At home gel manicures are not as hard as you think

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Gel manicures (like, actual gel polish NOT Essie’s Gel Couture) are the only thing that I can get a guaranteed week or so out of. I have pretty weak nails, wash lots of dishes, and work with my hands a lot so regular polish is a complete waste of time. The only regular nail polishes I’ve had success with that do not require soaking in acetone to remove nor a light to cure the polish is Essie’s Gel Couture and CND’s Vinylux. I can get a few great days with no chips from these lines, but if I need to KNOW my nails aren’t going to have any chips, I go with a gel nails.

A few years ago, perhaps 2-3 years ago, I purchased a UV light and tried doing my own gel manicure at home. I found the product to be really difficult to work with. It kept pulling back from the tip of the nail and ended up really bubbly as well. I resolved that this would just have to be something I’d need to pay for if I wanted it done. So, fairly regularly for the past few years I’ve been going to nail salons to get a gel manicure. It typically costs around $32-40 and that can add up fast! It’s worth it to me, not only because I like my nails polished, but I do so much filming/photos that my hands are in that I feel like I look a bit more professional with polished nails.

Scheduling those appointments has become trickier with growing boys and a busy schedule, and sometimes the tech I’m paired with doesn’t always do that good of a job. So when I saw the Gelish Complete Starter Kit at the pro beauty store I decided to try it again. I’ve had great results from Gelish polishes and wanted to see if this was going to be different than my experience years before.

As it turns out, it’s COMPLETELY different and it has made doing my own gel mani’s totally doable. In fact, I’ve had better results from the ones I’ve done on myself than what I’ve gotten at the salon recently. I’m finding some of the techs to be sloppy with the application and get the polish on my cuticles, which is basically the worst thing you can do because the gel will simply peel away. Beyond the better results, I’m able to do it at 9:00p at night when I would otherwise be scrolling instagram in my bed. Time MUCH better spent, in my opinion.

So this is the kit I bought. The colors it comes with are a little blah, but I found a nice grey by Gelish at the pro beauty store that I purchased that day. I’ve since bought 2 more shades in the brand CND Shellac that I like.

It’s steep at the beginning because you are investing in all the tools you need, but after 3 home manicures, it has paid for itself. The ease of using it and success I’ve had has made it all worth it!

If you are doing your own at home gel manicure, with the UV light, here are a few tips I’ve learned from my experience.

  1. Do not go near the cuticle. As tempted as you may be, you are so much better off staying slightly away from it than going to close because once it touches it, it’s over. I mean, you could use an orange wood stick to scrap it off, but it’s much easier to just stay away from the edges.
  2. Take the time to push back and nip any long cuticles first. Then buff your nails to slightly “rough up” the surface a bit. The polish will adhere better.
  3. Use thin coats. Bubbles are the worst and they are a result of coats of nail polish that are too thick (both with gel and regular polish). A thin coat of the base is much better than something overly thick.
  4. Follow the curing directions based on your product. Don’t try to overdo it but curing it with extra time in the light, once it’s cured, it’s cured.

Let me know if you end up trying it! And, if you decide to stick to regular polish, don’t forget to try out some of my favorite fall & winter colors! Also, loving this pretty poncho and these gloves for winter

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Comments (69)

  1. Jill says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Hey! Fellow Raleigh, NC girl here although I live in MD now. I’ve been doing my own gel polish manicures for the last 4 years. I started with Opi and gelish and tried many other brands but have since found that my favorite gel polish is Madam Glam – available on their website. It’s a little pricey but if you sign up and wait for a 50% off sale they are much more affordable. This brand is by far the most consistent and easiest to use. I don’t work or have any affiliation with the company but I love love love their gel polish.

  2. Posted November 15, 2017

    I’ve always been intrigued of the whole DIY manicure thing. Seems like something that’s worth a try. Love the colour of your nail polish! ❤

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

  3. MaryH says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I’ve been doing my own gel manicures for a few years now. This is the set I started with (or very similar one). I love Gelish polishes, but prefer Daisy DND base and top coats. They are larger sizes and what my local salon uses. I’ve also purchased a larger lamp on Amazon. I’m obsessed with the Gelish color “prim-rose and proper” right now… a nice nude pink.

