Base Coat vs. Primer for Acrylic Nails

Base Coat vs. Primer for Acrylic Nails

Nail primers and base coats are both used to prolong the life of your manicure. They are both used with different products and are applied differently. There is often confusion on the difference between nail base coats, primers, bonders, and dehydrators.

Your client wants the most wear they can get from the manicure service you provide, so it is vital to know the difference between the products you are using. Let’s look at the difference between two of these products: base coats and primers, and how you should use them.

What Is Base Coat?

A base coat is a clear polish that is applied before the nail polish or gel color. Base coats help keep regular nail polish and gel manicures lasting longer, and they also help prevent yellowing of the fingernails. A base coat also provides a smooth nail base for the adhesion of nail polish or gel. Apply two layers of base coat to thin nails to make them thicker.

Base coats contain plasticizers that make them flexible and cellulose to make them adhere better. These plasticizers allow the nail polish you apply to the nail to bend instead of break, allowing the manicure to last longer. 

Base coats 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 for nourishing the nails, which is a bonus.

After buffing the nails during a manicure, apply a base coat to the nail plate, then apply the nail polish or gel. Do not use a base coat with acrylic nails. Acrylic nails need a primer before their application.

Types of Base Coat

There are several types of base coats on the market today. The kind of base coat you need depends on the type of manicure you are creating.

Classic Base Coat

A regular base coat is a transparent paint applied to the natural nail before traditional nail polish. It helps to protect the nail from nail polish staining and yellowing. It also helps nail polish last longer and appear more smooth.

Gel Base Coat

Valentino Beauty Pure gel base coat creates a layer between the natural nail and the gel polish manicure. It is formulated to adhere to the nail plate. A gel base coat works with the top coat to provide a longer-lasting, durable gel manicure. 

Gel color will not last as long if you do not use a gel base coat before applying gel polish. You will also risk the chance of staining your natural nail. 

Gel base coat acts as a double-sided tape. It will be sticky even after curing it under the UV lamp. Do not wipe off the tacky layer. It is there to help the gel color bond to the nail and last longer.

What Is Nail Primer?

Nail primers are used to make your acrylics adhere better to the nail plate. Primers contain harsh chemicals necessary for use before the application of acrylics to prevent chipping and peeling. 

Nail primers are sometimes perceived as bonders, but primers and bonders promote adhesion differently and are not interchangeable. Nail primers (acid or acid-free) prep the nail plate for the bonding of acrylics.

Both acid primers and acid-free primers consist of molecules having two ends called hydrophobic and hydrophilic. The hydrophobic end repels water, and the hydrophilic end attracts it.

Types of Primer

Improper use of nail primer can cause nail breakdown. It is essential to follow instructions and become familiar with the product you are using. Applying too much primer can affect the strength of the adhesion. 

Applying too much acid primer can result in chemical burns and damage to the nails. Nail primer should be applied to the center of the nail, allowing it to spread. Less is more, so do not apply it like you would apply polish. There are three types of nail primers.

Acid Primers

Acid primers have corrosive properties (methacrylic acid) harsher to the skin than non-acid primers. Acid primers contain more potent chemicals that work best for your client with problematic nail plates, such as those with oily nail plates or clients on medication because it etches the nail plate and preps it for better adhesion. 

This type of primer creates microscopic holes in the natural nail plate, allowing for ultimate adhesion of the acrylic to the nail plate. Acid primer molecules have two arms. One arm forms a temporary hydrogen bond that adheres to the natural nail, and the other arm forms a covalent (strong) bond that sticks to the nail enhancement. Overuse of an acid-based primer will cause damage and thinning to the nail plate. Acid primers dry to a chalky finish and remove excess oils on the nail plate. 

Mild-Acid Primer

This primer contains milder acids than the acid primer and creates many temporary hydrogen bonds between the nail enhancement and the natural nail. These primers are sometimes mistakenly called non-acid primers. Remember that both acid primers and mild-acid primers can cause yellowing of the nail enhancement.

Acid-Free Primer

Acid-free nail primer acts as a double-sided sticky tape, allowing adhesion to the natural nail and for the acrylic overlay. Chemical burns are not likely to occur with non-acid primer spills, leaks, and contact with the client’s skin. Acid-free primers are the most commonly used primer because of this. 

A temporary change in the pH of the natural nail occurs when an acid-free primer is applied. This change in pH allows the nail to become more alkaline, which helps the acrylic to adhere. 

Acid-free primers remain sticky until the acrylic application takes place. Acid-free primer is non-corrosive and does not cause yellowing of the nail enhancement.

Nail Primer Facts

The difference between the three types of primers is the way in which the molecules work together in the bonding process. Universally, nail primers work to achieve the same goal: provide adherence for the acrylic. All nail primers also do the following:

  • All primers are used before applying enhancements and acrylics
  • All primers are used before applying UV/LED gels
  • Nail primer works by dehydrating the nail to remove all moisture and oils on the surface of the nails so that acrylics will adhere better. 
  • Nail primer can be used with acrylics, gels, and regular nail polish and make adherence to these products better than the classic base coat. 

Acrylics vs. Gels

Base coats are used with traditional nail polish and gel polish, while primers are used before acrylics. If your client is unsure as to whether they want a gel or acrylic manicure, here are a few facts about both you may want to discuss with them.

Gel Nails

Gel nails require a three-step base coat, gel polish, and Valentino Beauty Pure gel top coat. Each coat throughout the process is cured (dried) underneath a UV light for between 30 seconds and two minutes. 

Once it is cured, the gel will not smudge or chip. The gel can be applied to nail enhancements or natural nails. Soak gel nails in acetone for easy removal at home.

Acrylic Nails

An acid primer, acid-free primer, or mild-acid primer is required for acrylic nail sets. Acrylic nails are formed with a powder and liquid mixture. The liquid and powder are mixed, creating a wet bead. The wet bead is then applied to the nail with a nail brush and formed over the enhancement tip. 

The acrylic nail dries hard and is then shaped with a VUnit E-file and regular nail file. After the nails are shaped, a traditional base coat, nail polish or gel color, and top coat are applied. The nails are then placed under a UV light or fan to dry. Acrylic nails will rarely break, chip, or crack.

Acrylic will cause damage to the natural nail if not removed properly. Generally, acrylic nails will need to be removed by the nail tech in the salon if a refill is not being applied.

Base Coats and Primer Are Both Important

Both base coats and primers are important in creating a long-lasting manicure. Base coats are used for manicures with traditional nail polish and gel polish. Primer is used for acrylic manicures and gel polish.

Valentino Beauty Pure offers the highest quality acrylics, top coats, base coats, primers, and other manicure necessities. Create the perfect on-trend nail set for your clients with Valentino Beauty Pure. 


  1. Do You Need to Use Base Coat on Your Nails? — Why Base Coat Is Important | Good Housekeeping
  2. What Is Nail Primer? | Beauty Answered
  3. How to Safely Use Nail Care Products | FDA
  4. An assessment of the human nail plate pH | Pub Med