When gel nails took the salon world by storm, it seemed to solve a seasoned manicure-lover’s dilemma: a nail polish that lasts at least two weeks, no chipping, no weekly visit required and less time wasted. Sure, it cost a little more per session, but the money and time you were saving made up for it. But what to do if you’re not a salon-goer and prefer to do your nails at home? You’re in luck because these days, the market is flooded with at-home gel nails options that allow you to get that salon-quality, longer-lasting manicure, from your kitchen table. With so many incredible polishes, systems, kits and even press-ons on the market today, you can rest easy knowing your at-home gel nails are going to look professional, creative and chic — for less.
In fact, we tapped three celebrity nail artists including , and for amazing tips and expert advice when it comes to at-home gel nails, especially for women over 50. Continue below to find out all about at-home gel nails, how much they cost, the benefits, our top shopping picks and so much more.
What is a gel manicure?
“Gels have been popular since the ’80s but it wasn’t until the late ’90s and early 2000s that they started to become more accessible in salons,” explains nail artist Sigourney Nuñez. “By the 2010s, gel services became a nail menu staple.” By 2015, almost one in four women had had at least one gel manicure in a salon.
Their popularity makes sense because the approach produces excellent results. During a gel manicure, the technician will apply two to three coats of a gel-based polish that’s a bit thicker than typical polish. After each coat, you’ll place your hands under a special UV/LED lamp for 30 to 60 seconds. The drying process is called “curing,” and the polish “dries once being exposed to the UV rays in a professional LED lamp,” explains Tamara Di Lullo veteran nail artist and CND Education Ambassador. Basically, curing creates a protective barrier against chipping and stripping.
The benefits of getting gel nails
Unlike regular nail polishes, gel polishes are made from ingredients that adhere to the nail tightly and are strong enough to withstand daily wear without chipping. Long story short: gel manicures keep nails looking gorgeous much longer than a manicure that uses regular polish. Regular polish sometimes lasts for just a few days, whereas with gels, you can expect them to last for weeks. “[Gel nails] are longer-wearing than traditional nail polish manicures and protect your natural nails,” says celebrity nail artist Pattie Yankee who’s worked with stars like Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Allison Williams to name a few. And adds celebrity luxury nail artist Jenny Hart. “Gel manicures typically last somewhere between 3-4 weeks.” And if you’re going for a gel press-on at-home option, those can last anywhere from 1-2 weeks, depending on how active you are with your hands.
And whether you’re a nail-biter or always manage to chip your nails, a gel mani just might be your best bet. “Gel protects your nails against chipping and breakage along with keeping them stronger,” says Hart. Plus, Yankee tells us you can also expect your nails to look better. “They are chip-free and provide maximum shine and volume.” These can both be said for in-salon and at-home treatments, but the biggest difference (and benefit) between the two is that at-home gel nails don’t require you to leave your couch — sign us up!
How much do gel nails cost in-salon vs at home?
The cost of gel nails is tough to determine, as prices truly vary greatly. “In-salon gel manicures range roughly between $40-$150 or more,” shares Queenie Nguyen who’s painted the nails of stars like Goldie Hawn and Jessica Alba. Depending on the salon you go to (and whether or not you get a design), it really can seem like it’s costing you an arm and a leg to get your nails looking nice and fresh. However, with at-home gel nails or even an at-home kit, you’re looking at a much more cost-effective and maintainable price. “After an initial investment in a DIY kit, doing your own nails at home can potentially help save hundreds of dollars, and spare you the headache of making appointments,” Hart says. And for press-ons, they’re even better in terms of price, with plenty of options in the $10-$20 range.
Upkeep of gel nails at the salon vs. home
If you’re like us, driving to the salon every few weeks and sitting in the chair for over an hour doesn’t sound like much fun. Sure, it can be relaxing for some people, but we think most women over 50 are looking for an easier way to get the perfect manicure. “Salon gel manis require maintenance every 2-3 weeks for removal and to have a new set applied,” shares Yankee. “At home, you need to remove them, but it’s more economical and easier to fit into your at-home lifestyle.” Especially if you have errands to run, meetings to attend or things to do around the house. Hart tells us, “Salon upkeep is inconvenient — any chipping requires making an appointment and driving to the salon to get the nails repaired,” she says. “At-home repair is much more convenient and can be done whenever you have a spare minute.”
Best at-home sets, kits and polish
Keep reading to see our favorite at-home gel nails to try for yourself!
