Steps for a Gel Manicure + My Favorite Products


I talked about this gel manicure kit back in December and heard from so many of you that you got it for Christmas! I thought I should share a few of my favorite products to use when I do my at-home gel manis and also walk you through the steps!

I’ve had the most success with Gelish pH Bond, Foundation, and Top Coat. The brush sizes are easy to work with and the products really work. For color choices, I’ve enjoyed using Gelish, OPI Gel and CND Shellac. Depending on the color I can usually get away with only 2 coats, but the lighter, more sheer colors require 3 coats. OPI Taupeless Beach and CND Shellac Romantique have been on repeat this winter season!

The steps I take in order to prep the nails before applying the polish are almost MORE important than applying the color itself. I’ll walk you through each step and explain what I do so you can have success with your home gel manicures as well!

  1. Remove all existing nail polish with acetone nail polish remover.
  2. Apply cuticle remover (this is my favorite product).
  3. Push back and trim cuticles so the bed of the nail is completely clean from any skin, flakes, or cuticles.
  4. Shape nails with nail file, trying to only file in one direction versus sawing back and forth.
  5. Using a buffer, buff the nail enough to take away any shine, this will help the product adhere a bit better.
  6. Wash hands with water but without soap.
  7. Dry with a washcloth so no fibers from paper towels or tissues get onto your nails.
  8. Apply pH Bond to nails on left hand.
  9. Apply a thin coat of base coat, carefully getting close to the cuticle without touching it, and spreading the product all the way over the edge of the tips of your nails. This is very important! Running the brush along the edge of your nails with just a tiny bit of product will “cap” the nail so you will avoid chips.
  10. Cure base coat under light for recommended time based on your light. Mine is 45 seconds.
  11. Apply color coat, in a thin layer, to 3 nails, making sure to cap the ends as well, then cure under the light.
  12. Apply color coat to the last 2 nails, cure under the light. All nails should have 1 thin coat of color now.
  13. Repeating steps 11 & 12, apply thin coats of color until desired result. I break this step into two steps because I find by time I make it to my thumb after starting with my pinky nail, the product can pull back from the tip a bit. I want to avoid that, so I cure it faster.
  14. Apply top coat, but don’t let the product ball up on the tip of the brush. A little goes a long way here as well, and you do not want top coat sliding off the side of the nail onto the cuticle.
  15. Cure as recommended, then repeat the entire process on the opposite hand.
  16. After nails are completed, soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and swipe along the nail. This will remove the tacky surface that will result.
  17. Finish with hand cream and enjoy your beautiful nails!

Once you do this a few times, you should be able to operate on autopilot like I can. I like to catch up on This Is Us or Jimmy Fallon episodes while I do my nails and the whole process is relatively quick and easy. It takes me about 45 minutes from start to finish. That’s roughly the same time that it would take at the salon but it’s MUCH cheaper and I don’t have to drive anywhere to do it!

Edited to add: I’ve gotten a few questions about my home removal process so I thought I’d add those steps to the post as well!

  1. Using a buffer or nail file, buff or file the top coat of the gel a few times to “rough” up the surface a bit. Again, this is on the top coat of the gel, not your actual nail.
  2. Place finger on a small piece of aluminum foil, perhaps 3 inches by 3 inches.
  3. Place a small piece of cotton (I like to rip a cotton ball into about 3 sections) soaked in acetone on top of the nail.
  4. Wrap foil around nail to hold cotton in place. Allow to soak for 7-15 minutes.
  5. If done correctly, the gel should simply slide off your nail bed with out any filing or buffing of your nail bed required!

p.s. Check out this video for steps for a long-lasting gel manicure! Plus, if you’re looking for a cute and simple crossbody bag and great booties for spring, check these options out! 








Leave a Comment

Comments (58)

  1. Posted January 29, 2018

    I’ve never had a gel manicure before, but this seems like a great, budget-friendly way of doing it at home. My nails do need some refreshing! ❤️

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  2. Kimberly says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    OPI Taupeless Beach is my all time favorite color. I love me some greige!

    • Kate says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      I feel the same!

    • Shannon O’Connell says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      That’s the best name! LOL! Is it weird that I pick my colors based on cutesy names? 😉

  3. Jess says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    This was super helpful, though I’m still not sure about taking off the polish. Do you have to go through the whole process of soaking them in acetone with cotton balls/foil, etc.? Or does it come off like regular nail polish?

