Gel nail polish has been around since the Eighties, but it is really in the last decade that the treatment has been making significant waves in the industry. A key player in the rise of the gel manicure is the home kit, which is improving year-on-year.
They offer a great alternative to those unable to justify spending at least £25 on a new set of nails every month – plus the extra £10 to have them removed once they chip.
Nail artist and author Sophie Harris-Greenslade, whose Instagram page The Illustrated Nail has over 73.9k followers, says: “When applying each layer of base coat, gel colour polish and top coat, always remember to seal the tip of the nail aka ‘the free edge’ with a slick of gel polish as this is where it chips the most. You should always apply your gel in thin, even coats as if you apply too much it can bubble under the lamp and look unsightly. It’s also more likely to last when not applied too thickly.”
The removal process needs to be equally as thorough. Harris-Greenslade urges people never to pick the gel from the nail as it can cause long-lasting damage. Instead, she suggests soaking the nails for 30 minutes in nail polish remover on cotton pads wrapped in foil, which adds a little pressure and traps heat to help the polish dissolve faster. Normal nail polish remover will work, but some kits provide acetone, which is stronger and more effective.
The kits on our list were all tested by women aged 20- to 60-years-old over a period of three weeks. Ease of use, quality of polish and long-lasting results were the focus. While the results were good, with gel mostly staying glossy and in tact for between two and three weeks, do not expect the finish to be as refined as a salon manicure or pedicure. Nail novices will need to practise at least ten times before achieving a decent finish.
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Bluesky & Mylee are both tried and tested salon brands that have collaborated to produce this kit, suitable for both professionals and home users. It comes with four Bluesky gel polishes, as well as top coat, base coat, LED lamp, remover, lint-free wipes to clean the nails without leaving behind any fibres and the Prep & Wipe fluid sanitises the nail plate and assists the adhesion of the gel colour to your nail plate.
Of all the kits, this provides the best finish in terms of the quality of the nail varnish colour and the overall shine. The instructions are incredibly easy to follow and the LED lamp is by far the most superior, with three timer settings – 15, 30 and 60 seconds – and enough width – 20.5cm – for extra wide feet to fit comfortably. The best feature is the convex curing technology, which allows all five fingers to be treated together thus saving more time.
Once the nails are buffed and prepped, the base coat, colour and top coat can be applied, requiring just 15 seconds each under the lamp, before the sticky top layer is removed with the prep and wipe fluid. The four colours – nude, pink, red, black –suit most people’s preferences and result in a glossy, thick finish that stays looking good for three weeks. The kit also comes with removal liquid and pads.
The only downside is that you can’t use regular polish, but you can take your pick of any gel nail brand from Shellac to Gelish and OPI as they are all compatible with this kit.
Cited as the world’s first home gel manicure kit, Red Carpet Manicure is one of the leading brands in the gel nail world. The great thing about this starter set is they have really thought to include everything, right down to the cotton on foil removal wraps and cuticle oil. The process is straightforward – the nail is cleaned with RCM prep fluid, then a layer of base coat gel is cured under the LED lamp for 30 seconds.
The kit comes with an elegant pink nude called Creme de la Creme, which is then applied and cured for 45 seconds each time (the colour is quite light so looks best when applied with three coats). The top coat is the final stage, which cures for 45 seconds, before the RCM purify cleanser removes the sticky layer. Cuticle oil helps recreate that salon finish. The result is high-shine and glossy nails which will last for just under three weeks, but be careful – if you don’t seal the nail edge with a top coat you are at risk of the polish peeling off, which happened to us.
The LED lamp is a decent 10cm wide – great for both hands and feet – but only features a button-operated 45 second timer. This is great for the colour and top coat but as it advises curing the base coat for 30 seconds, it is annoying that this has to be counted manually. There’s no need to risk trying to remove the polish amateurly as all the gel remover prep is included. Note that RCM advise only using their gel polishes, as the top coat and base coat have been designed to be used specifically with their formulations.
Experimentative nail artists will love the two packets of silver and gold glitter and beads included with this set. It is a polish-to-gel kit so the process starts the same as the others – filing and buffing the nail, cleansing with the wipes, followed by painting with a polish of your choice. After waiting 30 minutes to dry, apply the transformer top coat and get creative, adding glitter, studs or beads to the wet layer with the provided tweezers. Then cure under the button-operated lamp for 60 seconds, which is on a timer. Apply another layer of transformer top coat and cure for a further 60 seconds. Finish by rubbing with a cleansing wipe to remove the sticky layer.
