Nail Primer Vs. Base Coat: What’s The Difference?

It seems like every day, there are more steps to achieving perfect nail polish. One question remains: do you put on nail primer or a base coat first? What’s the difference between these two and ultimately who wins the battle?


What Does Nail Primer Do?

What Does Nail Primer Do?

Usually, you apply nail primer to unpolished nails before applying nail polish. You can apply the primer with a brush, and it comes in liquid form.

The primer acts like glue to help your nail polish stick without having any dehydrating effects on your nails. In more extreme cases, the primer also creates microscopic tears or holes in your nail bed to help the polish stick.


What Does a Base Coat Do?

What Does a Base Coat Do?

A base coat is a transparent or opaque polish applied before the actual nail polish to your nails. A base coat helps strengthen your nails by adding moisture and helping the nail polish to stay longer on your nails.

In some cases, a base coat helps to smooth out your nails’ ridges if you have not buffed them yet.


Is Nail Primer and Base Coat the Same Thing?

No. They are similar in the sense that base coats and nail primers both treat and prep your nails for actual nail polish application. They also work as a protective layer between your nail and the polish. But they are completely different and should be used as per the purpose mentioned below.


Difference Between Nail Primer and Base Coat

Nail primers are used to create bonds between the nail and acrylic or gel polish. It acts as a dehydrator that gets rid of any oil or moisturizer from the nail plate. Base coats are healthier for nails and applied on natural nails before applying nail polish to make the polish stay longer.


Comparison Table: Nail Primer Vs. Base Coat

Nail Primers Base Coats
1. Primers are used before applying the acrylic or even gel polish 1. Base coats are applied before using gel polish or other nail polish
2. Chemicals in primer may harm your nail 2. Base coats are beneficial to nails
3. Primers are not necessary before applying regular nail polish 3. Base coats are necessary before applying regular nail polish


When Should You Use a Nail Primer Instead of a Base Coat?

When to Use Nail Primer

Despite the similarities between base coats and nail primers, you use them under different circumstances and with different polishes. You should know if you really need primer.

For example, nail primers are exceptionally strong. If your nails chip or peel easily, a nail primer is the only way to help your polish stay on.

Nail primers are also versatile, adhering anything from acrylic polish to gel polish to your nails.


When Should You Use a Base Coat Instead of a Nail Primer?

When to Use Base Coat

Base coats do more heavy lifting than nail primer. They help nail polish adhere to your nails and protect them better.

Some nail polish colors, such as dark or neon ones, can stain your nails a soft yellow if left on for too long. Applying a base coat protects your nails from getting discolored.

Base coats are also slightly less harsh than nail primers. Nail primers stick to your nails, while base coats are just a base that allows your polish to sit on top.

In that sense, a base coat helps promote stronger, healthier nails. Make sure to avoid ones that have formaldehyde in the formula. Formaldehyde may temporarily harden your nails, but it will eventually cause your nails to split because they will become too hard.


How Much Nail Primer Should You Use?

How many coats of nail primer would you need to protect your nails and keep your regular polish from coming off? For nail primer, you only need one coat. Make sure it is spread evenly over the nail.

For nails with a little more oil and chronic lifting, you may need more than one coat. If you still experience lifting after two coats of primer, reevaluate your application technique. Make sure each coat dries completely before applying the next one.

As you can imagine, too much primer can damage the nail since primer creates microscopic holes in the nail. Repriming too many times causes the primer to keep digging those same holes deeper and deeper. In some cases, if you reapply enough times, the primer reaches the nail bed.

Don’t worry about the holes staying forever. As the nail grows out, the holes will also grow out.


How Much Base Coat Should You Use?

Once again, applying one even coat over the entire nail should protect your nails from damage and keep the polish from lifting.


Can You Use Both a Base Coat and a Nail Primer?

It does not hurt to use both a base coat and a nail primer together. The combination works really well if your nails are prone to damage from nail polish use.

Remember, nail primers and base coats work better for different kinds of polish.

Base coats, for example, work better with gels and regular polishes, not acrylics. Thus, you would have better luck using nail primers for acrylic polishes.


Why Not Just Use a Top Coat as a Base or Vice Versa?

Using Top Coat as Nail Base Coat

There is certainly nothing stopping you from doing so, but a top coat does not have the adherent properties as a base coat. A base coat does not have the same kind of shine that a top coat does.


Final Thoughts

Whether you use a base coat or nail primer first depends on the type of polish you are using. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, but it is up to you to decide what your nails need to look their very best.

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