Once you start polishing your nails, you kinda need to keep up with it. Even the "safest" polishes stain my nails a rather sickening yellow color.
In all my 'net searches for "how do I keep polish from staining my nails," the gurus say use a base coat. In my experience, it doesn't work. I've never gone without a base coat, and I still have staining. Maybe you need two coats of base, but that's an extra step (and dry time) I haven't tested yet.
To this point, I've used -
Base Coats -
OPI Nail Envy Formaldehye Free
Nubar Nu Nail
They all work. I don't think the base coat does much more than smooth out the nail bed and give some gripping surface to your lacquer. You are paying for their advertising, so I'd go with the cheapest 3-free base you can find. In my case, either Zoya Anchor at $8 or Nubar Foundation at $7 depending on the deals I find during polish acquisitions. I suspect Revlon offers a reasonably priced 3-free base.
As with every treatment, finding 3-free is getting easier, but even the companies that tout their 3-free lacquer are selling 3-full treatments. Buyer beware.
Top Coats -
Zoya Armor is pretty much the only slow dry top coat I currently have ... it was a freebie with purchase. It didn't get regular use until I started topping my manis with Nubar Diamont.
Being that top coats have a very similar ingredients list to base coats, I'd find the cheapest 3-free and use it for both base and top. Once again, I suspect Revlon has a good candidate.
Quick Dry Top Coats -
This is where companies have to stretch the imagination of their chemists.
These quick dries are either 3-full or simply don't work:
If you still insist on putting a layer of silicone (dimethicone, etc.) on your drying nails, it would be less expensive to pick up a bottle at the hardware store.
My two HG speed tops are:
CND Air Dry
CND Air Dry was my favorite for a long time. It drys to a hard coat in about 30 minutes. I had to be careful, but could return to typing within minutes of an "Air Dry" coat. This is the mani that could be extended for seven days. Every once in a while, I'd follow an Air Dry mani with Zoya top coat and the sides of my mani would give before the tips would.
Air Dry plays nicely with tops coats, though it takes a while to dry to a hard enough finish for normal or extreme use.
Nubar Diamont now edges out Air Dry for ease of returning to normal activity. This is, literally, a half hour mani (tops) from start to finish. However, I sacrifice longevity. Diamont is the dominatrix of the treatment bunch. She doesn't like ANYONE on top. Not even herself.
Diamont with a Zoya Armor layer two days later will peel within a day. Ruined mani.
Diamont with a second Diamont layer two days later does not hold or look good. Another ruined mani. She's particular.
The only way I've been able to extend my Diamont mani (from two to four days) is with a topcoat underneath Diamont.
So this is how I've arrived at my current "pressed-for-time" layer system:
- maybe four days of wear
If I'm not in a hurry:
1 Air Dry
- add top coats every three days or so to extend mani for upwards of seven days
To be honest, I end up with enough bare nail near the cuticle with my "Air Dry" system that even though the polish is in good condition, it just looks odd. And I change my polish based on nail growth, rather than polish aging concerns.