Gel nails trump a regular mani with their durability, but can cost anywhere from $25-100 depending on salon or spa—a bit too pricey for those of us on tight budgets. I spoke with Catherine Baek D’Ambrosia, director of Global Education at ORLY, about cutting costs with at-home gel nail kits. As a nervous newbie, I asked her how to make the at-home gel nail process easier. All of the bottles and tools can be a little startling at first. “Take your time. Total application time is approximately 30 to 40 minutes,” says Baek D’Ambrosia. “Make sure to read the instructions before using and remember to avoid flooding the cuticle wall and skin area.”
In the Kit
A typical gel nail kit contains most of the items needed for DIY gel nails. These kits range in cost, running anywhere from $40 to $60 not including nail colors, but with repeated use they're well worth the cost. We love ORLY’s Smart Gels At-Home Starter Kit and Gelish’s Basix Kit, but there are many more on the market. You can find kits at most major big box retailers, drugstores, and online. Make sure that your kit contains all of the necessary items for a gel manicure, because mixing and matching different brands can affect how long your manicure will last. Also make sure that the brand you choose offers colors for sale separately so you aren't stuck with only the ones that come with the kit. We used the Gelish Basix Kit, which came with the following supplies:
- UV or LED Lamp
- Base and Top Coat (one bottle that served both functions; some kits will come with two different bottles)
- Gel Cleanser
- Cuticle Oil
- A buffer/file
- Lint-free wipes
Start the process of applying gel nails by washing your hands thoroughly and drying completely. There’s no need to soak like in a traditional manicure. Next you want to lay out all of the products in the order you will need them. Prep the nails as you would for a traditional manicure, clipping, filing and buffing the nails and pushing back the cuticles. Next put a little bit of cleanser on a lint-free wipe and wipe down the surface of each nail. “Buffing and dehydrating the top surface of the nail is one of the most important steps to ensuring a long-lasting gel manicure, so do it right from the start,” says Baek D’Ambrosia.
- Apply the nail primer and let air dry for 30 seconds or according to package instructions.
- Apply a thin layer of the base and top coat onto the nails, avoiding the cuticle and skin area. Next, put your hand in the LED or UV lamp and set a timer for 30 seconds. (Most lamps have 30-second and 60-second settings.) It’s easiest to do your first four fingers, and then do the thumb separately. This process is called ‘curing’ and will be referred to as such in most at-home gel nail kits. “If you do one hand from start to finish it will be easier to handle than working with wet gel nails," says Baek D’Ambrosia. "This will also help to avoid getting lint on your gels while working on the other hand.”
- After you’ve cured the base and top coat on all nails, apply the first coat of colored polish. Cure the nails as you did in Step 2 for 30 seconds for a lighter color, or an entire minute if you want to get a darker shade.
- Apply a second coat of color and cure nails as you did before.
- Apply the base and top coat to your nails and cure for 30 seconds.
- Once again apply a little of the cleanser to a lint-free wipe and rub over the nails. This will remove the tacky layer.
- Finish your DIY gel nails with a little bit of cuticle oil massaged into the nail beds.