Nail polish that will last more than a day or two?
January 17, 2013 12:54 PM   Subscribe

I like to paint my nails occasionally, but I get frustrated to go to all of the trouble of applying polish (and drying and drying) only to have the nail polish chip within a day or so (or even sooner). What can I do to help my nail polish last longer?

I've been using Sally Hansen brand polish, with a base coat and a top coat. My technique has been to apply a base coat, 1-2 coats of colour, and then a top glossy coat (leaving to dry between each, but maybe not long enough -- it takes sooooo long).

I'm willing to try another brand, but I cannot afford to buy very expensive nail polish (it's a luxury and between groceries and polish, I would chose groceries), and I can't afford/am unwilling to spend money paying someone else to do my nails -- and I don't wish to wear fake nails. (If it came to that, I would just not do it).
posted by jb to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (43 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
This worked for me: try losing the base coat. The color may not be adhering enough to the nail with the base coat interfering.
posted by Melismata at 12:57 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

OPI brand nail polish is my favorite. I also use a base coat called "Stickey" which is tacky, not smooth like most base coats, and seems to make the polish adhere better.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:00 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also skip the base coat and use a quick-dry top coat (Essie). My nails usually last 3-4 days, and I can repair tiny chips so that I only do my nails about once a week.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:03 PM on January 17, 2013

I haven't found much difference in chipping between cheap and expensive nail polishes. The expensive ones I have are generally more opaque and dry faster, but they chip just as quickly.

I've tried top coats, but they don't make much of a difference. (Never used a base coat.) To be honest, the thing that works the best for me is just doing spot touch ups before I go to bed. They don't really show except on close inspection once dry, but they work best the less polish you have on your nails -- so I don't even use top coats anymore.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:03 PM on January 17, 2013

Soak a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol prior to starting your polish job to remove any oils that might be lingering.

Rough up the surface of your nails slightly (gently!) with an emery board, to give the polish a bumpier surface to adhere to.

Consider a quick-dry treatment -- Sally Hansen's is the best I've used, actually. I have the OPI drying drops from Sephora and prefer the Sally Hansen.

That said, I do all these things and if I get four days out of a single manicure with minimal cracking/chipping I consider it a win. You may need to manage your expectations.

For the amount of time and effort involved in a home manicure, I consider a $20 gel (UV-cured) manicure, which looks smashing for two solid weeks, to be an affordable luxury. YMMV.
posted by trunk muffins at 1:09 PM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

- Don't use a base coat.
- Use a high-quality top-coat, as that's what's shielding your polish from chips. Essie and OPI are reliable, good-quality top coats that are under $10.
- Make sure to apply your top coat to the tips of your nails. I've found that if I don't consciously do this, as I'm applying I'll pay more attention to the base of my nails and not fully coat my tips.
posted by krakus at 1:10 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

My nails are VERY flimsy, with peeling causing polish to chip off mostly instantly.

I got a gel manicure once and it was GREAT! It's a commitment though. Be sure to SOAK off the stuff before going back for a new manicure though. One girl peeled it off using an acrylic nail. Painful!

Another option is to do your nails every night with quick dry polish. The bonus is you can change the color as needed.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:12 PM on January 17, 2013

Do you buff your nails before applying a base coat? This is supposed to create a better surface for the polish to adhere to.

Also when you are applying the top coat, do you "seal" off the tip of the nail? Chipping often starts at the tip.

Some people also apply top coat every night to their nail polish to keep it fresh.

Another thing to keep in mind is that different polish works different people. A polish that works great for me may chip horribly for you. Also anything with a matte finish will not last as long due to differences in the formula.
posted by kathryn at 1:13 PM on January 17, 2013

Keeping my nails short makes my home-done manicures last longer. Also doing my nails when the ambient humidity is low. And the Sally Hansen XTreme colors seem to last longer for me than the other Sally Hansens.
posted by macadamiaranch at 1:15 PM on January 17, 2013

A gel manicure from a salon lasts 2-3 weeks, no kidding. Mine stayed ultra shiny and chip free for 2 weeks before I tired of bright red nails after the holidays and took it off. Costs about $30, but so worth it. Next I will do a buff or French manicure and keep it on as long as possible. The limiting factor in looking perfect longer is nail growth creating a space.
posted by waving at 1:20 PM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

How thick are the layers of color you're putting down? They should really be thiiiin - like, you should still be able to see nail through the first layer you put down and depending on the brand you might not have total opacity until the third layer, if the polish is light. That's why people do 2 or 3 coats, to build up the color and smooth out visible brushstrokes.

