Sunday, 5 January 2014

Top Coat Comparison: Rica, KBShimmer, Seche, Cult Nails and INM


Finding the perfect top coat is the perpetual struggle that all polishaholics face! There are dozens out there and everyone seems to have their own favourite. We're all mostly looking for the same things in a good top coat - easy application, a glossy finish and lasting power - but it's hard to find one that offers all three.

When Katie at Harlow & Co saw one of my recent top coat rants, she got in touch to see if I'd be interested in comparing some indie top coats with a few popular mainstream selections. A few are ones that I've tried before and others are completely new to me so I was very excited to size them up against each other and hopefully find the perfect top coat along the way.


It was very hard to compare these because they're all good top coats in one way or another. They all have at least one of the three traits we're looking for (that's easy application, glossy finish and lasting power in case you forgot!) but only a few have all three.

I've ranked them in order from worst to best so if you're only interested in reading about the good ones, scroll down a little bit!


INM Out The Door
Given the amazing things I've heard people say about this in the past, I was expecting great things but I was sorely disappointed with this top coat. It was not very fast-drying and I found that it leaves very noticeable streaks on my manis. Even a second coat can't smooth things over. It also chips fairly easily at the tips. The only thing that redeems INM Out The Door is the fact that it doesn't shrink my mani!

Gloss 3/5
Lasting Power 3/5
Overall 2/5
Although drying time is good on this one, the streaky finish makes it an absolute no-no for me.

Where to buy: Amazon (US), Amazon (UK)


Seche Vite
What can I say about Seche Vite that you haven't all heard before?! It dries insanely quickly and gives amazing shine but it has its downfalls too. I know from past experience that this top coat gets thick and gloopy before you've even used half the bottle and once it gets to that point, it starts to shrink on your nails. By this, I mean that it literally shrinks as it dries and takes the nail polish underneath with it. It pulls away from the tips and cuticles so you have a layer of paint that's just slightly too small for your nail!

I've heard it said that if you 'wrap your tips' (paint all the way over the very edge of your nail tip) it doesn't shrink quite so badly but I've never mastered this technique. Having short nails, I always just end up with a lot of top coat stuck to my fingertips so I ain't got time fo' dat!

Gloss 5/5
Lasting Power 4/5
Overall 3/5
If I'm paying upwards of £5 for a bottle of top coat, I want to be able to use more than half of it. However, the quick drying time and rock hard finish is this top coat's saving grace.

Where to buy: Amazon (US), Boots (UK)


Cult Nails Wicked Fast
This top coat really lives up to it's name. It truly does dry wickedly fast! It's also very shiny but again, from experience, I know that this gets gloopy when you're close to the bottom of the bottle. However it's nowhere near as bas as with this Seche.

Gloss 5/5
Lasting Power 4/5
Overall 5/5
This is a fast drying, glossy top coat but does get very thick towards the bottom of the bottle. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend this top coat because while it lasts it's amazing!

Where to buy: Harlow & Co


Rica Glossy Glam
This top coat is really great for covering those thirsty glitters. Two coats and the finish is completely smooth. It's fast drying and is indeed Glossy but I don't like the brush as much as I could. It's a perfectly functional brush and a great all round top coat but I think a wider brush would be a great addition to the already amazing Glossy Glam.

Gloss 5/5
Lasting Power 4/5
Overall 5/5
I don't have a bad word to say about Rica Glossy Glam. It offers brilliant shine and speedy drying time.

Where to buy: Harlow & Co


KBShimmer Clearly On Top
This one is a great all rounder but I wish it dried a little quicker. I LOVE the brush in this one which is wide and flat. Combined with the perfect consistency, it makes applying this top coat an absolute dream and it never smudges my nail art.

Gloss 5/5
Lasting Power 4/5
Overall 5/5
With two coats, the shine of this polish was unrivalled. Although it's not quite as quick to dry as Glossy Glam, the wide brush and lower price tag push it to the top of the list.

Where to buy: KBShimmer, Harlow & Co

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It seems Indies are really winning this race. Perhaps the fact that the creators of these indie polishes are so closely involved with the online nail community gives them an edge because they're so tapped in to their audience and they know exactly what we want out of a top coat.

