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What Is a Matte Top Coat?

By J. Beam
Updated May 21, 2024
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Just like paint, nail polish has different finishes that reflect or absorb light. For example, gloss finish is reflective and gives the surface a glossy or shiny appearance. On the contrary, matte finishes are flat. A matte top coat is a clear protective nail polish that is applied over the base coat and primary coats of color and gives the nail a matte finish.

Nail polish top coats are used to seal and protect the nail polish and prevent chipping so a manicure lasts longer. A matte top coat provides the same sealing protection, but without the shine. One of the first runway appearances of the matte nail trend was in 2010 and manufacturers from high-end to drug-store have created lines of matte finish polish. The exact opposite of what a conventional manicure entails — shiny, high gloss nails — the matte trend is considered somewhat edgier.

The advantage of a matte top coat is that it can be used to flatten any type of polish, be it gloss or matte. When a matte top coat is applied over a glossy polish, the finish becomes something between satin and matte, depending on the quality of the base and top coats. Since matte polishes sometimes tend to be “chalky” and dense in appearance, a matte top coat can be a better way to produce the matte finish over an easier-to-apply traditional shine polish. Using a matte top coat is also a more economical way to switch up the at-home manicure as one bottle can be used over any of the other types of nail polish currently on hand.

Other applications of the matte top coat include using it to create artistic looks that alternate matte and gloss finishes. For instance, a modern and edgy take on a traditional French manicure can be achieved by painting matte finish nails with glossy tips in any combination of colors. In addition to matte top coats, other specialty top coats and finishes are available including crackle finish and glow-in-the-dark polish. Investing in a few different types of top coats can open up endless creative possibilities for varying manicure styles. If nails are artificial, acrylic or gel, be sure to use polish and top coats as well as removers that won’t cause damage.

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Discussion Comments
By Heavanet — On May 28, 2014

@raynbow- I use a matte top coat nail polish frequently, and I really enjoy how it wears and how it looks. I have used all types of nail polish, and it is my experience that matte varieties actually last longer than those with traditional finishes. To me, it seems more durable and less likely to chip, especially for the first several days following application.

If you have never used a matte top coat before, I recommend that you start with a light color to see how well you like it. Not only will this type of shade go with just about anything, but it will not show chips as easily as a dark color will. If you like it, you should not hesitate to get matte top coats in all of your favorite colors.

By Raynbow — On May 27, 2014

I have been wanting to try matte coat nail polish, but am concerned about how long it will last. It seems like it might have the tendency to chip more than smooth, glossy nail polishes do. Does anyone have any experience using matte nail polish as a top coat, and information about how long an application of it will typically last?

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