Can You Use A Top Coat As A Base Coat?

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Going to a nail salon can be a lovely treat but a pricey one, while doing your own nails can be a fantastic form of self-care that doesn’t break the bank.

But to achieve a beautiful salon-worthy manicure, you need a good base and top coat.

You won’t catch a nail technician skipping either of the two.

But have you ever gone to paint your nails, only to find that either your base or top coat has expired or run out? Have you caught yourself debating if the remaining polish can act as a two-in-one?

Can you use a base coat as a top coat? And can you use a top coat as a base coat? While both are a plain, clear polish, they play different, important parts in maintaining your manicure.

We’ll explore these questions and more in order to set you up for the perfect at-home manicure.


What Is A Base Coat?

Base Coat

A base coat is a clear polish you apply to your nails before painting with color. It’s designed to ensure that your polish lasts long and doesn’t move about your nail plate.

Base coats create a thick layer of polish to help protect your nails from staining, turning yellow, or becoming brittle.

Once applied, the base coat becomes sticky or tacky to the touch in order to help the nail polish adhere to your nail and stay put for a longer period of time.

Base Coat Application

A base coat prolongs wear time and will also smooth any bumps or ridges on your natural nail.

What Is A Top Coat?

Top Coat

On the other hand, a topcoat is a clear polish you apply after your last coat of nail polish has dried.

Your hands are constantly in motion. And it’s all too easy for polish to chip, smudge, and move around.

The top coat is the protective layer that keeps your color fresh and immoveable.

A well-applied top coat will harden over your manicure, protecting it from the elements and daily activities.

Top Coat Application

Color can look dull once it settles onto your nail, but a proper top coat will create a long-lasting shine, blur any mistakes, and smooth out streak lines.

If you’re uninterested in shine and prefer a matte manicure, there are mattifying top coats  you can apply.

Can You Use A Base Coat As A Top Coat?

So, can you use a base coat as a top coat?

Yes, you can… but it’s not ideal, and you won’t get the same results.

Base and top coats were made to do entirely opposite tasks, and applying a base coat as a top coat can weaken the polish beneath.

The base coat acts as an anchor for the color, while the top coat creates a rigid shine that protects your manicure from chipping and peeling.

So, can you use a base coat as a top coat?

Yes, you can… but it’s not ideal, and you won’t get the same results.

The desired effect that a top coat creates is not something a base coat can do. Applying a base coat as a top coat can only ruin your manicure.

Why You Shouldn’t Use A Base Coat As A Top Coat

Fingernails and Flowers

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to use a base coat as a top coat, it’s best to avoid it if you can.

The likelihood is that your manicure will last longer on its own than with a base coat over top.

There are three main reasons you shouldn’t use a base coat as a top coat, ranging from aesthetics to nail care.

1. Your Nails Won’t Be Protected

Top coats protect your nails from the environment, such as UV light, water, and other chemicals. 

Base coats are a soft and tacky layer that won’t protect your nails, as it’s not a polish that will harden completely.

Because of its tacky texture, you’ll attract lint, dirt, dust, and other debris that’ll cause a lot of weird textures. Ultimately, you’ll ruin your manicure.

You won’t be able to remove texture without completely removing the manicure and starting from scratch.

A base coat is like double-sided tape due to its high levels of resin, which helps it bond with your nails and your nail polish bond with the base coat.

2. The Base Coat Won’t Bond

Top coats are designed to bond with your polish, while base coats are made to bond to your nails.

But what does bonding mean?

For a base coat, bonding will cause it to partially absorb into the nail, increasing the strength of your nail so that your polish will easily adhere. The top coat, on the other hand, will anchor your color in place as it bonds to the polish.

Because of their chemical properties, the base coat wouldn’t stick to your nail polish long term, and it would easily wash away as it cannot bond with a smooth polish.

3. No Shine

Top coats give you a beautiful shiny finish that is glossy and long-lasting.

While base coats have a slight shine, they won’t last long or be as eye-catching. The glossiness will disappear once it starts collecting gunk, and your manicure will look dull.

Can You Use A Top Coat As A Base Coat?

Now that you know it’s not ideal to use a base coat as a top coat, you may be curious as to whether a top coat can be used as a base coat.

You very well could, but just as a base coat wasn’t designed to be a top coat, a top coat was not designed to be a base coat.

There’s a reason they sell them as separate products!

Top coats won’t adhere to your nail plate, and your nail polish won’t stick to the glossy surface it creates.

They’re made to bond with nail polish, not your nails, and don’t offer that double-sided tape effect that base coats have.

If you use a top coat as a base coat, there won’t be a solid foundation for the nail polish to sit on, and it will only reduce the wear time of your manicure.

As well, top coats won’t protect your nail plate from staining. Base coats create a thick layer between your nail and colored polish, but a top coat is thinner and can cause a yellow tinge to your nail.

When in doubt, avoid using either a top or base coat as anything other than its intended purpose. Your manicure will thank you.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).