The key positive here is that the nail art pieces look surprisingly effective and stay on. The downside is that the final shine isn’t as glossy as other polish-to-gel kits due to a lower quality of transformer liquid. The lamp didn’t properly cure the top coat the first time around, meaning that both the polish and top coat rubbed off with the cleanser. We re-applied a thinner layer of paint and top coat to that area and it worked the second time, so don’t be heavy-handed. The downside of the lamp is that although it’s 11cm wide, the LED lights are only in the centre, which may have been why the polish did not cure well on our periphery toes. Once properly applied, the gel stayed in tact for two weeks, but lost its shine towards the end.
This is the only kit that boasts “peel off technology” – a patented elasticised polymers system that means the entire gel comes off in one piece if teased in a corner with a hoof stick. It’s a great choice for people who are impatient when taking off gel or in a rush.
The Coscelia kit is an affordable, all-inclusive starter pack with everything you will need for your gel makeover. Starting with the prep, make sure to clean, file, push cuticles and buff the nails. Then choose from one of the six gel polishes, which include on-trend colours such as denim blue, silver and rose. Apply base coat and cure under LED lamp for 60 seconds.
For the experimental nail artists, the kit also comes with rhinestones and nail art stickers. The only downside is applying a base, colour and top coat takes longer than a three-in-one solution. However it does mean that nails looks better for longer and lasts just over two weeks. Also, the seven inch-wide LED lamp doesn’t come with a plug, so you will need a USB socket.
There are also two prep pads, “acetone prep pad” and “lacquer and gel polish remover” which could be confusing to a novice. We’d recommend this kit to someone who is quite experienced at nails and enjoys experimenting with nail art.
SensatioNAIL is a US company that specialises in home manicure sets. Their range includes gel, polish-to-gel kits and express all-in-one-polish sets. Out of this selection, the polish-to-gel starter kit is the most impressive because it allows you to use your favourite nail varnish as a gel, making it last weeks longer.
There are two ways of using the kit – either by mixing the polish and the transformer liquid together or simply by using the transformer as a top coat. Both methods produce the same glossy finish but we found the former quicker. The instructions clearly set out how to carry out each method but don’t be alarmed if your first try takes over an hour – after mastering the technique, the time is cut in half.
We were impressed that the sensor LED lamp only took 15 seconds to set the top coat and 30 for the two-in-one polish (it flashes at 15 seconds and turns off at 30 seconds so you don’t have to count out loud). Thumbs do need to be done separately as the machine doesn’t have convex curing technology to treat all five fingers together and at 9.5cm, the width of the lamp just fits a wide foot, but an extra wide foot will find it a tight squeeze.
However, the varnish remained in tact for three weeks, with the odd tiny bubble forming towards the end – this happens when air gets trapped in the polish during the drying process, so make sure you don’t paint the polish on too thickly. Removal was easy – we buffed off the top layer and then soaked each nail in polish remover on cotton wool for 15 minutes before rubbing it off using the cotton pad and cuticle stick. The special remover needs to be bought separately for £13.
This sweet kit is undoubtedly the prettiest of all the sets on the list. Shaped like a macaron, the LED lamp is designed to treat one nail at a time with the polish that comes with the kit, this one includes the shade “sweet mint”. No need for base or top coat, simply prepare the nail with the provided file and cuticle stick and apply a thin layer of polish. Cure under the lamp for 30 seconds, repeat for all nails.
The top can swivel around for toes, too. Amazingly, it is the only gel nail we’ve come across that doesn’t need a gel cleanser to remove the sticky surface. And it is the only small kit to include 10 remover pads – just buff the top of the nail and put the finger in one of the remover pad sachets. We found the polish lasted a week before it started to wear. The downside is the LED lamp can only be charged with a USB attachment.
Leighton Denny is an award-winning company founded by the nail technician himself. Alongside polishes and tools, there is Top That, another polish-to-gel kit that allows you to use your pre-owned favourite colours. Unlike the other polish-to-gel kits mentioned in this round-up, it doesn’t offer a mixing method, meaning you need to wait until the polish dries completely before applying the transformer top coat – allow up to 30 minutes for two layers of polish.
The lamp, which at just under 14cm is wide enough to fit hands and feet, cures the top coat in a minimum of 30 seconds and has a 360 degree LED array for five fingering curing. This kit’s accessories are great – a chunky double-sided buffer to prep nails beforehand, a 50ml cleanser and a rubber hoof stick for tidying cuticles.
Once you wipe off the sticky top layer with the cleanser, the finish is slightly less shiny than the other polish-to-gel kit (blame the polish, not the lamp, though that did take longer to cure the varnish). The entire process can take over an hour, which will be reduced to around 45 minutes once mastered, but this takes into consideration the time taken to cut, file and buff nails. Be sure to seal the edge of the nail properly with varnish and top coat or the nails will chip after a few days. If done properly it lasts up to two weeks.
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