  4. Danielle says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I started doing my own gel nails about 6 months ago. It is AWESOME. I bought a $20 LED kit at Target (in store!) that came with one color and everything else you need to get started and have since bought 5 more colors at Sally’s and replaced the topcoat and basecoat with Gelish brand when the originals ran out. My biggest tip to anyone considering gel for the first time is DO NOT PEEL AT IT. That’s how gel can ruin your nails. If you dont try to peel it off it won’t effect them whatsoever. And those weird looking nail clips they sell (less than $10 on Amazon) are a godsend for removing the gel when the time comes. Seriously, I tried to save some money and just dip my fingers in the acetone or do the tinfoil method. Just buy the clips, the polish falls right off in 10 min.

  5. Meranda says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Hello! I’m so excited you have this post! I have always wanted to try this myself instead of throwing my dollars away at the salons. Do you have a recommendation for the best UV light one can purchase?

  6. Laurie says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I have been doing my own gel manicures at home for a couple months now. I just love it. I am a CNA so regular polish is a joke. Gel stays on no matter how much I wash my hands. I just need to learn to quit picking at it.

  7. Emily says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I’ve been taking Evening Primrose Oil for several years which is great for many things like PMS, brittle nails & hair. My nails grow like crazy and are super strong now. Maybe it would help with your nails, ask your doctor if you can take it since your pregnant.

  8. Casi says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I’ve had the same kit for about a year and I completely agree!

  9. Kara Cushman says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Hi Kate,

    I am in your boat when it comes to gel manis. I have nails similar to yours and I like them to look polished. Question, how to you remove your gel mani? The lady I goes to, uses a dremel like tool. It works great. I am concerned about the removal part. 😬

  10. Peg hohbach says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    What color is this on your nails in the photo?

  11. Ashley says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    What is the name of the color you are wearing in this picture? So pretty!!

  12. Olivia says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    How do you remove your at home gel polish?? This is going on my Christmas list, thanks!!

    • Danielle says
      Posted November 15, 2017

      Get the nail clips (Amazon or Sally’s). First file the top shiny part off the polish. Then dip a cotton wipe (or the lint free ones they sell for gel manis) in pure acetone, place it on your nail, then clip it onto your finger. Let soak for 10 min & it basically falls off. These are the clips i have: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B018QN8V9O/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_fhidAbKP10RN7

  13. Renee says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    My newest find has been the Wet N Wild 1 Step Gel Polish with a top coat of Vinylux. It lasts me a week without chips. They have a few great colors and so far it’s the longest I have gotten polish to stay on with a home application. Plus it’s pretty cheap!

  14. Holly says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Hi Kate,
    May I ask where you got your rings? Love them and congrats on the upcoming baby!
    Holly

  15. Anna says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Hey Kate! I’m going to have to try this! I bought the Red Carpet Manicure Color Dip Starter Kit not too long ago, have you heard of it? I liked the no UV light requirement, and they claim 21 days of wear. It’s been two weeks and mine are still doing great! And thankfully the first time I removed my first application my nails didn’t seem super damaged. It seems like something you might would like too! Have a great day!

  16. Kylie says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I’ve been using the Essie couture and love them. Some times I get better results than others but my toe nails reject polish lately and the gel will stay on!! I also love it on my hands!! I have a light my husband got me once but I don’t think it’s strong enough 🙁

  17. Erinn says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Oh my goodness that color is perfection!
    I love getting gel manicures but I rarely do because of the price…I can’t even get regular manicures because the polish never lasts more than a day or two before chipping. I’m really tough with my hands (dishes, cleaning, etc.) so I hardly ever get manicures. I love getting pedicures though!

  18. Andrea says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I’ve had the Red Carpet Manicure set for years and love it, It’s great for a quick mani when you need it, lasts about a week for me. However I am AWFUL about peeling any gel or shellac off when it starts to lift.
    I recently got a powder dip mani and LOVE it, literally lasted 3 weeks looking brand new, no chips at all. I could have gone longer but the regrowth was too much. That’s my new go to for now, much healthier for your nails too. Would love to see you do a review on it if you get the chance.

