If you're a fan of a professional gel manicure, you'll be very familiar with that instant mood-boost you get, after having a fresh set of shiny gels applied. But booking in every few weeks for a shellac or gel manicure can get costly – which is where at-home gel nail kits can help.
The even better news? They're actually really easy to use. The key is to make sure that you invest in one of the very best gel nail kits (more on that below) and then ensure you follow every single step as directed… no cutting corners.
To help you achieve a salon-worthy manicure at home, WH asked celebrity manicurist Jenni Draper for her top tips on DIY-ing a gel manicure. Plus, we've rounded up our tried and tested best gel manicure kits below, so you can be safe in the knowledge your mani will stand the test of time.
Ready to get enrolled in beauty salon school 101? Consider this your crib sheet.
Are home gel nail kits worth it?
First things first, are at-home gel nail kits actually worth it? Some can be expensive and if they're just going to chip, peel and damage your nails then we'd be better off booking in for a professional treatment, thank you very much.
But we're here to tell you that actually— at-home gel nail kits are worth it, as long as you know which are the best ones to buy. A great gel nail kit can quickly upgrade your every day polish into that super-shiny, slick, hard-as-nails mani that you thought only possible at a swanky salon.
Invest your money now and save in the long-term. After all, once you become an at-home mani pro you'll have your friends queuing out the door for DIY salon sessions.
What are the steps for a gel nail kit manicure?
When it comes to getting down to business, each step will vary depending on your individual manicure kit — so it's always worth following the instructions that come with your pack.
As a general rule, there's usually a four-step process to remember: prep, paint, cure, clean. But with a little extra attention, you can turn your at-home gel manicure into a professional salon-worthy mani.
Most kits come complete with an alcohol wipe, so that you can cleanse your nail bed and ensure that any oils are removed before starting. This will help the polish bind to your nail, making it last longer and preventing chipping or peeling.
‘Make sure your nails are cleansed and prepped thoroughly. Although it feels time-consuming, it is vital not to skip this part as good prep is what makes a difference between a short-lived manicure to a great long-lasting mani,’ advises Draper.
‘Don’t be put off by shaping your own nails, it’s easier to do than you think. The key is the way in which you do the filing, only ever file in one direction from side to centre. Never seesaw the file.’
‘After you have shaped your nail, use a nail buffer to smooth the nail plate and make sure there are no nail filings left on the free edge of the nail. When using a buffer, always work from the cuticle to the free edge.’
Then comes the painting process. Some gel manicure kits contain a few different steps here (e.g. they might have a base coat, a colour and then a top coat - whereas some have 3-in-1 polishes) so it's always best to refer to your individual kit.
‘Take your time,’ advises Draper. ‘The gel won’t cure until it goes into the light box so there is absolutely no need to rush anything. If any base coat, gel or topcoat touches the skin, use an orange stick to remove it as this will help prevent lifting later on.’
‘Capping the free edge (painting the end of the nail after you have applied polish to the actual nail) also prevents lifting. Capping the free edge is especially important for the base and topcoat, but try to cap every coat where possible.’
Now for curing. Gel nail varnishes are set in place by an LED lamp, which helps to target teeny-tiny molecules within the polish, causing them to harden and dry — fast.
‘Make sure the area you are working is tidy and you tidy up before each stage to prevent dust and fluff getting onto your nails.’
Once you've set your gel nails, you'll need to clean them off. This is usually done with another wipe, that removes any residue that's not set properly from the lamp. Don't be tempted to skip this step as gel nail polishes won't 'dry' like regular varnishes. If you don't clean the nail afterwards you'll likely end up with sticky nails that attract dust and dirt onto your polish — not chic.
7. Don't forget cuticle oil
‘Use cuticle oil at least once a day, preferably twice and if possible, more!’ says Draper. ‘Your nails and skin can’t get enough of it and will thank you for it. A good cuticle oil will help to hydrate the skin and nails, preventing dryness and in turn splitting.
'Massaging an oil into the cuticles also helps to stimulate the area which encourages nail growth and strength. I like using Dadi’Oil daily to keep my nails moisturised and hydrated to help prevent brittleness and splitting.’
What is the best at-home gel nail kit?
1. Best gel nail kit for: a professional finish
This all-encompassing gel nail kit contains everything you'll need to get your mani-looking salon-worthy in no time.
Of course, you get the LED lamp to cure your nails, the gel polish itself and a base and top coat— but you also receive everything from cuticle oil, sanitiser, remover and cleanser meaning you can give yourself a full-on start to finish manicure, from the comfort of your couch.
2. Best gel nail kit for: fool-proof application
If you're worried about your DIY mani skills, then this little kit is perfect. The polish has a 3-in-1 formula, so you won't have to mess around with top or base coats. Plus the LED lamp is only big enough for one finger at a time, which means that you can make sure every finger is finished and dry — before moving onto the next. No smudging, smearing or ruining all your hard work in between.
3. Best gel nail kit for: using with any nail polish
If you're put off from buying an at-home gel nail kit because you like your existing nail varnish colours (and don't like some of the ones that come with the DIY kits) then this is the one for you. The clever top coat and LED light combo works with any of your existing nail varnish shades and brands, meaning you can transform your favourite Essie, OPI or Rimmel shade to gel in no time at all.
4. Best gel nail kit for: a long term investment
This kit is not messing around. Within it, you've got four Bluesky gel polishes, as well as a snazzy LED lamp, top and base coats and wipes to tidy your nails up.
5. Best gel nail kit for: the non-committal
Transform your existing DIY mani into a gel effect situation. As well as coming complete with fun nail art, to layer onto your previous polish, you can remove your gels easily, taking the entire gel away in one peel, using a hoof stick.
6. Best gel nail kit for: long-lasting results
A less expensive option, because you use your own polish, rather than buying them in the kit. Complete with a professional-looking LED lamp, the effects should last up to 14 days.
7. Best gel nail kit for: colour choice
With six colours to choose from, there's got to be a shade that sings to you in this nifty kit. Plus, there's embellishments and nail art a plenty, if you're more creatively inclined.
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