I find that when I'm rushing and don't wipe almost all the excess polish (and I mean almost ALL of it) off the brush, my nails take forever to dry and are much more susceptible to chips, dents, and general wear and tear, even under top coat. Thin layers dry faster and seem to last longer.
posted by superfluousm at 1:20 PM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

The only way I can get a manicure to last more than a day seems to have little to do with the manicure techniques themselves and more to do with how I treat my nails the rest of the time. So gloves to wash dishes, little getting them wet otherwise. Careful of things like opening cans, etc that might physically chip them. Basically I just don't touch anything but my nails look great!
posted by marylynn at 1:22 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

To cut down on time, I love the Seche Vite topcoat. It takes your nails from wet to set in about 5 minutes. It's amazing! And has a lovely shine.

In my experience, manicures last (at best) about 4 days before there's a chip. It helps to wear gloves for all wet chores and avoid doing things like prying at stuff with your nails. Also washing my hair seems to be a major source of chips (humidity plus heat plus using your hands).

I don't think base coats make much of a difference, but I have had better results when I clean my nails with rubbing alcohol beforehand, as trunk muffins mentioned above.
posted by purple_bird at 1:27 PM on January 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Another vote for a gel manicure. I get mine done in a salon, but my mom learned how to do hers at home and they look just as good as mine. Mine looks great for about 10 days but then I don't wear gloves when I wash dishes.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:33 PM on January 17, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions re no base coat, buffing nails, thin layers. Lifestyle changes may be harder - I'm basically a tomboy who likes to have sparkly nails occasionally, but still play with my bike chain. I also keep my nails very short (only 1-3 mm of white), but it sounds like that might help polish last.

As for the salon: my nail budget is about $5 per month or less. My SO is employed part-time and I'm soon to be unemployed so our rent is soon to be about 150% (or more) of our income, so he would be (rightfully) upset if I spent our rent money at a salon, no matter how long it lasted. I was just looking for what I could do to make it last longer when I do paint my nails, given that it seems to take about 2 hours.
posted by jb at 1:47 PM on January 17, 2013

Surely someone has mentioned Seche Vite.

You can buy it at any Sally's or Walgreens. It will change your life, seriously. Well, as far as painting your nails. It's dry in about 3 minutes. I'm a bit of a nail polish addict - it's the most popular top coat for nail bloggers/etc.

Also -

Always use a good base coat
swipe your nails with remover before painting your nails, to remove oils/dirt.
Wrap your tips
posted by Windigo at 1:53 PM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

(I have long nails, and I'm also a cyclist, for what it's worth. Trust me on the Seche Vite).
posted by Windigo at 1:56 PM on January 17, 2013

I use Nailtiques 2 as a basecoat (technically, it's a nail treatment, but you can use it as a base) and Seche Vite as a top coat, and my polish almost never chips - and I'm not particularly careful with my hands. Some tipwear after a couple days, but no big chips. Orly Bonder is a widely-liked, well-reviewed basecoat, ditto CND Stickey. Out The Door is a cheaper substitute for Seche Vite. (Seriously, quick-drying topcoat is magic. You need it in your life.)

I used to think base and topcoat were useless, but once you find ones that work for you, your manicures will take less time to do, and last much longer.

Go with more, thinner coats, as superfluousm recommends, rather than fewer, thicker ones. Let each coat dry, and then apply your topcoat. At least five minutes after you apply topcoat, touch the flat parts of two of your nails together. If you feel any softness, they're not dry. If they click, you're good!

Most cheap polishes are just as good as expensive ones, except for New York Color - that stuff just lifts right off like nothing else I've witnessed. Wet 'n' Wild and Sinful Colors are great.

I do the rubbing alcohol nail-cleaning thing, too, but with nail polish remover instead.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:56 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you don't use a base coat, some colors will stain your nails (you also need to be careful how you remove dark colors in order to avoid staining--essentially, you should only be cleaning your nails with clean tissue/cotton puff/whatever, not reusing the same section that already has nail polish on it).

