Confession: many of us Allure editors are lifelong nail chewers and polish pickers. It’s our natural response to stress, boredom, and basically any other negative emotion — and it makes growing my nails past my fingertips without breakage near impossible. It also doesn’t help that many of us frequent the nail salon and get aclyrics or gel often. As beauty editors, our hands are up close on camera frequently, so we turn to nail-strengthening base coats to deeply heal the damage that we’ve ashamedly done to ourselves.
Whether you like it or not, you need to wear a base coat underneath nail polish to prevent staining and to protect your nail’s natural oils from polishes, according to New York City-based nail artist Miss Pop. If you’re already taking that added step at home, why not double-task with a formula designed to harden and strengthen nails, too?
For that reason, we’ve rounded up the best nail-strengthening base coats (that can also be worn alone, but what fun is that?) based on editor testing and nail artist recommendations. Trust us, they make the difference.
1. Orly Nailtrition
Orly’s Nailtrition works on a two-week program. Apply the treatment to bare, clean nails on week one and repeat seven days later. The pink formula will get working to promote strong and healthy nail growth.
2. OPI Nail Envy Nail Strengthener Treatment
The OPI Nail Envy Nail Strengthener Treatment provides strengthening wheat protein and calcium in its formula to give longer and stronger natural nails. After using this, people will wonder if you have acrylics on.
3. Olive & June’s Nail Strengthener
Made with celery seed extract, Olive & June’s Nail Strengthener helps prevent any damage that can be caused to your nails. Just apply this treatment to bare nails and if you’re still craving color, add a color paint right on top.
4. Nailtiques Formula 2
If you’re looking for a gentle option, New York City-based manicurist Holly Falcone loves Nailtiques Formula 2. This formula hydrolyzed keratin protein, which according to board-certified Connecticut-based dermatologist Mona Gohara, this protein is naturally found in nails and hair, and applying it creates a protective barrier for nails, helping to make them strong and resilient over time.
5. Zoya Gelie-Cure Repair Base
This Zoya protectant that just hit the market is included in a three-part nail strengthening system. When applied on top of the Gelie-Cure Rescue Serum, this Repair Base fuses its nutritive keratin into the nail. Then it can be followed up with the system’s clear gel top coat, Naked Gelie, which comes off easily when soaked in remover. Miss Pop is a big fan of the system because any regular or gel nail polish can be worn on top of this combo.
6. Nail Tek Intensive Therapy 2
Though Nail Tek makes four types of nail strengtheners, New York City nail artist Gina Edwards recommends the brand’s Intensive Therapy 2 for peeling nails that need instant results. She says that with frequent re-application, users see visible results in around 10 days.
7. Deborah Lippmann Hard Rock
This hardener by Deborah Lippmann might be on the pricey side for a nail product, but it’s worth the splurge for the cruelty-free formula without parabens, sulfates, or formaldehyde, a chemical frequently used as a preservative in nail polish. A bonus: Hard Rock can be used as a base coat, topcoat, or both — it’s really like two products in one.
8. CND RescueRXx
This oil-based keratin treatment by CND requires you to keep nails completely bare for a week or two in order to take its effect as you apply daily — rest assured, Miss Pop says RescueRXx is one of the best strengtheners out there.
9. Sally Hansen Mega Strength Hardener
Sally Hansen‘s affordable Mega Strength Hardener is an Allure Best of Beauty winner for a reason: This transparent and shiny base coast formula dries in seconds, looks great on its own or underneath another polish, and its wide, flat brush makes application a breeze. Not to mention its hardening effect is immediately noticeable on brittle, break-prone nails.