The best base coats and top coats: What makes a manicure go the extra mile
Summer's anything-goes approach to beauty is gloriously low-maintenance in every way but one: Keeping your fingers and toes in perfect condition is no easy feat. "The poor things are exposed!" says Ji Baek, the New York City–based founder of Rescue Beauty Lounge nail color, with a laugh. She points to open-toe sandals and subway stairs as possible causes for chipped pedicures, while alcohol-based hand sanitizers can dull a fresh manicure. Even sunscreens and body lotions will wear down polish ahead of schedule. Factor in poolside weekends, tennis volleys, and errant roller bags, and you might as well kiss your manicure-pedicure goodbye.
Well, almost. Thanks to a new crop of breakthrough base coats and top coats, your nail color may be poised to stick around for a few more days or even weeks. From break-proof rubberized textures to UV-protective formulas, we've rounded up the best of them-along with a few key tips from the pros. Here, our guide to a truly indestructible polish job.
Before picking up a bottle of base coat, swipe a cotton pad dipped in alcohol or non-acetone polish remover over your nail bed to remove traces of hand lotion or natural oils. "If you have any residue on your nails, the polish will just peel off," explains pro manicurist Jin Soon Choi. Baek has gone one step further, bottling her own formula known as Base Coat Prep. The quick-drying, leave-on polish provides an instant matte surface when swept across the nail, which helps the base coat adhere. "It's dummy-proof," she explains.
With the nails clean and smooth, it's time for your base coat-which creates a blank canvas for polish and prevents dark colors from staining the nail bed. "Find the right one for your condition," says Choi, ticking off a list of possible nail types: strong, thin, and extra-dry among them. To treat uneven nail beds, she recommends a thicker formula to make the surface "smoother before you apply the polish." Her own Jin Soon Power Coat contains a keratin-derived amino acid and diamond particles for strength, while Essie's checklist of formulas promises to do everything from prevent breaks (Grow Faster) to improve the lifespan of your favorite burgundy red (First Base). For a true no-budge hold, Orly's Bonder sports a rubberized texture that acts like double-stick tape for your color.
Sheer, neon bright, glitter-bombed: There are nail lacquers to match every mood or swimsuit. The key is to allow ample drying time between coats, particularly for darker, pigment-rich shades. "I always do pinky to pinky," says Baek of working her way from the edge of one hand to the other before starting all over again. "It takes about five to eight minutes, and that's about the right time to do another coat."
Not only does the perfect top coat steel your polish against everyday wear, it also delivers gloss in abundance. Dolce & Gabbana's new High Shine top lacquer boasts a near-reflective finish. Still other formulas, like Dior's Vernis Gel Coat and Guerlain's Le Top Coat Gel, strive to capture the vinyl-like effect of a longwear gel manicure-minus the cumbersome application. Hitting the beach? "I recommend using a top coat with a UV filter in the summertime," says celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann, explaining that prolonged sun exposure can cause colors to change after application. Her Umbrella Oxygen Raincoat Top Coat does double duty, absorbing damaging rays and reducing water penetration to the nail plate. She suggests applying it every three days to extend the life of your polish and refresh shine, while Baek offers a different tip aimed at longevity: "A day after your manicure, you want to generously bless your cuticles with a really great cream," she says. "It means three weeks before you'll need another pedicure."
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