Friday, January 31, 2014

Battle of the fairly-quick-dry topcoats: NYC Grand Central Station ($2) vs. Orly Polishield ($10)

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
I love quick dry topcoat. So much. I'm pretty sure that discovering Seche Vite is the main thing that enabled me to become a nail polish hoarder.

Okay, maybe I need to rethink my love for it.

But until two or three years ago, I had no idea there was a way to paint your nails without having to sit around completely still for 45 minutes afterwards and then still wake up the next morning with the impression of your pillowcase on at least three fingers. Patience is not one of my great virtues, nor is memory. As in remembering that I just fucking painted my nails and so now is not a good time to anything at all.

The most convenient quick dry top coats that I've tried can be applied within minutes (or even seconds) of the last coat of color, and it will dry to the touch in less than 5 minutes. In less than 10, you can zip your jeans on or off, wash dishes, open beer cans, etc., without any damage. Living the dream. I've tried a shitload of different brands, and my favorite one was Butter London's - but since it is exorbitantly, horrifyingly expensive, Sally Hansen's is a very close second. Poshe is also good. Seche Vite works fast and is very shiny, but causes too much shrinkage, in my opinion. Nubar's Diamont is shitty.

The downside, for me, is that when I use a quick dry topcoat, my nail polish always chips and/or peels off pretty quickly. I know that some people can get their polish to wear for up to a week (or more?) without any major problems, but there's just something chippy about my nails. I've tried different basecoats, different preparation routines, wrapping the tips, and so on. They just chip. Always within 48 hours, and usually within 24 hours. It's not a huge deal to me, because I like to change my nail polish fairly frequently. I also derive immense pleasure from compulsively peeling off my nail polish as soon as I detect a chip. It hasn't put me off the quick dry topcoats.

With no topcoat, or with a slower drying one, I don't get as much chipping. That brings me to my point here (fucking finally!): I decided to try out a couple of topcoats that are not in the instant dry category, but that reviews suggest will dry faster than nail polish without a topcoat. I picked up NYC In a New York Minute in Grand Central Station. It's actually not technically a topcoat, just a clear polish, but after reading Nouveau Cheap's praise for it, it seemed worth trying for $2. The other is Orly's Polishield, which has generally good reviews and was (and still is) on sale for $5 from ULTA.

(Note: Don't confuse NYC Grand Central Station with NYC's actual topcoat, which is kind of shit.)

When I tried them both out a couple of times, I got the impression that they were very similar. I decided to test them simultaneously to see if my impression was accurate, so I used them at the same time, one on each hand.

To spoil the results: I still think they are pretty similar. Possibly functionally identical. They each have the same first 8 ingredients, so they are pretty close in composition. The rest of the ingredients are different, and they smell different, but I think they work the same. They both dry to the touch in 5-7 minutes and harden completely in 20-30 minutes. That's slower than Seche Vite and its kin, but fast enough that you can move on with your life within a reasonable timeframe. They both add extra shine to your polish, though they are not the glossiest topcoats in the world. On me, they both extend the wear time before my polish chips, but show more tip wear than quicker drying topcoats. More on that below.

Here are the results of my first round of testing. I used Orly Bonder basecoat, because that's what I normally use these days. This is ULTA Jaded (which is an absolutely gorgeous green-purple duochrome) with NYC on the left and and Orly on the right hand after 72 hours of wear:
ULTA Jaded nail polish with NYC In a New York Minute Grand Central Station as topcoat.
ULTA Jaded nail polish with NYC In a New York Minute Grand Central Station as topcoat.
ULTA Jaded nail polish with Orly Polishield as topcoat.
ULTA Jaded nail polish with Orly Polishield as topcoat.
As you can see, the finish is slightly dull, though still decently shiny, and there are some scratches on the surface (see my index finger in the first photo, for example). Both hands show significant tip wear, but it's not unsightly. There is one chip on my left hand and three chips on my right. This is actually much less chipping than I would normally have after three days with a very quick dry topcoat. This is ordinarily what I would expect after less than 24 hours. The initial test suggests that NYC outperforms Orly, but it's important to consider that I am right-handed. Heavily right-handed. I do very little with my left hand.

So I figured a second round of testing was in order. The most scientific method, I suppose, would have been to test them with the same polish again, but I am not committed to science enough to paint my nails the same color twice in a row. Booooring. Of course, to have totally comparable results, I would have to do exactly the same things with my hands during both sets of tests, and that would be pretty impossible. That's why this is a ranty cheap makeup blog, not a science blog. I compromised and chose another ULTA polish with a similar metallic finish: Scene Steel-er, once again over Orly Bonder. Here we have Orly on the left hand and NYC on the right after 72 hours:
ULTA Scene Steel-er nail polish with Orly Polishield as topcoat
ULTA Scene Steel-er nail polish with Orly Polishield as topcoat.
ULTA Scene Steel-er nail polish with NYC In a New York Minute Grand Central Station as topcoat.
ULTA Scene Steel-er nail polish with NYC In a New York Minute Grand Central Station as topcoat.
In this case, the chipping on both hands was slightly worse (especially on my thumbs), which can probably be attributed to the different nail polish, and to the fact that my nails were just a bit longer at this point. In general, the results are similar. Slightly dull, some scratches. Less tip wear this time, but some. Two nails chipped on the left hand and three on the right. My middle fingernail on my right hand actually tore off at the corner, so I'm not sure if the chipping next to that really counts. Let's call it 2.5 chips.

