Updated March 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best gel nail kits

These days, many people prefer gel nail polish to traditional polish because it lasts so much longer on the nails. Of course, you’ll pay quite a bit for a gel manicure at a salon. Fortunately, a gel nail kit enables you to save some serious time and money by doing it yourself at home.

Gel nail polish contains acrylic monomers and oligomers that fuse together when cured under a special light. A gel nail kit typically includes the gel polish, base coat, and topcoat needed for a manicure, as well as the light to dry the polish. When fully cured, the polish develops a hard, shiny layer that helps the manicure last two to three times longer than one done with regular polish.

However, not all gel nail kits are created equal. To find the best one for your next manicure, you have to understand what gel nail polish is and its benefits compared to traditional polish, decide whether you prefer LED or UV gel polish, and determine what components to look for to ensure you wind up with a gel nail kit that fits your needs.

gel nail lamp
To cut down on the time it takes to do a gel manicure, look for a kit that includes a lamp that’s big enough to fit your whole hand at once.

How to buy the best gel nail kit

What is gel nail polish?

Gel nail polish includes a combination of monomers and oligomers in a brush-on formula. A gel manicure requires a base coat, a colored polish, and a topcoat, and each layer must be cured for 30 to 90 seconds under a UV or LED light. Once the gel polish cures, it transforms from a liquid to a hard, shiny finish that’s highly durable and chip resistant.

Gel nail kit benefits

A gel manicure usually takes a little more time than a traditional manicure. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth the extra effort to do it yourself, it’s important to understand the benefits that a gel nail kit offers.

Long wear time: The main reason most people opt for gel nail polish is the longevity of the manicure. Unlike regular nail polish that usually lasts for about a week, a gel manicure can last up to four weeks. It’s also less likely to chip.

Quick dry time: While you have to hold your fingertips under a UV or LED light for at least 30 seconds to cure each of the three layers, many people like the fact that their nails are completely dry once removed from the light. As a result, you don’t have to worry about the smudges that can happen with traditional nail polish.

High-shine finish: The curing process gives a gel manicure a finish that’s much shinier and glossier than a regular manicure.

Natural feel: Unlike relatively rigid acrylic nails, gel-polished nails are flexible, like natural nails. That typically makes a gel manicure feel more natural and comfortable.

Affordability: You can have a gel manicure done at a nail salon, but you’ll pay a good deal each time you get one. If you invest in a gel nail kit, it can pay for itself with just one or two manicures.

UV vs. LED lights

A gel nail kit comes with either a UV or LED light for curing each of the layers of your manicure. Both types emit UV wavelengths that react with the chemicals in the polish, and both types effectively cure the polish, but there are some key differences between the two.

UV: These nail lamps are the most common option and usually more affordable than LED. UV lamps provide a broader spectrum of light wavelengths. On the downside, you’ll likely find yourself replacing the bulbs more often. And a UV lamp can take anywhere from 90 seconds to a couple of minutes to cure each layer.

LED: While you’ll typically pay more for an LED lamp, it generally lasts longer than a UV model. LED lights offer a more targeted dose of UV light wavelengths. And these lamps typically require only 30 to 60 seconds to cure each layer.

Be sure to cover your entire nail with the gel topcoat. If you miss any part of the nail, the polish can begin to lift after just a few days.

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What features should I look for in a gel nail kit?

Base and topcoat

For a long-lasting manicure, you need a high-quality base coat and topcoat no matter what type of polish you use. With gel polish, you need a special type of base coat and topcoat that can be cured by UV or LED light. Nearly all gel nail kits include a base coat and topcoat with the colored gel polish. Avoid any kit that requires you to buy the base coat and topcoat separately.

Lamp

Most gel nail kits come with the necessary UV or LED lamp for curing the polish. However, some contain only gel polish because they’re designed to be add-on kits that only provide additional colors. You can purchase a polish-only kit if you already have a starter kit that includes a lamp and you just want to expand your color options.

Most of the UV or LED lamps use a USB cord, so you have to plug them into a computer or USB wall adapter for power. They’re usually foldable, which makes them easy to store and pack for travel.

Gel polish

All gel nail kits come with at least one gel polish. However, you can find many kits that offer more than one shade, from three to six to a dozen. Keep in mind that gel polish bottles are usually smaller than traditional nail polish bottles. For example, gel nail kits typically include bottles that hold 0.25 to 0.3 fluid ounce, while regular polish generally comes in bottles of 0.5 fluid ounce.

