Quick-drying Topcoat comparisons

What started out as an innocent little idea on Twitter has become a bit of a labour of love. I decided on some whim that I wanted to do a topcoat comparison, mainly because I had been reading complaints about the new formula of Nubar’s Diamont, and also to see whether there are any real competitors to the famed Seche Vite. People kept on sending me their suggestions but I decided to draw the line at 10 contenders, so apologies if your favourite doesn’t appear below.

I decided that I would test each topcoat over a three day period, and used OPI creme nail varnishes from recent collections as my base. Of course, the best test would have been to use the same varnish for all tests but you know me, I found it hard enough to wear a shade for three days, let alone 30! So I figured I would use the OPIs as a) I had ten of them in my untrieds, b) the formula is pretty similar and I could apply all in two coats, and c) they are Big 3 Free, as most polishes are these days.

All polishes were applied over one dry coat of OPI Nail Envy and I wore plastic gloves whilst doing any cleaning or using products that might damage the manicure.

(By the way, most of these colours will have a full review in due course, as I know you haven’t seen these on here yet, so it’s like a sneak preview of upcoming posts.)

So, here we go. Now for the science part. Every bottle I used was brand new. Each review has two photos, one taken the moment the manicure was dry, and the other at the end of the third day of wear.

OPI RAPIDRY (over Suzi Says Feng Shui)

Size: 15ml    Price: Between £8.00 and £12.00 depending on where you shop.

The Blurb: “Quick drying protection for your nails.”

Application: Pro-wide brush. No bubbling or pooling but quite a bit of tip drag. Brush does not pick up a lot of product so needed to re-dip several times in order to gain coverage.

Touch-dry in: 3 minutes        Hardened in: Two hours

Shine: 9/10     Big-3-Free? Yes

Smell: Hardly any. Extremely inoffensive. 

Comments: This is my second bottle of Rapidry (not including the mini bottles that OPI include in all of their mini sets). You can use about 2/3 of the bottle before it dries out irreparably and the handle welds itself tight o the rim. I was stunned that by the third day, the manicure looked as good as it did on Day One. No chipping, no tipwear, no shrinkage. OK, so it takes longer to dry, but the results are long-lasting.

Would I repurchase? Yes

 

CIATE SPEEDCOAT (over We’ll Always Have Paris)

Size: 13.5ml    Price: Between £10.50

The Blurb: “The award winning top coat to accompany your Paint Pot dries in sixty seconds. Its optimum 250 bristle flat brush gives maximum control for flawless painting. The long handle and curved bottle sits comfortably on the hand.”

Application: Ciate claim their brushes have 250 bristles. No bubbling or pooling and application was excellent. In fact, I cannot fault the application at all. Smooth.

Touch-dry in: 1 minute        Hardened in: One hour

Shine: 7/10     Big-3 Free? Yes

Smell: Kind of chemically but nothing out of the ordinary.

Comments: This is my second bottle of Speed Coat. The first one I was sent for free, and I have subsequently repurchased it. You can use about 100% of the bottle as it does not dry out at all, nad therefore it presents good value for money. This doesn’t harden quite as fast as some other topcoats but I love the brush and the application. However, I felt that although it didn’t chip or shrink, the manicure did scratch quite easily and definitely looked very tired by the end of the third day. I would have removed this after two days had I not been doing this test.

Would I repurchase? Yes

 

NUBAR DIAMONT (over Rumple’s Wiggin’)

Size: 15ml    Price: Between £6.00 and £11.00 depending on where you shop

The Blurb: “The ultimate in quick dry top coats, this topcoat perfectly and completely seals any polish or nail art for extreme wear & shine. The final step for beautiful, long lasting nail color…One topcoat that seals and shines with UV-Protectors. Non-yellowing, fast drying, high gloss finish, chip resistant.”

Application: Hmm. Nubar have done the unthinkable and tampered with what was widely regarded as a perfect formula. I don’t understand why. I already had 3/4 of an old bottle left but for the purposes of this test, I bought a new one, and ended up with the new formula. The brush and bottle are the same but the contents are thinner somehow.

