A clear base coat is the recommended first product for at home and professional manicures. In its simplest form a clear base coat acts as a shield between the natural nail and the colored polish, and helps prevent staining or yellowing of the natural nails. Using a clear base coat creates a smooth, even surface on which to apply the colored polish, resulting in a neater, more professional looking manicure. Some varieties are also infused with special ingredients such as proteins, aloe, or vitamin E to promote nail health.
Most professional nail salons always use a base coat to protect the natural nails, help the colored polish last longer, and obtain a smooth, neat manicure. Home manicurists can also apply these benefits to their personal polish endeavors by purchasing one of the many brands of clear base coat available in beauty and drug stores. Clear base coats look just like regular bottles of nail polish, and are applied with the same small brush applicator.
Using a clear base coat underneath colored polish can have many positive effects on natural nails and the finished manicure. Nail polishes, particularly very dark or saturated shades, can sometimes stain the natural nails and nail beds over which they are applied. Using a clear base coat can help prevent staining by creating a barrier between the colored polish and the nail. Similarly, colored polishes can sometimes cause unsightly yellowing of the natural nails. This yellowing can also be prevented by applying a clear base beneath colored varnish.
Another reason to use clear base coats is that they create a smooth, even surface for applying colored polish. Most natural nails contain some ridges or imperfections that can show through manicures and make them look uneven or messy. Standard clear base coats will fill in and disguise most flaws, and thicker "ridge-filling" varieties are available for more significant grooves. The application of a clear base coat will also help the manicure last longer by giving the colored polish a smooth, secure surface to adhere to.
Nails that are sensitive to polish or are soft or brittle can benefit from using a specialized clear base coat. Hardening base coats contain proteins that help repair soft nails. Brittle nails can be treated with moisturizing base coats containing aloe or vitamin E that nourish nails to help prevent cracking and chipping.
Generally, a clear base coat is applied underneath colored polish, but it can also be worn alone. Some people prefer a more natural look to their nails, and can achieve this by applying a clear coat over clean, well-groomed nails. The end result is natural looking with a little bit of healthy shine.