Best Nail Varnish Top Coats

I’ve been painting my nails for years! Within that time I’ve tried countless top coats, all in the name of providing my nails with a thick (but not gloopy) gel-like appearance that you only seem to get when you walk straight out of a good mani.

I tried gel nails a few years ago, after convincing myself of how much time I’d save if I didn’t have to keep re-doing my nails after suffering countless fatal chips that served completely ruin the appearance of hours of filing, buffing and paintwork. However, despite the salon being a great place to retreat to and the range of colours being impressive, when it came to removing the gel nails and revealing my own, they seemed to be brittle and weak… Plus if I’m honest, as a nail obsessive, I missed sitting down in the evenings and “zenning out” as my hands naturally performed their weekly nail makeover ritual. Lesson learned – grumpy nails and not happy nails.

So my quest continued and with an army of discarded top coats in tow, all claiming to provide salon quality, shiny, gel nails, I believe I’ve finally found the one and only – my holy grail!

Ladies and gentlemen, this has been no easy feat, but below you’ll find my thoughts on a popular selection of high street nail top coats and the best nail top coat (IMO).

an image showng a range of clear nails gel top coats by Rimmel London, Sally Hanson, Nail Apothecary, Revlon, Collection and Loreal

Sally Hanson 3D Top Coat

Overall Thoughts

A very popular high-street brand, sold in an array of stores, Sally Hanson nail varnishes tend to be a little more pricey than the likes of Rimmel. Retailing at around £6.95 in Boots stores, the reflective packaging is certainly striking on the shelves. With 13.3ml of product and a handy flat applicator for quick and easy application, first impressions are very good!

The Gel Verdict

But of course, what we’re really here for is the gel verdict. Will it provide that plump look we’re all lusting after? Claiming to give “Dramatically fuller, plumped nails with an ultra glossy gel like finish” I was expecting great things and super excited to give this product a whirl, especially as I love the standard Sally Hanson gel and original formula nail polishes. However, I really can’t say these claims were realised. Just like any other clear top coat, you do get a definite shine after using this product, but at no point did my nails look plumped. I’d describe the varnish as giving you a film over your nail colour. It sits nicely, but in my opinion lays flat, with no added volume. If you’re only interested in shine, this product could be the one for you, but in terms of giving a gel-like appearance, this one wasn’t my forever find.

Collection Ultra Glossy Top Coat

Overall Thoughts

Perfect if you’re on a budget or don’t want to spend too much on nail varnish. Collection beauty items seem to be much cheaper than most high-street beauty brands and this polish comes in at £2.99 in Superdrug stores. With 12ml of product and the affordable price, I was impressed with the finish of this product. A definite shine is achieved, however, the thin, rounded brush makes it difficult to apply the varnish quickly and neatly.

The Gel Verdict

Just like the Sally Hanson varnish, you notice a definite difference to nails that have this product on and these that don’t. However, in terms of providing that illustrious gel finish, I doubt you’ll find it here. In direct comparison to the previous product, I would say I preferred the finish of this varnish, as I wasn’t keen on the thin film left by the Sally Hanson varnish. One thing to take away here would be that price doesn’t always depict quality; if it weren’t for the brush, I’d probably recommend this over the Sally Hanson contender.

Revlon Color Stay Gel Envy Diamond Top Coat

Overall Thoughts

With a name like that, you’re going to expect big things. I must confess to absolutely loving the standard and gel polishes Revlon produce. The colour range is fantastic and there is something about the packaging of the product that looks and feels luxurious – I’m a big fan.

The Gel Verdict

However, maybe it was partly because of the name of this gel polish that my expectations were too high, as I wasn’t particularly blown away. Revlon nail varnishes last a long time and one coat truly is enough for a bright, solid colour finish. Although this gel polish adds shine, is easy to apply and goes even further towards preventing chipping, my quest continued…

Nail Apothecary Top Coat

Overall Thoughts

I’d purchased this product after trying what felt like a gazillion other high popular high street brands. In Boots stores, this pot is away from the other shelves that are full of the usual drugstore brands, so I have to admit I was expecting something different.

The Gel Verdict

Not the best, not the worst; my quest to find the best gel nail top coat fell on a mediocre road. Don’t get me wrong, as a general top coat that prevents chips and adds shine, this is your one, but I didn’t attain the plumpness I was after here.

Rimmel London 60 second Top Coat

Overall Thoughts

The Rimmel London nail polish range is super popular and it’s not difficult to see why. Retailing at only £2.99 in Superdrug stores and even cheaper when on offer, it’s an affordable product by a well-known and trusted name.

To begin with, I can tell you first hand that the 60-second drying claim is true, if you place one coat on a dry nail and allow this to dry fully if applying a second.

The small price is reflected in the amount of product you get, with only 8ml, if you like this product, you’re likely to have to repurchase pretty quickly.

The Gel Verdict

This familiar high street spot doesn’t claim to leave you with gel nails, but surprisingly leaves a very similar finish to some of the others I’ve tried and tested. You will get a little added shine with this product, but nothing instantly visible, unless under light. I’ve began using this product as a base, utilising it’s quick drying properties so I can carry on with the rest of my mani.

If you’re in the market for something quick and simple, picking up one of these whilst doing your shopping wouldn’t be a bad shout.

Rimmel London Super Gel

Overall Thoughts

I’m a big fan of Rimmel, from nail varnishes to make-up they get my vote time and time again, in fact, I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had multiple Rimmel products lying around in my beauty bags. But, when you know exactly what you’re after (like I did on this hunt for the best gel nail varnish) it’s hard to compromise. The packaging screams professional salon varnish and applies very quickly thanks to its wide applicator and silky, quick-drying formula.

The Gel Verdict

This top coat specifies that it only works with other Rimmel gel polishes, which was absolutely fine with me as I’m never averse to picking up a few more colours. I can tell you that there is a noticeable difference and your nails do achieve a certain volume. For that, this polish comes runner up in the list.

The Star of The Show

Maybelline Super Stay 3D Gel Effect Plumping Top Coat

Can we get a Hallelujah!? As you can tell from the top photo, this one has been used and used and used! (Yes is the one with no visible writing on the packaging.) Retailing at a fabulous £5.99 in Boots Stores, in my opinion, this gem of a product is every home manicure lovers must have. My pot is a pretty tired old thing now, but it has neither gone gloopy or dried up! Will I repurchase? Of course.

For me, there is no downside to this varnish. The brush applicator is wide enough for quick and neat application, the red lid in contrast to the clear glass bottom looks aesthetically pleasing and of course, the finish of this product could rival any professional manicure, in my opinion.

If you’ve tried any of these products or think you’ll pop one in your basket the next time you go shopping, let me know in the comments.

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