I get the most increase in longevity from being gentle on my nails, too. Shorter nails so they don't bend (bending obviously causes cracks). Avoiding lots of water exposure or oil exposure (don't touch your face). Avoid prying with your nails.
posted by anaelith at 1:57 PM on January 17, 2013

I am a fan of Orly Bonder for a base coat, myself.
posted by Windigo at 1:59 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've found that flat cream colors tend to chip and wear super quickly, regardless of base/top coats. Polishes with even a little bit of shimmer to them seem to last a couple of days longer, and glitter polishes last longest of all--unless it is a quick-drying glitter polish. Something about that formula makes it so that if your nails chip, the whole nail's worth of polish comes off!

Sometimes, adding an additional top coat the next day or two after your manicure can help with longevity. But sometimes, especially if your initial coats were thick, the extra top coat will actually make chipping easier. You'll have to experiment and see what works for you.

I'm a polish freak and across ten or twenty brands and hundreds of colors, that's what I've noticed. I can't expect a cream color to last more than two or three days. But they're so pretty!
posted by Fui Non Sum at 2:05 PM on January 17, 2013

I went to a salon on Sunday and my nails haven't chipped yet. I believe they use OPI products, but I'm not entirely sure. The steps they did followed what's been given above:

1) cutting them pretty short
2) using polish remover to clean the nails off first
3) roughing up the surface a bit with a file
4) base coat, 2 thin layers of color, top coat
5) making me sit there carefully playing on my phone for 30 minutes before allowing me to touch anything else (it was a slow day. They'd have pushed me out faster if more customers were there)
7) finally spraying them with some sort of drying agent before letting me out the door

At that, I still ended up getting some sort of patterns impressed into the nails when I reached into my bag, but I'm the only one who looks close enough to see them.

What I think has helped me the most is not submerging my hands in water very much, along with being more aware of what I'm doing with them, so I don't use my nails to pry lids off of things and such. My husband usually does the dishes, and if I do them at some point this week, I'll use rubber gloves to protect my nails from the water.
posted by telophase at 2:08 PM on January 17, 2013

Forgot to add: you don't have to wait for your coats of nail polish to dry. I do one hand, the other, and then immediately start in on a second coat on the first hand I did. You have to use a light touch and get the right amount of nail polish on your brush, but this will cut your time by a lot! Try it!
posted by purple_bird at 2:10 PM on January 17, 2013

My nails can often last up to two weeks without needing to be touched up or redone. My method is a thin layer of base coat (Sally Hanson Complete Salon Manicure, Clear'd for Takeoff), one or two VERY thin layers of colour (just enough to not be see-through), followed by a final thin swipe of the same clear polish I used as a base coat.
posted by toerinishuman at 2:11 PM on January 17, 2013

sally hanson's 'no chip'. it costs a little more than their regular topcoat but it works fantastically.

ok, this is weird as a lot of reviewers hate it. it has been an amazing product for me. ymmv
posted by wildflower at 2:12 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, different polishes/bases definitely respond to people's nails differently. Some people love Sinful colors - it chips & applies streaky on me. Wet and Wild works great though. And as others have pointed out, more $$$ doesn't mean better polish (usually a better brush though). For example, Butter London costs 14 bucks a bottle and is the worst polish I've ever tried. But plenty of people loooove it.
posted by Windigo at 2:31 PM on January 17, 2013

I love Seche Vite, but the trade-off is that sometimes it causes the nail polish to shrink back from the edges of the nails (which is basically the same as if it chipped, in my opinion), which is crazy, and other times it causes the whole nail's worth of polish to fall right off (the same manicure the following day).

Adding to the support for many thin coats over fewer thick ones. Sparkly polish lasts longer. This manicure lasted close to ten days with very little chipping. I also use rubber gloves when I wash the dishes (because I think dishwater is gross, not to save my nails, which are polished less than half the time) which makes a huge difference.

When I complained to friends about the great shrinking nail polish mystery, someone sent me this link of awesome nail polish tips. You'll likely find something in there helpful, too.
posted by looli at 2:32 PM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Already mentioned: Seche Vite. Buffing the nail surface before you start. Thin coats. Wear gloves when dishwashing or anything where your hands are going to be wet/submurged for some time.

