Battle of the Topcoats: Seche Vite vs. Julep Freedom

This has been a long time coming. In February, Julep released a topcoat called the Freedom Polymer Topcoat. I’ve already talked about why I think their product name is a little disingenuous (all nail polish contains polymers) here.

I haven’t, however, been able to give a full review. That’s because it’s absurdly difficult to review a top coat in a way that isn’t silly and arbitrary. I decided that the best way to do this would be to do a comparison with my go-to top coat: Seche Vite Dry Fast Topcoat. In January, I told you to expect a comparison with graphs. Well… the data (finally) is in.

Nail Polish Wear Time

Although it would have been possible to control for the nail polish I wore to avoid a potential confounding factor, I decided that it would be an undue hardship on my stylishness to wear one boring color for so long. Instead, I took the psychologist’s method: random assignment. In psychology, you can’t possibly control for all the factors that make human beings different from each other. Instead, you assign them into your control group and your experimental group[s] randomly, and hope that shit just sort of balances out based on probability. I don’t plan my nail polish colors in advance, so what I did for my “random assortment” was pick out my color[s], and flip a coin. Heads represented Seche Vite and tails represented Julep Freedom. I decided, arbitrarily, that ten data points for each condition was enough to figure out if there were any differences I actually cared about. Once I reached ten data points on one top coat, the rest of the trials were automatically the other top coat.

My previous nail polish comparison– which compared nail polish appliqués— had two measures. One was the “first chip” and one was the point at which the nail polish was no longer wearable. I decided to eliminate that second measure from this comparison for the sake of both time (this took an absurd amount of time already) and for the sake of objectivity (although I operationally defined the idea of something being “no longer wearable”, this is hardly an agreed-upon standard). As before, I only used full days because there is no way to know whether I noticed the chip right as it occurred or much later, and, for sake of practicality, I cannot create a protocol that involves constantly checking my nails for chips.

On the off chance that you are most motivated blog reader ever and you want to check my math or something, I decided to include the raw data:

Seche– Color Club Wild Cactus Applied Feb 13, First Chip Feb 16th, Days: 3
Julep– Julep Marion Applied Mar 7, First Chip March 10th, Days: 3
Seche– Julep Otte Applied Mar 14, First Chip March 19th, Days: 5
Seche– Etude House Mint Applied April 28, First Chip April 30, Days: 2
Seche– Christian Dior Dusty Rose Applied May 2, First Chip May 5, Days: 3 
Julep– Color Club Harp On It and Sinful Colors Fusion Neon Applied May 10, First Chip May 12, Days: 2
Seche– Zoya Julie Applied May 15, First Chip May 20, Days: 5
Seche– Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Acceler-Grape, Applied May 23, First Chip May 28, Days: 5

Julep– Julep Joan AND Essie Shine Of The Times, Applied May 28, First Chip May 30, Days: 2
Julep– Not Like the Movies, Applied June 1, First Chip June 3rd, Days: 2
Julep– Julep Reagan AND Payton, Applied June 3rd, First Chip June 6, Days: 3
Seche– OPI Black Cherry Chutney, Applied June 7, First Chip June 10, Days: 3
Julep– Color Club London Calling, Applied June 12, First Chip June 14, Days: 2
Seche– Julep Zora AND Julep Mackenzie AND Color Club Something?, Applied June 14, First Chip June 16, Days: 2
Seche– Julep Lauren AND Julep Stella, Applied June 16, First Chip June 18, Days: 2
Julep– Sation Front Row Flasher AND Julep Myrtle, Applied June 18, First Chip June 20, Days: 2
Julep– Zoya Julie AND Urban Outfitters Bandeau, Applied June 23, First Chip June 27, Days: 4
Seche– Color Club Pardon My French, Applied June 28, First Chip July 1, Days: 3
Julep– Julep Tracy AND Julep Fireworks, Applied July 1, First Chip July 2, Days: 1
Julep– Julep Myrtle AND Julep Fireworks, Applied July 3, First Chip July 4, Days: 1

