DIY: At-Home Gel Manicures,Tried and True

By December 26, 2012 17 Comments

DIY: At-Home Gel Manicures,Tried and True

Now that 2012 is coming to an end, I’m taking a look back at one of the top nail trends of the year – gel manicures. Though pricier than a traditional manicure at a nail salon, who wouldn’t pay for zero drying time, long-lasting sheen, and chip-free nails for weeks? Personally, the vast array of colors, shades, and sparkle is why I love nail polish so much and why I continually look forward to my weekly polish change. But alas, this is one nail trend that I must try, simply because I’m curious. Instead of paying a hefty premium at the salon, I opted for an at-home, DYI gel manicure, testing three different applications. Here were my results:

Sally Hansen Salon Insta Gel Strips: Gel Manicure Starter Kit

Sally Hansen’s Insta Gel Strips Starter Kit is a 2-step process for nails that will last up to 2 weeks. The kit includes: a mini LED lamp, 16 gel polish strips, gel top coat, 2 cleanser pads, a cuticle stick, file and buffer, and a step-by-step guide.

Having only tried gel manicures at the nail salon (on rare occasion and never with gel strips), this DYI took a little trial and error. Here are my gel manicure tips for your lovely tips:

1. Make sure your hands are warm, to mold and stretch the gel strips with ease. The first time I applied the gel strips, I noticed how difficult it was to smooth them out. Bubbles and creases don’t belong on your nails. Warm hands help with the application process but don’t stretch them out too much, otherwise you’ll tear the gel strip.

2. The step-by-step guide tells you to file away the excess gel strip. I found the file a little too rough and as a result, the gel strip chipped. A chipped nail before I was even through! Instead, use a pair of manicure nail scissors to remove the excess gel strip and with the buffer, gently smooth out your tips.

3. Complete one hand at a time, fingers first and thumbs last. The cleanser pads are great to remove the sticky residue from the gel top coat, but you’ll need to work quick. These pads dry out fast.


The Starter Kit is $29.99 and provides enough gel strips for one manicure. The refill gel strips are $14.99 and come in a variety of colors. The color I used was called, “Shell We Dance”, which is a pretty neutral, pale pink. Though gel manicures are generally more expensive than traditional manicures at the salon and at home, I can’t say this was an easy process. I am, however, convinced practice makes perfect.

Sensationail Glitter and Color Gel Polish

For my second at-home gel manicure, I opted for polish instead of gel strips. Included were a cuticle stick and 2 gel polishes — Silver Glitter (metallic and sparkly silver) and After Five (matte silver). For this gel manicure, an LED lamp is required. The process itself is easy. As always, start with clean, dry nails. For the base, I used After Five. As instructed, I cured my nails for 60 seconds. I then applied a top coat of Silver Glitter and cured for another 60 seconds. The end result is a pretty and glittery sheen. Application and curing were super easy and what’s even better, I love how little drying time is required. Each Sensational Gel Polish retails for $12, however you’ll need to invest in an LED lamp to cure your pretty nails.

Nutra Nail Gel Perfect 5 Minute Gel-Color Manicure

Lastly, I tried a gel polish that did not require an LED lamp. Each kit includes: an activator, polish color, and brush cleanser. The activator acts as a base coat and is also the reason why the gel polish stays for as long as it does. This is by far the easiest and quickest gel manicure I’ve tested so far and I’m torn. While it’s very simple to apply and remove, I found that three coats of gel polish were needed. The standard two coats of polish didn’t stay on for very long. In fact, less than two hours. Applying a third coat is recommended. The real test, however, is how long (as in days/weeks) this manicure will stay on! Each Nutra Nail Gel Polish kit is $12, which is a total steal. If you’re always on the run or need a quick polish, this one is for you!

Gel Polish Color: Gold Strike

Removal of at-home gel manicures for all 3 applications above, is a relatively simple process. You can either soak your tips in acetone or nail polish remover with acetone, or you can wrap your tips with cotton balls/pads soaked in acetone/nail polish remover. If the latter, many step-by-step guides will tell you to use aluminum foil to wrap the cotton balls – whether to hold them in place or to speed up the removal process, I can’t be sure. Generally, 5 minutes will do the trick, except for the Sally Hansen gel strips, which required a little more than 5 minutes. Instead of using cotton balls, I chose to use nail polish remover pads (with acetone) by Duane Reade.

Foil wrapped

Of the three gel polish applications I tested, I was most impressed with Sensationail Glitter and Color Gel Polish. The process was super easy, the results were better than I could have ever expected (my nails looked fabulous!), and removal was a cinch. For $12, it’s well worth the buy! Though an LED lamp is needed, the long-term pay-off is worth it. I’m a fan.

By Sara Ng

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