Best at-home gel starter kit
Red Carpet Manicure Ultimate Gel Polish Pro Starter Kit (Buy from Ulta, $99.99)
Never have we ever seen a cuter gel kit than this! This starter pack has everything you need to create a stunning at-home manicure — trust us when we say your friends and family are going to think you went to an actual salon! This kit is complete with so many goodies for just under $100, including a professional locking case, LED light, LED gel nail polish, nail primer, base coat gel, top coat gel, nail and cuticle oil, pre and post application cleanser, erase gel nail polish remover, nail wipes, foil remover wraps and accessories kit.
Top Customer Review: “I have only ever had my nails done at a salon but being in an RV for six months put a stop to that. I stumbled across this product and decided to take a chance. The results are incredible! No more three-hour trips to the nail salon for me!”
Best salon-grade gel kit
Lucid Polish Premium Salon-Grade LED Gel Polish Kit (Buy from Lucid Polish, $40)
Don’t let the phrase “salon-grade” scare you off — while this kit from Lucid Polish is absolutely worthy of being in a salon, it’s so easy to use that even beginners can master the process (which takes less than 15 minutes!). This kit is fully loaded and includes the following: 80w lamp, stainless steel cuticle pusher, gel remover, lemon-scented cuticle pen, nail file, scrub brush, extended wear top, matte top and nail cleanse packets. With easy-to-follow directions, you can expect your gel mani to last for up to two weeks with this kit.
Top Customer Review: “My nails look like I just stepped out of the salon!! This kit was easy to use and I didn’t have to worry about the extra steps of using a base and top coat. I’m looking forward to buying more colors!”
Best no-light-needed gel polish
Essie Gel Couture (Buy from Amazon, $9.38)
When it comes to polish, Essie is the gold standard. So of course, the iconic brand came up with a Gel Couture formula. No base coat or UV light needed and your nails will look pretty much identical to gels, but the polish removes like regular polish. Not only that, but they will last you for weeks. Best of all, it comes in 45 colors, but we’re partial to Sheer Fantasy, the perfect shade of pink.
Top Customer Review: “This nail polish is really the best! It has a great shine, does not chip and lasts a long time. What’s not to like?”
Best gel travel system
Le Mini Macaron DIY Gel Manicure Kit (Buy from Le Mini Macaron, $26.60)
Le Mini Macaron’s DIY Gel Manicure Kit is compact and easy to take with you — whether you’re hopping on a plane, train or car. Reviewers say the instructions are relatively easy to follow, with results that can last for weeks on end. This kit has everything you could ever need to create a beautiful gel manicure including an LED lamp, a gel polish, a cuticle pusher, a mini nail file and even 10 gel polish remover wraps for when you’re ready to do a new set. “I recommend using a 3-in-1 type of gel nail polish so that you can limit your time in the gel lamp,” Nguyen tells us.
Top Customer Review: “Took this on a vacation and it came in handy. Super easy to use, just apply and cure. No mess and it doesn’t take up any space in the luggage. This will be in my emergency travel kit for sure, gel stays on for a couple of weeks, it’s easy to take off with the acetone wipes and file that come with it.”
Best UV-free gel kit
While most traditional gel manicures require LED lights to cure the gel, there is one system on the market that is truly innovative and user-friendly — the Dazzle Dry Ember System Kit! This product is TikTok-viral for a reason, and as we’ve personally tested it out, we can attest that while slightly higher in price, it’s worth every single penny knowing your hands aren’t taking any of the potentially skin-damaging light. It comes with a nail prep scrub, base coat, nail lacquer, top coat and revive formula (it helps with consistency). When these are all used together, you’re left with a manicure that has all of the fixings of gel that’s non-toxic, quick to dry and long to last.
Top Customer Review: “Fantastic! I followed the application procedures and my nails looks great. I have had the nail polish on for three weeks, still looking good.”
Best French gel-like press-on nails
Chillhouse French Twist Press-Ons (Buy from Chillhouse, $11.20)
You can never go wrong with a classic French mani, and if you don’t feel like drawing on French tips yourself, Chillhouse has some fabulous press-ons. This kit comes with 24 nails to ensure you find your absolute perfect fit, in addition to a dual-sided buffer and file, a cuticle stick and some gentle glue. These press-ons are a great choice not only because of the darling look, but also because of the glue — it’s non-damaging and gives the look of a classic gel manicure you’d get at the salon. The application is super easy and should only take about 10 minutes.
Top Customer Review: “Love these! Great nails, easy to put on, good quality and stay on longer than expected!”
(Click through for more of the best press nails.)