Time doing your nails for days/times when you have already finished your manual labor for the day. I tend to forget that I need to change my bike tires or wash the dishes and do my nails first, then they get destroyed right away. Trying to get better about that.

Also, I have really weak nails that bend and peel at the ends. It makes chipping inevitable. To some extent I can make it better by taking vitamins and not soaking them in water too much, but I'm always gonna have chips in my polish. I just use it as an excuse to change the color more often. I'm actually glad my manicure I did on Sunday is finally chipping so I can use some new polish I got the other day.

Sally Hansen Insta-Dry is the WORST. I use all kinds of cheapo polish but that formula is terrible. Also, Sinful Colors stains my nails even with a good base coat (Seche Clear). I'm still growing out parts that turned yellow from a bright chartreuse Sinful Colors manicure.
posted by misskaz at 2:37 PM on January 17, 2013

I've had much better luck with OPI than other brands, but what helps the most for me is not doing dishes for 24 hours after polishing them.
posted by kbuxton at 2:40 PM on January 17, 2013

Different people's body chemistry reacts to different polishes/chemicals differently, so what really works for one person may not work for you.

With that caveat, however, a few pieces of general wisdom I've gained from nail fandom (check out, esp. the boards: really, really helpful!) in the last few years:

Don't over buff. That will actually make your nail too smooth for the polish to stick. Clean the nail plate with rubbing alcohol or acetone before you polish to make sure it's free of oils. (These tips especially help with polish peeling off in sheets.)

Use base and top coat. But which ones, that is really the YMMV part. I hate Seche Vite, mentioned above: I always use Poshe, a different quick dry top coat (Big 3 Free: no toluene, or formaldehyde or something else that most polishes have now eliminated; SV is not 3Free, since it has toluene). A really cheap one that the MUA Nail Board likes a lot is the NYC brand "Grand Central Station" clear quick dry (it's not actually marketed as top coat, but apparently can be used that way) because it's like $1. A lot of people like the Sally Hansen Insta-Dri top coat in the red bottle, too. (It's sold in a package, not with the loose polishes.) For base coats, Orly Bonder and CND Stickey are perpetual favorites for people who have problems with chipping.

THIN COATS. You don't need to let each dry, generally, if you're using quick dry top coat.

Nails are jewels; they are not tools. Most chipping is really from being rough on nails. Water is an enemy. Personally, I lose most of my nails to slicing them with my hair, esp. in the shower (I have a shampoo brush, but still, one hair will catch on a nail and SLICE, the polish/nail is gone). Gloves. Moisturize. If your nails are weak (thin, bendy), try a treatment, like the Nailtiques mentioned above. If they're peeling, get them shorter than where the peel is, because peely bits chip like mad.

The actual polish you use is not the most important part, although some brands work better than others. For me, for example, Essies generally wear like iron, while Chanel chips in hours (grrr). Sally Hansen is fine. It's not the cost; it's the individual way it works for you. You can touch up chips, as someone mentioned: I like to fill in the chip, then do a new layer of polish over the whole nail, then another coat of (ONLY QUICK DRY, BECAUSE THERE IS NO TIME FOR ANYTHING ELSE!) top coat.
posted by lysimache at 2:49 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've had terrific luck with Revlon Quick Dry Base Coat. I switched to OPI Natural Nail Base Coat because it was on sale, and my polish chipped and peeled within days. I went back to Revlon and my current manicure has lasted almost two weeks with no signs of quitting. Past manis done with the Revlon base coat stayed on until the polish had grown out so much that it looked silly... someone actually asked me why I only painted half my nails. The polish still looked so perfect around the edges that they couldn't believe it was three weeks old. I haven't tried these base coats, but I believe Orly and CND base coats are similar and they are highly recommended on nail blogs.

And yes to Seche Vite! That stuff changed my life. Nails that dry hard in less than five minutes and stay glossy for ages! It's so amazing that I bought the professional size refill bottle and a bottle of Seche Restore so the top coat never gets gloopy.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:12 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't usually bother with painting my (finger) nails because I absolutely can't stand chipping and it basically sucks up all my attention until I can either get to some nail polish remover, or until I've peeled it all off myself.

