Primer vs. Base Coat: Nails that Last Through Anything

Primer vs. Base Coat: Nails that Last Through Anything

Enter stage left: Nail primers and base coats! You may be surprised to hear this, but this duo is your key to unlocking the perfect manicure and its longevity. The only problem is that it can be confusing to know when to use each product (and when not to). We’ll take a closer look and discuss how you can use them to achieve the durable and glistening nails of your dreams ✨.


Let’s Get Down to Business: What is the Difference?


What is the difference between nail primer and base coat? Is it simply that one is used for acrylic and one for gel? Not exactly. There’s a little bit more to it than that.

What Is Nail Primer?


The understated, often forgotten star of the show, is your nail primer. Primers are used to help your acrylics adhere to the nail plate. If you’re an acrylic devotee, nail primer should be your BFF.

Scientifically speaking 🧑‍🔬, nail primers (acid or acid-free) prep the nail plate for the bonding of acrylics. Primers contain harsh chemicals necessary before applying acrylics to prevent chipping and peeling. Nail primers are sometimes conflated with bonders, but primers and bonders promote adhesion in different ways and are not interchangeable—so make sure and stick to the script!

Acid primers and acid-free primers consist of molecules with two ends called hydrophobic and hydrophilic. The hydrophobic end repels water, and the hydrophilic end attracts it, making acrylic nails last longer and stay vibrant and undamaged over time. This microscopic association is responsible for making your polish look brand new for weeks, which is why you definitely don’t want to skip it!

What Is a Base Coat?

Base coats help keep regular nail polish and gel manicures gorgeous and prevent yellowing fingernails. A base coat also provides a smooth nail base for nail polish or gel adhesion.

Base coats contain plasticizers for flexibility and cellulose to prevent falling off. These plasticizers allow the nail polish you apply to bend instead of break, making the manicure last long af.

Ready for the best part? They promote healthy nails by creating a barrier between the natural nail and the chemicals contained in nail polish and gel. Some base coats contain vitamins, proteins, and calcium, which nourish the nails.

Looking for the best results possible? Apply two layers of base coat to your nails to make them thicker and more resilient. Got a DIY house project to do 🔨? No problem. Your nails will hold up no matter how messy it gets. The process is simple: After buffing the nails during a manicure, apply a base coat to the nail plate, and then apply the nail polish or gel.

Warning 🛑: Don’t use a base coat with acrylic nails! Acrylic nails need a primer before their application, not a base coat.

Primer vs. Base Coat: Nails and Care for Beginners

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, you might still be wondering when and how to use these products. No matter what you’re into–acrylic or gel–you’ll want to apply one or the other to make sure you’re getting the best results.

What Is Nail Primer Made Of?

It’s a common perception that nail primers are just a primer, but there are more than a couple of types to be aware of. What’s the difference between them, and which should you be using? Let’s put our lab coats back on and get into the science 🧪!

Acid Primers

Acid primers have corrosive, acidic properties and are harsher on the skin than non-acid primers. They contain more potent chemicals that work best for problematic nail plates. These primers prep your nails for better adhesion if yours are particularly oily.

Crazily enough, this type of primer creates microscopic holes in the natural nail plate. This allows for more secure adhesion of the acrylic to the nail plate.

Acid primer molecules have two arms—don’t worry, we’re not talking about a monster from Stranger Things. This is the science: One arm forms a temporary hydrogen bond that adheres to the natural nail, and the other arm forms a covalent bond that sticks to the nail enhancement.

If you choose an acidic primer, keep in mind that overuse will cause damage and thinning to the nail plate. Acid primers dry to a chalky finish and temporarily remove excess oils, depleting the area. The price of beauty!

Mild-Acid Primer

This primer contains milder acids than acid primer and creates many temporary hydrogen bonds between the nail enhancement and the natural nail. If you want something easier on the eyes—ah, we mean nails—cozy up with a mild-acid primer.

These primers are sometimes mistakenly called non-acid primers, but that’s inaccurate. They’re still acid primers but are much nicer to your natural nails. Still, remember that both acid primers and mild-acid primers can cause yellowing of the nail enhancement, dryness, and brittleness.

Acid-Free Primer

Our personal favorite is an acid-free nail primer (which is what our primer is). Acid-free nail primer acts as a double-sided sticky tape, allowing adhesion to the natural nail and for the acrylic overlay. Think of the acid-free primer as a gentle soul–she’s not out to break your heart ❤️‍🩹.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t effective, though! A temporary pH change occurs when an acid-free primer is applied. It allows the nail to become more alkaline, which helps acrylic adhere. Acid-free primers remain sticky until the acrylic application takes place. Acid-free primer is non-corrosive and doesn’t cause yellowing of the nail enhancement.

It’s pretty clear why acid-free primers are the most commonly used primers. Deciding which one is best for you comes down to your specific needs. Luckily, you have plenty of options.

Do You Put on a Base Coat After Primer?

Nope, not necessarily. Base coats are for traditional polish and gel nails, whereas primer is used for both gel and acrylic. Since acrylic nails are formed with a powder and liquid mixture, the primer provides a solid base to cling to (in a good way–unlike your ex, who won’t catch a hint 🤦‍♀️).

Acrylic nails dry hard and are then:

  1. Shaped with a nail file with a VUnit E-file and a regular nail file.
  2. Applied with a traditional base coat, nail polish or gel color, and top coat.
  3. Placed under a UV light or fan to dry.

Acrylic nails prepared this way will rarely break, chip, or crack.

To sum it up: Use a primer for acrylic nails to get the best kind of manicure that lasts. For gel nails or regular polish, opt for a good base coat.

Use Primer and Base Coat to Get Nails That Dazzle Like Never Before

Now that you’re ready to jump on the primer and/or base coat train, check out VBP’s products to find the highest quality products. We offer gorgeous acrylics, top coats, base coats, primers, and other manicure necessities. Create the perfect on-trend nail set for your clients (or just for yourself) with VBP.