Touch-dry in: 4 minutes        Hardened in: Two hours

Shine: 8/10     Big-3-Free? Yes

Smell: The original Diamont had a crazy smell. I’ve heard many bloggers say that it smells just like cannabis. Ahem. The new one smells absolutely vile, like burning plastic. If I didn’t know that Nubar was Big-3 Free, I’d think that this contained more chemicals than a 1990s raver.

Comments: I don’t really know what to say. If you have an old bottle, treasure it! I would not buy this new formula again. It takes twice as long to dry, smells heinous, and I had massive chips by the end of the third day. This never happened with the old formula Diamont. Nubar, if you’re reading this, have a word.

Would I repurchase? No, not now.

 

 SECHE VITE (over Red My Fortune Cookie)

Size: 15ml    Price: £8.95

The Blurb: “Widely acknowledged as the world’s finest top coat. Its patented formula penetrates through the nail lacquer to the base coat forming a single solid coating over the nail plate for a much more durable finish, guaranteed not to yellow and leaves nails silky, stronger and resistant to chipping and peeling.”

Application: There is very little in the nail world that is better than a box fresh bottle of Seche Vite. It applies beautifully. You need to load up the brush with a big old dollop of it, and spread it quickly over the nail.

Touch-dry in: less than 1 minute        Hardened in: One hour

Shine: 10/10     Big-3 Free? No

Smell: Reeks. Smells so strong of chemicals that my cat won’t go anywhere near me when I have used it.

Comments: I have used a gazillion bottles of Seche over the last 18 months. Nothing can beat it for shine and speed of drying. I always turn to it to sort out my manicure when I’ve applied polish too thickly. However, the amount of chemicals and the smell of it really put me off – maybe like the older I get, I prefer to use more natural products. It does not mix well with non Big-3 polishes and I always get shrinkage at the end of the second day – sometimes at the end of the first day. Also, I do not subscribe to having to buy Seche Restore (another product) to bring my Seche Vite back to life when I am left with half a bottle of sticky mess that bubbles, drags, and can totally ruin a manicure. Therefore, really, you’re paying £9 for 7ml. There is no denying that the shine is marvellous but it does show scratches and the tipwear is inevitable. So I think it presents the best value for money in terms of speed of drying but there are also several cons here.

Would I repurchase? Yes

 

POSHE (over Boris & Natasha)

Size: 15ml    Price: Between £5.00 and £8.00 depending on where you look.

The Blurb: “Aliphatic Resin System: Re-wets To Revive Existing Nail Polish. Smooths out scratches & abrasions. Dissolves any oxidation & returns existing polish to its original color. Reaches through any lotion residue to re-wet & adhere to existing polish. Top Quality Brush – Reaches To The Bottom Of The Bottle. Consumer Can Use The Whole Bottle.”

Application: I am learning that I prefer a brush that is flat on one side. Poshe’s brush is round, which I find harder to work with. This is also an extremely thick topcoat, that applies much like Seche Vite, only blobbier. It doesn’t seem to spread all that well, and you have to work fast. I needed to re-dip the brush a couple of times to get full coverage, this risking dragging.

Touch-dry in: less than 1 minute        Hardened in: One hour

Shine: 6/10     Big-3 Free? Yes

Smell: Nothing of note. Not bad, nor good.

Comments: This was one of the least shiniest of the topcoats. I also had massive chips on my thumbs less than 12 hours after applying it. I felt that the manicure looked tired quite quickly as well, as I noted my nails were covered with tiny little scratches after a day’s wear. I am reaching the conclusion that the quicker a polish dries, the less lifespan your manicure has. Poshe didn’t bubble or drag, but I did find this the hardest to apply out of everything I tested. This also took the longest to reach me from eBay. And I think the bottle is tacky.

Would I repurchase? No

 

OPI DRIP DRY DROPS (over Dim Sum Plum)

Size: 9ml    Price: Between £9.00 and £13.00

The Blurb: “Dry nail lacquer to the touch in one minute, completely in five minutes with just a one to two drops of OPI Drip Dry Lacquer Drying Drops, the perfect solution for when you need to get out the door in a hurry!”

Application: Kind of annoying as it is a dropper rather than a brush. The bonus is that you don’t risk smudging or dragging your manicure during application but it is messier. I found the best way to do this was to point my hand towards the floor, with a paper towel placed on the floor to catch any mess. On occasion I have also done this over the toilet bowl or sink. Release  a couple of droplets and roll them over the surface of the nail.

