Nail polish will always have a place in our hearts, but if you’ve noticed, some of the top nail bloggers (like Chickettes) have now started using soak-off gels for their nail art. The upside of gels? By being able to cure between layers, you can have instantly dry nail art!
Keep in mind: Many of the gels that come in these kits are thinner in consistency, so
make sure to cure it quickly after applying it to nails to prevent it from flooding into the cuticles. A thicker “Art Gel” is better for doing thin lines and details. You can also use nail polish or acrylic paint in place of an art gel to do detailed designs over a base gel color. However, curing a gel top coat over wet nail polish will ensure the polish never dries, and the outer top layer can be peeled off like a shell, exposing the wet polish below. If you’re going to use polish (or acrylic paints), make sure your designs dry before adding your gel top coat and curing.
Tips for Application: Every gel kit is going to be a little different. Some will have you cleanse the nail, then apply base coat, cure, apply a layer or two of color (curing after each one), add top coat, cure, and then cleanse. Other brands have simplified the process and will ask you to only apply a coat of color and then cure. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for how to apply the product and how long to cure it under their lamp.
While you can never replace the pampering of a good salon, here are a few at-home gel kits that will let you play around with the professional medium on a smaller scale.
SOLO One-Step Gel: Like the name implies, this system only requires one step of polishing. After cleansing and buffing your nails, all you need to do is paint your nails in the color of your choice and cure it in the SOLO LED light for sixty seconds. Fun fact: the lamp shuts itself off automatically after sixty seconds, so you don’t need a timer. Find it online at sologel.com.
Starter cost: $129.99 (includes four colors and tools for gel removal)
Sally Hansen Gel Manicure: Each starter kit gives you up to ten full gel manicures. Apply in three basic steps (base coat, color, top coat, while curing between each), plus the remover comes included in the kit. Find it at retailers like Walmart, CVS, Kmart, Walgreens, ULTA, and Target.
Starter cost: $27.99
Red Carpet Manicure Pro: You can often find Red Carpet Manicure kits at your local ULTA, which makes it super convenient for you to get on your next shampoo run (darn you, Target, for taking all our money!). They’re continually putting out new collections of colors, so there’s always something new to try. Their most recent to date is the Cinderella collection, based on the upcoming live action film. Available at ULTA Beauty, ULTA.com, HSN.com or RedCarpetManicure.com.
Starter cost: $80
Gelish Mini: This is the mini at-home version of the Gelish systems you see in salons. The Gelish Mini bottles are smaller (and thus cheaper) than the large Gelish colors, and the lamp is a smaller one you can store at home. The cool part about these is that if there’s a color you really want that only comes in the standard Gelish sized bottle, you can use that. Just remember to cure it under your Gelish mini lamp for a full 2 minutes (the pro lamp cures Gelish in less time).
Starter cost: $109.99 (from Sally Beauty Supply)
Orly SmartGels: This system will make you feel like you have your own salon setup at home. The LED lamp is large enough for four fingers, the kit doesn’t have that colorful novelty vibe, and Orly is already a respected professional brand. The Starter Kit includes just the basics (cleanser, primer, base and top coat, cuticle oil, removers, wipes, file, and buffer), which leaves you to pick out your first SmartGel color yourself from any in their online store.
Starter cost: $69.45 (Starter Kit and LED Lamp are $59.50 each; each lacquer is $9.95)
KISS Everlasting Gel Polish Starter Kit: The LED lamp for this set is full-size (meant for four fingers at a time, or a whole pedicure), and it’s pretty affordable (the lamp on its own is just $29.99). There are fifteen colors in the collection to choose from and you’ll find it available at Kmart.
Starter cost: $49.98 (Gel Polish Starter Kit plus LED Lamp)
SensatioNail: You can pick up a SensatioNail Starter Kit in a few shades of red and pink (plus French manicure!), and then snag extra bottles in an even larger range of hues. For easy removal, they now have the Nail Shield, which is basically a thin strip you lay down before your base coat. When you’re ready to remove, you peel the whole thing off without having to soak forever. We’ve had luck finding these kits in Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, and Target.
Starter cost: $59.99
Fuse (by SensatioNail): If three steps are too many for your taste, try this. It’s a small portable light you can fit in your purse that cures one nail at a time. Each color can be applied with just one step (no base or top coat needed). Available at select stores alongside SensatioNail (see list of retailers above).
Starter cost: $29.99
Le Mini Macaron: This just got funded in Kickstarter, so you may have to bookmark it for your wish list until it becomes more widely available. However, it’s totally worth waiting for. This tiny miniature lamp LOOKS LIKE AN ADORABLE MACARON COOKIE, people! The light may only fit one nail at a time, but this gel also applies in only one step and the lamp takes a mere 30 seconds to cure the product. Apply gel to one nail, then cure, then the next nail and cure. Painting all ten and then curing one by one will allow the gel time to get mussed up before drying.
Starter cost: $30
Removal: To remove any gel polish, you’ll need to make sure the product gets soaked with acetone for 15-30 minutes before trying to take it off. The best way is to soak a cotton ball in acetone or polish remover (pure acetone is most effective), set one on nail, and wrap up each fingertip in foil for around twenty minutes (see directions for each kit for the exact amount of time). Then unwrap your foil and use an orangewood stick to carefully scrape the gel polish away from the nail.
Images: courtesy of respective manufacturers