Nothing boosts your confidence like a manicure, especially when it looks as glossy and luxurious as a fresh set of gels.
But with nail salons closed for the foreseeable future, nail lovers have been left to fend for themselves and master the art of the at-home manicure.
The good news is that it’s more than possible to achieve the perfect manicure by yourself. The bad news is that it takes both patience and practice.
Painting with your non-dominant hand is always tricky. There’s also the risk of congratulating yourself too soon and denting or smudging your still wet nails as you try to go about your day.
Gel kits take away some of the guesswork of finishing your own manicure, with most lamps timing the amount of time it takes to cure (fully dry) nails. There are typically three different kinds of lamp: UV, LED and a UV/LED blend.
While UV and UV/LED lamps tend to be cheaper, they utilise UV rays, which is what makes sunbeds so dangerous. LED lamps are quicker and require less curing time, making them safer for your hands. However, some gels can only be cured by UV lamps.
And choosing the kit is only half the battle. To perfect your technique, apply gel in thin, even layers to avoid any lumps or bumps. Also be sure to prep your cuticles and, if required by your gel polish of choice, apply a base coat. Cuticle oil can also extend the life of your manicure and works wonders on the health of your nail beds.
To find the perfect gel nail kit to keep us glamorous and glossy without the salon, we tested each one over the course of two to three weeks to see which had the longest staying power.
We also tried to bear in mind that we are beginners – just because we haven’t reached the same level as a professional nail technician yet, doesn’t mean our manicures won’t get better and better each time we try.
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Le Mini Macaron rouge and moi deluxe gel manicure set
While Le Mini Macaron has a whole range of adorable yet professional kits, our favourite is this deluxe set. Unlike most of its other options, it features the full-size version of the classic, best-selling macaron-shaped LED lamp. This cures nails in 60 seconds, and can even be adapted for a pedicure when you pull out the bottom tray.
It does have to be powered via a USB, but we can imagine this being really handy for any holiday nail emergencies. We loved all four of the shades, which range from baby pink to a deep, dark wine and stay glossy and unchipped for nearly two weeks. To top it all off, it doesn’t require a base coat and comes with a nail file, cuticle stick and a nifty velvet storage pouch.
Buy now £60.00, Le Mini Macaron
SensatioNail gel nail polish deluxe starter kit
For those ready to commit to the at-home salon for the long haul, this kit covers all bases. As well as 10 full-size gel varnishes (our favourite is the mint green), it provides a cleanser, top and base coat, primer, gel remover and all the bits and bobs you need to perfect your manicure. The lamp itself is possibly the most powerful on this list, curing clear polish in around 15 seconds and taking 30 seconds for colour.
However, it is surprisingly tight to try and dry all your nails at once without any accidental dents. The polish itself lasted exactly two weeks before it started to fade around the tips, but we managed to stretch it to three weeks without any chips. Although the kit is pricey, it works out a good investment if you usually visit salons every two weeks or so, and will become a staple of your beauty routine.
Buy now £149.99, Argos
Red Carpet manicure gel polish pro kit
Red Carpet is an American brand touted as creating the world’s first at-home gel manicure system. Designed for total gel novices, this kit follows the brand’s three-step system for long-lasting wear and shine. To do this, it supplies you with a pre and post application cleanser, adhesion sanitiser, base coat, top coat and cuticle oil, not to mention a gel polish remover and bold red gel shade.
While this seems complex, it’s easy to follow and feels thorough and professional. We found that the LED lamp takes longer to cure than some of its competitors – although it promises 45 seconds, it took more like a minute and a half – but the gel itself is extremely durable and even survived our tester’s nail biting habit.
Buy now £66.06, Amazon
Rio 14 day LED gel polish nails
This is an affordable, straightforward kit perfect for beginners or those who only plan on doing their own gel nails every now and then. Unlike most other kits, you can use any nail polish – gel or not – as you simply use the LED gel as a base and top coat. It takes a bit longer to cure each hand than the lamp’s pre-programmed 60 second timer.