Touch-dry in: 5 minutes        Hardened in: Two hours

Shine: 5/10     Big-3 Free? Yes

Smell: Pretty pongy. Very chemical and not overly pleasant.

Comments: Before I started blogging and discovering the wonders of quickdrying topcoats, I used gallons of OPI Drip Dry. Many, many people recommended this to me as their favourite quickdrying item so it is obviously extremely popular still. I find it easy to use, but extremely messy, and I don’t like the feeling of having it cover my fingertips. You can tell the principal ingredient is silicon, because your fingers feel all greasy and icky until your manicure is dry enough for you to rinse your hands. And for that reason, I’m not a huge fan. Also, the instructions say to put this on after applying topcoat. So you have to wait for your polish to dry THEN apply topcpat, THEN use this? I’d die of old age. Also, after a few days, the manucure lost shine and dulled a lot. However, you can use an entire bottle as it doesn’t dry out or weld the top shut so for that reason, it is quite impressive.

Would I repurchase? No

 

NAILS INC KENSINGTON CAVIAR (over Suzi Says Da!)

Size: 10ml    Price: Between £8.00 and £12.00

The Blurb: “Luxurious and conditioning caviar enriched speed dry top coat that locks in colour for a longer wearing manicure. For touch dry nails in only 45 seconds. Adds a wet look salon finish to your nails.”

Application: No matter how many times I try, I just can’t get to grips with Nails Inc application. This has the ghastly slippery lid as a handle, and the brush is so skinny that it took me 4+ swipes and re-dips to cover just one nail.

Touch-dry in: Less than one minute        Hardened in: An hour

Shine: 8/10     Big-3 Free? Yes

Smell: I didn’t notice any kind of smell at all.

Comments: I wanted to love this. This is the most expensive out of every topcoat I tried – I paid £11 plus P&P for 10ml. And I feel like I’ve been ripped off, to be honest. The ends of my nails look mattified and dull, and the shine does not equal that of other polishes I have tried. There’s no doubt that this is the fastest drying out of all the topcoats I sampled, but I also experienced horrendous bubbling once it had dried. This was a brand new bottle that had not been shaken up. My nails look like they have been coated with actual lumps of caviar. Not a great look. I added some glitter to cover up the lumps and bumps as I couldn’t stand staring at them for three days as I tested the wear. After three days, I had a fair amount of shrinkage round the edges but no actual solid chips.

Would I repurchase? No 

 

 INM OUT THE DOOR (over Crepes Suzi-Ette)

Size: 15ml    Price: Between £5.00 and £8.00

The Blurb: “INM Out The Door Fast Drying Top Coat is America’s #1 super fast drying top coat! Out The Door’s long wearing, high gloss finish will not yellow. Use alone or over any polish to accelerate the drying time.”

Application: This was very good indeed. The brush was smaller and thinner than some of the others I have used and I did have to re-dip it several times to get coverage of one nail. But there was absolutely zero dragging here and it actually applied like a dream once I’d got the hang of it.

Touch-dry in: 2 minutes        Hardened in: Two hours

Shine: 8/10     Big-3 Free? Yes

Smell: Strange. Not unpleasant though  – kind of like the way the dentist’s surgery smells.

Comments: This was excellent. I’d never really heard of this brand before, but it was recommended to me by an American blogger, who rated it as her favourite topcoat. And I have to say, out of all the ones I tried, it’s up there. Application was great. Wear was brilliant. In fact, by the end of Day Three, it looked pretty much as good as it did on Day One. And that’s the aim of the game, right? No chips, no lifting, no bubbling, no dragging, And minimal tipwear. Also, a quick poll of people who use this regularly told me that the bottle foes not really dry out at all and you can use the whole lot without it going gunky.  My only complaint? I had to buy this from eBay. I don’t think it’s readily available here. Please let me know if you know differently, as not only was this one of the cheapest of the topcoats I tried, it was without a doubt one of the best performers.

