Battle of the Top Coats

21 Jan

I hate when you buy a top coat and it’s awful.  It seems like each of them has their own drawbacks.  There are so many different options out there it’s hard to figure out which is the one for you.  The worst is when you do some cool nail art and the very thing that is supposed to protect it, smears it.  That makes me so mad!  I’ve tried out several different ones for that reason alone.

I decided to do an experiment.  I took 10 different top coats, put one on each finger and took some notes.  I used a generous coat of Cult Nails Get it On base coat on each nail and painted two coats of China Glaze White on White.

Here are the categories I judged each on:
-Thickness: score 1-3★ (1 being thin and 3 being as thick as Seche Vite)
-Dry time: score 1-5★ (1 being not dry and 5 dry to the touch), each top coat was allowed to dry for 1 minute, then I lightly brushed over it with my finger to test how dry it was
-Smearage: score 1-5★ (1 being lots of smearing and 5 being none) for 3 dots of Sally Hansen Black Out, a stripe of Milani black nail art polish and a dot of China Glaze Liquid Leather (each will get their own score), these were allowed to dry for a minimum of one minute before the top coat was applied
-Shrinkage: score 1-5★ (1 lots of shrinkage, 5 no shrinkage)
-Shine: score 1-5★ (1 not so shiny, 5 very shiny), each was scored at the beginning and again at the end
Overall wear: score 1-5★ (1 poor with lots of wear and/or chipping, 5 excellent wear with no chipping)

For the smearage test each nail has one, big black dot of China Glaze Liquid Leather, a stripe of Milani black nail art polish and three small dots of Sally Hansen Black Out.  I wore this full manicure for three full days, plus a couple hours.  The top coats I chose to test are China Glaze Fast Forward, Cult Nails Wicked Fast, Hard Candy Matte-ly In Love, INM Out the Door, Jordana Quick Dry, Jordana Quick Shine, OPI DS Top Coat, Orly Sec ‘n Dry, Poshe and Seche Vite.  Below, I’ve posted a bunch of pictures and my findings.  Click on the pictures to enlarge them if you want to see the details.

These are in alphabetical order, so first up is China Glaze Fast Forward.

China Glaze Fast Forward Top Coat:
Finger: left thumb
Thickness: ★ ★
Dry time: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Smearage: SH ★ ★ ★ ★, M ★ ★, CG ★
Shrinkage: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shine: begin ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, end ★ ★ ★ ★
Overall wear: ★ ★ ★

I find this to be the smelliest of them all.  Peeeeeeugh!  I can smell it on my nails hours later.

*free of DBP, Toulene and added Formaldehyde

I purchased this at Sally Beauty.

Cult Nails Wicked Fast Speed Dry Top Coat:
Finger: right middle
Thickness: ★
Dry time: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Smearage: SH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, M ★ ★ ★, CG ★ ★ ★
Shrinkage: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shine: begin ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, end ★ ★ ★
Overall wear: ★ ★ ★ ★

*4 free and cruelty free

I purchased this from Cult Nails.

Hard Candy Matte-ly In Love:
Finger: left pinkie
Thickness: ★
Dry time: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Smearage: SH ★, M ★, CG ★
Shrinkage: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shine: begin ★, end ★ ★ (being that it’s matte, you want low scores, right?)
Overall wear: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I purchased this at WalMart.

INM Out the Door:
Finger: right index
Thickness: ★
Dry time: ★ ★ ★ ★
Smearage: SH ★, M ★, CG ★
Shrinkage: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shine: begin ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, end ★ ★ ★
Overall wear: ★ ★ ★ ★

*3 Free

I purchased this at Sally Beauty.

Jordana Quick Dry Topcoat:
Finger: left ring
Thickness: ★
Dry time: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Smearage: SH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, M ★, CG ★
Shrinkage: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shine: begin ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, end ★ ★
Overall wear: ★

*DBP, Toluene and Formaldehyde free

I purchased this from Jordana Cosmetics.

Jordana Quick Shine Topcoat:
Finger: left index
Thickness: ★ ★ ★
Dry time: ★ ★ ★ (if you look closely at the picture you can see where it smudged when I tested it)
Smearage: SH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, M ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, CG ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shrinkage: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shine: begin ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, end ★ ★ ★ ★
Overall wear: ★ ★ ★

This is the top coat I use most often.  I find it to be very comparable to Seche Vite.

*DBP, Toluene and Formaldehyde free

I purchased this from Jordana Cosmetics.

OPI DS Top Coat:
Finger: right ring
Thickness: ★ ★
Dry time: ★ ★ ★ ★
Smearage: SH ★ ★, M ★, CG ★
Shrinkage: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shine: begin ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, end ★ ★ ★
Overall wear: ★ ★ ★ ★

I also tested this one on a couple holos and compared it to Jordana Quick Shine to see if the OPI enhanced the holo effect since evidently it is infused with diamond dust.  I found no greater holo effect with OPI DS Top Coat.

*Contains no DBP, Toluene, or Formaldehyde

I purchased this at Peerless Beauty.

