Can Top Coat Do Double-Duty As Your Base Coat? Here's The Deal

You're about to paint your nails, but you realize you ran out of base coat polish. You do have some top coat polish handy, though, so you wonder if you can use the top coat as a substitute for the base coat. They pretty much look the same, right? It seems like a good idea, but surprisingly enough, these products aren't meant to be used interchangeably. Using a top coat as the base isn't the best move to make for your nails.

Top coat and base coat have different properties and uses, according to the nail experts at Sally Beauty. Despite them having a similar appearance, top coat and bottom coat are made with different ingredients for specific purposes. Both are key, either in preventing your nail polish from chipping or maintaining your nail health. Therefore, it's best to use them in the way they're intended: separately. Keep this in mind during your next at-home manicure or pedicure. 

Top coat primarily protects your polish, not your nails

Though they may look similar, base and top coat polishes are made with different purposes in mind. As board-certified dermatologist and nail health specialist Dr. Dana Stern explains to Bustle, "Base coats are formulated to adhere to the nail plate as well as to hold onto the polish. Top coats are an entirely different formula and tend to contain more nitrocellulose and plasticizers for gloss, flexibility, and scratch resistance." Base coat is made to act as a protective barrier between the nail and the polish, while top coat is solely meant to protect the nail polish and give your manicure that clean finish. 

If you use a top coat as your base coat, it won't do a very good job of adhering to your nails, so it won't provide much protection. This may cause the color polish to start peeling and chipping afterwards. Top coat isn't formulated to prevent color transfer as base coat is, so even with a top coat under your color polish, there's still a chance of staining. 

Two-in-one products may not be as effective

Ultimately, it's best to use top coat and base coat on their own, but some nail polish brands sell a two-in-one option, which combines both types into one product. There isn't a lot of information about the value of these polishes, so make sure to read the reviews before trying them out. 

According to Navigating Nail Care, they may not be as effective as using top and base coats separately because the different purposes of the two products means that a coat that tries to meet both requirements won't fulfill either role as well. Long Nails QnA explains that the consistencies and ingredients within each product tend to be different, with base coat being too sticky to apply over a finished manicure, and top coat not being sticky enough to protect bare nails from color. A coat that meets both purposes will likely have to sacrifice some of its efficacy on either end.

Even so, two-in-one base and top coat products can be convenient, especially if you're on a budget and you don't want to buy two separate polishes. If you're curious to try, check out Orly Top 2 Bottom Basecoat + Topcoat or Dr.'s Remedy TOTAL Two-In-One Top Coat Enriched Nail Polish. Both of these received positive online reviews from customers.