Having beautiful nails that are ready for polish application starts with proper nail prep. An important step in that process is using a dehydrator or nail prep product. But when exactly should these products be applied?
If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Apply a dehydrating base coat right before polish to remove oils and moisture for better polish adhesion and wear.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the purpose of nail dehydrators, when to use them, the benefits of using them, and review some of the top-rated dehydrating base coat products.
What is a Nail Dehydrator?
Purpose and Function
A nail dehydrator, also known as a prep solution, is a liquid product designed to remove oil and moisture from the nail plate prior to applying nail enhancements or nail polish. Using a dehydrator is an important prep step that helps improve adhesion and prolong the wear of nail products.
When applied to the natural nail, a dehydrator will remove traces of oil, lotion, soap and water that may be present. This helps remove any barriers between the nail and the product being applied on top. The end result is better product adhesion and less chance of chipping, peeling or lifting.
Some key functions of nail dehydrators include:
- Removing moisture, oils and residue from the nail plate surface
- Promoting maximum adhesion and bonding between the nail and enhancement or polish
- Preventing product lifting, peeling or premature loss
- Allowing even application and proper curing
- Extending wear time of enhancements and polish
Using a dehydrator is especially important before applying enhancements like acrylics, UV gel polish or dip powders. These products require a clean, dry nail surface to properly bond and cure. A dehydrator preps the nail bed for ideal application.
The active ingredient in most nail dehydrators is isopropyl alcohol, sometimes listed as SD alcohol or ethanol. Alcohol efficiently dries out and sanitizes the nail plate. Many brands contain 100% isopropyl alcohol as the active ingredient.
Some other ingredients may include:
- Acetone – Works to break down oils and residue
- Benzyl alcohol – An organic solvent that disinfects
- Toluene – Helps dry out the nail surface
- Formaldehyde – Used as a preservative
Higher-end dehydrators may also contain additional ingredients like aloe vera, vitamin E or green tea for added nail benefits. However, the alcohol is the key component that preps and sanitizes the nails.
Look for a dehydrator that contains mainly alcohol and avoid products with lots of added fragrances, colors or moisturizers. These can leave behind an oily residue.
When Should You Apply a Nail Dehydrator?
Right Before Base Coat and Polish
Applying a nail dehydrator right before your base coat and polish is crucial for long-lasting manicures. Here’s why:
Nails are made up of layers of keratin, which is a protein. Keratin contains natural moisture, which allows nails to stay flexible and less prone to breakage. However, this moisture can also cause problems when you apply nail polish.
If there is moisture on the nail plate before polish application, it can prevent proper adhesion. This can lead to chipping, peeling, bubbling, and other manicure mishaps. Not fun!
A nail dehydrator (also called a prep solution) is formulated to remove excess moisture from the nails prior to polish. It usually contains alcohol, acetone, or ethyl acetate. These ingredients quickly evaporate the moisture, leaving your nails ready for lacquering.
Applying a dehydrator right before your base coat ensures your nails are moisture-free and a blank canvas. This helps the base coat and polish properly adhere for super long-wear.
Don’t Apply Too Early
While applying a dehydrator is essential before base and polish, you don’t want to use it too far in advance.
Nail dehydrators work quickly, but their effects don’t last forever. If you apply it an hour before starting your manicure, moisture can creep back onto the nails.
For optimal results, apply the dehydrator within 5-10 minutes of starting your polish application. This ensures your nails stay moisture-free for better adhesion.
Applying it immediately before base coat also prevents exposure to air for too long. The dehydrator leaves the nails bare and susceptible to moisture in the environment.
You also don’t want to apply too many layers of dehydrator. Just one light swipe over each nail is sufficient. Too much can dry out the nails and lead to brittleness and peeling.
Benefits of Using a Nail Dehydrator
Improves Polish Adhesion
Applying a nail dehydrator before painting your nails is one of the best ways to help nail polish adhere properly. The dehydrating liquid preps the nail by removing excess oils and moisture. This allows the polish to bond tightly to the nail plate rather than sliding off.
Using a dehydrator helps prevent chips, peels, and smudges. It creates the perfect blank canvas for long-lasting color.
Polish sticks better to dry nails. Hydrated nails do not allow lacquer to penetrate and grip. The nail plate is smooth and slick with moisture, preventing proper polish adhesion. A dehydrator fixes this issue by evaporating the moisture and clearing away debris.
This roughs up the surface a bit so the polish can cling on tight.
Prevents Chipping and Peeling
Well-applied nail polish should be able to last around 5-7 days without any chips or peels. However, keeping polish pristine for over a week is a challenge for many. Nails chip and peel much sooner when natural oils are present.
Oil is nail polish’s worst enemy. It causes lacquer to lift and flake away. Using a dehydrator eliminates excess oil and sebum on the nails prior to painting them. This prevents polish from separating and allows for long-lasting wear without pesky chips or peels.