Orly Sec ‘n Dry:
Finger: right pinkie
Thickness: ★ ★
Dry time: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Smearage: SH ★, M ★, CG ★
Shrinkage: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shine: begin ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, end ★ ★ ★
Overall wear: ★ ★ ★ ★

*Free of DBP, Formaldehyde & Toluene

I purchased this at Sally Beauty.

Finger: left middle
Thickness: ★ ★+
Dry time: ★ (smudged when I tested it)
Smearage: SH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, M ★ ★ ★ ★, CG ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shrinkage: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shine: begin ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, end ★ ★ ★
Overall wear: ★ ★ ★ ★

*Formaldehyde, Toluene and Phthalate free

I purchased this at Sally Beauty.

Seche Vite:
Finger: right thumb
Thickness: ★ ★ ★+ (gets super thick as it ages)
Dry time: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Smearage: SH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, M ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, CG ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shrinkage: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shine: begin ★ ★ ★ ★ ★, end ★ ★ ★
Overall wear: ★ ★ ★ ★

I purchased this at Sally Beauty.


So there you have it folks!  It’s not a pretty mani, but I learned a lot and hope it was informative for you as well.  Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions!

*The previous statements were solely based on my own opinions and experiences and were unsolicited.


43 Responses to “Battle of the Top Coats”

  1. SeeSarah Swatch January 21, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    great test!:] i’ll need to pick up that Jordana really soon

  2. rins January 21, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    This post is very, very helpful! Thank you for taking the time to do this. 🙂

  3. Michelle Lazo Rouhier January 21, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    This is fantastic! I use Seche Vite, but I will try the Jordana now as well. I love that you did a review on various top coats! I have thought that something like that has been needed. It was very thorough and well written! Thanks!

  4. Katie January 21, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Very informative post! I like that you included a smear test!

  5. thepolishwell January 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    Just the post I was looking for! Thank you so much!

  6. TopCoatIt January 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    Thanks everyone! I’m glad you found it informative.

  7. Ashesela January 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    This is a great post!! Thank you! 😀

  8. Jellie Bean January 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    I’ve been looking high & low for a good topcoat & Everyone seems to use Seche Vite but I may try the Jordana one now, Thanks for the post 🙂

    • TopCoatIt January 23, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

      Glad I could be of help!

  9. Joya (Blanket Print Nails) January 28, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Omg, this is so thorough! Awesome post!!

  10. ShannonBearzatto May 3, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    Great post…I love my Seche Vite and this makes me not want to wander….AT ALL.

    • TopCoatIt May 3, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

      Glad you found it helpful Shannon!

  11. alyons2424 June 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your scientific approach to the various top coats! Very insightful!

  12. Patricia June 17, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    This is fabulous!! I’ve been hearing wonderful things about Seche Vite and bought a bottle last night. Glad I did!

  13. Sara~ Spicey'z Nails June 17, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

    Wish I woulv’e read this before using INM Out the Door today.. =/
    I had read good reviews NM Out the Door before so today, I cheated on my S.V & applied it on my nail art…. a little #fail with the “Smearage”.. I’ll just stick to my “Seche Vite” ❤

    Great Post BTW!…=)

  14. Miss L June 17, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Great and very useful post!

  15. Sarah at Starlight Radiance June 18, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Great comparison post! This will be my go-to list if I ever cheat on my Poshe!

    It also makes me sad, though… No Hard Candy Matte on nail art without some other topcoat first. Ah, well. At least I know to protect my manis first now!

  16. Lena June 18, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post! I actually have a super old bottle of the Jordana Quick Shine layin around 🙂 Thanks for doin all the work (and wearing that mani in public for 3 days! lol)

    • TopCoatIt June 20, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

      Wait? Do you mean to tell me that this isn’t the most beautiful mani you’ve ever seen? Ha ha! I know, embarrassing, right? Oh well. I learned a lot and I’m happy you found it helpful!

  17. Maria Thompson July 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    Have you ever tried Hong Kong Girl Top Coat?
    It’s has a quick dry time and leaves your nails super shiny and chip free for weeks.

  18. Kara F (@KinSweden) July 30, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Thanks for the review. I must be one of the few people who is very firmly planted in the “Seche Vite stinks – literally and figuratively” camp. I seriously can’t stand the stuff. Even after I made it through the learning curve, I never warmed up to it. The OPI one I can highly recommend though. =) And now, thanks to you, I have a couple others to try out. =)

    • TopCoatIt July 30, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

      Kara, I’m so happy you found my review helpful! Despite Seche Vite’s high score, I don’t use it myself. My favorite is Poshe.

  19. Sharon August 3, 2012 at 6:56 am #

    Could you try Hong Kong Girl quick dry top coat and add it to this comparison? I’ve been hearing good things (which could be hype I guess) about it.