Would I repurchase? Yes

 

CHINA GLAZE FAST FORWARD (Over Miami Beet)

Size: 9.8ml    Price: Between £6.00 and £9.00

The Blurb: Fast Forward Top Coat penetrates and dries all layers of nail polish quickly. Dries in 60 seconds. Leaves lacquer with a glossy finish. Good for natural and acrylic nails. DBP, Toluene & Formaldehyde Free

Application: This was absolutely fine. I do prefer a flat brush rather than a thin and round one, but that aside, it was great. Typically of this kind of product, you need to pick a load up, drop it near the cuticle and quickly wash it over the nail. Once you’ve got the hang of applying it over wet polish (which does seem strange, admittedly), it’s a doddle.

Touch-dry in: 1 minute        Hardened in: Three hours

Shine: 8/10     Big-3 Free? Yes

Smell: Plasticy. Not unpleasant. You know that childhood smell you got a  waft of when you got a new My Little Pony, or Barbie out of the box? It’s like that. And I quite like it…

Comments: For some reason I has really low expectations here. Maybe because Seche Vite is so dominant in the market at the moment that very few others get a look in. So I was very pleasantly surprised with this one. I’d like a fatter brush but other than that it was great. Applied well, was the next fastest dryer after Seche & Nails Inc, and is Big Three Free. I did get some tipwear at the end of day two but zero chips, and it still looked pretty fresh by the end of the third day. I think this is great, and deserves more airtime.

Would I repurchase? Yes

 

CND AIR DRY (Over Funky Dunkey)

Size: 9.8ml    Price: Between £8.00 and £10.00

The Blurb: “A non-yellowing, fast-set 3-free top coat. UV absorbent top coat that quickly seals and protects nail colour”

Application: This was absolutely fine. In fact, it applied perfectly. It spread smoothly and the brush picked enough of the product up for there to be zero dragging or problems. Happy days.

Touch-dry in: 5 minutes        Hardened in: Two hours

Shine: 9/10     Big-3 Free? Yes

Smell: Nothing remarkable at all. Indifferent.

Comments: This was a slower dryer than many of the others. It took a long time to become touch dry as went through this spell where it remained kind of sticky for a while.  Performance-wise, this was one of the best. I did get a chip on my finger on day two but this was an isolated incident that occured whilst getting some washing out of the machine, and I often seem to chip my nails doing this –  I think it’s handling the wet denim. I had minimal tipwear – the chip kept growing though. Otherwise, this manicure looked pretty spangly by the end of day three.

Would I repurchase? Yes

So, in conclusion. China Glaze was my best performer, with INM and CND as close runners-up. Nubar needs to get its act together and return to the old formula. OPI Rapidry doesn’t dry fast, but it lasts the best. I am now only going to use Seche over a thick manicure that I need to dry fast, as the wear was horrendous. A couple of these topcoats I won’t be going near again – but I’m glad I tried them.

Over to you. What’s your favourite?

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36 Comments

  1. 25th October 2010 / 7:08 AM

    Now that is dedication for you! Thank you so much Helen for undertaking this labour of love.

    I usually use Seche Vite, but I think I’ll need to try the CG one now! However, recently I’ve been impressed with Leighton Denny crystal topcoat. I’ll see what I return with after my next polish haul!! x

  2. 25th October 2010 / 7:11 AM

    My favorite is not here 🙁 I use Orly’s Sec’N Dry its the best I have ever tried 🙂 But thanks for this post I will have to come back when its time for a new fast dry top coat 😀

  3. 25th October 2010 / 8:21 AM

    What a useful post! I heard that Nubar has bowed to pressure and gone back to the old formula Diamont.

  4. 25th October 2010 / 8:51 AM

    Thanks for doing this! I wish the ChG worked as well for me as it did for you. I have heard that Nubar is going back to the original formula, so fingers crossed! And I am definitely going to try Air Dry.

  5. 25th October 2010 / 9:03 AM

    This is awesome, Helen. Thanks for undergoing the research.

    I am a CND Air Dry user. I really recommend the larger bottle that’s ball shaped. The brush is larger and much easier to work with. The formula stays thinner in the larger bottle, positively affecting the dry time.

    I am wholly willing now to try Out the Door!

  6. 25th October 2010 / 9:08 AM

    This is a really excellent post! Well done.

    Because of you, I’ve fallen in love with Seche Vite and I always have a bottle on the go. But I’m also a big fan of OPI DripDry and RapidDry Spray. In fact, I put it on top of Seche Vite!