  19. Meranda says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I love my at home gel kit! I have the Sally Hansen light, but order the Gelish colors off of Amazon. It takes me ten minutes in the morning to do them and then I am out the door! I have found that after curing the final clear coat that my nails are tacky. I have since lost the little bottle of solution that is supposed to fix that, so I just use a little bit of nail polish remover on a cotton ball and it works like a charm to remove the residue. One final tip – if you get too close to the side of your nail and end up with a funky hard ridge, you can take a nail file to it and file it flat. No need to redo the nail!

    • Larissa says
      Posted November 15, 2017

      I use rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and it works well! That’s all they used at the salon I used to go to so I tried it with success!

  20. Mandy says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I’ve been using a Sally Hensen gel kit for about 5 years and LOVE it. I’ve only had 1 or 2 professional manicures since then and deeply regretted them. I love saving the money and find I do a much better job than most of those “walk-in” nail salons.

  21. Emily A. says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I am currently pregnant with #2 so I have been rethinking my normally every 2 week trip to the nail salon (worried about the fumes!). This would be perfect!

    Kate my question is how hard has it been to take off the gel? Do you wrap your nails in acetone/aluminum foil?

  22. Susan says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I’ve been doing my own gel manicures and pedicures for a few years now. I started with a Gelish kit similar to what you have but separately purchased a more powerful LED lamp after a lot of research. I’m like you with regular nail polish not lasting more than a few hours (what’s the point). I still continue to use the Gelish base and top coat but I also use other brands for colors such as OPI, Madam Glam and IBD. Gelish doesn’t always have colors that I like/want. I just started on the dip powder kick. The base and top coat are special nail glue and the power is acrylic. So far, I really like it. I tried the Red Carpet kit from Ulta but I don’t care for their small color selection. (Red Carpet is made by Gelish). I just bought dip supplies online from Revel and I will be trying it out this week. The reason I like the dip powder so far is that no UV/LED lamp needed and removal is much easier then gel.

  23. Julie says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I’ve read that I shouldn’t get gel manicures while pregnant so I’ve been avoiding it. You’ve found it to be safe, or have you researched it?

    • Jessica says
      Posted November 15, 2017

      GelMoment! Totally safe while pregnant as it’s 5-free

  24. Brooke says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I love the look of gel nails (and the clickety-ness of them too – something about when you tap one nail against another I just love) but I’m struggling with the soak off time with a 10 month old at home. So, it’s essie gel couture for me right now which I love!!

    What color and brand is this in your photo – I can get enough of neutrals like this and will definitely have to add it to my collection!

  25. Tonya says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I was enjoying doing my own gel nails at home, after my teenager got a set for Christmas and put it in the donate pile I rescued it and thought I’d give it a try. I agree, my nails looked better than salon nails, and I also love having my nails done but hate taking the time to go have them done. Then we grew our family with 2 new puppies. They chewed through the cord of my uv light and I threw it all in a junk drawer thinking at some point I’d “fix” it or get another! You inspire me to give it another go. Can’t wait for cute holiday nails!!!!

  26. Stephanie says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    A couple weeks ago I received THE worst gel manicure ever (looked terrible and cut skin, ouch). I bought a similar kit and I will never get another manicure. You are so right, it’s not difficult at all. It’s easier to work with than regular polish and looks nicer too. For the price of two salon gel manicures you can have your own kit. Best decision ever.

  27. Allie says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    This review is perfectly timed! I was just considering getting an at home kit and now I know it’s worth it! Thanks! I can’t wait to try, I bet there will be good sales on it soon too xxAllie http://www.theallthatglittersblog.com

  28. Kim says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I had no idea about buffing the nail and why that was done! Thanks for sharing!

    Kim

    http://trendkeeper.me .. beauty gift guide & black friday GIVEAWAY!

  29. Jessica says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I love at home gel manicures! I found the GelMoment to be fantastic. I like that it doesn’t need a base or top coat but still lasts up to 2 weeks.
    It’s also 5 free (solvent-free, lead-free, latex-free, non-toxic, not tested on animals and does not contain animal by-products). Safe to use when pregnant and on kids!

  30. Sam says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I’ve had my Gelish gel set for a couple years now and I love it! I love the look of polish on my nails, but with my busy lifestyle (and food blogging – my hands are always washing dishes), they never stay nice for long! I love that I can get a couple weeks out of my gel nails and I’ve slowly expanded my polish collection. I would love to hear your best tips for removing them.

