Essie's Gel Setter Topcoat Keeps My Polish in Place Through Endless Hand-Washing

This heavy-duty nail polish clear coat doles out high shine and shielding from chips — and it comes off with regular remover.

All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Essie Gel Setter on green background
Courtesy of brand
Readers' Choice Breakthrough
  • Readers' Choice Breakthrough
  • 2016
Best of Beauty
  • Best of Beauty
  • 2020, 2019, 2017
TL;DR:
  • What It Is: A clear topcoat that sets polish with a gel-like finish
  • What It Does: Add a high shine to nails and polish and helps nail color to last longer without chipping
  • Who It's For: Nail-polish wearers who want the look of a gel polish without having to set it under a light

Of the many things that I take quite seriously in my beauty routine, nail polish topcoat is one of them. Manicured nails and groomed brows are two things that make me feel normal. So needless to say, I was struggling when salons were closed. But I used the time to perfect my at-home manicure skills, and after months, I think found exactly what gets me as close to pro-gel look without the annoyance of getting it on and off: this year's Allure Best of Beauty winner, the Essie Gel Setter Top Coat.

These days, even though time seems like one looping mass of uncertainty, it's something that I don't like to waste, which is why chipped nails a day or two into a fresh manicure drives me bonkers. Admittedly, I'm a little rough with my hands: I don't have a dishwasher, so hand-scrubbing dirty dishes it is; I wash my hair a few times a week during the summer; and I'm also the queen of DIY projects. Put all of these together, and I'm more prone to chips. Hence why I generally opt for gel manicures — and even then, I constantly hawk for chips.

To be honest, I'm not the greatest self-polisher, but I can pull off a decent paint job when I'm not rushing. I had a topcoat that I used and loved for years, but even though it dried fast and gave me good shine, it didn't hold up the way that I wanted it to. The first time I tried Essie Gel Setter Top Coat, however, I knew it would be a winner. 

It's a little thicker than other top coats I've used, but definitely more aligned with what a gel topcoat is like. The thicker consistency also makes it easier to apply. (I find that more liquidy formulas are messy and drip down my cuticles.) It glides on smoothly, and I can usually get away with two dips to complete one hand. 

Advertisement

I get a really glossy shine from this topcoat, which is exactly what I want from a gel-like polish. It also meshes well with whatever polish I swipe it over. Some topcoats can thin out the color or even make it bubble if the formula is wonky, but Gel Setter doesn't do that. It really acts like a protective shield on top of my polish. 

Courtesy of writer

How fast it dries is also worth noting. After painting (this time I used OPI's Infinite Shine in Big Apple Red), I usually give myself a solid 30 minutes before I feel comfortable doing anything, but this formula dries a lot faster than that. I'd say it sets in about 10 minutes. After that, I'll usually go over it with some drying drops, but it's not necessary. It also dries just as smoothly as it's applied. Others may dry streaky or with little bubbles in the finish, but this topcoat smooth and glossy. 

Considering how much wear and tear I put on my hands, I usually get a solid week to week-and-a-half wear with Gel Setter. Pretty impressive considering two weeks is typically my classic gel refresh timeframe. Best of all, I can just remove it with regular nail polish. It's a great option when I want to give my nails a breather from traditional gels. 

Check out the full list of Allure's 2020 Best of Beauty winners.