It was so tough to choose between Rica and KBShimmer for the top spot but that wide brush really gave KBShimmer the edge and I'm happy with my choice although  I do wish it wasn't so difficult to get hold of these indie top coats here in the UK. Most online stores offer international shipping these days but it can be pricey so you have to buy a lot of bottles at once to make it worth the shipping costs.

Most of the polishes on this list are available from Harlow & Co where international shipping is available.

80 comments :

  1. I need to get my hands on Rica Glossy Glam! I have benn looking for a top coat that gives a smooth finsih to my glitter polish for ages!

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    1. So a smooth finishing is good for glitter?

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  2. Now if they can get you to do the same thing for base coats....! x

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    1. No need - OPI Nail Envy would win hands down. Every time! I'm crazy loyal to that stuff!

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    2. YES!!! Nail Envy is the best! Nothing else has been touching my nails as a base coat for over a year now.

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    3. Yes I show need that tip also
      MORE like what they good for

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    4. I too LOVE nail envy and have been loyal but got my hands on a brand new Morgan Taylor base coat recently and I kind of love it.

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    5. Whelp, that answers my question! After some recent terribly staining, I've been searching for an amazing base coat. I've also heard good things abou Cnd Nail Stickey Base Coat. Anyone tried this one?

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  3. I do love INM but haven't tried the others on this list. If you apply it lightly & try not to paint over the same spot twice you can avoid streaking/smudging your art. I use it over stamping & rarely have a problem once I learned this. I just thought all top coats were like that!!

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    1. I bought some KBShimmer from your recommendation & tested it against INM over stamped nail art. On my first test I noticed no difference, neither one streaked, but realized I was probably using the 'floating' top coat technique I normally do over nail art.

      So for the 2nd test I grabbed a stamping polish I know I've seen streak before and tested those two top coats again, along with CND Air Dry. I applied it the way I would a normal nail polish & made sure to brush over the nail again and again to try to make it streak. I did get light streaking with INM, none with KBShimmer, and terrible streaking with CND.

      On the negative side, I thought the smell of KBShimmer was terrible, like resin or turpentine. While I don't normally get streaks using the floating technique, the occasional one is super frustrating, so I probably will stick with KBS over nail art (and use the others over normal polish). Thanks for the recommendations!

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  4. Adding the Seche Restore fixes the gloopy problem for Seche Vite, but I can understand that you need to factor in paying for another product.

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    1. I have tried using polish thinner in Seche Vite in the past (although admittedly it wasn't Seche Restore) and found that I needed to use a LOT of thinner to get it back to a usable consistency and it went very cloudy. This didn't affect the way it looked on my nails but was quite off-putting! Seche Restore may work better.
      Yeah you're right, it's kind of an annoyance that you're expected to shell out more $ because the product can't do its job for an extended period of time!

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    2. The reason they suggest Seche Restore is because it's specifically formulated for Seche Vite. SV's use of toluene is why the polish dries so fast, but that chemical evaporates extremely quickly. SR is made up with the perfect amount of toluene to replenish SV to its original consistency, while keeping the integrity of the original formula. While this doesn't completely "solve" the problem, it explains why the top coat is so finicky.
      Also, for those that don't want to purchase another product, you can purchase the professional size to refill the retail bottle. When your top coat starts getting gunky, add in more from the professional size, and roll it around a bit. The old polish will mix with the new polish and also return to its original consistency.

      Now, this is a lot to do when there are other top coats available. But, it's a good solution for those who have access to the professional sizes (like on Amazon) or just personally prefer to make SV work.

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    3. I LOVE Seche Restore. I have used it for my SV bottles when I did use SV predominantly, and I still use SR to restore ALL of my polishes. Works wonderfully!!! Thanks for the explanation on how it works!

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  5. I am learning about top coatd.SO I THANK U FOR THIS.I am waiting on some from Julep.Have u tried it?

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    1. No, I've never tried Julep myself.

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  6. I use Sally Hansen Insta dri, only issue is the gloopyness when I get half way through the bottle.

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    1. YES! I LOVE that top coat. I found it at a bargain price but there was a limited amount of bottles available so I bought them all! I haven't found it anywhere since!

