Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Top Trumps : Battle of the Top Coats

Hello ladies!  Today's post is something a little different.  I'm going to talk about the unsung hero or ultimate nemesis of every mani : the topcoat.  Like base, this is something that is likely to be present in every mani that you wear.  So if we spend so much time and thought on the shades we buy, what would be the point if we cover it with a crappy topcoat?

 If you're not convinced of the use for topcoat then you're not alone. Personally I never go without it, for two reasons - extended wear time, and shine.  I have never got on board with the textured or matte trends, I want my mani to be so shiny that I can see my face in it, and for that we need serious topcoat.  I'm also a busy girl, so I want my mani rock solid in minimal time too.  Over the years I've flirted with many brands, perhaps my longest held darling was Seche Vite.  In the end it was a bitter split, and I went off in search of the perfect topcoat to replace it.  In this post I'm going to talk about several topcoats that I tried recently.

Seche Vite

On the blogosphere SV is one of the most popular choices for a rock hard mani, superfast dry time, and bonkers shine.  It is also equally well known for its foibles - by the time you reach halfway through the bottle it will become a gloopy gluey mess that will give you awful tip shrinkage and apply like a pig.  This problem is so well known that SV themselves released a product called 'Seche Restore', which is basically Toluene with a dropper, to mix with your SV to make it liquid again.  I know people that have had success with this, but I personally haven't.  My SV went pink, and stayed gloopy.  The other fact that works against SV is that it smells god awful, and the reason for that is that it's stuffed with every nasty ass chemical that all other polish brands advertise they're 'free' from.  Yes ladies it turns out that rapid dry time, solid finish and shine are all the byproducts of the nasty chemicals.  So let's take it as read that SV when it's behaving will give you undoubtedly the best top coat money can buy.  It just might also give you a terrible deformity.

CG Howl you Doing - SV tip shrink
Don't Get Your Tips out in Public!
Seche Vite tip shrink at its worst (over China Glaze 'Howl You Doin?')
In the end I just couldn't stand the tip shrinkage any more.  On bad days it was up to 2mm, and really then what is the point?  So I searched for a successor and found...

HK Girl by Glisten and Glow

HK Girl by Glisten and Glow
HK Girl by Glisten and Glow
HK Girl caused quite a stir when it hit the market.  Bloggers worldwide reported that this was SV without the Achilles heel.  They said it's just as shiny, just as fast drying, 2-free, and best of all it will work that way right to the last drop.  I was sold, I grabbed a bottle right away and used it....until it was about half way through, and then instead of going gloopy, or tip-shrink, it went HAIRY.  What the hell?  How can nail polish be hairy?  What happened to mine is that it forms really fine filaments, like spider's web, that float out from the end of the brush and are highly attracted to the sticky polish on your fingers.  This leaves little fine hairs all over your mani.  The hairs form every time you dip the brush in the bottle, and I couldn't succeed in wiping them off before the brush went near my nails.  It was infuriating.  This might not have some of SV's worst traits, but the hairy problem made me madder than anything SV ever did.

HK Girl by Glisten and Glow
Hairy Polish! HK Girl is a bad bad girl indeed.
Also, HK Girl smells exactly the same as SV.  I challenge the idea that it's full of kittens and hugs instead of nasty chemicals.  It might be 2-free, but rest assured there's some nasty shit in there too.

HK Girl by Glisten and Glow
HK Girl on a good day, lovely shine, but it will only last half a bottle
(atop Liquid Sky Lacquer 'Strawberry Mojito')
So although I respect the views of my fellow bloggers, there's no way I can recommend this.  It's maddening.  So the search continued and I went back to my stash and found....

Top Coat by OPI

OPI Top Coat - disaster

Good lord this is AWFUL! My bottle was a little on the elderly side, so perhaps a bit thicker than a fresh bottle would be, which made application a sticky tricky mess.  It bubbles and pits something terrible - my mani looked like I'd gotten the pox. 

