Before at-home gel nail kits hit the high street, the only way to achieve shiny, bright and hard-wearing talons was with a bi-monthly trip to the salon. That was time-consuming and costly, so we’re very pleased that there is a new generation of do-it-yourself tools that promise to give you good-as-professional results, at a fraction of the price - all in the comfort of your own home.
So what exactly are they? Traditional gel nails are created using special gel nail polishes that are set under a UV or LED lamp. As the gel varnish sets, just like classic nail polishes, they give a lightweight and natural-looking finish - a far cry from clunky acrylics that can leave you looking more like Edward Scissorhands.
For best results, it’s important to prep your nails beforehand by filing them to your desired length, gently pushing back your cuticles and lightly buffing to take the shine off your nails. Sometimes these manicure tools are included in the kit but always check before you buy. Then when applying the polish, always make sure to seal the tips of your nails with a swipe of the gel polish, this way you should stay chip free for longer.
You can also save money by buying non-branded cleansers and removers. Cleansers are used to remove dirt before application or remaining product at the end but essentially it’s the same as an alcohol hand gel. Similarly, most removers are 100 per cent acetone, which you can pick up at most chemists.
The good news is that there are lots of great kits on the market and while they might initially be more expensive than a gel manicure, in the long-run you’ll save a lot of money. Here, we put a number of kits to the test to bring you the most effective.
1. Bluesky Starter Kit: £53.99, Amazon
This kit provided the most professional-looking results and while the nails might take a little longer to dry compared to other DIY kits, it’s definitely worth the wait. The starter set includes everything you need including a top coat, base coat and four colours. It also comes with a prep-and-wipe liquid, remover and 200 lint-free wipes (to wipe over nails once finished). Unlike the other sets, this one comes with a full-size UV lamp, meaning you can set all five fingers at once and pedicures are much easier to do. After prepping, apply the base coat, colour and top coat with two minutes under the UV lamp between each stage. It’s super-easy to use and the varnishes are easy to apply. Colour-wise, there is an extensive choice including colour changing polish and mermaid effect glitter powder. Our mani lasted a full 2 weeks.
2. Sensationail Starter Kit, Raspberry: £49.99, Boots
This works like a salon gel manicure, only in a fraction of the time. The LED lamp quickly flash dries nails at each stage, taking just thirty seconds. It’s also big enough to fit all five fingers but small enough to be portable. Use by applying the included primer and base, then add the colour and finally follow with the top coat. We found the gel to be super thick, so apply with thin coats to avoid gloopiness. This does have an advantage though, as we found one coat was all it took to cover the entire nail and the results lasted for almost two weeks. The set comes with one small coloured nail polish, from a range of 12. Replacement bottles cost £15.
3. Red Carpet Manicure Gel Polish Starter Kit: £47.96, Beauty Bay
From preparing and painting to a super high shine finish, this kit has everything you need to create professional-looking results. The portable LED light is compact and lightweight, powered by batteries or plugged in. It also comes with four finger grooves for a comfortable fit. Included is a chic red polish, a prep coat that helps encourage maximum adhesion and quick-drying base and top coats, as well as a cleanser and gel nail polish remover. There are quite a few steps but it comes with an easy-to-follow leaflet. The colour formula itself is easy to apply and requires the suggested two coats, lasting two weeks before any sign of chipping. RCM’s range of hues is extensive too. You can get lost in a whirlwind of nudes, autumnal darks and glitters on the official website. We also love the fact that this kit comes with a nourishing cuticle oil to help look after your post-polished digits.
4. Leighton Denny Top That Gel System: £79.99, John Lewis
The great thing about this kit is that it doesn’t require any special gel colour polish. You simply paint on your favourite colour – normal varnish, any brand – and then apply a thin layer of the gel top coat included, which only needs 30 seconds to dry under the lamp. We’re beginning to wonder why no one thought of this before. The kit includes a white portable plug-in UV lamp that comfortably fits five fingers, a top coat, buffer, cuticle stick and cleanser. This was such a simple kit to use and we were left with seriously shiny nails. It’s really important to seal the tip of the nail though because if you don’t, it can begin to peel quite easily. The whole set lasted around one week with the exception of a couple of pesky, unsealed nails.
5. Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Nail Polish: £9.99, Superdrug
If you can’t be doing with all the fuss of a DIY kit, you’re in luck because Sally Hansen has invented a no-light gel polish. We were dubious about the results compared to more expensive, salon-like kits but were pleasantly surprised. In just two easy steps, a colour and a top coat, you’re left with nails that are more chip resistant and shiny than any regular polish and what’s more, the entire set was perfect for a week but definitely wearable for up to two. The gel formula is thick but doesn’t clump together on the nail and the firm brush makes it easy to apply. Although it does take around the same amount of drying time as a regular polish. We love the fact that there are over seventy shades to choose from and that the product can be removed using standard remover. No soaking, wrapping or scraping necessary.
The Verdict: Home gel nail kits
We love the Bluesky Starter Kit, which comes with everything you need to create the perfect at-home manicure with salon-worthy results. While it takes ever so slightly longer to dry nails, it’s so easy to use and had the longest lasting results of the bunch. We also have to mention the Leighton Denny kit, which uses standard polishes, meaning you don’t need to splash out on an entire new collection. It’s a great idea and takes mere seconds under the lamp.
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