Pretty much all brands have chipped on me, but I got my first Butter London polish last weekend and used it with a top coat(which is probably what really made the difference) and it hasn't chipped in 4 days. Otherwise I usually use OPI on my toes and have had pretty good luck. I justify the more expensive polish because I never get professional manicures or pedicures.
posted by fromageball at 3:40 PM on January 17, 2013

I have tried all the fancy brands out there (OPI, Stickey, that ORLY rubbery stuff, Essie, etc) and have found nothing is as long-lasting as Sally Hansen from the drugstore. I really like their "complete manicure" line of colors which includes a base and top coat built in, so you don't need extra stuff.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:57 PM on January 17, 2013

Listen to lysimache - I agree with her! I also hang out on nail boards and nail blogs (and have a makeup / nail blog myself), and have absorbed a lot of information about this.

The brand of nail polish does matter, but I agree that the cost is irrelevant; it's what works with your body chemistry. OPI jelly finishes last longest on me, personally. I like Revlon's Colorstay basecoat or Essie First Base basecoat - if I'm not using either of those, I'm better off skipping basecoat. For topcoat, Butter London is my favorite, but it's too expensive - I got it on a deal website & won't repurchase. My second favorite is NYC Grand Central Station quick drying topcoat, which is $2 and awesome. I also hate HATE hate Seche Vite, but it works really well for a lot of people.

I find that the fewer layers I have on my nails, the longer the polish lasts; but, some people find that more layers is better - it really varies. Experiment! And you'll get quicker at doing your nails if you do them more often - it takes me about 30 minutes, tops, to do a full manicure, and looks much better than it used to - no polish on my cuticles anymore.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I am lzy and don't take the extra time to wrap the tips of my nails, they chip much more easily. Doesn't matter if I use a top coat or not if I don't do this step.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:48 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, if you apply it when your nails are still a bit tacky, it'll perform the best (it won't peel off in a sheet). And make sure to extend it so that it completely covers all your polish...if you don't, especially at the cuticles, you can get "shrinkage" where the polish under your top coat pulls away from any polish you missed brushing with top coat.
posted by Windigo at 7:22 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel like a bit of a freak, because I switched to thicker coats of polish and have good results -- this is particularly true with Essie and OPI brands.

My nails have always been in pretty good shape, but biotin supplements have made them supersoldiers. Biotin's not particularly expensive and is also good for hair (and blood sugar management, if that's at all relevant).
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:44 PM on January 17, 2013

Shellac. It lasts months. I know a real party animal and her shellac mani & pedi has lasted so long (early nov 2012) that it the nails have since grown so it looks like she got French tips done yesterday with pink polish.
posted by Under the Sea at 1:04 AM on January 18, 2013

I just came in to also say Seche Vite will change your life. Also glitter polishes do tend to last a lot longer (and are a bitch to take off!)
posted by like_neon at 2:01 AM on January 18, 2013

I have exactly the same problem usually, but I'm currently rocking a home manicure that's gone four days without chipping. The only thing I did differently was that I cleaned my nails with polish remover beforehand. (Because I'd been trying -- and failing -- to replicate an ombré technique from Pinterest.) Apparently removing all the oils from my nails before applying my current polish made a HUGE difference.
posted by MsMolly at 5:36 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't had a lot of luck with Seche Vite, but the Sally Hansen Insta-Dry Top Coat keeps my nails in great shape for at least a few days. I do light touch ups (I am notoriously clumsy and always doing dishes or scrubbing something) every couple/few days, add more top coat, works great.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:24 AM on January 18, 2013

I just came in to also say Seche Vite will change your life. Also glitter polishes do tend to last a lot longer (and are a bitch to take off!)
posted by like_neon

Aha! You need to use the foil method! Makes removing glitter easy-peasy.
posted by Windigo at 9:21 AM on January 18, 2013

So, long lasting manicures.

Before polishing: You *must* have completely clean, dry, and buffed nails. Do not use the smoothest buff level--you need the slightly rough finish for best adhesion.

1. First coat: Orly Bonder.

2. Second & third coat: Very thin coats of color.

3. Finishing coat: Thin coat of Seche Vite.

Always, and I mean *always* wear gloves while washing dishes or using cleaning chemicals.

My manicures last 7-9 days provided I am using good quality polishes--OPI, China Glaze, Essie, Butter London, NARS. I can't keep a French manicure going for love nor money, though.
posted by xyzzy at 12:08 AM on January 19, 2013

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