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Nail Polish 101: The 3 Best Top Coats Ever


Best top coat nail polish

If a base coat is the most important step in making a manicure last, then a top coat is the most important step in making your DIY manicure look professionally done.

I can understand skipping a base coat, but to me, a top coat is non-negotiable: A good one can make even the worst nail polish or application look amazing. A great formula dries fast, adds shine and helps prevent chipping. In addition, a thin coat of top coat every other day is the best way to make a manicure last.

However, walking through the nail aisle can be overwhelming as there are so many different top coats that all basically promise the same things. However, after lots of testing, I’ve created a “best top coat nail polish” list. Here are the formulas that deliver and what I consider the best top coats:

Orly In A Snap

Orly in a snap Topcoat

In my last post on the best base coats, I mentioned how much I love Orly Bonder. Well, it’s not just their base coat I love – I’m equally in love with their top coat, Orly In A Snap ($9 at Ulta).

The thing I love most about this formula is how quickly it dries – when I’m in a hurry and need to go, this is the topcoat I reach for. A thin coat of it also adds a fair amount of shine.

My sole complaint with this formula is that this doesn’t seem to prevent chipping, although in my experience most topcoats don’t do an amazing job with this. Still, this is definitely a solid winner.

Seche Vite

Seche Vite topcoat

Ah, Seche Vite ($5.65 at Amazon)… This top coat is a polarizing topic in the nail community – some hate it and some love it. I’m in the latter camp – OK, I get that it gets goopy after a few months, it can shrink polish and doesn’t do much against chipping. However, I still think it is one of the best.

The main reason I love Seche Vite? You can apply it to still-wet polish and it will dry your entire nail in less than two minutes. That’s right, two minutes after applying your coat of nail polish and your finger is dry – even if you apply a thick coat. I wouldn’t recommend doing hardcore weed pulling right after application, but you are basically good to go in your normal activities. Even if you do end up smudging your nail, the smudge is almost invisible when you look at it.

Seche Vite is also awesome because it adds so much shine to your polish – it will make even the runniest, worst formula look impossibly glossy and chic. A huge downside, apart from the ones mentioned above, is that it smells much worse than normal polish. However, if you’re looking for a high-shine, quick drying polish, Seche Vite is for you.

Revlon Quick Dry Top Coat

Revlon quick dry topcoat

While I really, really love the first two topcoats, Revlon Quick Dry Top Coat ($4.74 at Target) is my absolute favorite formula. Like the other two above, it dries quickly (although I should probably mention it does not dry as quickly as the others) and adds a ton of shine. However, where this one outperforms the others is in its chip protection. I notice that whenever I’m not using this top coat, my mani chips 2-3x as quickly.

I cannot say enough good things about this formula – aside from its slightly longer dry time when compared to Seche Vite, there are very few downsides to it. In the five months I’ve owned this polish, not only is it almost gone, but it hasn’t gotten goopy or thick, which is a common problem with top coats. If you’re looking for the perfect combination of shine, fast drying and long-lasting, look no further than Revlon’s fast drying topcoat.

What are your favorite top coats?

Do you have a favorite brand? Have you tried the products I listed? Which ones don’t you like? Tell me everything in the comments!

Posted on on September 25, 2011 / Filed Under: Beauty & Hair / Tags: , , , ,

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47 Responses to “Nail Polish 101: The 3 Best Top Coats Ever”

  1. 1
    September 25th, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    the seche vite has harmful chemicals, look on the side of the bottle. theres a label that says “WARNING! This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.” the chemicals were google this product if you need more information or go to this link which i found very useful

    I had heard so many good reviews about this last yr and i couldnt wait to get one! i had bought it from my local sally’s store. My experiene however wasnt the best. yes the top coat left an amazing shine but it would cause my nail polish to peel right off, it left a weird film on on it. a good alternative to the seche vite is sally hansens megashine, it works pretty good for me. i have been using for a year now, it dries really fast, leaves a really nice and shine and i usually dont have any chips unless im rough on my hands and occasionally theres minimal tip wear. =)

  2. 2
    September 25th, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    my last top coat bottle has just finished, i’ll be purchasing one of these – thank you for sharing!