Overall, the NYC polish seems to come out slightly ahead in terms of number of nails chipped in each instance, but the sample is small, so I don't think the difference is significant. As I said above, in my opinion these tests bore out my impression that these two topcoats perform identically.

That suggests that NYC is the obvious choice at $2 instead of Orly at $10. But it's not that simple. I have argued in the past that with colored nail polish it sometimes makes more sense to buy a bottle that is cheaper total in total price, rather than a bottle that is cheaper per unit, especially if you think you might never finish it. With topcoat, since presumably it's something you'll use almost every time you do your nails, the unit price is more important. The NYC bottle is $2 for 9.7 ml (0.33 oz.) or 21 cents per ml. The Orly bottle is regularly $10 for 18 ml (0.6 oz) or 56 cents per ml. Obviously NYC is still the winner. But if you're buying online, you can get the Orly one for $5 from ULTA at the moment, or $6 from Amazon, including shipping (33 cents per ml) so long as you're cool with getting the older design on the bottle. The cheapest I can find the NYC online is $4.71 (49 cent per ml). At those prices, the Orly is a better value. There's also the advantage of having a bigger bottle: less packaging waste and more time before you have to replace it.

To me, all of this means that there's no huge, obvious advantage of either of these products over the other, either in terms of performance or value. If you happen to see the NYC in a local store for $2 (I got mine at Meijer), then you should grab it. If you can't find it in stores, it's better to buy the Orly online at a discount.

As for whether you should choose one of these type of topcoats or one of the faster drying topcoats listed above, it's also your call. I'll still use a really quick dry version if I am in a hurry or doing my nails right before bed and I don't mind having to remove my nail polish a couple of days later. If your polish is not prone to chipping with Seche Vite-style topcoats, then I don't see any real advantage to the two I've reviewed here in terms of performance. For me, they last longer without chipping, but they dull more easily and have worse tip wear. I'm guessing that's because they are less hard/brittle than topcoats that dry faster. As a result, they don't crack and chip easily, but they are softer and wear down more readily.


  1. I use a Sally Hansen and it works fine. Seche Vite just got so damn goopy after a while that I hated it as much as I loved it.

    Have you tried using drying drops instead of fast dry top coats? It's a bother using regular top coats and then using drops, but maybe it will extend the wear better? I don't have chippy issues so can't really offer useful tips.

    1. I'm thinking that might be my next experiment. My mother has some ancient Avon stuff that I've had some success trying when visiting her. I've also used the spray Pam technique in a pinch, which I'm guessing might work on the same principle, and it's pretty effective. I haven't used either of them frequently enough to notice if they improve chipping, though. I need to use up at least one bottle of mediocre topcoat before I buy anything new. Maybe I'll add some drops to my Amazon shopping list in the meantime, so I don't forget.

  2. Also worth noting that NYC sometimes goes on 50% off sale at Rite Aid. That's when I usually stock up on GCS.

    Thanks for the comparison!

    1. Oh good call! I don't have a Rite Aid nearby, so I never know what's going on there. Thanks!

  3. Great comparison! I have chippy nails too so I just change my polish a lot. I absolutely swear by Silk Naturals All Set drying drops. Five measly minutes and my nails are dry. Although I have read that mineral oil works too, I might try that when I finish drying drops.

  4. I got here while searching for info on top coats - and I've found a lot more. THANK YOU for the tons of info and your down-to-earth spirit you share in your posts!
    Regarding the quest for the perfect top coat, I'm on my way to get a vial of Orly! Unfortunately, none of the other brands are available in my neck of the woods, but it's the second best anyway :) Regarding the chippy nails, imho the base coat has more to do with that, than the top coat. Our nails act like sponges whenever they are soaked in water for more than a split sec. And then, moving and using our fingers, the nails change their shape as the flesh of the fingertips do with the movements. The first coat simply can't hold on to the nail, it's like riding Spongebob Squarepants when he runs amok. The base coat holds the secret, it should act like a proper adhesive - but most of them simply are not sturdy enough for the task...I still haven't found the perfect base coat...

    Also, I'm happy that I've found my identical hand (nail shape) twin - feels weird and wonderful at the same time. I've never known anyone whose nails - each one of them - look exactly like mines do.

    1. Aw thanks! I honestly can't tell if my polish chips less with base coat than without. It does chip either way. I guess I should do a test someday. I mostly use Orly Bonder to prevent staining with blues/greens/purples.

      And identical hand twins? We should go on tour!!

  5. Addition: I remember someone saying that a vertical swipe with the first coat of polish (or base coat) to the tip of the nail (at that part where the nail leaves the fingertip) can prevent chipping. I've never tried this (maybe I should :) )...have you?


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