Best Gel Nail Polishes

Updated April 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

26 Models Considered
9 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
465 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
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.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Shopping guide for best gel nail polishes

Last Updated April 2019

If you want beautifully-polished nails in attractive colors that will last, you could go to a salon and spend quite a bit of money to get the look you love. Or, you could invest in the tools you need to treat yourself to gorgeous manicures in the comfort of your home.

Gel nail polishes differ from traditional formulas because they last much longer without fading or chipping — sometimes as long as three weeks. And although you’ll also need to invest in a UV or LED nail lamp to cure gel polish once you’ve applied it, you’ll save money in the long run with lasting results for a fraction of the cost of repeated trips to the nail salon.

Achieving pretty nails with colors that stay put for lengthy periods of time requires quality gel nail polishes and the know-how to apply them properly. Check out our favorite gel nail polishes, and continue reading the shopping guide below for all the information and advice you need for lovely, time-defying nail color.

Gel nail polish sets that include a variety of colors are ideal for consumers who love to change the color of their nails to match their different moods, outfits, and styles.

Gel vs. traditional nail polish

If you’ve ever painted your nails, you are probably used to swiping on traditional nail polishes that dry quickly, and tend to chip easily, often noticeably within a couple days. Gel nail polishes work a bit differently, as they have gel-based ingredients that combine with other chemicals to produce brilliant shine and long-wear once cured.

UV and LED nail curing lamps are made especially for “setting” gel nail polish. The heat emitted from these lamps creates a chemical reaction in the ingredients of gel nail polishes to seal them so they are virtually flawless for weeks to come. There are pros and cons to both gel and traditional options.

Gel nail polish

  • Pros

    • Wears longer than traditional polishes — usually two or three weeks.

    • Not as prone to chipping or wearing away from normal day to day activities.

    • Salon-like quality shine.

    • Available in numerous fashionable colors, from classic opaque to vivid shimmer.
       

  • Cons

    • Takes a while to apply due to the curing process.

    • Can be difficult and time consuming to remove because you can’t just wipe it off with regular nail polish remover.

    • Requires more tools than traditional polishes.

    • Some are concerned about the required UV or LED light to set it (potential skin damage).

    • Can damage nails, especially if they are thin and brittle. Gel polish should only be used on strong, healthy nails.
       

Traditional nail polish

  • Pros

    • Also available in many color options and finishes, even matte.

    • Easy to apply.

    • Only air drying required.

    • Dries quickly.

    • Easy to remove.

    • Usually less expensive.

    • More formulas (vegan, fortifying, strengthening, etc.).
       

  • Cons

    • Doesn’t wear very long — as little as a few days.

    • Chips and fades easily.

    • Some colors look dull and flat.

    • Some have a strong odor.

DID YOU KNOW?

It’s a myth that nail polish inhibits nails’ ability to “breathe,” because the bloodstream provides the oxygen and nutrients they need.

Why do you need a curing lamp?

The formula that gives gel nail polishes their staying power simply won’t dry and harden properly without being cured, and that process requires special heat. That’s where a curing lamp comes in. You’ll be able to choose from lamps that produce UV or LED light. Newer models have automatic timers built in, so you need only press a button to turn on for each step of the curing, which takes one minute or less.

Lamps that emit UV lights were the first used to cure gel nail polish; however, the technology has evolved. LED lamps “set” gel polishes in a about half the time as their UV counterparts, and should not cause skin damage like old-school UV lamps can (although some opt to still where fingerless gloves for protection). You can expect to pay a bit less for a UV lamp, so this is still an option if you are watching your budget and don’t mind spending a bit more time with your hands under the light source as your polish cures.

Keep in mind that some nail polishes have the term “gel” in their descriptions, but only those that require curing with a lamp are true gel formulas that provide long-lasting wear. They are often referred to as “soak off” polishes, and while they might last slightly longer than traditional nail polish, the main appeal is a glossy, gel-like finish.

Steps for applying gel nail polish

  1. Purchase the necessary items. In addition to gel nail polish, you’ll need a curing lamp, base and top coats, nail file or emery board, nail buffer, cuticle removing tool and scissors, acetone nail polish remover, and cotton pads. You’ll also need foil or nail soak clips for removing old gel polish, and alcohol to wipe your nails when finished. A cuticle removing gel or liquid may also be needed.

  2. Remove old nail polish. If it’s gel, apply acetone with the cotton balls or pads and cover them with the foil or clips. After about 15 minutes, you can begin scraping off the softened polish with the cuticle tool.

  3. Prepare your nails. Trim and file your nails and cuticles as needed, and use cuticle remover if necessary. Buff your nails for smooth, even surfaces, and wash and dry your hands.

  4. Apply a thin base coat. Cure your nails under the lamp.

  5. Apply the gel nail polish. Carefully coat your nails. Apply additional coats as needed to achieve your ideal shade, but remember to place your nails under the curing lamp to set after each coat.

  6. Apply the top coat. Cure your nails one last time.

  7. Wipe your nails with alcohol. This step will remove excess resin build up that is a product of the curing process. However, some no-wipe formulas don’t require this step.

  8. The curing time for each coat may vary, depending on the brand of polish you use and the thickness of the layers. However, cure times typically range from 30 to 120 seconds. As you apply more coats, you may have to increase the cure time a bit.