If you want to view that in a way that’s a little easier to interpret, you end up with the following numbers:
Seche Vite Dry Fast Topcoat: 3, 5, 2, 3, 5, 5, 3, 2, 2, 3
Julep Freedom Polymer Topcoat: 3, 2, 2, 2, 3, 2, 2, 4, 1, 1
The mean for Seche Vite is 3.30 days, with a standard deviation of 1.25 days. The mean for Julep Freedom is 2.20 days, with a standard deviation of 0.92 days. Obviously, those numbers are different, with Seche Vite keeping my polish in place longer than Julep Freedom. The question remains, however, whether or not they are different to the point of statistical significance.
To look at this, I was able to do a simple t-test. My results showed that Seche Vite did in fact have a benefit that achieved statistical significance, t(18)=2.24, p=0.038. A p-value of 0.038 means that there is less than a 4% chance that these differences could have occurred by chance alone. Usually, a p-value of 0.05 is considered to be the threshold for statistical significance.
In summary, if your number one concern with your topcoat is that it wards off chipping for as long as possible, Seche Vite is preferable to Julep Freedom.
Drying Time

I did do one additional test as well– I tested drying time. It almost feels silly to include this after this big thing that took months of effort, with multiple trials, where I ran stats… and then I follow up with something I did in three minutes just now, but I do feel that this information might be relevant to some of you.
I tested the two topcoats over completely dry polish to ensure that the polish below did not affect the dry time. I applied Seche Vite to two fingers, started my stopwatch, waited 30 seconds, and then began to test the dryness by lightly tapping those two fingernail together. When they are wet, you feel a stickiness. When they are dry, you do not. I recorded the time when the polish felt completely dry to me. I repeated this procedure with Julep Freedom.
Seche Vite tested dry at 1:25. Julep Freedom tested dry at 1:15. (As someone who habitually applies a topcoat over wet polish, both of these times seemed strikingly fast to me!)
For me, a very small difference in drying time is inconsequential, whereas a significant difference in wear time is important. Based on these findings, I am sticking with Seche Vite.


1. Current Seche Vite convert. What do you do about the inevitable thickening of the topcoat once it gets about half-empty? I assume this is due to a larger volume of air trapped in the bottle causing the polish to slightly dry. Do you find this to be the case with Julep’s?

2. To be honest, I usually buy a new bottle of Seche Vite when it gets to that point. I know they sell a thinner, but I have never used it.

I didn’t find Julep to get as gloopy with time as Seche does. This is consistent with your theory that the air content is important, as Julep bottles are much smaller, but it is also consistent with the time frame involved, since you use the Freedom top coat up more quickly… so I’m not sure. A mini-bottle test would be a good start to check your theory!

3. I love this post for the science.

4. Glad you enjoyed it!

5. my problem with seche is how it “shrinks” the polish. did you notice that with the julep? or even with the seche for that matter?

6. I have never had that problem with Seche, although I’ve heard people talk about it…

7. I TOTALLY HAVE THAT PROBLEM WITH THE JULEP. I had to say that in all caps because it drives me fucking BATTY.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far, mostly through obsessive googling:
Julep’s freedom topcoat is extremely divisive. Or at least polarizing, in the sense that people either say that it is amazing and kept their nails chip-free for weeks, or else they say it caused shrinkage and chipped like crazy and was worse than no topcoat at all.

I’ve heard people say that “it’s your body chemistry,” and that some polishes and topcoats don’t play well with some body chemistries. First I bought that. Then I thought about it and decided it sounded like faux-scientific guesswork, because what IS a body chemistry, anyway? THEN I googled around and found that there actually are a couple of things people sometimes mean when they say body chemistry that might affect polish stuff. Specifically, how oily/dry your skin and nails are; your pH maybe?; and… that might have been it actually.

I also have read that some topcoats don’t work well with certain polish brands, specifically because, say, the topcoat is 3-free and the polish contains toluene. I thought at first that wasn’t relevant here, because all of the polishes used were 3-free. I checked. (See,, including your data points DID help!) BUT then I saw that Seche Vite is NOT 3-free.

Everyone says that it shrinks 3-free polishes, which could be Drunken Beauty’s problem with it. But why isn’t it happening here?

Is it just that nail polish wear is also affected by other factors, like pH (???) and oiliness? Such that a polish might shrink less noticeably on some users? Or might last less long with Seche Vite, but still longer on the same user than Julep would?

Personally, for me Julep Freedom Topcoat peels off like crazy, leaving half the polish, in patches. But it works amazingly well as a base coat — if all you want it to do is make the polish pop off in one complete piece within a day or two. I routinely had all the polish on a whole nail pop off just because I ran my fingers through my hair. At least it made it easy to fix! And it did make it very shiny….

