Which Top Coat Preserves Your Nail Polish The Longest?

I tested five top coats for five days (on one hand) and the winner is...
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I tested five top coats for five days (on one hand) and the winner is...

I'm not much of a nail person, so on the rare occasion that I do use nail polish, I want it to last. To see which top coat gives the most bang for your buck, I tested five different brands--on one hand

I used a different top coat on each of the fingers on my left hand. My right hand was also painted, but left free of top coat, for reference. I did not reapply the top coat after the day one polish job--so these results show the full lasting power with a single application. 

essie wicked

Day 1: Standard nail polish job using two coats of Essie Wicked. Left hand top coated, right hand uncoated.

The left hand top coats are as follows.

  • Pinky: Sally Hansen Ultimate Shield
  • Ring: Essie All in One
  • Middle: Seche Vite
  • Index: Julep Freedom Polymer Coat
  • Thumb: Revlon Extra Life No Chip Top Coat

All the varnishes applied similarly, apart from the Julep Freedom Polymer Coat. Although I liked its thick consistency, it seemed to disrupt the base color, making some parts appear thin and some parts thick. As a result, I had to remove and reapply repeatedly to get it right (and you can see evidence of that on my index finger, which appears slightly red). A polish enthusiast would probably yield better results, but a newb like me, not so much.

Here's the breakdown...

Sally Hansen Ultimate Shield, $3.99

sally hansen ultimate shield

Sally Hansen Ultimate Shield top coat performance, days three and five. 

This base and top coat in one did a pretty decent job of holding it together. I was pleased.

Essie All In One, $10

essie all in one

Essie All-in-One top coat performance, days three and five.

The overachiever of top coats, this polish boasts itself as a base, top coat, and strengthener in one. It performed well, though dulled slightly on day five.

Seche Vite, $9.95

seche vite

The cult favorite: Seche Vite top coat performance, days three and five.

I had high hopes for this cult classic. It wasn't faultless, but it held up well, especially compared to the non-coated nails, which I will reveal at the end of this article. Bonus points for staying shiniest the longest.

Julep Freedom Polymer Top Coat, $18

julep freedom polymer

Julep Freedom Polymer top coat performance, days three and five.

Though it was the most expensive of the bunch, this was the worst performer. Day one was great, and my nail felt as hard as a gel manicure, but the results didn't last. My poor application may have been the culprit, but I noticed other online reviewers reporting similar challenges. 

You're meant to cure the top coat in natural light for five minutes, or under a lightbulb for two minutes. I chose to the lightbulb method, as the sun chose to be uncooperative. For best results, Sephora says to "reapply every two to three days" so maybe that's the price to pay for consistently shiny, rock-hard nails.

Revlon Extra Life No Chip Top Coat, $5.99

Revlon Extra Life No Chip Top Coat top coat performance, days three and five.

Revlon Extra Life No Chip Top Coat top coat performance, days three and five.

This was the cheapest of the lot, but it gave quite a decent performance. It also dried quickly. 

Here are all of the top coats after five days of wear. 

From L-R: Sally Hansen Ultimate Shield, Essie All in One, Seche Vite, Julep Freedom Polymer Coat, Revlon Extra Life No Chip Top Coat

From L-R: Sally Hansen Ultimate Shield, Essie All in One, Seche Vite, Julep Freedom Polymer Coat, Revlon Extra Life No Chip Top Coat

Besides the index finger, the nails aren't too terrible. Sure, it's hardly perfect, but let's compare them to this mess...

My other, non-coated hand after five days of wear. 

Day 5: right hand, no top coat.

Day 5: right hand, no top coat.

Notice that the tops and bottoms of the nails are significantly more chipped, but who's surprised?

Overall I'd say Sally Hansen Ultimate Shield was the winner, though not by much. 

Top coats will definitely extend the life of a regular manicure (duh), but when you really need your polish to last forever, gels are your best bet.

  • Do you have a favorite top coat? 
  • Have any tips to make your polish last? Tell me!