    • Victoria says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      Cotton balls + foil! Or maybe there are other tricks out there, but it definitely won’t come off like regular polish.

    • Kait says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      You can also buy clips from amazon that holds the acetone soaked cotton balls instead of using foil.

      • Jess says
        Posted January 30, 2018

        Those clips are so worth it!!!

  4. Lauren says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    What do you do for removal?

  5. Nichole says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    I always gel polish. Much more pocket friendly. I’m a stylist and own an LED lamp but not by gelish and I can do both hands in about 25 minutes! It’s wonderful! Romtanique is one of my favorites. I’ll have to check out the opi color next!

  6. Victoria says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    Awesome tips! And I second your success with Gelish! 🙂 I’ve been doing gel manicures at home for a couple of years, but only recently tried Gelish’s bond coat…heaven knows why. It has nearly doubled the time I can go without one of my nails chipping or pealing.

  7. Robin says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    Do you have to buff your nail prior to polish? I find that step tends to ruin my nails once I’ve removed the gel polish. Also the the most gentle way to remove the polish.? This step also tends to trash my nails. Thanks!

    • Kate says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      You don’t HAVE to but it helps

  8. Kait says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    I borrowed a friend’s kit to try it out before I take the plunge (I will be taking it soon!) Just wondering if you’ve tried using Essie Gel between gelish foundation and top coat. I know its a different type of polish but I’ve read that it works too! Thoughts please?!

    • Kate says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      I have and it works fine!

  9. Cynthia says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    When do you find the best time to do this? I have a 5 mos old and I’m 8 wks pregnant.

  10. Allie says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    I never knew to create a cap at the end of my nails. That’s such a great tip, thank you! xAllie

  11. Kelly says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    The one thing I worry about with the gel manicures is skin damage from the light. Are you concerned about this and, if so, do you wear any sunscreen on your hands? I would LOVE to always have a gel manicure but I am a little freaked out about the UV exposure.

    • Andrea says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      Agree. I personally would chose a kit with an LED light, Red Carpet Manicure is the one I love and use.

    • Kate says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      it is definitely something I think about. I wish they made gloves with the tips cut out for that purpose!

  12. Posted January 29, 2018

    Taupeless Beach is just a beautiful color; it’s the perfect nude color.

  13. Kimberly says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    I purchase this light after reading about your success. I’ve been very pleased.

    I’m currently wearing DND gel in Seasoned Beige and it was easy to work with.

  14. Tina says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    Can you use these colors with the gelish lite??

    • Kate says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      I’m not sure what the Gelish lite is? Do you mean light?

      • Tina McClanahan says
        Posted January 29, 2018

        Yes the light??

  15. Kristy says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    FYI for other readers considering the kit: I found that buying everything separately was cheaper than the kit. I bought an LED light (so no worry about overexposure to UV light) for $25 and the Gelish polish kit that includes the PH bond, foundation, and top coat polishes for $30, plus about 7 colors of polish (Gelish and Gellen brand) and it was all cheaper than the kit (about $100, all on Amazon). The light I bought can also fit your whole hand vs. just 4 fingers. Just another option! I’ve been super happy with it all and it has more than paid for itself in just one month!

  16. Nancy says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    Where do you get your gel polishes? I am having a hard time finding a selection. Thanks!

    • Danielle says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      Ditto to this! Did you buy the OPI gel through that Amazon link? OPI colors are my favorite, but looks like the true gels are only available for professionals to purchase. I’m always wary of buying third-party beauty on Amazon, eBay, etc. so would love to know if you’ve had success that way!

      • Jen says
        Posted January 29, 2018

        Sally’s Beauty sells the Gelish polishes.

  17. Jenny says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    How long does it take you to remove the polish AND apply the new polish? I have everything to do my own nails but found that I still sometimes prefer to get them done because they use a dremmel and can get the whole process done in 45 min-1 hour. If I do them at home it takes me a solid hour and a half almost 2 hours to file everything off =( if you have tips to make this faster, let me know!

  18. Posted January 29, 2018
  19. Amy says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    You don’t have to drive anywhere and sit and wait for nothing, you mean 😉 haha

  20. Monique Belanger says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    I would like to know if you’ve tried and/or what you think about dipping powder nail color.
    I tried it for the first time about a week ago. So far, I love it. It’s used on your natural nails and makes them super strong and is suppose to last up to 21 days without the UV light of the shellac manicure.
    I’ve been looking into “do it yourself” kits because I think I could manage

    • Julie says
      Posted January 29, 2018

      I too tried the powder dip and loved it. I could go almost four weeks before getting new polish. The only drawback was it made my nails too thin from the sanding.