8. According to a study by Murden and colleagues in Skin Pharmacological Physiology, the pH of nails doesn’t vary that much… It’s basically a pH of 5 for everyone, so I doubt that pH is the important factor. Oiliness seems intuitively more plausible, but it to me, it seems like the factors that are most likely are the way that people use their hands and their nail length. (I have no evidence of this, although if I had a large sample I could put together a correlation.)

9. Thank you!! That’s really good to know about the pH.

For what it’s worth, my nails are generally just a little long, at or slightly part the ends of my fingers. I type a lot, scoop plenty of cat litter, and that’s about it for my hands. I’m a nail polish novice, so what I thought was shrinkage could have been tip wear. But the way it peeled and chipped definitely wasn’t! I did some research and switched to Essie’s all-in-one top/base combo, and that gave me an extra day or two. Then I did more research and started putting a topcoat on each layer, and the first manicure I did with that lasted five days before it chipped!

(…I’m not scooping litter with my bare hands, mind you.)

10. Have you tried Sally Hansen Mega Shine Topcoat? In my experience after a full week of wear the tip of my pointer and maybe my thumb get chipped. Believe it or not, using SH I can wear my manicure for more than 2 weeks if I cover the new growth with a sparkly dab of glitter polish for a lazy half moon effect. Do you think you would try it out and update us on this post? I’m really curious to know how you think it compares to SV and Freedom since it’s my HG 🙂

11. Hm… I have the Sally Hansen fast dry topcoat, but I don’t think I have tried that one… I can definitely keep adding topcoats to the mix, though. You might be waiting a little bit, though! Ten manicures-worth of days is a substantial amount of time!

12. This is an amazing post that encapsulates what I love about your blog – so smart and helpful but light-hearted and fun. Great work!

On another note: can I request that you post about your eyeshadow application techniques? Or recommend some resources that you like? I’m all thumbs when it comes to shading and blending at the crease and find a lot of tutorials lacking.

13. Did you check out my video by any chance?

14. I did see the one you posted last week, which was great! I picked up the Benefit Fake Up as a result 🙂

I’d love to hear more about eyeshadow, specifically. I’ve figured out the basic primer highlighter/accent/shading color selection, but can’t seem to get it right look right on my lids. I don’t know if it’s incorrect placement or the wrong brushes or bad makeup karma, but it ain’t pretty. Sorry if you’ve already posted a video on eyeshadow, new to the blog and still working my way through your archives!

15. What brushes and makeup are you using now?

I haven’t made a video on that, though.

16. I’ve got a Smashbox palette from an in-store recommendation, and a custom MAC palette – both are neutrals with minimal shimmer. As for brushes, I’ve got some random Sephora set… that’s probably my problem, huh?

17. I would speculate that it is. I don’t have any Smashbox or MAC shadows, but I think that those brands should be treating you well. For brushes, I love my MAC 239 and 217!

18. This is interesting. It looks like adding this top coat doesn’t do anything significant for the longevity of a nail polish.
Do you have any experience with those products that claim to help nail polish dry instantly,

19. I have a Sally Hansen one, but I haven’t done any extensive tests. Are asking whether it affects the longevity of your nail polish, or whether it decreases the time it takes to dry? The latter I could do really easily and quickly, whereas the former will take a bit longer…

20. Whether it decreases drying time as this is what they’re advertising. I also saw the Sally Hansen one in shops, but i can’t bring myself to buy it without some kind of evidence of it working.
Thanks for answering 🙂

21. Oh, I can check that. No problem. I’ll add it to the to-do pile!

22. I have routinely gone 8+ days without a chip while using Seche Vite. I have never tried the julep topcoat, however. I honestly think that the sv lasts much longer when applied to wet nail polish, but I dunno if that works with the julep stuff. (also, to check if your nails are dry: touch the tip of your tongue to the nail. If you can taste anything, they are still wet. If there is no taste, they are dry. Sounds gross, kinda is, totally works.)

23. I always apply topcoats over wet polish, I just didn’t for the dry-time test in order to avoid that confounding variable.

I know people vary a lot in how long they can keep manicures on, but I don’t know what variables affect that… I don’t think I’ve ever had an 8-day manicure!

24. Doesn’t the Julep one say you’re supposed to “cure” it under a light bulb for a couple of minutes? (I agree with your earlier post that this is a bit absurd). Just curious if you had tried doing that.

