Nail Polish 101 | My Favorite Base + Top Coats, Nail Colors, and Nail Care Essentials Review

I have fairly strong nails despite wearing polish daily, so I have received lots of questions about my nail care + color. My natural nails have visible ridges and a strong nail line, but due to great base coats, top coats, and color, my at-home manicures look fresh and even. I will outline which products I have discovered to be the best performing in my nail collection after the jump!

Let's start with my Holy Grail base coat. Guerlain's Protective Base Coat has a plush, substantial feel with a nude-pink color. It takes a few extra minutes to dry down in comparison to other base coats, but it helps my color apply smoothly without adding bulk. Apparently, the formula has been enriched with a silicone derivative to support the natural strength and growth of the nail. I do not necessarily notice that my nails grow faster, but the tips of my nails crack noticeably less when I use the Guerlain base. I also love that the brush is wide and dense, so I only need a swipe or two per nail.

I have also been loving the new Louboutin Nail Care Kit. The Loubi Nail Primer is very similar to Guerlain's, though it has an ivory-nude color and dries a little faster. The formula does not feel quite as plush as Guerlain's, and my nail ridges are still somewhat visible, but the performance is comparable. I hope that Louboutin will eventually offer the base coat for sale as a full-sized individual product. The glossy top coat really brings out the shimmer in shades like Bianca, but I much prefer the performance of my HG top coat, reviewed below.

I have tried Chanel, Dior, Guerlain, Deborah Lippmann, Seche Vite, OPI, Essie, and countless other nail polish top coats, but nothing — absolutely nothing — beats Butter London's Hardware P.D. Quick Topcoat. It dries the fastest and chips the least. The formula is thin, so I like to layer on a few swipes to each nail for an "almost" gel nail look. Hardware never shrinks my designer nail colors the way budget quick-dry top coats consistently do, which is why I have totally given up on Seche Vite and splurge on the Butter London.
Hardware also maintains its wet (freshly painted), super shiny finish for nearly a week, whereas Chanel shine and Dior gel top coats only look glossy for a few days. Best of all, Hardware dries down incredibly smoothly. Plenty of strangers have commented that my nails look like a professional gel manicure, and I credit most of that to the top coat! Butter London's Hardware is a gem, and that is why I am currently working my way through my 5th bottle.

Now, let's move on to color! I will always have a weakness for Chanel Le Vernis nail color. Chanel always sets the trends and produces some of the best shades that money can buy. Most require two or three coats. I especially adore Chanel's metallics. Dior's Gel Vernis, however, is my top pick because of how easily self-leveling and long-wearing they are. The colors offered are a perfect mix of modern, wearable, and classic. Ruban is a boutique-exclusive shimmery pink, my favorite! Rounding out my Top 3 is the Burberry Nail Polish because their formula is one of the easiest designer formulas to apply. I love how the traditional colors like Nude Beige and English Rose are balanced by the unexpected shades like Sage Green and Daffodil. The polishes dry faster than Chanel's or even Dior's.

Other quality nail polishes worth mentioning are Christian Louboutin's, Guerlain's, Tom Ford's, and Deborah Lippmann's. Louboutin's nail colors wear like iron when paired with BL's Hardware! The Noirs and the Pops are definitely some of the most pigmented I have ever used, and even on their own, wear for one week without chipping. Only a couple of the Nude shades, like Madame Est Nue, are intentionally sheer and require 3 coats. My favorites thus far are Lova, Alta Perla, and Just Nothing, not pictured above (because I forgot).

Guerlain's gel polishes are ultra plush and never ever streaky, although the shade range is rather limited. My favorites are A La Parisienne and La Petite Robe Noire, which I use when I want to indulge and feel pampered. With three generous coats, all the Guerlain colors mimic the appearance of a gel manicure. Tom Ford's shade range has grown quite a bit, but some of the colors can be inconsistent in pigmentation. I love his limited edition releases most, but I highly recommend Carnal Red, Indiscretion, and Dominatrix. My favorite mid-range nail color is by Deborah Lippmann, and she offers the most variety in finish. The glitters are fun, but pure acetone is required for removal.

My favorite budget nail color brand is Essie. I have found that Essie consistently produces the most opaque pinks and greens, so I have collected a lot of colors over the years. I feel their collections are, in general, more fun and eye-catching. Some of the colors may be streaky but after the second or (occasionally) third coat, the color looks smooth and even. I have a steady hand, so a streaky first coat never bothers me. OPI seems to be easier for most to apply (from what I gather online), but I find the majority of their nude colors far too sheer. Stick to OPI's deeper jewel tones and vampy shades for best results.

Now, as far as nail care goes, I keep it simple. I use Tatcha's Soothing Silk Hand Cream and Molton Brown's Hand Cream to keep my hands as soft as possible and get a manicure whenever I can spare the time. Before I brought my Aussie puppy Beau home, I was getting a mani/pedi every 4-6 weeks. I am lucky to squeeze in an appointment every 2 to 3 months lately! That's why super glossy and long-lasting color is an essential for my lifestyle!

For color removal, I use the ROCOCO Nail Polish Remover Tissues. They come in an individually wrapped box of 10, and they can remove an entire Dior gel manicure with just one tissue! I was mind boggled when I saw how effective the formula was, considering it does not contain any acetone (meaning no more mangled cuticles). These ROCOCO tissues are an indulgence, but it's the best way to remove nail polish ever invented!

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