  3. 3
    September 25th, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Sally Hansen Insta-Dri is a must have

  4. 4
    September 25th, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Wow I love these articles…the author is definitely experienced in these matters and writes a really good review and summarizes different types of polish.

  5. 5
    September 25th, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    No Chip Top Coat by China Glaze, absolute best top coat, your polish stays perfect for a week before it even starts to chip!!

  6. 6
    September 25th, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    I agree with Georgia. I love Sally Hansen Insta-Dri, it dries nails to the light touch in 30secs, is thin so it doesn’t smear wet polish and is nice and shiny.

  7. 7
    September 26th, 2011 at 9:39 am

    I use Sally Hansen Hard as Nails XtremeWear in Invisible as a top coat – I don’t know that it actually IS one, but I do it anyway and it’s worked swimmingly so far. It can take a while to dry, like a polish, but it keeps my nail polish from chipping for a quite a while (whether that’s what it’s supposed to do or not).

  8. 8
    September 26th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Anastasia I use the same thing! I picked up Invisible as a way to finish up my french manicures but have found it works as a great top coat as well!

  9. 9
    September 26th, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    I use Butter London’s topcoat! It’s pretty expensive but totally work it. It’s pretty big (bigger than Butter London’s actual nail polishes – don’t worry) and makes your nails look SO glossy. I get asked if they’re fake or professionally done all the time which is awesome for a nail fanatic like me!
    Warning – doesn’t do much against chipping…. but it lacks all those crazy chemicals!

  10. 10
    September 26th, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Anastasia and Rachel- ME TOO!

    I’m pretty positive Invisible is supposed to just be a clear polish, but jeez it’s an amazing top coat. And for only $1.50 at my Target!

    It made my nail polish last almost two weeks with no chipping. But for me, it dries pretty fast.

    I really love these nail polish articles, too. Keep up the good recommendations, guys!

  11. 11
    September 27th, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I love seche vite, yes, it has harmful chemicals, but im painting on my nails, not bathing in it. That being said, i also LOVE sally hansen insta dri (in the red bottle) it makes my manis wear like iron and it dries as fast as seche.

  12. 12
    September 27th, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Seche Vite may be super awesome, but it’s not super awesome to the environment and health as it isn’t the big 3 free. No good. Don’t do it. There are plenty of 3-free top coats out there that are just as fast drying.

    Essie’s Good To Go is the best top coat I have ever used. It dries to the touch in ~ a minute and minutes later, you are literally good to go about your business without fear of ruining your mani.

  13. 13
    September 28th, 2011 at 3:09 am

    Hi girls,
    I can’t decide which Orly top coat to get, Polishield or In a Snap. Can anyone help?

  14. 14
    September 29th, 2011 at 10:24 am

    I love poshe. It is super shiny and dries in around 3 minutes.

  15. 15
    September 29th, 2011 at 10:46 am

    There’s one I LOVE from Sally Beauty supply called Out the Door. It dries quickly, evenly, and gives your nails that professional finish. It helps nail polish wear longer too and prevents chipping, so that’s awesome too!

  16. 16
    May 28th, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    I love CND Super Shiny ! I looks amazing and dries very fast, is also 3 free.

  17. 17
    July 15th, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    My favorite is “In A Hurry” by American Classics. Fabulous, super fast and shines, shines, shines!!!! You can buy it at Sally Beauty.

  18. 18
    July 15th, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    I also like Good To Go, but like Seche Vite, it gets gloppy and not good at protecting against chipping. My advice is put a good chip-resistant top coat on first, then add one that shines!

  19. 19
    September 2nd, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    I’m actually looking for a top coat that won’t turn yellow from my smoking? It’s been done before, however nobody seems to carry it or use it. Do you possibly know of any?

    We used a clear gel and that didn’t work either.

  20. 20
    September 3rd, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Is there any top coat or somthing that will keep my nails from turning yellow? I smoke, my nails are acrylic and I’m just searching for options.

    :) Jenn

  21. 21
    September 4th, 2012 at 3:33 am

    Sally Hansen Salon Speed Shine is my go to top coat. Smoothens bumps and even makes bubbles less noticeable. Dries in a flash wothout shrinkage. And renders your mani virtually indestructable. It’s the only topcoat I’ve used that has my mani looking near perfect eveen after a week (It says 10 days, but I change my nails every weekend, so I’ve never found out if it lives up to that, but I’m sure it can). Yes, it does get goopy about 2/3rds of the way down, but it still works. Just put on a thicker coat, so it goes on smoothly.

