Here’s a series I’ve wanted to write for a long time. Like many other nail addicts, I’m a bit sick of people assuming that:
- the only reason our nails look good is an ungodly amount of Photoshop; and/or
- it takes a lot of skill or special equipment to get nice nails.
Neither of these is true. There are tons of nifty little tricks that you can use to make polishing a breeze. Of course, practice still helps, but just knowing a few things helps. A LOT.
The title of this series isn’t entirely accurate. The techniques aren’t secrets, and it’s not just bloggers who know them – they’re used by IG nail artists, and general members of the nail community (it’s just less clumsy to use the term “nail bloggers”, but I’m including all the awesome IG artists and nail lovers I’ve met over the years in that label – yoohoo Aussie Nails ladies!). But for some reason they haven’t filtered out into the wider online beauty community yet. They don’t even seem to be common knowledge in many of the nail interest groups I’ve come across.
Frequently a newbie will stumble into one of the nail communities I’m in, and ask about these. Many of us will instinctively clutch our pearls, but we realise it’s entirely unfair to expect everyone to know all the ins and outs of cleaning up their cuticles or removing glitter. I didn’t know most of these in the first 6 months of my blogging life. I’m sure there are widely known tricks I haven’t heard of too!
So this series is my small contribution to helping everyone get the manicure of their dreams. I hope it helps some of you, and maybe even the experienced amongst you will discover something new – happy polishing!
You probably need a top coat
Ideally, every polish is designed to be able to be worn without top coat. Some are designed to have their own special finish (textures, mattes), but by and large, the standard glossy polish will be improved with the addition of a top coat.
- Faster drying
- Chip resistance
- Glossier finish (neon polishes and no-name brands frequently dry matte)
- Flattening out brush strokes
- Smoother finish (useful for smoothing out gritty glitter polishes, as well as transforming textured polishes into regular ones)
- Different finish (matte, satin)
[Side note: TOP COAT THAT MAKES YOUR POLISH DRY FASTER, EXISTS. It doesn’t mean you have to wait longer for that additional layer to dry – it speeds up the drying of the layers underneath. I go to sleep half an hour after I apply a quick dry top coat, and my nails are undented and dry when I wake up. Quick dry drops exist too, but quick dry top coats have other advantages too (see below).]
There’s no such thing as “the best top coat”
It would be nice if there were a top coat which ticked all the boxes, but at the moment, there is none that I know of, so the “best” top coat really depends on your needs.
I know it seems like I’m contradicting myself when I say this, since I wrote this post on Lacquerheads, but the poll would have been more accurately titled, “What’s the best top coat, according to Aussie ladies who fucking love polish, paint their nails four times a week and frequently have children, pets, or both?”
That’s why Seche Vite won by a mile – when you have a mischievous toddler or impulsive cat, or you’re trying to cram your obsessive polishing around work and a reasonable amount of sleep, you need a top coat that dries fast and lets you smooth out dents (this is one of the biggest pros if you don’t have time to wait for polish to dry – you can massage out dents in the Seche-Vited layer cake). It’s also super shiny and photogenic! And if you’re changing your polish every few days, longevity isn’t a must – Seche Vite is a notorious chip monster, and can shrink from the free edge, which combined with tip wear can look raggedy after a few days.
The most appropriate top coat also depends on your climate – moisture can fog up top coat, so if you live somewhere damp, fog resistance might be a priority. It can also depend on your base coat – some top coats don’t play nice with certain bases, and your choice of base will depend a lot on your body chemistry and needs (strengthening, stain resistance, easy glitter removal, ridge filling – more on that later).
Here are some popular top coats for various purposes:
Quick dry, dent-minimising: Seche Vite, Poshe, Cult Nails Wicked Fast, HK Girl Glisten & Glow
Chip resistant: Sally Hansen Insta Dri, gel top coat
Glitter-smoothing: Essence Gel Look, old gloopy Seche Vite
Matte and satin: Essie Matte About You, OPI Matte Top Coat (if you’re being budget conscious, you can also make your own matte top coat)
Many indie brands also sell top coat. I’m currently using (and loving) Quick! Gloss Me Up! from Peita’s Polish.