My current top coat of choice is Poshé because I don’t like the smell of toluene – I have a peel-off base coat that includes it but I find the stinky factor worth it to get glitter bombs off more easily, but I don’t think I could deal with it with all the top coat I go through.

25. Sorry for not clarifying in my post! I did follow Julep’s instructions for curing the polish.

I have never heard of a peel-off base coat. That sounds super cool and handy!

26. Some people use a thinned-out glue base, which is can be super messy and doesn’t really apply like normal polish. NailPatternBoldness makes “glitter-a-peel” (from her etsy shop and elsewhere) which can make the whole nail’s worth pop off in more or less one piece if it’s a thick glitter-filled manicure (she also makes “glitter food” for smoothing out really bumpy ones that would otherwise require many layers of topcoat). I have trouble getting them started to come off, but once they do it’s almost like I didn’t paint my nails at all.

27. I love that idea! I might have to look into that… Even the foil method leaves me scrubbing the glitter off my nails.

28. This comment has been removed by the author.

29. I think you should post measurements for top-coat-free days. Statistically significant difference between the two top coats is not as important of a question as, am I wasting my money buying a top coat at all? While I do like the creativity in your experiment, perhaps you should control for confounding factors a little better. Maybe restrict all colors to only one brand, etc.

This was interesting, though.

30. I think restricting myself to one brand would unnecessarily limit external validity, which would make my results less meaningful for most people, not more. “Control[ing] for confounding factors” as you are suggesting would mean that my results are ONLY applicable to the brand that I tested. Most people don’t have that kind of brand loyalty, which would make my results irrelevant for the vast majority of my readership.

I plan on doing a regression at some point that looks at the effect of a top coat and a base coat more generally, but keep in mind that this takes months and months and months to do. I’m working on it, but it’s slow. I can tell you that unless something changes DRAMATICALLY, there will be a statistically significant difference between Seche Vite and no topcoat.

31. I totally and completely understand that this takes a lot of time, and clearly I’m reading your blog so I appreciate the time and money that your commentary saves me. Nonetheless, sometimes the more complicated statistical methods are not needed. A more telling experiment would do exactly this:

Seche vs Julep
A) On Brand 1 Nail Polish, avg. Seche, avg. Julep, t-stat/hypo testing
B) On Brand 2 Nail Polish, same as above
c) On Brand n Nail Polish, same as above

Tbh, I’ll look forward to the regression. Perhaps you could have a ton of people pool in with measures and keep track of the top coat-nail polish brand combinations. If you include fixed effects or dummy vars of some kind we could see what the optimal top coat-nail polish brand combos are!

And now my response:

If restricting yourself to one brand meant that your results were only applicable to the tested brand, then you’re proving my point: the combination between the nail polish and top coat matters. If you want to get technical, your estimate is picking up an interaction effect.

Perhaps if each top coat had been tested on the same number of each brand’s nail polish (i.e. if Seche is tested on exactly 4 OPI colors, then so should Julep’s top coat), the comparison may be more fair. However, as random as you tried to be, Julep top coat matched up with Julep nail polish 5 times, while Seche matched with Julep 3 times.

Lucky for us (!), that may mean the Julep estimate is biased upwards because we would expect the Julep-Julep combination to have an extra positive effect. Maybe not. But considering how anal we all are about the difference in formulas between nail polishes, it does not seem unreasonable for a company to make chemically complimentary products.

The point of your experiment was no more than a comparison of averages, but absent a more equal “chance” for each top coat, it may not be saying much with such a small sample size.

32. Okay, so it looks like you’re giving two separate proposals here. The first is that I look at a variety of brands independently and look at the individual means for each brand. That would require an ANOVA and a WAY bigger sample size. The second is that I do a matched samples procedure instead of a random assignment procedure.

Have you taken a statistics class by any chance?

The reason that we don’t do matched samples in research is because it less statistically rigorous. That’s because you can only match the factors that you specifically think to match. So, if I took your procedure and assume that what matters is the brand under the polish, I could do a matched samples procedure and put, say, 5 OPI and 5 Julep on one side, and 5 OPI and 5 Julep on the other side. And yes, if brand is what makes the difference, those would be good methods.