  31. Karen says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Do you have a recommendation for a kit for us non-Salon folks? And what about how you remove it? I’ve been getting dipped powder nails recently bc they last three weeks, which is great. But I’m still not thrilled about the $$ side of things. At home would be fantastic!

    • Kate says
      Posted November 15, 2017

      I’m sure you could find one on amazon!

    • Larissa says
      Posted November 15, 2017

      I have the Sally Hansen one from Amazon and honestly it works great! I bought it as a gift for my mom and liked it so much, I bought my own. I think it was about $50. I get my nail polish at Sally Beauty supply. The polishes are usually on sale so they are about $7-15 each which seems like a lot, but I get at least 10 manicures out of each bottle so it’s much cheaper than going to the salon.

  32. Hannah says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    So when it’s time to change polishes or re-do the manicure, how do you get the gel off? At the salon I soak my nails in acetone for a few mins then the nail tech usually scrapes off the rest.
    How do you go about this?

    • Kate says
      Posted November 15, 2017

      I soak them in acetone and scrap it off, just like at the salon.

      • Bethany says
        Posted December 8, 2017

        Do you feel like the process is less rough on your nails than the salon? I have been getting gel manicures at the salon but the last time they took it off I feel like they tore my nails up and now they are very brittle. 🙁

    • sarah says
      Posted November 15, 2017

      When I’m taking my gel off, before i soak them in acetone, i scuff them up a bit with my file, makes the process so much quicker!

  33. Rachel says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Gelish is the BEST. Been using it for years and can’t imagine letting a nail tech do it again! I can do it way better and way cheaper!

  34. Sarah says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I know I can’t be the only one, but I would like to request a gel manicure tutorial! Your nails always look great, and I would love to try this, but I know I am lacking in technique. Help us out!

    • Bethany says
      Posted December 8, 2017

      Agreed! Putting on and taking off would be awesome!

  35. Tammie says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I recently purchased the Madam Glam line of soak off gel nail polish. It requires an UV or LED light. I purchased the LED ( purely because shorter curing time) from that web site. I absolutely LOVE it. They have great colors too. Check them out at madamglam.com I watched a few youtube videos to learn to do the manicure correctly. I have always enjoyed doing my own nails. Now my manicure lasts a good 2 weeks sometimes 3.

  36. sarah says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    totally agree about doing gel nails at home! My sisters, mom and I invested in a gel manicure set about 6 yrs ago…best decision we ever made!!

  37. Larissa says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    I totally agree! When I first tried the at home gel manicures a few years ago, it was a HUGE failure. I’ve recently tried again (because we moved to a different state and I needed to cut some things out of the budget) and it is much better! The biggest tip I can give it to cure your four fingers (index to pinky) by themselves and the do your thumbs separately. I used to end up with the polish pooled up on my thumbs and that doesn’t happened anymore!

  38. Posted November 15, 2017

    This is such a helpful post. Manicures at the salon really adds up to my budget but this is a great option. btw your mani is so cute ! love the color.
    https://licensedglow.blogspot.com/

  39. Stephanie says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    This post sealed the deal for me. I’ve been eyeing it up and have had it saved in my cart for quite a while! This is the brand my nail salon uses but have stopped going because like you, sometimes you just get a dud and the person does a horrible job. And then you’re out $40 plus tip!
    I’m so excited to try it! THANK YOU for sharing

  40. Amanda says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    SO HAPPY to see this post because I just purchased a UV lamp and some polish. I gave up on nail polish years ago but have missed it dearly. Now I have hope that a klutz like me can do it!

  41. Stacey says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Can you use the original light that you bought? Or did you buy a new one?

    • Kate says
      Posted November 16, 2017

      A new light came with the kit. I think that helps it!

  42. Megan says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Great post Kate! I’m always in need of a long lasting nail polish solution! I’ve been hearing a lot lately about peppi nail polish. Apparently it’s a polish and powder system. I was skeptical at first but I’ve heard a lot of good reviews. Have you heard of or tried it? If so would you consider doing a blog post on it?

  43. Angela says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    This sounds great! I have the same issues with nail polish chipping and my nails are always splitting.