    Glad to see lots of other top coats in the review as well x

  7. 25th October 2010 / 9:10 AM

    Yay – I’ve been waiting expectantly for this post! I admire anyone who has the dedication to do one of these reviews but was much more excited as yours would have a UK slant! I’m a fan of Seche Vite (and have have bought Restore to lengthen the life – although I also have a dodgy physical bottle where the lid seems to be shedding small black pieces – grrgghh) but wish you could predict the tip pull. I have had much better experience with Nails Inc Kensington TC, but then I think Nails Inc works better for me all round. I have a Diamont but it’s new formula so hasn’t impressed. Ciate I’m on the fence about. Haven’t tried CND, Poshe or ChG. Out the Door I bought in the US on a whim and it tends to get used when I can’t find anything else, looks like I should revisit it! My current fave is SH Insta Dry, picked up cheap from a market IIRC and working well for me. Thanks for putting a huge amount of effor it to do this and giving me some more to try!

  8. 25th October 2010 / 9:19 AM

    I used to be a fan of Seche Vite but I recently gave up using it as, like you, I loved it when it was a fresh bottle, but I soon became tired of thinning it out and I could never get near the end of the bottle even after adding Restore as the brush is so small! I also found that it scratched too easily. I decided to give OPI Rapidry a go and I find it much easier to apply and far longer lasting. The only downside for me is that it is not as shiney as some others.

    As for CND, I would have recommended Speedy over Air Dry, and for anyone that isn’t bothered about fast drying, CND Super Shiney is the best top coat I have ever used.

    Thank you for taking the time to do this post Helen.

  9. 25th October 2010 / 9:45 AM

    I have the big bottle of Out the Door, and I’m about halfway through it. It was wonderful when I started using it, exactly the way you reviewed it, but I experience massive bubbling right now. I’ve noticed that the bubbles don’t appear if you apply the top coat thinly, but then there can be little streaks because the layer is so thin. It’s still a decent top coat, but not that fantastic.

  10. 25th October 2010 / 9:57 AM

    Thank you for taking the time to compare all of these – it’s such an informative article.
    I’m a seche vite user and have only ever tried another one – a barielle and wasn’t impressed. Straight back to seche vite I went.
    I’m definitely going to be giving some of these a try though xx

  11. 25th October 2010 / 10:17 AM

    I was waiting for this post!! Such a helpful & great one!! Now I know which one’s to look out for & which ones to avoid 🙂 Thank you Helen 🙂 🙂

    Kaushal xx

  12. 25th October 2010 / 11:32 AM

    wow super post. i can’t stand the smell of seche vite and find it really thick too. i love the nails inc one but will check out that first OPI one too as the no-smell thing is very appealing!
    Amina x
    http://aminasbazaar.blogspot.com

  13. 25th October 2010 / 11:40 AM

    Wow, that was definitely one big crash test!!
    I ‘m with you on the nasty smell of the Seche Vite, however it dries so quickly, that I ‘m willing to put up with it!
    I ‘ll be more than happy to look into China Glaze tho once I run out!
    Amazing post!

    xx

  14. 25th October 2010 / 12:31 PM

    Fab post. I usually like Seche as it dries so quick and is very shiny but I don’t get the best wear so I was thinking about what to get next. This has been very useful in helping decide my next topcoat. Thank you

  15. 25th October 2010 / 1:47 PM

    Helen, excellent and thorough write up! You did a fantastic job of describing all the nuances and giving us ample info to make choices. I prefer Seche Vite and Out the Door. I used to use Poshe but found Seche a little more worth the money. I do not seem to experience the shrinkage you are talking about or maybe just am not as vigilant about noticing such things. I only just discovered Out the Door this year and it is by far the cheapest and best quick dry for the money. I may not go back to Seche after using it only because I can almost get two bottles of Out the Door for the price of one Seche. I do find that Seche gets thick VERY quickly and I’m usually left with 1/3 to 1/2 of a useless bottle. Not sure if this is an issue for you but I also feel that Seche ‘lifts’ nail color more than some other topcoats and I tend up having a tinted Seche if I use it on darker colors frequently.