But let’s say it’s not brand that matters. Let’s say I think it’s brand, but it is actually color, with red colors lasting longer than blue colors. Or maybe glitter lasts longer than non-glitter. Or maybe polish that I put on on the weekends lasts longer than polish that I put on on the weekdays. Or maybe my nails chip faster when they are longer, so polish that is put on right after I cut my nails lasts longer. It doesn’t take very long to come up with TONS of factors that might be important.

If I take a random assignment procedure, than ALL of those factors, in theory, will balance out based on mere statistics. If I take a matched sample procedure, they won’t, because I didn’t assign conditions randomly; I used a pattern.

So it’s not that I don’t think that brand matters. It’s that I don’t think that brand is indisputably the only thing that matters, and I don’t have enough data to feel comfortable picking out every single potential factor that might affect the length of time that my manicure lasts.

Do you mind, by chance, if I quote your comment in a future blog post? I can be more general and say, “a reader said XYZ” if you don’t want me to.

33. Look, I am unsure of your tone, but I’ll assume that you are not being condescending. I am also unsure of your background in statistics, but mine is pretty good. I am also trying hard to explain my reasoning so other people can chime in, if they so desire.

My previous post had three points:

1) This experiment does not test what you want to test. Despite the statistical tools used, you’ve failed to isolate the effect of the Top Coat. Brand could affect it; color could affect it; thickness of coats could affect it; dry time could affect it, etc. Ironically, you mention that you construct a control group, but you don’t really try to. All of these factors could be minimized. I assume you let them both dry as much as possible and had roughly equally thick coats (due to habit, repetition, etc).

From now on, TC = top coat

I understand you don’t want boring nails, but you and I and every 7th grader who has at one point or another heard of the mystical scientific method knows the easiest experiment that is truly an experiment would have no-TC, TC1, TC2, HOLDING ALL ELSE EQUAL, including nail polish, in order to isolate TC effect.

2) You say, “If I do so, the results will not be universal!”
I say, “If you wanted them to be universal, you either need a huge sample size or to test each TC on the same nail polish, across multiple polishes (universal nail polishes, various brands, however you want to call it).”

That was what my pseudo chart was about. Which brings me to my third point:

3) You don’t need fancy statistics in this case, which is why I suggested matching. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I commented in the first place is that I majored in economics, studied econometrics, and was always impressed by the creativity involved in the creation and study of natural experiments. I strongly dislike when statistics is done poorly just to give some kind of validity to an argument.

Perhaps you can answer the same question for me: have YOU taken a statistics class? Also #LawOfLargeNumbers #30 #YouOnlyHave20

And yeah, you can quote me.

34. Dude, you comments and tone are not appropriate at all. Up until now, I had assumed you were commenting in good faith, but that is very clearly not the case.

I had typed out a long response to your comment and d it after deciding, based on your most recent comment, that this was going to be a fruitless endeavor.

Please refrain from any further comments on this post.


35. Sandra, didn’t feel it was necessary to get into an overly complicated study with a huge sample size, and over controlling for a million factors as it is not necessary. She is an incredibly intelligent woman, and I for one happen to feel that this study covers what it needs to cover as it spans quite a few brands and colors of polish under the top coats in question as well as how many days until the first chip. I don’t own one brand only of polish, so I feel the results were quite valid and understandable.

Further, the tone you took with in your comments was quite unnecessary. If you are THAT worried about all of the things which you wish for in a top coat comparison study, I suggest you take the time to go do your own rather than admonishing a very lovely blogger for her own time and brainpower.

36. Seriously, Sandra. If you have such a “quite good” background in statistics, do your own darn study. And please, keep your condescending, negative, self-aggrandizing comments to yourself.

37. I love that you did a t-test! This is officially the best nail polish blog post I’ve ever read in my life.

38. I’m on my 3rd bottle of Julep Freedom and I have a love/hate relationship with it, which is how I ended up at your blog 🙂 in my opinion; based only on using Freedom, a new bottle is a wonderful thing, almost miraculous, it dries so fast, evens out polishes, and leaves nails super shiny. But it doesn’t last more than a day or two on my natural nails. Julep recommends reapplying every other day, I find that absurd and misses the mark on why people would want this product. The dreaded shrinkage has occurred when I get about halfway through a bottle, no matter what brand polish I am using. This is also when it gets thick and gloopy. At this point there is no saving it and for $18 a bottle-$14 if you’re a Maven-it’s infuriating.