Some gel nail polishes produce sticky resins once they are cured that must be wiped away, sometimes with a special cleanser. This isn’t a concern with “no wipe” formulas.

Staff
BestReviews

Gel nail polish features

We’ve talked about the application process of gel nail polishes and how they differ from traditional options; however, they also have features.

  • Just like traditional polishes, gel polishes come in many colors options, from neutral to bold and everything in between.

  • Gel nail polishes are available in bottles of various sizes, including miniature and standard sizes.

  • Just like the types of nail polishes you’ve most likely used for years, you apply gel nail polish with a small brush that is attached to the cap.

  • Most gel nail polishes have fairly strong odor (as is the case with any nail polish), although some are milder than others.

  • Gel nail polishes come in a wide range of prices, with premium, professional brands like OPI and Dior falling higher on the price spectrum — just like traditional nail polishes.

Gel nail polish prices

Gel nail polishes are available as single bottles and in sets or kits. A quality kit will contain a variety of colors, although the bottles are often small (about .24 to .33 ounce). They range in price from about $15 to $30 for around eight to 20 bottles, and some include base and top coats. You can purchase top and base coats together, or smaller sets that include one to a few colors and a base or top coat. Expect to pay around $10 to $23 for this option. You can also choose your favorite premium gel nail polish individually, which runs approximately $13 to $25 or a bit higher per standard size bottles (about .5 ounce). You may also opt for a complete gel manicure kit, with everything you need for an at-home manicure, although usually the quality isn’t the best, and a decent kit should cost close to $100.

EXPERT TIP

For the best results, don’t skimp on steps or tools. At minimum, you’ll need a base coat, top coat, and curing lamp in addition to your gel polish.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Always allow your nails to cure under a UV or LED lamp for the appropriate time. Otherwise, the polish may lack the shine and longevity you are expecting. You also don’t want to cure them much too long, or you could cause skin damage. If you get sunburned easily, we recommend wearing fingerless gloves or even applying sunscreen to the skin that will be exposed to the light.

  • Keep a bottle of acetone nail polish remover, cotton balls, and cotton swabs close by when applying gel nail polish. You’ll be prepared to clean up any messes or mistakes quickly and effectively.

  • If you are new to polishing your nails, start with light, natural colors. They are easier to apply evenly, plus missed spots and mistakes aren’t as obvious as they are when dark colors are used.

  • Apply gel nail polish in thin layers using using even, vertical strokes for the best results.

  • Whether applying gel nail polish or using acetone to remove it, make sure your room is well ventilated to avoid any adverse reactions from the fumes.

  • Moisturizing your nails and cuticles in between gel manicures will help to prevent them from drying out from the acetone remover.

  • As with any product that contains chemicals, discontinue using gel nail polish if you experience a reaction such as irritation or inflamed skin, or thin and brittle nails.

Other products we considered

If you’ve looked over our five favorite picks for the best gel nail polishes, you probably see several that you’d like to try. But there are so many varieties on the market that we wanted to recommend a few more options for you to consider, like AIMEILI Top and Base Coat Set. You’ll get two essentials for creating a beautiful finish in no-wipe formulas that will cut down on mess and time. We also like the Sexy Mix Pink Gel Kit for those who can’t get enough of the color, because this collection contains several pretty hues in the pink family. Anyone who loves to try a wide spectrum of nail colors should check out Lavender Violet’s 18-Color Kit, which includes almost every shade in a rainbow and also comes with top and base coats, all with no-wipe formulas.

Although applying and removing gel nail polish are somewhat time-consuming processes, the reward is glossy color that lasts much longer than traditional nail polish.

FAQ

Q. What will happen if I use a gel nail polish without a curing lamp?

A. It’s tempting to give gel nail polish a try with hassling with using a lamp to set it; however, you will be disappointed in the results. Without the heat from the UV or LED light produced by a curing lamp, your gel polish won’t harden effectively. Not only will it lack the high-gloss shine, but it will smudge, smear, or otherwise not last very long.

Q. Do some colors take longer to cure than others?

A. You aren’t likely to notice a major difference in the time it takes to cure gel nail polish of different colors. However, because it’s more difficult for light to penetrate dark colors, you may have to add a few seconds of extra curing time if you opt for very dark colored gel polishes. You also might notice that glitter formulas need more curing time (and will also be more stubborn to remove).

Q. Are gel nail polishes damaging to nails?

A. Most nail experts and beauticians agree that gel nail polishes are no more damaging to nails than traditional polishes. On the other hand, it’s the removal process that can require some degree of scraping and soaking in harsh acetone that can dry out and damage nails. Using hand moisturizers and cuticle creams in between manicures can help prevent this problem. Taking a break from gel manicures to let nails recover is also recommended from time to time, especially if they feel thin or start to break more than usual. If they need it, use a treatment polish that is designed to strengthen and repair weak nails. Taking a hair and nails supplement (or just pure biotin) can help keep nails strong, too.

Q. How long do I have to soak my nails in acetone to remove gel nail polish?

A. Typically it takes anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes soaking nails in acetone to soften and remove gel nail polish. However, this will vary depending on the number and thickness of the layers of polish applied. In other words, the more layers and the thicker they are, the longer the soak time needed for complete removal. Be patient and if you need to scrape too hard to get the polish off, they need a bit more soaking time.

The team that worked on this review
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Jacob
    Jacob
    Editorial Manager
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Katie
    Katie
    Editorial Director
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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