OPI Top Coat - disaster
Pox! Nail bubbles and pits with OPI topcoat.  Urgh!
But by far the biggest issue with this top coat is that IT DOESN'T DRY.  Now I may have been spoiled in the past by the dry time of SV and HK Girl, but when I say it doesn't dry I mean that I polished my nails two hours before bed, and I woke up to sheet wrinkles in my nails.  So it was still squishy hours after application.  There is just no way that's practical for anyone.  Avoid like the plague.  It's 3-free but who cares.

OPI Top Coat - disaster
After two hours of dry time, this is what happened when I went to bed...
(Disastrous OPI topcoat atop OPI 'Embarca Dare Ya')
I then was kindly leant a couple to try by the lovely Hannah.  In true scientific fashion I conducted an experiment....

CND Super Shiny vs. Essie Good to Go

CND Super Shiny and Essie Good to Go
CND Super Shiny and Essie Good to Go
For this test I used the same base coat, and the same shade (see recent post Human Nature by CbL).  On my left had I used the CND, on my right the Essie.  Since these were both by far the best candidates I'll give you some more detail on these...

CND Super Shiny
CND Super Shiny - notice the sheet dents on the middle finger
(atop Colors by Llarowe 'Human Nature')
The CND has a fantastic shine, and bizarrely almost no smell.  You need to stick your nose right close to the bottle to smell this at all.  It has a really nice sturdy bottle, easy grip long handle, and an excellent brush.  All important points given that you will mostly handle this product with wet nails.  I had no shrinkage, no 'pooling' of thick formula (formula was a nice thin consistency) and fast drying.  However, it did dent slightly 40mins after application, and I did wake up to sheet marks (although I went to bed less than an hour after application).  

Essie Good to Go
Essie Good to Go - no dents at all
The Essie had a slightly thicker formula than the CND, and the brush isn't as good.  The shorter handle is a bit fiddlier to use than the CND one, and the smell is stronger (although still fairly light compared to the other topcoats in this post).  The level of shine was, to my eye, identical (and I really looked hard, under all lighting conditions).  Dry time was also very similar.  The big plus with the Essie is that there was no denting or sheet marks.

Essie Good to Go and CND Super Shiny
Spot the Difference?
I asked several people to look at my nails and pick the topcoat they preferred.  They all picked the CND.  Reasons given were that it looked shinier (I'm convinced it didn't) and interestingly that it made the colour of the nail polish more 'vibrant'.  I really puzzled over this one too.  I think there is something in that.  The CND has a purple-ish tint to it, which they say is a UV protector coat, and I think that this did have an effect on the perceived colour of the polish underneath, I think it made it slightly darker.  It reminded me of the effect that a polarising filter has on a camera lens - by reducing reflective glare colours seem more vibrant.  But this was a really tough call, so unless you stare at your nails under a microscope all day long (hey I'm not judging) this is likely not something you'd notice.  Both topcoats also lasted EXACTLY the same time before chipping - they both lasted a whole week, and chipped within minutes of each other.  Both polishes are 3-free, and their pleasant smells would back that up.  Given this, I think the finish of both and their dry time are fantastic.  SV-like results but without the risk of growing an 11th finger...

And the Winner IS....

In the end I went with the Essie, due to the lack of dents. I've been using it for a while now and I'm delighted with the results. Great shine, great weartime, fast drying and so far no downsides.  I will be interested to see how it fares as the bottle wears down, so I'll follow this up if I find a gotcha later.  I also really liked the CND.  I liked the feel of the bottle, the ease of the applicator, the light smell, I think I'm likely to get a bottle of this in future too.

So there you have it.  I hope my many spoiled mani's will be of some use to you!

Where to buy/What to pay

Seche Vite is widely available, shop around for bargains.  I bought mine from QVC, Amazon and Nail Polish Direct. If you look hard you can usually find it for £5-6 a bottle.  HK Girl is sold on Rainbow Connection for a similar price to SV.  OPI topcoat is available from all OPI retailers like Sally's, Lena White, and is probably around £10-11.  CND is available from Amazon for about £8.  I bought my Essie from Boots for £8.95.

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