too!
- Fast drying
- Large application brush
- Dermatologist recommended
- Won’t repair damaged nails
Best strengthening base coat
Orly Nail Defense Strengthening Treatment
If you have weak, peeling, or splitting nails, Dr. Garshick recommends this protein-enriched strengthening treatment. “While this is primarily used as a nail strengthener, it can also be applied as a base coat while helping to repair the nails,” she explains. On its own, this treatment should be applied every other day. As your nails begin to improve, you can apply it every four or five days. If you need even more help, these top-rated cuticle oils will also nourish and strengthen your nails.
- Protein-enriched to repair nails
- Can also be used as a top coat
- Must be reapplied frequently until your nails become stronger
Best base coat for filling in ridges
Kur Fortifying Ridge Filler by Londontown
If you have ridges in your nails, then you know how dramatically they can affect the look of your manicure. But there’s hope! According to Dr. Garshick, this ridge filler uses a combination of plant-based oils and extracts to help smooth out ridges and bumps while also providing a base coat for your polish.
So how does it work? It contains talc, which fills in the ridges. The small, flat particles stack and assemble to fill ridges and give thin nails a thicker (but not bulkier) appearance. It’s formulated with biotin, vitamin A, vitamin B5, safflower oil, and the brand’s own nourishing florium complex, which includes rapeseed flower oil, cucumber extract, garlic extract, evening primrose oil, chamomile extract, and vitamin E. In other words, it’s heaven for your nails! If you’re looking to make the switch to clean beauty products, here are the 20 of the best natural makeup brands.
- Formulated without harsh chemicals
- Contains a host of natural ingredients that will strengthen, condition, nourish, and moisturize your nails
- Dermatologist recommended
- Higher price point
Best base coat for damaged nails
The Rehab by Tenoverten
As Dr. Garshick pointed out, daily wear and tear does a number on your nails. Think of this repairing base coat as the ICU for them. It’s formulated to lock in moisture, boost hydration, and enhance overall nail health. Better yet, it’s free from eight harmful chemicals including toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate, ethyl tosylamide, and xylene.
- Formula moisturizes and boosts nail health
- Made with cleaner ingredients
- Not widely available
Best base coat for peeling nails
Olive & June Nail Strengthener
Olive and June’s elevated (and affordable) nail products took Instagram by storm, and for good reason. Simply put, they’re amazing! It should come as no surprise to Olive & June fans that the brand’s nail strengthener can increase your overall nail strength by up to 77 percent. It’s formulated with celery seed extract, which helps heal and condition the nail surface, prevent peeling, improve white spots, and diminish ridges. And yes, it also serves as a base coat nail polish.
- Increases nail strength and helps prevent peeling
- Cruelty-free and vegan
- Pricier at $14 a bottle
Best non-toxic base coat
Ella + mila First Aid Kiss Nail Strengthener and Growth Treatment
Looking for a polish made with love? Look no further. Ella + mila changed the nail game with a product line that’s free from 17 harsh chemicals. Their nail strengthener and growth treatment, which is formulated to improve nails over the course of four weeks, can also serve as a rehydrating base coat.
- Contains vitamin E to moisturize nails
- Free of 17 harsh chemicals
- Not the longest-lasting base coat nail polish
Best two-in-one base coat
Sally Hansen Double Duty Base and Top Coat
Let’s be honest. We love convenience. So when a beauty product serves more than one function, saving us time and money, we are here for it. But convenience isn’t the only reason we love this Double Duty Base and Top Coat by Sally Hansen. “This base coat contains panthenol, which helps to smooth your nails’ surface, while also helping to hold onto color,” explains Dr. Garshick. Yep, she’s a fan of it, too!
- Dermatologist recommended
- Contains Pro-Vitamin B5 to help shield nails
- Super affordable
- Not a clean or vegan product
Best base coat on Amazon
Essie First Base Coat
Not only is this iconic drugstore brand used in nail salons all over the world, but it is also said to be a favorite of Queen Elizabeth and has more than 9,700 five-star ratings on Amazon. Essie’s First Base Coat is a staple for anyone with strong, normal nails. Just one coat provides a smooth base surface and helps bond polish to the nails and resist chipping. You can even apply two coats and wear this polish on its own for shine.