Nail cleanser

For the best gel manicure, it helps to prepare the surface of your nails to make sure that the polish fully adheres. Some kits include a cleanser solution or wipes to remove any oils or residue from your nails so the polish goes on smoothly and stays in place as long as possible.

Tools and accessories

Some gel nail kits include all the manicure tools you need. You can find kits that come with a nail file, clippers, brush, and cuticle stick. Some kits also include accessories to create nail art, such as a dotting tool, stickers, and rhinestones.

showering
DID YOU KNOW?
Hot water is particularly damaging to gel nail polish, so avoid long showers or baths when you have a gel manicure.
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How do I accessorize a gel nail kit?

Nail clippers

If your gel nail kit doesn’t come with nail clippers, you’ll want to invest in a high-quality pair to help cut your nails to your desired length. Look for nail clippers made of stainless steel that maintain a sharp edge and have an ergonomic design that allows you to hold them comfortably.

Nail files

To shape your nails before your manicure, you need a nail file that can create your chosen shape safely and easily. Glass, crystal, and ceramic files are usually the gentlest, but metal and paper files are more affordable.

Gel nail polish

If your gel nail kit only comes with a single shade of polish, you can purchase gel nail polish separately in any shade you want. In addition, the polish comes in sets with multiple shades and finishes so you can customize your manicure any way you want.

How much do gel nail kits cost?

Inexpensive

The most affordable gel nail kits contain polish only. They might also include a topcoat and base coat, but these kits don’t come with a UV or LED lamp for curing the polish. One of these can be a good option if you already have a lamp and only want to expand your polish collection. These gel nail kits generally cost between $5 and $25.

Mid-range

These gel nail kits typically contain a gel polish, topcoat, base coat, and UV lamp. The number of bottles of polish included varies from kit to kit, but you’ll pay more for those containing more shades. These kits usually cost between $25 and $42.

Expensive

The most expensive kits contain gel nail polish, topcoat, base coat, and LED lamp. Some only include one or two shades, but you can also find kits that contain as many as a dozen. These kits typically cost between $43 and $75.

When removing gel nail polish, make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated room to avoid inhaling the strong acetone fumes.

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Tips

  • Prep your nails before applying gel polish. Trim and file your nails to the right length and shape. Use a cuticle stick to push back your cuticles, and lightly buff the surface of your nails. Afterward, wipe your nails with alcohol or the cleansing solution that comes with your kit to remove any residue.
  • Keep the layers thin. If the layers of polish are too thick, you’ll wind up with an uneven, lumpy manicure. Thick polish can also take longer to cure.
  • Cure the base coat, each layer of gel polish, and topcoat. Every layer in a gel manicure has to be cured separately under the UV or LED lamp to ensure that it lasts as long as possible.
  • Avoid getting the gel polish on your skin. If the polish gets onto your skin, it can start to lift at the edges and prevent your manicure from lasting as long.
  • Apply cuticle oil after your gel manicure. Even if you moisturize your cuticles before your manicure, the process can be a bit drying on the skin, so it helps to restore some hydration afterward too.
sunscreen on hand
Because UV and LED lamps produce UVA and UVB rays, there's a risk of sun damage when you place your hands under the light. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to your hands and let it absorb for at least 20 minutes before your manicure.

FAQ

Q. Is gel nail polish safe for nails?

A. Gel nail polish is somewhat hard on nails. It can make nails brittle and cause peeling and cracking. To prevent damage to your nails, avoid wearing gel polish for more than two weeks at a time. After you remove the polish, leave your nails bare for at least a few days. Take the time to moisturize your nails too. It helps to keep nails from getting brittle and splitting.

Q. How do I remove gel nail polish?

A. Start by using a coarse nail file to gently abrade off the top layer of polish and remove the topcoat. Don’t try to take off any of the colors. Buff carefully until the shiny surface layer is removed.

Next, apply a thick cream or cuticle oil around your nails to protect the skin. Saturate ten cotton balls with acetone, place a ball on each nail, and wrap a piece of foil around each ball to hold it in place. Let your nails sit for at least 10 to 15 minutes before checking them. The acetone should lift the polish from your nails so you can then use the cotton ball to push off the polish.

Q. How long does a gel manicure last?

A. A gel manicure typically lasts anywhere from 10 to 14 days. However, you shouldn’t wear gel polish for more than two weeks at a time because you can damage your nails if you leave it on any longer. Also, your gel nails may not last as long if they get wet frequently, so you might want to wear rubber gloves when washing dishes or cleaning around the house.

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