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    2. Glad to see someone else likes the Insta dri! I like the clear for top coat but I also like the polishes in general.

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  7. I use one from SH also I dont think its a Insta dri.But it clumps also.I have been using L.A.C megalast nailcare as a topcoat sometimes.Its thick it shines its a slow dry and it depends on the paint if it shrinks my mani.

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  8. Should I say that I have 10(!) bottles of that Color Club top coat that you mentioned earlier? ; ) I've also used INM OTD, Seche and Sally Hansen Diamond Flash, but CC is my favourite. ♥

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    1. Stockpiling at its best! I really like that top coat too despite what I said in that earlier post. A few posts later, I had to eat my words because I came to love it.

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  9. Great post Sammy, I'm always after a good top coat. At the moment I am using Poshe and it's really good for a £5 but tends to shrink a bit. Haven't looked into indie top coats as of yet but will def try out some of them next time I order from Harlow.

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  10. Well I just signed up for their monthly box and I had to order4things extra and I order their topcoat and cutical oil and two polishes

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    1. You don't have to get the 4 add on items, it is just a chance to get them a little cheaper. Just don't want you dishing out extra money every month unless it is something you actually want :)

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  11. Great Comparison! I'm still looking for my perfect topcoat. I will use different ones for different things but have yet to find one that fits the total bill. A great tip I recently saw ( can't remember where to give credit unfortunately :\ ) is to use one that streaks when doing gradients to blend the colors better! I think next on my list to try is HK Girl, I've heard tons of great things about it :)

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    1. So streaky topcoats r better for gradient?

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    2. I like to use one that I know will streak because I think it helps to blend the colors well without me having to fuss overly much with the make up sponge (especially since the OCD tendencies I have make me ruin a Mani completely sometimes when I try to blend the colors just so! Lol)

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  12. I use Glisten&Glow's HK Girl top coat myself, love it!

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    1. me too!! I think it might just be the best of the MANY top coats I've tried ;)

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  13. Fab post, I've been using G&G HK Girl, having used Sally Hansen Megashine for years. I have to say that you are spot on about Out the Door, its just awful. I also foolishly tried Essence Gel Shine (clear bottle) it never dried but the Better Than Gel Nails ones are good.

    I'd love to try the KBShimmer, so I may have to see if I can get a group order going for Harlow.

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  14. Oh man, I wish HK Girl had been included in your top coat haul. I was using Glossy Glam but found it a little thin with glitters and not quite as fast to dry as I would have liked. So far I'm loving HK Girl and think it might be my new HG. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts if you ever get your hands on some. Otherwise - great review - I agree with your thoughts on all of the ones I've tried (which admittedly isn't all of them).

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    1. I was hoping HK Girl was in the list too. KBShimmer is my HG top coat at the moment (I even have 2 back up bottles!) but hearing other bloggers wax poetic about how awesome HK Girl is has piqued my curiosity!

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  15. Great post! I love Seche for its super fast dry time and durability, but the shrinkage is indeed awful. I tried KBShimmer too but hated how it smeared the polish underneath unless I use a big dollop so the brush don't touch the nails at all. I wonder if it's just me, though.

    I'm aiming to try Wicked Fast next, hopefully it will live up to the hype!

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  16. This was a very helpful post! I bought Seche Vite a few month ago because people seem to love it but the shrinking makes me go insane at times! >///< Especially when I spent time doing a detailed nail art and then it just ruined it >:( Ciatè's speedy one seems to be a little bit better but it's quite thick. I've heard Sally Hansen's quite good as well, can you say something about it too?

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  17. Interesting post! Now I really want to try out those indie top coats but they're just a little pricey/hard to get here in Finland too. Btw, how is the smell of those winning polishes? Nothing terrible, I assume?

    I myself use Cesars Secrets Fast Drying Top Coat. Have you ever heard of it? It dries really fast (a little faster than Sally Hansen's Insta Dri) and has a super beautiful gloss to it. However the polish tends to thicken fast just like Seche and it easily smudges stamps. And the polish bottle isn't transparent, which is quite impractical. But overall it's a nice top coat. :)

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  18. Great post; I love seeing such comparisons.
    Of these I only tried SV (cool stuff, smells horrible); my fave so far is essie's Good to go, but would love to try something new.
    To avoid shrinking - I can't remember where I read this, def didn't learn that myself - I have to go really near the cuticles (or even over; cleanup is no problem, TC being clear :)) and a bit over the painted part, to keep it all in place.