  22. 22
    September 14th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Why and how exactly does base coat keep your nail polish on longer? Is it a harder laquer when it’s dry? I’ve never really understood the why/how.

  23. 23
    January 5th, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Good to go by Essie! Awesome with chipping and shine!!

  24. 24
    January 22nd, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Revlon clear…. I use it for a topcoat and absolutely love it… It goes on so easy and turnes out so smooth and glossy. I guess I should try the actual top coat and compare…
    I’m new to nail polish, but I really fond of OPI. I could spend an hour on their website. It’s by far the best nail polish web site I’ve experienced…
    I have weak nails and need a nail strengthener that’s not high gloss but not matte either… Any suggestions ???

  25. 25
    January 22nd, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Anise nail polish is the best ive ever used. The top coat dries and leaves a shine that you only find in a nail salon. I found it at DSW, yes the shoe store. It was at the checkout center. Unbelievable nail polish. Really, try it.

  26. 26
    February 4th, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    The revlon top coat:D I’ve had this top coat 6 months so far and it is still not goopy:) It shines beautifully,and gives me the “salon manicure “look, although the downside is when it chips.

  27. 27
    February 14th, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    I tried the Seche Vite top coat for the first time yesterday and I was extremely impressed. Painted my toe nails right before bed, waited about two minutes, then applied a top coat of Seche Vite. I was amazed at how smooth it went on without adversely affecting the polish and how quickly it dried. The smell is different, but not intolerable.
    Very impressed!!!!!
    Next, I will try the Revlon fast dry top coat and compare. I can’t imagine it could be any better.

  28. 28
    April 10th, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I bought Revlon top coat today and it has a beautiful shine. I’ve had the Seche Vite in the past and found it clumps after a few months. I had the Sally Hansen mega shine, but it appears to be yellowing after a few days once it is put on. I loved it when I first got it, but maybe the bottle just isn’t good after a long time.

  29. 29
    June 21st, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I’ve been using Seche Vite for a while now and I love it… but I hate it too. My manicures only last a day with this, and it shrinks so bad that my nail polish will chip and then just peel right off in pretty much one solid sheet. It’s only gotten worse so I think it’s time to me to switch. Maybe I’ll try Insta-Dry by Sally Hansen :).

  30. 30
    January 31st, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Without a doubt..Sally Hansen MEGA SHINE. It’s in the chrome bottle and is their most expensive. You wont chip or yellow. It’s shiny, dries fast and is tough.

  31. 31
    March 15th, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    One thing I have noticed in years of using Sally Hansen’s mega shine is that if I have to fix a spot that is messed up, dabbling with the original color then using the mega shine makes the blemished spot unnoticeable. It shines up dull polish and while it does get gloopy mine never lays long enough for it to get bad. It’s my instant fix.

  32. 32
    July 28th, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Very helpful article and comments! But the OP doesn’t wear base coats?! I’ve never heard of someone who doesn’t recommend it. I’d rather do a base than top. Without it, it stains your nails and I cannot do my nails without it. Plus, I think it helps keep my polish from chipping.

  33. 33
    September 2nd, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Sally Hansens Diamond Flash (black bottle, silver top).
    Touch dry in a couple of minutes…completely dry within the hour. Can last a week without chipping if you treat your hands well.
    Does get gloopy though, as you work down the bottle.

  34. 34
    October 1st, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    I like Esse Good To Go as a fast dry top coat, but it doesn’t prevent chips. The best polish I’ve found for anti-chipping is Zoya with their Anchor base coat and Armour Top Coat, and then the Fast Dry Drops. MIneral Fusion is also great polish. Both of these are free of a lot of the worst chemicals that are in polish. For a long while I quit using polish altogether because of the chemicals, but I love the feminine look of polish and well-manicured nails, it makes me feel like a girl and keeps me from picking my fingers when anxiety-ridden, which is most of the time!!! Painting my nails is cheaper than therapy…. hahaha

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