    • TopCoatIt August 3, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

      I’ll see what I can do. 🙂

  20. Esther August 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    hi love this review so much it helped alot! thank you. just have a question.. is the inm out the door top coat the fast dry one? i want to get jordana but it’s not available in the uk so my choices left out the door as i heard it doesnt shrink.. because i heard the fast dry out the door won’t smudge.. so i’m confused now =x

    • TopCoatIt August 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

      Hi Esther. I’m glad you found it helpful. I didn’t realize there were two different INM Out the Door top coats. As far as I know, the one I tested was of the quick dry variety. Is Poshe available in the UK? Poshe has become my go to top coat. I love it! In my opinion, it has all the pluses of Seche Vite without the negatives. I routinely use thin top coats, that generally would smudge my polish, with success. The key is to make sure you load up your brush and have a good bead on the end of your brush and use very light brush strokes and as few as possible.

  21. Spicey September 2, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    I’ve been thinking of switching from the use of my SV to Poshe… I’m not liking th eWarning lable on my SV =/
    I recently was gifted Hong Kong Girl Top Coat but I heard it’s not 3 free either…=/ I’m still gonna give it a try & also get a Poshe =)

    Great review & pics of your Dotticure =)

    • TopCoatIt September 2, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

      I picked up HK Girl recently as well. I’ve used it a few times and am impressed. They boast that they are 2 free, but don’t specify which 2. I find HK Girl to be very comparable to Poshe. I for sure prefer Poshe and HK Girl over Seche Vite.

  22. Katie October 22, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    can somebody send Jordana to Europe please? :/ To be more specific – UK, pretty please! x

    • TopCoatIt October 22, 2012 at 10:46 am #

      Maybe if you all band together and petition Jordana, you can get them to ship internationally. Or maybe approach a local retailer to see if they’ll carry the line.

  23. Ange November 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    I just tried Glitter Gal Gem Stone top coat and can’t recommend it highly enough! It went on like a dream over my chunky Lynnderella glitter polish (which normally “eats” your top coat), dried hard and very glossy. I love it!

    Steer clear of Sally Hansen Diamond Shine. The formula is runny, you don’t get that beautiful, thick, glossy shine you want from a top coat and worst of all… it bubbles like crazy while setting, and makes your nail polish lumpy! It’s great at protecting from chips, but what good is that when it just made your polish bubbly, lumpy and ugly?

    • TopCoatIt November 17, 2012 at 12:24 am #

      Thanks Ange!

  24. catsuperhero November 16, 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    After asking some nail boards about top coat and standing in front of the nail display at Ulta for…well, long enough that I got funny looks…thank you SO MUCH for this. Top coat has been driving me insane, and this helps me out immensely.

    • TopCoatIt November 17, 2012 at 12:25 am #

      You’re welcome! I’m happy it helped you out!

  25. Fiyah November 25, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    THanks for this very helpful article. I bookmarked this page. I rarely use my Seche Vite since its not easy to find where i live. I went looking for the Jordana quick shine but no luck:( they only have the quick dry. My INM top coat doesn’t smudge but its called Looks Wet not Out the door. I don’t see Sally Hansen | Insta-Dri Anti-Chip Top Coat its a good one to try also.

    • TopCoatIt November 25, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

      You’re welcome! Have you looked for Poshe? It’s a great one too. I used up my bottle and have been trying out other ones, so I haven’t bought a new one yet. See if you can get a hold of Poshe. If it helps, Jordana’s website offers free shipping on orders over $25 so you could stock up. 🙂

  26. Carol December 29, 2012 at 1:11 am #

    Great! I won a Jordana contest and they included that top coat in my prize. Very informative and I love your experiment 🙂

  27. Rachel December 29, 2012 at 2:30 am #

    I also really like a brand called pro fx at Walmart. They have huge globe bottles, so you get a lot for your money, and the brush is amazing. However, it does thicken like SV, but no smell. I would recommend it as a replacement for SV, but the dry time is a bit slower. I recently purchased cult nails wicked fast, and I agree on the smudging, but the thinness of it is to die for! I would gladly have a nice smooth application top coat that smudges a bit. I think the conclusion here is to have a few top coats on hand for different uses. One that doesn’t smudge at all for nail art but may take a bit more dry time, and one that dries immediately but the thinner application is a breeze. This is quite an amazing post, one for the record books!

  28. Polish Gone Crazy January 22, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    I love this comparison.
    I would love to see the same thing with a matte topcoat comparison. I have 3 NYC matte topcoat from Walmart, the hard candy you showed, and the new Revlon matte too coat that I bought at Walgreens.

  29. Delphi January 24, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    This is great! I’ve been devoted to SV just because so many nail bloggers use it but I’m going to try the less expensive Jordana Quick Shine for sure after reading this post.

    I had the same question as Polish Gone Crazy (above). Have you considered doing a post like this with matte top coats? I see you included Hard Candy Matte-ly In Love but there are so many out there now. I also just bought Revlon’s matte top coat last night (but haven’t tried it yet). Essie makes a matte top coat too as well as many other brands. I think there are enough matte top coats out now that you’d have one for every finger. 🙂

    Many thanks for the detailed information and the time you put into giving it to us!

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