Allows for Longer Wear Time
In addition to preventing chips and peels, nail dehydrators also allow for longer wear time in general. Well-prepped nails keep polish looking freshly applied for many more days. Using a dehydrator helps lacquer retain its just-painted glossiness and smooth appearance.
Without proper prep, nails begin to show obvious signs of growth and wear after just 2-3 days. The polish starts looking ragged around the edges as it lifts from the nail plate. A dehydrating primer stops this process in its tracks. Nails stay looking freshly done for a full week and beyond.
According to consumer studies, women who used a nail dehydrator before polishing enjoyed up to 9 days of perfect, chip-free nail color. Those who skipped the dehydrating step saw chipping and peeling in as little as 48 hours.
How to Apply a Nail Dehydrator
Before applying a nail dehydrator, it’s important to properly prep the nails. Start by trimming and shaping the nails into your desired length and shape. Use a nail file to smooth out any rough edges. Push back and trim any cuticles, being careful not to cut the skin.
Use a cuticle remover product to safely dissolve any remaining cuticle tissue. Then, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water and dry completely. The nails need to be clean and free of any oil, lotion or debris in order to allow the dehydrator to work effectively.
Apply Thin Layer to All Nails
Once prepped, shake the nail dehydrator bottle to mix the product. Then, use the brush applicator to apply a thin, even layer to cover all five nails. Be sure to coat not just the top of the nail, but also wrap the edges and underneath the free edge of each nail plate.
Let the dehydrator sit for about 5-10 seconds just to tack up slightly. This allows it to start penetrating the layers of the nail bed. Don’t let it sit too long or it may become sticky.
Let Dry Completely
After applying the dehydrator, it’s crucial to let it dry completely before moving on to the next step of your manicure. Wave hands gently to facilitate drying. Drying should take 30-60 seconds. The nails will look matte and feel just slightly tacky when ready.
If any shine remains, that means the dehydrator hasn’t fully dried yet. Allow a bit more time before proceeding. Rushing this step can lead to poor polish adhesion down the line. Once nails are fully dehydrated, there will be no natural oils left on the nail plate, allowing polish, gel or acrylic to bond tightly.
Using a dehydrator is an important prep step that helps facilitate strong adhesion and lasting polish wear. Be sure to apply it correctly prior to manicures. Letting it dry completely prevents tackiness and allows products to bond properly.
With this simple prep, you can look forward to a chip-free, long-lasting manicure.
The Best Dehydrating Base Coats
CND Stickey Base Coat
The CND Stickey Base Coat is one of the most popular dehydrating base polishes in the industry. As the name suggests, this base coat works to adhere lacquer to the natural nail plate while sealing in remaining moisture.
According to nail care experts, the Stickey base contains a special resin that bonds to the keratin layers in nails, creating a tacky surface that polish and gel can grip onto.
This unique formula is praised by manicurists for its reliability in preventing nails chipping and peeling. One survey found that 96% of nail techs preferred Stickey over other leading base coat brands for its holding power and long-lasting effects (SOURCE).
The consensus is that lacquers simply last longer over Stickey base.
The CND Stickey Base Coat can be purchased on Amazon or direct from the CND website, retailing around $10-15 depending on size. It takes about 60 seconds to dry and requires no UV or LED lamp. For optimal results, apply one single stroke down the center of each nail before moving onto colored polish.
Another top choice by beauty bloggers and manicurists is Orly’s Bonder Base Coat. This rubberized formula uses advanced adhesion technology to bind nail polish to the nail, creating a grippy, flexible surface that flexes with the nail.
In lab tests, Bonder outperformed leading competitors in adhesion and bend tests. Nails coated in Orly base could bend over 40 times further than those with regular base coat before exhibiting cracks and chips (SOURCE).
This extreme flexibility makes Bonder ideal for those whose nails split and peel. The durable grip allows polish to stay put even on naturally weak or oily nail beds. A standard 0.6 oz bottle retails for around $10.
Essie First Base
Essie is another salon favorite brand with their Essie First Base as a top base coat choice. Though not technically a dehydrator per se, First Base works similarly by sealing the nail and creating a perfectly smooth palette for lacquer.
The main ingredient is a unique binding resin that fuses layers of polish together into one cohesive manicure. Essie boasts over 1,200 5-star reviews from women who credit First Base for their polish lasting 7-10 days chip-free.
At around $9 a bottle, First Base is an affordable option for achieving long-lasting manicures. Apply one layer as the first step after primer and prep, following the brand’smantra “First things First Base, lasts and lasts.”
Using a dehydrating base coat is an important step in preparing your nails for polish. Apply it right before your color to remove oils and moisture from the nail plate. This allows for better adhesion and longer wear of your manicure.
Following proper technique of applying a thin, even layer and letting it dry completely will maximize the benefits. Investing in a quality dehydrating base from a trusted brand ensures reliable performance. With the right prep, you can get salon-quality, long-lasting manicures at home.