“A base coat is imperative to enhance the wear of the manicure and avoid staining the nails,” Lippman says. If you’ve ever had a yellow stain left behind post-polish, it may be caused by a lack of base coat.
If you find a grade-A base coat (a few worthy picks here), it will actually benefit the nails—even when worn alone. “Forget the old wives’ tale that says your nails need to ‘rest,'” Lippman says. “Keeping them polished, or at least with a base coat, can strengthen and protect your nails so they look younger.” (That’s assuming you use clean, formaldehyde-free polishes, of course.)
She suggests waiting a full two minutes in between your base, polish, and top coats. That last step is also crucial for a salon-grade look, as a top coat can provide shine and protect against chipping.
All in all: “Do not cut corners; if you are committing to having a perfect, beautiful, colorful manicure, you must adhere to the proper protocols to get the best results—go big or go home,” Lippman says.