  16. 25th October 2010 / 5:24 PM

    *And the award for life time dedication to world of beauty blogging goes to….Helen at Nice Things* Cue rapturous applause. Seriously Helen this is such a good post, I am in awe of your fortitude. Sorry that you didn’t get on with Kensington, that is my current fav, with Ciate a close second, glad that China Glaze does well – I have heard only good things about this top coat. Now excuse me whilst I go and lie down in sympathy for your hard work. Jan x

  17. 25th October 2010 / 9:00 PM

    China Glaze Fast Forward Top Coat is my fav, though I do like Out the door. I’m using Orly Sec n’ Dry right now.

  18. 25th October 2010 / 11:17 PM

    This post rocked! I’ve tried China Glaze, Seche and Poshe, and they are my usual “go to’s”..but I will be picking up INM, next time I go to my beauty supply, I know they have it.

    Thanks!!!

  19. 26th October 2010 / 8:08 AM

    Quite good information. I have many fast drying topcoats. I like OPI’s and China Glaze. I stopped using Seche Vite and Poshe. They thickened up so fast and you also had to use there thinners. I have those fast drying drops from Zoya which work but I don’t care for that dripping mess.

  20. 26th October 2010 / 12:42 PM

    OOOh what an awesome comparison!

  21. 26th October 2010 / 3:45 PM

    Helen you have to try LUMOS… It will beat them all hands down. Email me and I will send you some.

  22. 27th October 2010 / 5:42 PM

    Great post, really interesting! I’ve been trying to get hold of INM Out of the Door too, only place I’ve managed to find it so far is eBay but haven’t got round to ordering any yet! Very helpful to read your thoughts on them all

  23. 28th October 2010 / 9:26 PM

    Just read this post at the best time as iv been contemplating a quick dry top coat for weeks, went with the china glaze ( have only tried a mini of seche, didn’t care for the smell and the chemicals in it) and am thoroughly happy with it and was cooking (carefully) within 15 mins!.

  24. 29th October 2010 / 2:13 PM

    Thanks for this epic post, Helen! 😀 Personally, I have huge problems with shrinking, and therefore couldn’t ever use SV… My most treasured topcoat is Diamont, but of course, the old formula. I’m really hoping they will be able to put out reformulated bottles on the market very soon, because the bottles that were raoked to me are getting low!

    I too was pleasantly surprised by ChG’s product, however, I have a very hard time with the smell, and it too causes a bit of shrinking on me. :/ In the past I’ve been using Poshe on and off, and I can prevent it from shrinking if I add a bit of thinner to it, but I don’t like he brush either… It leaves strokes!!! Too hard bristles..?

    Anyway, my few cents (pennies?) on this, and again, thank you for your in-depth work! <3

  25. 2nd November 2010 / 9:01 PM

    Wow! Thanks for this comprehensive test. I’ve only used Seche Vite so far, but I think I’ll try ChG and Inm next.

  26. 3rd November 2010 / 4:23 PM

    Great post! I’m in the middle of a top coat crisis and found this information very helpful 🙂 I will be trying China Glaze Fast Forward hopefully soon!

  27. 4th November 2010 / 11:57 AM

    What an informative, comprehensive post! I am brand new to the world of lacquer, and when I went to Sally’s they were all out of Seche Vite! I grabbed the China Glaze Top Coat, and so far it’s done me well. Of course, I have nothing to compare to (yet, ebay packages expected soon!), but I still like it. This is the first time my nails have stayed perfect for more than a few hours. This is day three of my first use and they’re still not chipped or worn looking.

    I thought the China Glaze top coat smelled like cotton candy. 😀

  28. 8th November 2010 / 12:51 AM

    Thank you for comparing those!!! My favorite at the moment is Orly Sec ‘n Dry. I am about half way into my second bottle. It does not lift, and have not had any bubbling.

  29. 7th March 2012 / 8:20 PM

    I am soooo glad that I have now found another UK nail blog!! I have only just started mine but while looking out there all I could find was US. I was getting very jelouse of most of the polishes I couldnt get!

    Thank you for this post I might be starting to do manicures in london for a company and needed something that would dry super fast!! Think I might go with the OPI or the China Glaze options as they are touch dry within a minute.

  30. Lizzie
    15th March 2012 / 8:14 PM

    WOW! What an amazing top coat comparison. I was having a top coat/quick dry drops crisis and yours was the first search that came up – truly brilliant and such dedication! Will try that China Glaze – thanks SO much :o)

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