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Taming Seche Vite

Seche Vite has the most confusing reputation possible.  It seems to get almost as much scorn as it gets love from the online polish communities.  It dries very quickly, but can shrink.  It self-levels, but can cause pop-offs.  I'd see the same people ping-pong between thinking it was the best topcoat EVER and vowing never to use it again, only to reverse after a few weeks...before quitting "forever" again.  I decided to avoid it "forever" too, just in case.  Trouble is, I fell in love with black label OPI's.  With their longer drying times, they need something like Seche Vite to really make them wearable.  So I sighed, winced, and bought a bottle for $4 at the nail supply.  That was late last summer.  I tried it over a regular mani one day and the weirdest thing happened...I love this stuff!  By keeping tabs on other people's advice about it or warnings against it, I've managed to use it for over half a year with only occasional, minimal issues.  It's time I gathered all of this advice into one place.

Meet the Vite

This is the basic stuff.  It retails for $8-10, but I love that it's a full-size 0.5 ounce bottle, unlike a lot of other topcoats.  When you change your mani as often as I do, every hundredth of an ounce starts to feel like it matters.  It's also one of those "longrun value" things...but more on that later.  The bottle's got a simple shape with a wide base, so it's not tip-prone and the fill line doesn't drop awkwardly.  The brush is wide-ish and firm, which is exactly how I like them, and the cap is simple and easy to handle.  My only gripe about it is that the brush is black.  WHY do companies do this?  Sally Hansen knows what's up and makes several topcoats with clear brushes.  With a clear brush you can tell if you've accidentally bumped the polish with the brush and you can wipe before going back into the bottle.  But whatever...this is great stuff otherwise.

What's so great about it?

It's touch-dry almost right away.  I know that's the selling point for most of its devotees.  It's thick and glossy too, but most importantly (for me anyway) it dries hard as a rock!  I have soft, bendy nails even with a strengthening base coat.  SV gives them the "bend, don't break" plasticy bounce that nails are supposed to have.  I've whacked them pretty hard many times and been sure I'd broken one, but it seems to protect them better than other topcoats I've tried.  I'm not sure if I could have grown my absurdly long claws last year if not for the extra protection of SV.

How do I use it?

The directions on the bottle are surprisingly helpful!  How often does that happen?
"Apply thickly, get a nice bead on the end of the brush, then set softly down on the first nail painted and watch how Seche Vite flows over the wet nail polish without dragging or streaking the underlying manicure."
The "wet nail polish" part is especially important!  Putting SV over dry or partly-dry polish can cause all kinds of problems.  Polish dries from the surface down toward the nail plate as it evaporates, but a wet coat will partly re-wet any drier layers beneath it.  If SV is put over dry/dry-ish polish, it can tug at the previous layers and has been known to make all of the polish pop off of a nail in one piece!  I make sure that it goes over the wettest surface possible by using clear polish or non-quick-dry topcoat between it and my polish.  (See my whole process here.)  This way, in theory, if it's gonna pull on anything as it dries, it'll pull on a clear coat and not the polish itself.

The "bead" is also important, not just for SV but for polish and topcoats in general.  The brush shouldn't touch what's already on the nail.  It should only guide that bead/drop around.  If you've had trouble with topcoats going murky or taking on a color, it's caused by the brush contacting the polish directly....and that annoying black brush problem...but enough of that tangent.

It goes on thick.  Super thick.  It can be a shock if you're used to other topcoats, but this is a good thing!  Its thickness means it's shiny and smooth.  It will also "tighten" down onto the polish as it dries.  The end result won't be quite as thick.

They don't mention it, but wrap your tips!  It goes a long, long way toward reducing shrinkage.

When used right, it's the best topcoat I've ever used.  There are shinier ones (Sally Hansen Mega Shine) and many that are more foolproof, but none that are as fast, strong, durable, etc.

But it's got a dark side?

Oh yeah!  If you don't pamper and coddle SV, it can completely wreck your mani.  In addition to to what I've mentioned above, shrinkage can pull the underlying polish away from the tips or cuticles.  It can pull a topper away from the base.  It can wrinkle up like a bedsheet.  It can be evil, hateful stuff.  Because it dries so quickly it also thickens quickly in the bottle.