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  19. I've been looking to replace my top coat soon. I've been such a stickler for Sally Hansen Insta-dry for so long but I want something that looks a lot more glossy and it doesn't quite get it for me! This post has been so helpful! Thank you!

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  20. Great post on these top coats! Very helpful to see ;)

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  21. Sammy, have you tried HK Girl Top Coat by Glisten & Glow? I recently switched from the notorious Seche Vite to HK Girl and I love it. It dries incredibly fast, doesn't shrink, is 3 free and doesn't dull holo polish like Seche can. If you can get your hands on it in the UK I highly recommend it!

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  22. I use mostly Out the Door and have no problems at all with it.

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  23. I really want to try Out the Door. I use Seche and love it but find it peels pretty quickly. Anyone else have these issues?(I do pick at and bite my nails)

    http://youarebeaut.blogspot.com/

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    1. I don't pick on my nails, but it tends to peel on me too! I now use INM OTD and I really love it! It dries fast, is very shiny and the durability of my polish is quite longer then with any other topcoat! I really adore it!

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    2. When you say "peel", do you mean most of the polish lifts right off your nail? If so, this happens when you use a polish containing camphor with another polish not containing camphor. For example, zoya and sinful are 5 free polishes (no camphor). If you use a topcoat, such as seche vite, containing camphor, the whole thing will lift right off your nail in a few hours!

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  24. Great post! I think I have to try the KBShimmer top coat myself.

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  25. Have you tried Digital Nails Ain't Nobody Got Time for That? I would love to see a comparison of that, the Rica and KBShimmer. I use nail polish thinner to reactivate my Seche Vite when it gets thick and gloppy, but it doesn't cover hungry glitters unless you use 2 coats, and then you def get shrinkage!

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  26. Great post Sammy, I was just looking at which top coats to buy this was very useful xx

    - prettynplain

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  28. Great post!! Yeah, I've had the greatest success with indie-company top-coats. Cult Nails Wicked Fast and KB Shimmer Clearly on Top have been my top two faves for about a year (esp. Clearly on Top). But I've just recently started using Glisten & Glow HK Girl, and holy moly it's the best! I can't say enough good things about this top coat - it's my new holy grail for sure!! The best part for me is that it doesn't smear nail art ;) I'd love to hear your thoughts on HK Girl if you are able to review it.

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  29. It seems that topcoats really are something that everyone should try and find their 'best of the best' themselves. You've done a tremendous task comparing an writing thoughtful reviews on this, however ranking differs so much from yours!

    I'm crazy loyal to INM as it proves to be one of the speediest top coats to me (this is a crucial factor to me, as I've got a hyperactive dog, and if that wasn't enough, it seems that each time I paint my nails, there appears some urgent task to be done, so I need my hands in working state asap), I love the gloss plus the fact that you can get it in professional volume from sites like transdesign or off evilbay for a fraction of price I would have to pay for it offline.

    I heard so many awesome things about Wicked Fast, however, I expected it to be, well, faster than it proved to work on me (think SH Insta-Dri speed, fast but not enough to beat SV), plus it shrank polish almost as badly as SV does.

    SV is awesome in everything except for the shrinking factor, which leads me to using it only on fully dry nails, where it sorts of loses its main advantage - the dry speed.

    I still haven't tried Rica's top coat or KBShimmer's but I would love to if I had the opportunity. However, they say HK Girl dries polish faster, so I'm more willing to spend my money on it, to be honest..

    I do have my Holy Grail top coat atm, but I'm always on the lookout for the perfect one...if that's possible :D

    Sorry for the long comment! You really inspired me to write both it and a blogpost on my thoughts on topcoats, though, so thank you! :)

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  30. I was having the "gloopy" problem with SV, too. Then, I purchased the Seche Vite Professional kit from Amazon which is an AMAZING deal, first off. Secondly, I refill my SV bottle when it gets to the half-way point and roll the bottle between my hands to combine the older product with the new. I haven't had an issue with "gloopiness" since. I've also saved SO MUCH MONEY! I bought the professional kit maybe 6-8 months ago and I haven't even gone through half of the refill bottle and I do my nails nearly every day.

