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What Is a Base Coat?

By Amy Rodriguez
Updated May 16, 2024
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A base coat is a clear nail polish designed specifically for adhesion to human nails. Although the polish may visually appear the same as any other clear top coat type, base coats have unique chemical compositions for a sleek manicure or pedicure job. Applying the base coat correctly will prevent nail breaks and chips.

Spreading color nail polish directly onto nails may produce a lumpy and chipped appearance. Base coat polishes use specialized solvents as conveyances for the other polish ingredients. As a result of the evaporating solvents during polish application, the remaining ingredients dry evenly with resistance to breakage.

Cellulose ingredients permeate base coat products. The natural cellulose fibers help the polish cling to the nail bed, conforming to the tiny crevices and bumps. In addition, the upper layer of the cellulose fibers are receptive to the future color polish, providing a primed painting area for a smooth paint job.

The human nail bed is subjected to a lot of motion during a common work day. The base coat has added plasticizers that allow for flexibility. Stiff polishes, without any form of elasticity, will crack immediately upon drying. Changes in temperature and basic movement requires the base coat to have ease of movement, lasting for several weeks before reapplication is necessary.

Chemical engineers do not need to take the colored pigment effects into consideration with base coat creation. Colored polishes have varied ingredients, based on the needed pigment choice. Each pigment has its own unique chemical composition, requiring various mixture combinations for the plasticizers, cellulose, and solvents. Clear base coats concentrate on chemical harmony for the best polish functionality, rather than an aesthetically pleasing colored appearance.

In addition, applying base coats to the nail bed ensures that the nail is safe from damaging chemicals that may occur in colored polishes. The clear base coat's main function is to cover and protect the nail; chemical engineers ensure that this base polish uses the gentlest chemicals possible, preventing allergic reactions or irritations. The colored polish normally has stronger chemical bases that can irritate sensitive nail beds and surrounding cuticles.

Base polish application should be completed in three strokes for each finger. Experts suggest using one stroke down the nail's center area. The two remaining strokes should flank the center stroke to cover the entire nail. Many people are concerned about an even application across the nail; the base polish will naturally flow to an even layer during drying, much like water seeks its own level.

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