Everything You Need to Get a Gel Mani at Home

ByCaitlin M.

If you have a standing date at the nail salon, patrol #ManiMonday like crazy on Insta, and need a separate spot on your vanity just for nail polish, we think it's safe to say you've reach manicure maniac status. And hey, we're right there with you! But as fantastic as a fresh coat of paint feels, the weekly cost can add up! For a more economical—and lasting—manicure, at-home gel manis are a fantastic option. But before you drive headfirst into the world of UV vs LED lights, base coats vs bonds, let us give you the 411 on how to successfully get a gel manicure at home. We chatted with Gelish Educator, Danielle Candido, to help you master the mani!

What you need: This might seem obvious but the most important part of a gel manicure is the curing light. You might have seen both UV and LED lights in salons, and although both will get the job done, the big difference between the two is drying time. A UV light contains invisible light and will likely take your mani about two minutes to cure. A LED light, on the other hand, contains visible and invisible forms of light and will harden nails in as little as five seconds. Not only does that cut down your mani time, but it also reduces your exposure to potentially harmful light. Candido suggests reaching for a professional quality gel system like Gelish Mini, which includes the LED lamp, a basecoat, a topcoat, a cleanser, and remover. "It's very important to stick with one system," she explains. "Different brands have different chemicals, [and] you don't know how those differences will affect what you're doing," she adds. Not to mention it's difficult to know how one brand's gel polish will react to another brand's light system and base coat. Candido says other necessary tools for a successful mani include a 240-grit wooden nail file for filing the free edge of the nail, a 100/180-grit buffer to lightly buff the surface of the nail, and lastly a cuticle pusher to prep the cuticle line and nail plate. 

How to prep: This might be the most important part of your gel manicure. To begin, file the free edge of the nail to your desired shape. Next, Candido says to gently push your cuticle back and clean your nail thoroughly along the cuticle line. Follow by lightly buffing the surface of the nail with a buffer, being careful to not use force or buff too much. Clear the nail of any remaining dust with the cleanser provided in the system you choose, she says. Lastly, apply a nail prep product like PhBond by Gelish to remove any remaining surface moisture and oil. "These prep steps give you the best possible results for any gel manicure system," she explains.

How to remove: Anyone who has had acrylic or gel nails knows removal is crucial for ensuring nail health. To keep your tips looking shapely, it all starts with the curing process. "Do not cure the basecoat longer than the instructions say," explains Candido. "Over-curing makes removal difficult." To remove, use a 100-grit buffer to buff the surface of the polish well before soaking in remover. She says it's best to use the cotton and foil wrap method for gentler removal. (This means soaking a cotton ball in remover and using foil to wrap and hold it in place on the nail.) "The gel should flake off the nail easily when the proper amount of soaking has occurred," she says. And remember: You should never use force to scrape the gel off as this peels off layers of the nail. "If you have a tough spot, add a drop more remover and wrap for another one to two minutes," says Candido. Ultimately, usual gel soak off time is ten to 15 minutes depending on how many layers of gel have been applied. 

Common mistakes: Unfortunately, mistakes do occur. The good news is usually they can be prevented! According to Candido, a major mani mistake is failing to prep the nails completely and properly. Doing so will get the best wear and finished look in the long run. Another common mistake? Applying gel layers too heavily. Layers should be thin and smooth otherwise, the polish will not cure or dry properly in the lamp!



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Get creative: Think you can only get a cool nail art look at the salon? Nope! With some simple tricks, you can get a lasting design. Purchase some nail art supplies like a nail art brush set, marbleizing or dotting tool, and striping tape to get started. "Having the right tools makes all the difference in the result," says Candido. "And, of course, you’ll want a selection of colors to choose from."  

Still a bit intimidated by a gel manicure? Don't be, it's really quite simple. All it takes is some patience and practice. But if you don't quite have time for either, there are some great alternatives. Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy Nail Enamel and ColorStay Gel Envy Diamond Top Coat is a non-gel polish, which goes on easily, doesn't require curing, and lasts longer than a normal polish. Lastly, imPRESS Accent Manicure are long-lasting, press-on nails that are so easy to apply and trust us, with that shine, they really look like gels.

What manicure tips do you have? Let us know!

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