  21. Eva says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    Wow! This is awesome! I definitely don’t have the dexterity in my left hand to do my own manicures, but it certainly is affordable! Love the color too. 🙂

  22. Jessie Hawkins says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    I use mostly the Red Carpet Manicure and gelish gel colors because they are easy to find at Ulta. Where do you get your OPI and CND gels from?

  23. Amy says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    I don’t have the ability to buy salon quality at a store like Cosmo Prof because I’m not in the beauty world. Polish bradn recommendations? Gelish I’ve seen on Amazon

  24. Stacy says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    I have the relish kit but I don’t use it too often because my nails tend to peel and become very unhealthy after they have had gel in them . Does anyone else have this problem ?

    • Robin says
      Posted January 30, 2018

      My nails get so ruined from just one round of wearing gel polish. Not sure if it’s the buffing prior to application or the removal. I love gels but my nails have to through an entire growing out to recover.

  25. Julie says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    I have the gellish foundation and top off. Can I use that with shellac polish?

  26. Nancy says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    It’s the removal that I am the most concerned about. Have you found an easy way to remove at home?

    • Jennie says
      Posted January 30, 2018

      I purchased HIGHROCK 10Pcs Acrylic Nail Art Polish Remover Wrap Cleaner Superior Clip Caps from Amazon. They were about $7. I put remover on a cotton pad then put it inside the clip. This works great!

  27. Olivia says
    Posted January 29, 2018

    I get SNS done and they have been soaking my nails in acetone with the foil, but then putting them in those manicure hand warmers (what are those even called?!), instead of roughing them up first. And they come off a lot quicker! I would think folding a heating pad would work just as well. Just thought I would pass along 🙂

  28. Jennie says
    Posted January 30, 2018

    I got this for Christmas after you posted about it on your Instastory. I love it! I work in a professional environment and I need my nails to look professional with no chips, etc. This has worked great! Thank you for sharing.

  29. Vanessa says
    Posted January 30, 2018

    Plus you’re not waiting past your appointment time! 🙂

  30. Maureen says
    Posted January 30, 2018

    Love this post! What lamp do you use?

  31. Leona Gott says
    Posted January 31, 2018

    Hello Kate I just love your channel. You have helped me with a lot of different ideas for my hair. But I’m having a issue with staticy hair I live in Oregon and the wind blows a lot so the past few days I’ve had nothing but static in my hair do you know if a product that you would recommend for staticy hair. Thank you again

  32. Kelli says
    Posted January 31, 2018

    Where do you buy your polishes?

    • Kate says
      Posted January 31, 2018

      buy them at the pro beauty store but I think you can find some of them at Sally Beauty Supply as well

  33. Jessica G says
    Posted January 31, 2018

    The tip to paint a couple of nails, cure then finish off hand is so helpful. I will try that next time. When doing mine, the polish seems to ‘slide’ away from my tip. And I had no idea why and how to prevent it. THANK YOU!!!!

    • Kate says
      Posted February 2, 2018

      sure hope it helps!

  34. Kelsie says
    Posted February 6, 2018

    I love this! Thank you for the tips! I’ve heard that you shouldn’t mix brands of polish/top/bottom coat. But you mentioned that you use the Gelish top/bottom coat but have mixed it with OPI and CND colors. Have you found that it doesn’t last as long when you mix the brands or you don’t notice a difference? Thanks!!

  35. Milenna says
    Posted March 16, 2018

    Some time ago I had OPI top coat and loved it. After reading your recommendations, I consider buying some gel polishes as well. What do you think about this one: Where do you usually buy the manicure materials?

  36. Hayley Zorn says
    Posted July 6, 2018

    Could you share a list of your favorite gel colors from any brand? I’m investing in this kit and having a hard time finding good colors on Amazon and other places!

  37. Tia Hill says
    Posted January 29, 2019

    I love this tutorial! Do you have any tips for the application of these light neutral colors? I have CND romantique (which I love!) but it turns out streaky every time I do it! Thanks!

  38. Tina Prytz says
    Posted February 23, 2019

    What is ph bond? And where can you get it ?

    • Laura says
      Posted March 8, 2019

      Gelish has the PH Bond.