Best short gel-like press-on nails
Tip Beauty Baby Fomo Matte Short Press-Ons (Buy from Amazon, $9.60)
You can’t go wrong with a set of gel-like press-on nails in a short silhouette, and these ones from Tip Beauty have to be the best ones we’ve tried! While these specific nails only last for about a week, they’re great if you’re in a time crunch or have an event, as it only takes five minutes to apply. Your kit will come with 24 nails, non-toxic nail glue, a nail file and an alcohol wipe.
Top Customer Review: “I have recently started wearing fake nails and using gel polish, and this is something that I will be purchasing again. The glue works well and my nails look great. It doesn’t take long to dry at all and I am very pleased with both the nails and the glue.”
Best semi-cured gel nail strips
Dashing Diva’s Glaze Gel Nail Strips (Buy from Dashing Diva, $10)
Looking for a gel mani hybrid that uses UV but that you don’t have to paint on? Dashing Diva’s Glaze Gel Nail Strips are both Yankee’s and Nguyen’s top pick for gel products on the market because of the easy application process. “They are a fast and easy at-home gel system that comes in a variety of colors and designs,” says Yankee. “Once nails are prepped and clean, size the nail strip to your nail bed, trim off the excess, cure for 45 seconds under an LED lamp and file – it’s a gel manicure that can be done in ten minutes at home.” The LED lamp doesn’t come with these strips, but it’s available for purchase on the site (Buy from Dashing Diva, $20).
Top Customer Review: “The application process is very simple, a little tricky to do the non-dominant hand but no worries about smears or streaks. I would recommend a set of clippers with a lot of space between the blades and hinge, or a good, sharp pair of nail scissors to easily trim off the excess strip. I love the finished look.”
Best gel nail extension kit
Aprés Nail Gel-X® Nail Extension Kit (Buy from Apres, $106.98)
GEL-X is a form of gel polish that both pros and amateurs love (us included!). It’s perfect for those wanting to lengthen their nails or get more of a uniform look. Plus, you can choose your specific tip shape, from coffin to square, round, stiletto and almond, all in various lengths! This nail extension kit is just over $100 and comes complete with the following: Gel-X Sculpted Tips, pH Bonder, Non-Acidic Gel Primer, Extend Gel, Top Gelcoat, X-Lite LED light, 100/180 grit emery board and black patent vegan leather case. It’s all you need to get the perfect salon-worthy gel manicure straight from home.
Top Customer Review: “Honestly I’m so impressed with how much this kit simplifies doing your nails at home. I never thought my nails would look as good as they do considering I did them myself!”
How to make this manicure last longer
While traditional nail polish might seem less time-consuming, in the long run, you’ll likely end up spending more time on your nails, dealing with chipping, removal and re-painting every few days. With gel nails, however, there are many ways to make them last longer from home, and it all starts with prep. “Nail prep is key — before applying a gel manicure, make sure your nails are cleaned of oil and residue with 70% isopropyl alcohol and that your cuticles are pushed back and cleaned from the nail plate,” says Yankee. “Additionally, using cuticle oil as part of your daily routine and wearing gloves helps a lot.
In addition to proper nail prep, your daily activities play a large role in how long your at-home gel nails will last. Nguyen has some great tips to keep in mind: “Wear gloves when you do dishes or other cleaning chores around the house to avoid damaging the gel manicure with cleaning chemicals.” She also loves a good ‘ol hand or nail cream to keep them hydrated, suggesting PAUME’s All-in-One Cuticle & Nail Cream (Buy from PAUME, $20).
The most important piece of advice all nail experts offer is to not pick your nails. We know that might be hard, especially when you’re coming up on the end of your few weeks, but trust us when we say that by following this simple rule, you can elongate your mani by days if not weeks.
How to remove gel nails at home
Removing gel nails from home is actually pretty simple! All you need is acetone and a cotton swab. “Soaking your nails with acetone and gently rubbing the gel off with a cotton swab is the best way to prevent any damage and keep your nails healthy,” Hart tells us.
And if you’re wearing press-on gels, like the Dashing Diva’s Glaze Gel Strips above, take Yankee’s advice: “Dashing Diva’s Glaze Gel Strips do not require soak off — just a drop of their Magic Off Nail Remover (Buy from Dashing Diva, $7) or any type of oil such as olive oil, coconut oil or cuticle oil at the cuticle line,” she says. “Then, use a cuticle stick to remove the cured gel nail sticker. It takes less than 1 minute!”
After your removal process is done, Nguyen suggests going in with one final product, “Apply cuticle oil to rehydrate and condition the nail plate post-removal.”
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