    Regarding the shrinking; I always wrap my tips so I don't have issues there. Along the edges of my nails, I've only ever had shrinking with cheaper brands of polish. If I make sure to completely cover the polish along the edges, I don't have any problems.

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  31. Brilliant - I love these kind of posts <3

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  32. What a Fantastic post! thank you so much for writing it! :) I use SV a lot and yeah the shrinkage can be nightmare but i have found that it only happens with a few of the polishes in my collection! but that's the only problem I have with it. I;m dying to try HK girl topcoat! :D But i'll have to add KBShimmer and Rica top coats to the list too! :D

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  33. I think I'm going to have to look into Cult Nails one myself. I noticed just this week how SV shrinks my polish and it's ridiculous! I LOVE this post. Thank you!

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  34. I love poshe! It plays nice with all my polishes. Looking forward to trying kb shimmer or Rica when I run out of my current topcoats. Great post

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  35. Awesome post! You touched on all the right areas with your insights, very interesting and helpful. Thank you!

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  36. Interesting post. Very interesting. You're really boosting those indie shops, well done!

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  37. Great job. This is something I wanted to do for my blog too but never got around to it yet. I want to add hkgirl top coat too and compare them to your last two indies. I would have liked to see how you tested staying power in this post too. Great job and I love Katie and Harlow &co

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  38. I'm still faithful to the Kiss topcoat 3 pack. I've had it forever and it's really good. Not very fast drying, but seals in my nail art really nicely, doesn't shrink, and lasts a while.

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  39. I'm on my third bottle of Julep. It's a good one! Occasional shrinkage but dries crazy fast and super durable. Also Revlon, surprisingly! They make a great fast drying one that is great.

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    1. Cool.I cant wait for it to get here bcuz all mine shrink but they dont dry fast.lol

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  40. It's funny how topcoats are so different on each person. For example, I have most of the ones on your list, and I'd list Out the Door as my #1. It dries instantly, streak-free, and shiny on me. I do love KB Shimmer just as much though!

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  41. I bought the large refill bottle of SV and the thickening isn't really an issue now. I just bought my second refill bottle, the first lasted me over a year so in terms of value you can not beat that. When the working bottle gets about 1/2 empty I top it off and it's just like new again.

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  42. Another shameless HK Girl fan - but I've noticed you using the KBShimmer lately and it's awfully tempting. Thanks for the great post!

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  43. I stopped using Seche because it wasn't 3 free and moved on to OTD which I don't mind...I don't know what you mean by streaks? Are the other ones at the top of your list 3 free? Thanks for the comparison :)

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  44. Thanks for your review. I would have to do a shout out for Glisten & Glow's Hong Kong Girl TC. Hers is a reformulated HKG, which does not yellow, does not shrink (in my experience), does not get gloopy for the duration of the bottle, dries insanely fast (and the polish beneath it) and is shiny shiny! You must try Jill's HKG. It's my top pick - even over Seche, Poshe, OTD (and the others). Notably her's is great on holographics (does not seem to dull it) and is a breeze to remove.

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    1. Has anyone tried L.A.Colors Diamond Topcoat

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  45. Hey girlie, This was def an extremely helpful post. I haven't used any of those Indie brands at all. I have always used SV since I started getting into nail polish two years ago, but this year I decided I couldn't stand using so much Seche Restore to revive my gooey SV bottle. I was losing major product, bottle after bottle, and felt I was wasting my SR that I love using on a lot of my really glitterpacked Indie glitterbombs that I adore so much. I started using Poshe Fast Drying Top Coat after consistently seeing Sheila, from Pointless Cafe, pose with it in her posts. I really LOVE it!!! Recently, I've tried INM Out the Door that I bought at CVS, and was SO upset that I spent $6 on it. Not even worth $3 to me. I'm very glad that you did this comparison with the Indie brands, as I have been on the fence about spending more money on top coats that may or may not be worth my time. Now I know the truth! I'm gonna try all three of these Indies. Thanks so much for your time!!!

