Nail Primer vs Base Coat

Taking care of nails is so easy and oh so rewarding. If you are just starting out to take care of your nails and feeling too shy to ask your lady friends, we’re here to help! In this guide, you will learn all you need to know about nail primers, base coats, and the difference between the two so you can better understand how to use both to make your nails look their absolute best!

So, let’s get to it!

nail primer vs base coat

What is a Nail Primer?

A Nail Primer is a liquid product used to prime or prepares your nails before you are about to get a manicure or before going for nail extension procedures. 

There are a variety of nail primers. Some are acid-based, whereas some are free of acids. 

So, how do the nail primers help with adhesion?

Well, primers, whether made with acidic ingredients (acid primer) or not (acid-free primer) are made up of molecules having two ends – hydrophobic and hydrophilic. The former means the molecule is repelled from water, and the latter is attracted towards the water.

Imagine your nail primer having two ends. So, one end which is attracted towards water (or liquid) will attract the nail polish or gel polish you put on, whereas the other end will attract your nails.

What is a Base Coat?

If you are fond of taking care of your nails, you can do it on your own rather than going to the salon. A base coat will make a manicure stay on for a longer duration.

Base coats also help the polish stick better and more easily to your nails. A base coat will act as a barrier between the nails and nail polish, to protect your nails from being damaged because of the nail polish effects. So, nails, base coat, and then the nail polish in that order will prevent your polish from peeling and staining, and your polished nails will look so much better and even!

At this point you may be wondering, both Nail Primer and Base Coat will make your manicures last longer. 

So, how do they differ?

  • Made with different ingredients
  • Both work differently
  • They are both used with different products

Both primers and base coats are used so that the nail polish will last longer on the nail’s surface. Nail primers make the surface of your nails adhesive so that the nail or gel polish, when applied, will stick neatly on them. It acts exactly like glue that covers the nails to hold the acrylics onto them. So, before you get to applying nail polish, coat a layer of nail primer on the nail’s surface. Then the acrylic will get a better grip.

A base coat is something that is applied to the nails so that the nail polish or gel will last longer. Base coats are bolstered with protein, calcium, and vitamin E. The blend of these ingredients will keep your nails healthy and prevent breaking, peeling, and splitting. The plasticizers on base coats lend flexibility and make the base coats adhere better to the nails.

 If you haven’t guessed already, a base coat is applied before smearing on your nail polish coat or gel. Base coats make your nails healthier and make them look gorgeous as they act as a protective coat over your nails. This will protect your nails from harmful chemicals in your nail polish or gel.

Once the base coat dries up, you can very well apply two coats of colored nail polish than one if bold, beautiful and bright colored nails are what you are after. But if subtle and natural are more your thing, you can give colored nail polishes a skip and use a base coat alone for natural-looking and shiny nails.

Ingredients of Nail Primer VS Base Coat

Acid-based primers or Original Primers, as they are otherwise called, contain MAA (Methacrylic Acid). The acid-free ones are not entirely devoid of acid. They have at least some traces of milder acid.

A base coat will consist of a host of chemicals like solvents, plasticize, etc., and other ingredients like protein, Vitamin E, and calcium. These will all work together to provide nourishment and improve the health of your nails. 

It is the various ingredients on the nail primer which gives it its adhesive properties. When you coat a primer on the surface of your nails, 

  • Some primer ingredients will do the job of adhesiveness
  • Other ingredients are responsible for a lovely fragrance.

The one disadvantage of using acid-based primers is that they stick to the surface of the nails. Also, keep in mind that with all primers, less is good. And with acid primers, in particular, too much of it can lead to chemical nail damage and eventually thin the nail plate. 

Non-acid or acid-free ones don’t cause any damage to the skin, but then they don’t cut through oil and grease all that well.

How Nail Primers Work vs How Base Coats Work?

A nail primer is used to treat the surface of your nails to make nail polish or acrylic stick better to the nail plates. So, how do they do it? In one of the ways outlined below.

They dehydrate your nails to remove excess moisture and oil from the surface of the nails. It will allow your polish or acrylics to work more effectively. The other way the primers work is by engulfing your nail’s surface with a thin sticky coat that acts like glue and holds your nail polish or acrylics onto your nails. 

Finally, small microscopic holes are made on the surface of the nail plate, so that the primer can intertwine and stick into the nail. This one is the case with acid-based primers. But take caution not to re-prime the same area with an acid-based primer. This will cause damage and thinning to the nail plates.

The plasticizers and cellulose substances in base coats are very important, and we’re here to break it down for you (not your nails!).

Plasticizers make your nails more flexible, whereas the cellulose chemicals give the nails the “stick” they deserve. What we mean is, when you apply them to your nails, they will stick to the nails below and the polish above. It is this sticky feature that will help prolong the duration of the manicure. Moreover, they will give you improved flexibility so that they move with the nails as it bends. Without this base coat, your manicure will chip so much faster. Not something you want, we bet! And after all that time in the salon too!

A base coat helps to prevent staining caused due to dyes in the nail polishes. If you love dark colors, we definitely recommend you to use a base coat. Unless you want to stain your nails! But if you are in a hurry, and don’t have the time to apply a base shade, then we have a tip for you. Go with lighter shades like pastels. These are less likely to stain your nails.

Nail Primers do a much better job making your acrylics, gel polish or regular polish adhere to your nails when compared to just a plain base coat. However, we don’t recommend the use of nail primers while using regular nail polishes or gels. Not unless your nails are prone to chipping!

So, when should you use primers? It is much more useful to use primers before you apply acrylics. This will ensure your nails are dehydrated for the best adhesion. The result? Longer-lasting acrylics. And longer-lasting manicures (if you are priming your nails before getting a manicure).

You may be wondering at this point if you can use a base coat as a primer for acrylic nails? The answer is simply no. Base coats work best with regular nail polishes and gels.


So, there you have it. Now, you know the difference between nail primer vs base coat. No matter if you are going to get a manicure, or you want to apply nail polish, gel polish, or treat yourself to acrylic nails, you may be wondering how to go about the whole thing. Especially if you are new to all this. You should always use a top-notch primer before you get acrylic nails.

If your nail polish or gel polish lasts as long as you need it to, there is no need for primer. But if they don’t and you want to extend how long they last, you may go for it. Primers also remove any moisture, oil, or grease from the surface of your nails. Once this is all removed, if you go for a manicure, the effects will be satisfactory and long-lasting too.

A base coat is more used in the case of gel polishes and nail polishes. They will help your polish to stick to the nail easily, protect the nails and prevent staining. Even texture polish is always a treat for the eyes, and a base coat helps you to achieve exactly this. And just like nail primers, they help to increase the life of the manicure.

Good luck keeping your nails (real or artificial) as beautiful as you, and your manicure as long-lasting as you need them to be!

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