Difference Between Base Coat and Top Coat

Painting nails have been present since time immortal. Historically the simplest nail polish was henna used to stain nails. Eventually, in the 20th century, opaque nail polish was commercially released for the first time by Revlon. Today nail polish is almost an inseparable makeup product of every woman and has also evolved into an art culture.

Base Coat vs Top Coat

The main difference between the base coat and topcoat is the position of their application and the function of their application. Basecoat, as the name suggests, are applied at the base of the nail polish, while topcoat, as the name suggests, is applied on top of the nail polish or nail art or any such additions made on the nails.

Base Coat vs Top Coat

Basecoat refers to the foundation of the base layer of nail polish. It functions as the foundation layer for the upcoming layers of paint or jewellery or any embellishment that are to be glued onto the nails. It serves as a separating layer between the nail itself and the first layer of the nail polish to be applied.

Topcoat refers to the finishing or the top layer of nail polish. It functions as the protective layer for the preceding layers of nail polish or jewellery or embellishments that are applied to the nail. It serves as an effective layer separating the intricate nail art from the environment.

Comparison Table Between Base Coat and Top Coat

Parameters of ComparisonBase CoatTop Coat
Place of ApplicationBase coats are applied as a base of the nail polish.The topcoat is applied on top of the nail polish.
Thickness of LayerBase coat is usually applied in a thicker layer.Topcoat is usually applied in a thinner layer.
NatureBase coats usually are stickier to held adhere to the proceeding layers of polish to the nail.Topcoats are not sticky as the base coat.
Dry TimeBase coats usually take longer to dry than topcoats.Topcoats dry much quicker than base coats.
ShineBase coats are not a shiny layer of nail product.Topcoat is a shiny layer of nail product.

What is Base Coat?

Applying nail polish for the layman must be a simple task as we only focus on the layer of colour paint that we apply on the nail that usually wears off too quickly for the amount of time and effort we gave to put it on. The correct way for nail polish to stick better to the nails and last longer is applying nail paint after a layer of base coat.

Basecoat is a nail product that serves like white paint on a canvas. It serves as the fundamental layer upon which all other colours are applied. This base layer helps adhere the colours and provide an even surface for the application of the nail paint or any embellishment that is sought to be glued onto the nails.

The application of the base coat is made by a thick layer separating the nail from the polish; however, the application must be made smoothly as a rough nail base coat may provide a rough base for the whole nail art, eventually spoiling the texture. Usually, it takes about a minute or two to dry and provides a matt finish to the nail. It is usually a clear fluid.

The function of the base coat is to provide adherence to the nail polish and also prevent staining of the nails themselves by the paint. Various companies sell base coats. Some of the best ones are OPI Natural, Sally Hensen, Revlon, Sephora, Lakme etc. Some of these products also come with added kale extracts, keratin, protein, etc., that help strengthen the nail.

What is Top Coat?

Usually, when nail polish or nail art is done at home, we do not apply any top coat leaving the nail polish exposed to wear and tear due to environmental factors such as running water, scratches, smudges, and so on. Professionally a top coat on the nail polish is needed to seal off the properties of the nail polish and protect it.

Topcoats are a clear shiny fluid that is applied on top of the nail polish layer or layers. They dry quickly into a transparent layer or non-sticky product on top of the nail polish and hence is called the topcoat. Usually, a thin layer of the topcoat is enough to suffice its functions.

The function of the topcoat is to protect the colour. Usually, a layer of topcoat is also worn by itself to give a shiny appearance to the nails without any pop of colour. This prevents the nail from chipping or scratching and extends the life period of the nail polish. It is much like a top layer of paint on a wall.

Some of the best topcoats in the market are from Revlon, Sephora, Miss Claire, Nykaa, and so on. Some companies also sell top coats that give a velvety matte texture and look rather than the shiny one like Allure. However, before applying the topcoat, it must be assured that the nail polish has dried, or it may ruin the preceding layers.

Main Differences Between Base Coat and Top Coat

  1. Base coats are not visible from the outside as it is the lowest layer of nail product and is covered by nail polish, while the top being the top layer, is visible on the outside.
  2. Base coats help the nail colour to stick to the nail, while the topcoat has no such effect.
  3. Base coats often help in preventing staining of nails with nail products, while topcoats have no such effect.
  4. Base coats have no protective functions, while topcoats protect the nail polish and nail by preventing it from chipping or breaking.
  5. Base coats make the colour of the nail paint more vibrant as it provides a base for it, while topcoats merely seal the colour.
  6. It is more important to apply a base coat than a topcoat in case only one is to be chosen.


Today nail polish and nail art is very common. Manicure and nail art are also an upcoming large industry going in hands with the fashion industry. Base coats and top coats are some of the products invented for the protection of the nails and the paints that are to be applied to them.

Intricate attention must be given to the ingredients of any products to be used on our skin and nails as it may trigger allergies, and hence test swatches must be made before buying. For nail art purposes, both base coats and topcoats are necessary, and time must be given for each layer to dry before the next is applied. Base coats are also important for people who peel off their nail art and store it with a base coat that won’t be possible.


  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00128071-200203080-00005
  2. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=D2a-CgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA217&dq=top+coat+nail+polish&ots=npeComVYtL&sig=UFTc-QdCdKs2L-r-4NTutIk1Aeg
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