It just needs backup!

This is my little assemblage of SV and its attendants.  First there's Restore, the one with the dropper.  I consider this absolutely essential if you're planning on using SV.  Like any thinner, it replaces what evaporates.  The difference here is that it contains toluene and isopropyl alcohol in addition to the usual butyl acetate.  You can use another acetone-free thinner, but it won't keep SV just like it was.  Toluene is one of the notorious "Big 3", which may pose a health risk with excessive exposure or during pregnancy...but it's what makes SV apply as beautifully as it does.  Using a different brand's thinner will eventually dilute it and could change how it applies.  I consider the four ounce refill bottle essential too.  Just like a half-empty soda bottle will go flat faster than one that's only had a single cup poured from it, the lower the fill-line in a polish bottle, the faster it will thicken.  By using the refill (along with Restore) to keep the bottle full, you'll wind up using less Restore in the long run.  The two bottles I use are the same ones I've been using steadily for well over six months.  The fill-line in my bottle of Restore is hard to see, but it's mid-way down the words on the front.  I need to buy another soon!  I also top off Zeus and Player 4's bottle of SV when it needs it.  That refill bottle is MASSIVE and lasts ages.  How often you should use Restore will vary depending on how often you use it and how full you keep your bottle...or bottles, in my case.

Two bottles aren't necessary, but because the brush is black I like to keep one for creams/crellies/jellies and another for everything else.  I use a non-dry clear coat between my polish and SV, but I don't trust shimmery glittery bits to not wind up everywhere.  I have a pet hate for accidental shimmer transfer onto an otherwise pristine cream, so I keep a firm quarantine.  The newer-style bottle (on the left w the taller cap) came with my refill bottle and it's the one I use for non-sparkly polishes.

So how do I know when to thin/refill it?

In general I thin it a little every 2-4 uses and top it off quite often too, keeping only a slight bubble visible.  The bottle on the left is only slightly less full than the max refill I aim for.  Overfilling can lead to leaking and the cap can seal shut.  The bottle on the right is too low and I knew it.  I used it anyway.  It shrank a little on a couple of nails.  Derp.  That's when you know for sure that it's time to tend to it.

This looks like a LOT of money to spend on a topcoat!

Not really, especially if you buy it online.  The refill kit contains a full-size (0.5oz) regular SV, the BIG 4oz refill, and an almost completely useless pour spout/funnel thing.  You can usually find it on Amazon for about $15.  Restore is about $6.50 on Amazon or eBay.  For around $22 that's everything you need to keep your SV like new and refill the bottle a total of EIGHT times.  NYC Grand Central Station is around $2, but each bottle is only 0.33 ounces.  You don't need to thin GCS as often as SV, but once you factor in another brand's thinner SV and GCS work out to be almost the same price.  GCS doesn't dry half as fast as SV does.  It doesn't dry as hard either.  I get microcracks in the surface of my polish after a couple of days with GCS because it doesn't keep my nails from bending.  I do use GCS for my swatches, but that's all it's good for in my case.

While we're on the subject of GCS, a 50/50 blend of SV and GCS took the Nail Board by storm last year and is still the "holy grail" topcoat of a good number of board regulars.  As far as I know, it was the brainchild of bettygrable72.  If she isn't its outright "inventor", she's definitely one of its strongest advocates.  I gave it a shot shortly after trying SV for the first time.'s not for me.  The blend tones down everything potentially negative about SV, but it takes some of the good away with it.  It doesn't shrink, it doesn't need thinning as often, and it still dries pretty fast.  Thing is, it doesn't dry as fast and it loses some of the hardness.  For me those two things are the whole point of SV, but it's still worth giving it a shot if the high maintenance and potential bitchiness of SV aren't for you.

...and believe me, it has the potential to be a serious pain in the butt.  I mentioned a little shrinkage earlier.  Have a look.

