Much like foundation primers, base coats aren’t a strict requirement, but things will probably turn out better if you use them. Base coats lay down an even, grippable canvas for your nail polish, which’ll make your manicure last longer and look smoother. Other than these essential functions, the best base coat nail polishes will add something else to the table, whether that’s strengthening your nails, filling in ridges, or working overtime as a clear polish or top coat.
Base coats are almost always a good idea, but they’re the best idea when you’ll be applying dark, bright, glittery, or otherwise very pigmented nail polishes on top. That extra layer between nail and polish provides a buffer against stubborn staining and yellowing, which can sometimes outlive even the most powerful nail polish remover.
Ready to take this extremely small but meaningful step toward a better, longer-lasting manicure? Take your pick from five of the best base coat polishes listed below, all of which are conveniently available on Amazon.
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1. The Best-Selling Base Coat
OPI is a total classic in the nail polish world, so it’s unsurprising that their Natural Nail Base Coat is one of the best-selling base coats on Amazon (and beyond). This beauty-world staple does everything a good base coat should: helps prevent your polish from chipping and peeling, wards off stains and yellowing, and dries quickly so you can move swiftly onto your polish. And, since it dries to a glossy finish, it can double as a clear nail polish.
Just a heads up: Despite the name, this product isn’t really “natural” — it contains a few additives (including camphor and tosylamide/epoxy resin) that non-toxic nail polish brands have nixed for their potentially harmful side effects. Unless you have a known allergy to these chemicals, though, they’re totally fine in small doses, so choosing whether to avoid them or not mostly comes down to personal preference.
2. The Best 2-in-1 Base Coat
A product that’d make Marie Kondo proud: This multi-tasking Sally Hansen Ultimate Shield, which does the work of both a base coat and a top coat. As a top coat, it protects the polish from chips, cracks, and fading. As a base coat, the micropolymers in the formula work to strengthen and fortify the nail itself. Considering the $5 price tag, the value for money here is pretty unparalleled.
3. The Fastest-Drying Base Coat
Impatience is the number-one cause of skipped base coats in manicures across the globe. (Don’t ask me to back up that claim.) This could be amended if we all just used this Revlon Quick Dry Base Coat, which dries in a matter of seconds and preps your nails for a smoother application experience. It gets bonus points for its five-free formula, which doesn't contain formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, or camphor.
You can probably tell from the matte bottle that this base coat doesn't dry to a glossy finish, so you may want to opt for another base coat on this list if you're looking for something that can double as a clear polish.
4. The Best Base Coat For Ridged Nails
Thanks to its slightly thicker consistency, ella+mila All About the Base spackles over any inconsistencies in your nail texture for smoother, easier polish application. This one isn’t totally translucent — it has a creamy white cast to it — but it won’t impact the integrity of any color you layer on top of it. And like all ella+mila products, this base coat is PETA-certified and free of seven potentially toxic additives. Amazon reviewers suggest applying two coats for best results.
5. The Best Strengthening Base Coat
When I asked her about the best strengthening treatments for nails recently, Dr. Dana Stern, a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in nail care, told me that many “strengthening” polishes on the market contain formaldehyde and/or formaldehyde resin. “Formaldehyde will initially harden the nail,” Dr. Stern said, “but over time, the nail will become brittle and at risk for lifting or separating off of the nail bed.” Dr. Stern added that formaldehye can cause severe allergic reactions, and “there is significant concern that these ingredients are carcinogenic.”
In lieu of these additives, this butter LONDON Horse Power Nail Rescue Basecoat contains some botanical ingredients — like biotin, vitamin B, and horsetail extract — that work to fortify weakened nails and protect them against future damage. In addition to formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin, this base coat is free of DBP, toluene, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, and xylene.