    Blush & Pearls by Angela

  44. Kim says
    Posted November 15, 2017

    Have you tried Color Street nail polish strips? They are working great for me and super easy.

  45. Margaret says
    Posted November 16, 2017

    I love my at-home Gelish manicures! One tip that I stole from a manicurist is to have a small stiff bristle brush and put a tiny bit of acetone in a bowl (or the lid of the acetone bottle) before you get started. Then, when you inadvertently touch your cuticle with polish, before you cure that coat, take the brush, dip it in some of the acetone and run it along your cuticle – good as new! You’ll never know you touched! This has been a manicure saver, especially when using brighter/darker shades.

  46. Katrina says
    Posted November 16, 2017

    I purchased the CND light and a few colors almost 5 years ago after I got a CND manicure at the airport in Montreal on our way to Europe for our honeymoon. The manicure lasted our entire vacation (2 weeks in multiple cities) plus another week or 2 at home. I have more than paid for the light with all of the money saved at the salon. CND is actually a shellac, which I have found is not nearly as hard on my nails as other gel brands. Removes with regular nail polish remover (a little work) or acetone. now I go for standard manicures every now and then at the salon (they cut my cuticles better than I can do on my own) but then either don’t have them painted or take the polish off at home and do a shellac.

  47. Portia says
    Posted November 16, 2017

    Hi Kate – At the salon I feel that they really rough up my nail bed and take a couple of layers off before they apply gel polish. My 10 year old wants gel so badly. I am thinking this at home method would be safer and less damaging. How much buffing is needed? Thank you!

  48. Kassie says
    Posted November 17, 2017

    Kate,
    Do you feel like when this comes off your nails are weaker than before? I hate that feeling when getting shellac because my nails are in even worse shape than before. How is one to get off this product?

    • Bethany says
      Posted December 8, 2017

      My question as well.

  49. Jess says
    Posted November 21, 2017

    Those rings are so cute! May I ask where you got them? I’ve been looking for a tiny gold bezel ring for months!

  50. Megan says
    Posted December 7, 2017

    What are some good drying lamps if you aren’t wanting to buy the whole kit?

    • Kate says
      Posted December 7, 2017

      I really like the brand Gelish so I would see if they have a lamp that doesn’t come with a kit

  51. Courtney O says
    Posted December 7, 2017

    Most of my current favorite beauty products I have tried based on your recommendation! So, considering I’m tight with my money but LOVE having my nails painted, I’m very intrigued! Could you let me know if the gel removal is easier with an at home manicure versus the salon? I always soak it off in acetone but usually still end up with a little damage and weaker nails. Has this happened in your experience?

    Thanks!

    • JoAnn Campbell says
      Posted December 7, 2017

      Yes my thoughts exactly!! It’s he soaking off that is difficult for me to do on my own too!!

  52. JoAnn Campbell says
    Posted December 7, 2017

    What is the process of soaking them off to then put in a new color? I used to do my own with my own light, but it became sooo difficult to take them off that I would get frustrated and give up. Can you share step by step how you soak off and what products you use?

  53. Ally says
    Posted December 7, 2017

    Can you do a post on removing the polish? Someone said you have to buff it off your nails and I feel like that is super harmful.

    • Kate says
      Posted December 8, 2017

      It is helpful to buff the surface then soak them in acetone so the polish will just rub off. Shouldn’t be excessively rough.

  54. Torry Corbett says
    Posted December 9, 2017

    Would you do a removal blog/video?? I bought an at home kit and loved the results but removal was a disaster. Thanks for considering!! LOVE your blog and Instagram!

  55. Anna says
    Posted December 13, 2017

    Kate, thanks for sharing! I started DIY nails like a year ago and being honest it’s my sort of relaxation 🙂 As I always want my nails look pretty & accurate so that means I need absolutely chip-free option. And as you mentioned only gel can be there for you, I started by Shellac starter kit ( https://www.enails.eu/en/gel-nail-polish/cnd-shellac.html ) and it was worth it – now I’m purchasing only new colors and some nail accessories as I’m getting deeper with designs, but still there is a room for inspiration and skills. Guys, what about you? Do others practising design on your nails, don’t you? Where do you get fresh ideas? Please, share!