It's only these two nails and it's not terrible, but you can see that as it shrank it took the shimmery coat of SpaRitual Sparkling Conversation with it, leaving an awkwardly naked-looking little rim of Revlon Trade Winds completely shimmerless.

It can get weirder and more vicious than that though.  One of my Nail Board buddies had this happen...

stolen (with permission) from edie4711

Instead of peeling OPI Nothin' Mousie 'Bout It away from Orly Pink Plumeria, it took both with it on its cruel little journey north.

SV can be a hassle sometimes, but it is completely worth it!  There's a great sense of freedom in knowing that you can do your nails and be in bed within an hour of finishing, with little worry of sheet marks.  For me it really does come down to that strength though.  I whacked my right thumb nail on the steering wheel pretty hard a couple of weeks after I started using SV and it didn't break or bend backwards!  It did lift from the bed at the edge and bleed a little, but the nail itself was completely unscathed.  Painful, but the bed is the part that heals and a break in September would have meant no claws for Halloween.

So to wrap it up, here are some Do's, Don'ts, and other options...

  • Apply over VERY wet polish
  • Let it bead on the brush before applying
  • Apply a thick coat, wrapping your tips before applying it to the whole nail
  • Keep it thinned with Restore
  • Thin it often 
  • Apply over dry polish
  • Thin with acetone or other removers...EVER!
  • Buying the 4oz refill bottle for value and reduced need for thinning
  • Trying a 50/50 blend with NYC Grand Central Station

One last little note here.  SV can have bad reactions with a few brands of polish.  I've never had it happen myself, but apparently it doesn't get along with Zoya's "Big 5-Free" formula.  What I did experience personally was a freakish reaction when I applied it over Dance Legend Knight.  It started to wrinkle almost like a crackle does before it fragments.  What was even weirder was that it smoothed back out!?  I have no clue, but I've used other top coats when wearing other Chameleon shades since.

I thiiink I covered everything, but if you have any questions please let me know!


  1. You have written the SV Bible!!! Fabulous post!!

  2. Very nicely done indeed! *\o/*

    1. Thanks! And thanks for letting me use your photo. I usually go into panic mode and forget to take pics when stuff happens.

  3. I've lurked religiously for a long time, but I have to come out of the shadows and say: GREAT post. Very nice analysis. I've actually had good luck with SV+Zoya, but I've let my nails try to touch-dry before top coating, so I can only say it usually works when very dry or VERY wet.

    Thanks! :-)

    1. Thanks! :D I've put SV over Zoyas too, but with another topcoat between them. I've seen claims on both sides of the comparability debate, but I thought it needed to be mentioned since it gets said so often.

  4. I love Seche Vite! I use it on every mani because as a mom and wife, I don't have a ton of time to wait for things to dry. I know ppl are leary about the ingredients in the polish but we are all exposed to chemicals in some form or fashion. I love it and will continue to use it on my nails! By the way, great post!!!

    1. Thanks! :D I don't use it for my swatches, since too much exposure to it does eventually start to trigger my asthma, but I'm fine with it for manicures a few times a week.

  5. Well done! I love SV, but I've noticed that the thicker it gets, the more likely it is to shrink. I top off my bottle when it's half gone & add a few drops of Restore if I notice any signs of shrinkage occurring. I've had fewer probs with it since I started doing the above. :)

    1. Thanks! :D Definitely. I think I might sometimes also get a little shrinkage from applying too thinly. I need to experiment sometime...hmm...

  6. LOVE this post!! I honestly have a new appreciation and understanding of Seche Vite now. Thanks for sharing. ^_^

  7. Fantastic review! Only thing you left out was its propensity to form small bubble in the bottle when the bottle is about half empty, which then transfer to the nail. Or since you didn't mention it, maybe this is just something that happens to me?

    1. Topcoats in general can bubble when they get too thick. I love Restore and the refill bottle for preventing it.

  8. This post is so helpful, thank you. I love SV but there are a few times that my mani has been ruined by it, now I know what to do to prevent that from happening.

  9. I love SV but don't like the brush that comes with it. Any suggestions on alternate brushes?


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