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  46. I'm surprised Glisten & Glow's HK Girl topcoat isn't' on here. Like a lot of people I've tried every topcoat on this list plus a hundred others and HK Girl is by far the best.
    But like someone mentioned topcoats are different for everyone. I bought RICA's Glossy Glam after all the hype and it was the absolute WORST topcoat I've ever used, it was still wet after 45 minutes and I ended up ruining my mani. Weirdly, I've had quite a few people tell me they had problems with it but didn't want to say anything publicly.
    I'm also in love with KBShimmer's topcoat as well, but HK Girl just edges out over it by a bit.

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  47. Have you ever tried Nubar - diamont? I heard good things but I haven't tried it!

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  48. HK Girl should have made it here! But maybe you didn't have time to. I swear that is the BEST top coat out there. I really haven't heard anything bad about that. It's fast drying, smooths glitters, and what really has me sold is you can top coat literally seconds after stamping or taping manicure and it DOESN'T SMEAR. I dunno what it is but it's magical and I do a lot of tape and stamping so that had me SOLD.

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    1. Your stamping comment just sealed the deal for me, I'm ordering HK Girl today! I LOVE KBShimmer Clearly On Top and it does great with most stamping but it did smear Konad Black polish, which really surprised me. HK Girl to the rescue!

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  49. I've never tried an indie topcoat brand. I have used INM and Seche though, and between the two I actually prefer INM. Currently I think I use CG. I've wanted to try Cult Nails Wicked Fast for awhile now. Don't nearly paint my nails enough anymore to justify it, and the price is so steep! Thanks for the comparison! It's good to hear this info from someone who definitely knows their stuff! ;)

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  50. Thank you ladies for all of the Glisten & Glow HK Girl top coat! :) WOW I'm smiling at all of the love! I believe the reason it was not included is because this was a requested review from Harlow & Co. (info at the top of the page) Since we do not stock at Harlow & Co. we stock at Nail Polish Canada in that part of the world, it wouldn't be in the comparisons. The wonderful Sammy does use Glisten & Glow HK Girl on oh soooo many of her posts!! Thanks again for all of the love girls!!

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  51. I get major shrinkage with Glossy Glam. Is it just me?

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    1. Sorry, I'm very late to answer, but I also have major shrinkage with Glossy Glam! I don't know if it's because it's getting old and a little bit goopy, but this top coat is getting me crazy!!

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  52. Seche Vite was the first quick-dry top coat I ever used. I can never go back to top coat that doesn't dry my polish quickly. I still love it, but I think there is a learning curve to making it not shrink on you. Nothing is quite as good for me at smoothing out chunky glitters and shining like glass. I use Seche Restore to fight the gloopy factor, but it sounds like the refill from the pro bottle is an even better idea. I hated INM Out the Door; it didn't dry fast for me at all, and when it did dry it only dried the top layer, not the polish underneath. I think Poshe is the best alternative to Seche Vite. It is still thick to even out glitter texture, super glossy, but less likely to shrink and it is 3-free. Glisten & Glow HK Girl is my latest try, and it is fabulous! I love Poshe and HK Girl pretty equally, except I think Poshe is better for making glitter lay flat and HK Girl is better for not dulling holos. Orly Sec 'n' Dry was just meh for me, not great not bad. Butter London's PD Quick is also fabulous, but waaaay too expensive. I only tried it because it was a gift with purchase. The NYC one that is meant to be a clear polish and not a top coat, but is quick-drying, was a little better for me than the Sec 'n' Dry but not as good as the others.

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  53. I prefer INM despite its drawbacks. it dries fast and it has no smell. Poshe is a good option for glitters, but unfortunately it's much slower and it doesn't penetrative all layers of polish.

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  54. Thank you for your thoughts on each of these products. I've only tried 2 of the 5 (Seche & INM), but have wondered about the rest and how comparable they were to the others. I've heard a lot about the KB Shimmer and it being good over glitters. A lot of my US friends swear by it, but I haven't tried it as of yet. I don't seem to have many problems with the INM myself, but we all have our own preferences when it comes to top coats, don't we? :0) But then, I'm still in search of my own 'holy grail' tc yet. I hope you find one that meets all your requirements and is in your price range and won't go out of production for a very long time, soon.

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