We also found it easier to set our fingers and thumbs separately, as it was a bit cramped trying to fit your whole hand beneath the lamp. Once completely cured, our manicure lasted for about a week and a half. While this wasn’t as longlasting a finish as some other kits, it prolonged the life and appearance of our regular nail varnish.
Buy now £29.99, Argos
Mylee LED nail lamp with top base coat, prep wipe remover kit and gel polish
If you frequent nail salons, odds are you’ve already seen Mylee products. Although advertised for beginners, this kit is suitable for both salon and home use, so you already know you’re in for something good. The lamp cures in 30 seconds and gives nails a glossy finish for up to three weeks. We liked the convex design of the lamp itself – it looked slick and professional and has plenty of room, making it easier to do pedicures and avoid ruining your manicure.
Unlike Mylee’s standard gel starter kit, it utilises LED instead of UV and is the healthier choice for your hands. While any gel varnishes are compatible with this kit, the four shades included – pale pink, lilac, hot pink and wine – are more than enough to get you started.
Buy now £85.00, Mylee
Halo Gel by Pure Nails professional UV gel nail polish starter set
Launched in 2010 in response to demand from UK nail technicians, Halo Gel by Pure Nails has perfected the salon-quality polish. The three shades in this kit – a sparkly baby pink, warm pink and bold red – all lasted for three weeks, and would likely have survived longer given the chance.
While it also comes with a base coat, top coat, nail wipes and acetone tip remover for acrylic nails, our tester especially loved the scrub, which smooths out the surface beforehand to prevent lifting or pilling. As for the lamp, it can be set either at 90 seconds or two minutes, but we found it took just over two minutes to fully cure a full hand. But for those planning on doing their nails regularly, note that it uses UV light. You also have to pop the bulbs in yourself beforehand, which is a bit fiddly.
Buy now £89.95, Nail Polish Direct
Candy Coat beginner candy kit
Beauty brands don’t get much cuter than Candy Coat. Each beginner kit comes with eight of the brand’s top candy-inspired shades, a base and top coat, file and buffer, cuticle pusher and polish remover, plus free sweets. The gel polish formula is thick enough to coat each nail in one layer, but not so thick that you end up with that dreaded chunky finish.
You have a choice of opting in or out of the lamp (it’s £70 for the set without it), which is glossy, pink and just as cute as the rest of the products.
It has three different basic time settings – 10, 30 and 60 seconds – as well as an extended 99 second option with lower heat, as this is a UV/LED lamp. We liked the countdown feature on the front of the lamp and found it roomy enough for both manicures and pedicures.
Buy now £120.00, Candy Coat
The Edge UV gel kit
Compatible only with a UV lamp, this kit (which doesn’t come with a lamp itself) is designed to train novice nail technicians. While it doesn’t feature any colourful gel polishes, it comes with those necessary to complete a classic French tip manicure, as well as gel remover, sterilising spray and a range of priming, buffing and shaping tools.
What sets this kit apart is the fact it also features tips and glue for those hoping to perfect applying their own acrylics. Instructions were easier to follow than anticipated and everything felt extremely high quality, with the pale pink gel polish surviving just over two weeks. However, this is definitely one for the aspiring professionals.
Buy now £59.53, Franklins
Nails Inc gel manicure kit
For those looking for a quick top-up, this kit covers all the basics. Instead of providing a fresh manicure, it prolongs the life of existing, grown-out gels. The kit comes with nail glue (also handy for anyone struggling with damaged acrylics), vitamin E cuticle oil, a base coat and a top coat.
We used this on a two week old gel manicure and managed to push it to nearly four weeks in total, with little to no difference between the gel cured with a lamp and the layer applied with this kit near our nail beds. While it’s not a long-term replacement for a salon, we recommend this to anyone looking to reduce their visits and top-up their manicure at home.
Buy now £29.00, Nails Inc
The verdict: Gel nail kits
The Le Mini Macaron deluxe gel manicure set is not only affordable, but gives effortless results on par with a salon manicure. For those who take their manicures seriously, the SensatioNail gel nail polish deluxe starter kit and Mylee LED kit set you back a bit more but bring salon standards into your own home