But wait… there’s technique involved!
So now you’ve chosen a top coat… but that doesn’t ensure that your nails are going to be shiny chip-free pretties. There are a few extra things to keep in mind…
Don’t wait for your polish to completely dry
Here’s something else they don’t usually tell you on the back of the bottle – you don’t need to wait for your polish to dry before putting on top coat. You don’t even necessarily need it to be touch dry. Seche Vite and other quick-dry top coats generally work better if you use them over polish that’s about 50% dry, and tend to peel badly if you wait too long to apply them. 2-5 minutes is as long as I’d wait.
(The major exception to this is if you’re using a gel top coat over regular polish for serious longevity – that generally works best if you let the polish dry for as long as possible.)
When I first started painting my nails, I tended to always get either too much polish on my brush (indescribable messiness) or too little (brush strokes, dragging away the bottom layers of polish). With top coat, however, it’s almost always better to err on the side of too much, especially if you’re leaving your lower layers pretty wet.
You want there to be enough top coat to form a fat drop under the brush, but not so much that it’s dripping. About this much (though I usually go with more):
In a pretty full bottle of Seche Vite, I’d get this amount by dipping the brush almost completely into the bottle and wiping the side off once. The reason you want a good amount of top coat is that it acts as a sort of cushion beneath the stiff brush bristles, so you don’t drag a bare hole in the underlying polish.
Another technique that helps prevent your top coat from dragging a hole in your polish is to angle the brush like so (at 30-45 degrees, for those of you who are mathematically inclined):
It also helps if you stroke the brush across while maintaining that angle by moving your whole hand. There are plenty of people who can apply top coat perfectly well with a vertical brush. I kind of hate those people.
Wrap those damn tips!
Here’s something else they don’t tell you on the back of the bottle – you should wrap your tips when applying a top coat. What does that mean? Make sure your top coat extends past the top surface of your nail, past the edge to the underside. Even better, your polish and base coat (more on those later) should too. This stops shrinkage, which is when the top coat pulls the polish back from the edge as it dries, exposing the bare nail underneath or leaving an unintentional French tip. It also slows down tipwear and chipping.
Some people do it after painting the main part of their nail, some people do it as they paint. I prefer to do it before, so I can make sure I have complete coverage, and smooth off the bump at the edge.
This is what I do, shown with coloured polish for clarity:
First, I run the brush along the edge to make sure it’s all covered, then I paint the rest of the nail like normal. Voilà, wrapped edge and no bump!
Top coat can save your mani
Top coat is just a little bit magic. Does your polish have the texture of chewed up gum? (You should’ve thinned it first, but more on that in another post.) Your top coat can fix that. Observe this lumpy mess:
Seche Vite and many other top coats can iron that mess out!
Another massive pro of Seche Vite and other quick dry top coats, as I mentioned before, is how they let you save bumps and dents in your mani. Here’s a demo:
You can barely see the damage after it’s dried! These tricks – rubbing gently to smooth out a bump, licking (yes, that’s another tip – if it’s too gross for you, try licking your finger and smoothing it over the bump, and if that’s still too gross, try water, and if you’re still shuddering, just give up now) – can work with any polish, but you’re 1000 times less likely to make an even bigger mess if you’re using a quick dry top coat.
There’s a catch
Quick dry top coats sound amazing… but they come with a few catches! As well as being chip-prone, we have this scourge of quick-dry-kind:
THE DREADED SHRINKAGE.
See that weird two-layer effect at the edge of the nail? That’s where the Seche Vite didn’t quite cover the polish underneath, and as it dried it pulled the polish away from the sides. To stop this from happening, you need to make sure the top coat covers all of the polish, which can be difficult since it’s transparent.
What have I missed on top coats? Add your tips in the comments below!
rachlovespenguins: Smooth out manis that dried wrinkled with a super-smooth buffing file. Works on fogged up top coat too!
Nelly S: Two additional top coats, popular in the US – INM Out the Door (quick dry) and Glitter Food (glitter-smoothing).
Next time… let’s get serious about nail care and base coats.
This post contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and support Lab Muffin financially, thank you! For more information, see Disclosure Policy.