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While it can admittedly seem like a daunting DIY beauty task, giving yourself an at-home gel manicure really isn’t as hard as you might think. Particularly when there’s a whole world of gel nail kits available that can make the process that much easier.
“You have everything you need for a gel manicure at your fingertips, literally, and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your home,” says manicurist and salon owner Syreeta Aaron, an educator for LeChat Nails. “It’s a little expensive at first but once you have the kit and any additional supplies you need, it’s cost-efficient over time,” she adds. (Not to mention it saves you the time you’d spend in and traveling to and from the salon as well.)
So which kit is the right choice for you? Read on for our favorite at-home gel nail kits, below.
Best Overall: Red Carpet Manicure Pro 45 Starter Kit
This stand-out set comes complete with everything you need for a flawless gel mani (and (has the added benefit of coming with a bottle of remover, as well). The bottles are a bit small, but keep in mind that gel manis last longest when you apply thin coats of polish, and reviewers rave about how long this lacquer lasts. The size and shape of the lamp is best suited for doing only a few fingers at a time, but the entire process is still fairly quick and efficient.
Best Drugstore: Gelish Complete Starter Kit
One of the category’s best-sellers, this kit has all the essentials. It comes with an LED lamp (which cures polish in 45 seconds), though the polish can also be cured under a UV lamp, should you happen to have one of those on-hand. You will need to buy the color separately—the brand has over 200 hues to pick from—but there is a primer, base coat, topcoat, and cuticle oil included, all of which have unique laser-cut, domed bristles to make smooth swiping a breeze.
Best Portable: Le Mini Macaron Gel Manicure Starter Set
This itty-bitty option is so small and streamlined that you could even take it with you on your travels; the lamp has a USB cord so you can even charge it through your laptop. It takes only about 30 seconds to cure a coat of polish, a major plus given that you will need to do one finger at a time. The lamp comes in three colors, each of which comes with a polish in a corresponding shade.
Bets Polish: Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish
For those who want to skip the curing step, this swipe-and-go polish is ideal. It goes on exactly like any other nail lacquer—the only difference? There’s no base coat needed. Simply swipe on two coats of any shade you choose (there are tons and tons to pick from, in true Essie fashion), then top that with the special top coat. The color lasts up to two weeks and stays super shiny that entire time, yet still comes off extremely easily, no soaking or filing required.
Best All-in-One Set: Vishine Gel Nail Polish Starter Kit
Yes, this comes with a curing LED lamp and six colors of polish (plus base and top coats), but it also has the distinction of coming with 31 different tools. There’s everything you need for basic manicuring—think files and a brush—along with unique tools to help you create nail art, too. Aaron notes that it’s another great option for beginners, and is great for anyone looking to master the at-home gel mani.
Best for Beginners: Sally Hansen Salon Gel Polish Gel Nail Color Starter Kit
A true juggernaut in the at-home nail care space, it should come as no surprise that this brand offers an excellent gel mani kit. It boasts an LED lamp, one color, top and base coats, plus all kinds of manicure essentials, think a file and buffer, cuticle stick, and more. The simple and easy-to-follow instructions make it a great pick for beginners, and you can score up to 10 manicures per kit, making this a great value, too.
Best for Pros: Young Nails Professional Gel Kit
This option is choice for expert DIYers, as well as for those who are going for more of a dramatic effect. Because it also comes with tips, it’s great for anyone who’s looking to add extra length to their nails, says Aaron.
Best for Damaged Nails: Zoya Gelie-Cure Foundation Pro Kit
While this set doesn’t come with a colored polish, it does come with everything you need to ensure your tips stay strong and healthy, no matter how many at-home gel manis you give yourself. Namely, the brand’s reparative nail serum and base coat, along with a clear polish that can be used to seal those in. Add the Zoya hue of your choosing or not; either way; your nails are guaranteed to look great.
Best for Removal: Red Carpet Manicure Remove Kit
In case you missed the memo, peeling off a gel manicure, as tempting as it may be, is a major no-no. Proper filing and soaking is imperative for keeping your nails strong and healthy, and this kit makes it easy to do exactly that. Credit the included buffer, remover, foil wraps, and orangewood stick, all the essentials you need to correctly and safely take off that gel polish once it’s time to do so.
You can’t go wrong with the Red Carpet Manicure Pro 45 Starter Kit, a complete system that reviewers say can be used quickly and efficiently to score a shiny, chip-free mani that will last for weeks. If you’re a beginner, the Sally Hansen Gel Polish Gel Nail Color Kit is an easy-to-use (and affordable) pick, with clear instructions; a wide range of colors also work with the included lamp. For those who want to go light-free, Essie Gel Couture Polish is essentially the same as a traditional lacquer, just with a much longer-lasting, super-shiny color. Regardless, when it comes time to take off your gel mani, it’s worth picking up the Red Carpet Manicure Remove Kit to make the process easier than ever.
How do you use an at-home gel nail kit?
Start with clean, washed hands, then prep your nails by wiping them with an alcohol pad to help remove the natural oils. Apply one coat of primer, then the base coat. The base coat usually needs to be cured for 30 to 60 seconds, depending on the brand, says Aaron, but your best bet is to follow the instructions of the particular products you’re choosing. Apply two coats of color, curing in between coats, and finish with one layer of topcoat. If the topcoat leaves behind a sticky residue, simply wipe it off with another alcohol pad, suggests Aaron.
Are at-home gel nail kits safe?
In short, yes. “The application and use of the kit are safe, but what isn’t always safe is the removal process, which needs to be done properly,” cautions Aaron. Make sure that you don't peel off the polish, as this will peel away layers of the nail plate with it and end up damaging the nail, she warns. Start by filling the top of the nail, until you see a white, chalky color, she says; this indicates you’ve filed through the topcoat. Then, soak your nails in pure acetone for seven to 10 minutes, finishing by scraping off any polish with a cuticle pusher. She says that you should keep in mind that you may need to re-soak several times.