- Easy to find
- Under $10
- Resists chips and extends the life of nail color
- Doesn’t include strengthening ingredients
Les Mains Hermès Enamel Base Coat
An iconic Birkin bag may not be in the cards for you, but a luxe nail polish is totally doable. This smooth, French Hermès base coat nail polish is formulated with 69 percent natural ingredients and is enriched with the resin from Pistacia lentiscus (an evergreen shrub or small tree found primarily in Mediterranean regions). If you’re going to splurge on fancy nail polish, you might as well make a day of it. Go ahead and pick up these must-have items for a relaxing spa day at home.
- It comes packaged in the brand’s signature orange box
- Made in France
- Uses 69 percent natural ingredients
- Pricier than other options
Nail-Aid Keratin 3 Day Growth Nail Treatment
More than 14,000 users have given this affordable nail growth treatment a five-star rating. It promises visible growth of healthier, harder nails in just three days with the help of keratin, a hardening protein that builds nails. Like other strengthening treatments, this can be used alone or as a base coat nail polish.
Aside from the fact that it’s less than $5 a bottle, we love that this treatment is free from 20 harmful ingredients, including animal-derived ingredients and harsh chemicals. The brand is also cruelty-free and was among the first beauty brands to receive PETA’s Trailblazer Award.
- Plant-based, non-toxic, and cruelty-free
- Fast acting
- Must apply every three days for best results
Best gel base coat
LeChat Gelée Base Coat
If you’re using gel polish on natural nails, Aaron suggests a thicker base coat to help prevent breakage. She recommends this base coat nail polish gel, which is ideal for powder gel manicures. If you’re considering learning how to do your own gel manicure, make sure you know how to remove gel nail polish without destroying your nails.
- Thick formula protects nails
- Needs to be cured with an LED or UV lamp
- Hard to remove
Best Sally Hansen base coat
Good. Kind. Pure. Hardener
There are plenty of great base coat nail polish options out there from the tried-and-true Sally Hansen brand, but their first plant-based, vegan line is a home run. Since this product is a nail hardener, it improves the look of ridges and imperfections and seals fragile nails while giving you a salon-quality manicure. Everything from the packaging to the formula to the brush is 100 percent vegan and plant-based, so this is a purchase you can feel good about. You’ll also feel great putting it on!
- Free from 16 harmful ingredients
- Hardens nails
- Plant-based, vegan formula
- Strong smell
Best cult-favorite base coat
Seche Clear Crystal Clear Base Coat
You can find a ton of hidden treasures on Amazon, including the Seche Clear Crystal Clear Base Coat. It takes a no-frills approach when it comes to giving you the best at-home manicure. Its thin formula goes on smoothly and bonds to both natural and artificial nails. You can also wear this base coat on its own; two coats will give you a smooth, glossy finish with no yellowing. It’s a beloved nail product with a solid 4.7 rating on Amazon.
- Goes on smooth
- Dries quickly
- Works on natural and artificial nails
- Won’t fill ridges
Best base coat at Walmart
Revlon Quick Dry Base Coat
Giving yourself an at-home mani and pedi doesn’t have to be expensive. This Revlon Quick Dry base coat nail polish is both affordable and easy to use. Though it’s not formulated for people with weak or peeling nails, it gets the job done when it comes to creating a smooth base for your favorite color. It does help prevent chipping, breakage, and yellowing, and it’s made without formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, and camphor. If you’re already a Revlon fan, you’ll love this Revlon one-step hair dryer!
- Easy to apply
- Prevents yellowing and chipping
- Not a nail strengthener
Best biotin base coat
Horse Power Nail Rescue Base Coat by Butter London
This base coat nail polish is infused with horsetail extract, biotin, vitamin B, and calcium to prevent breakage and strengthen fragile nails. The gentle ingredients also help to prevent future damage over time. Butter London products are both cruelty-free and free from harsh chemicals, so you can definitely feel good about this one on a variety of levels.
- Clean formula
- Doesn’t peel or chip
- Higher price point
Next, check out our pick for the best press-on nails that give you a gorgeous manicure instantly.