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Test-Driving the DIY Gel Manicure: Mani Monday

As much as we love nail art, we’re better at admiring designs than coming up with them ourselves. That’s why we’ve enlisted Anna Norman, the smarty pants behind Glitter, She Wrote, to be a regular contributor. Every Monday, she’ll be sharing her latest lacquer inspiration—you won’t be satisfied with plain ol’ polish again.

Other than a pedicure or two during the summer months, I almost never set foot in a nail salon. I’m a strictly DIY kind of girl when it comes to nails, so I haven’t been tempted to try a gel manicure. Sit in a salon for half an hour or more, and then come back to take it off? No thanks.

Enter the at-home gel mani. I hate chipped nails as much as the next girl, so with a promise of chip-free nails for two weeks, I had to give it a try.

Several brands have joined the DIY gel market like SensatioNail and Sephora, but I’m using the Salon Gel Polish Starter Kit from Sally Hansen. The kit includes a small LED lamp (safer than a UV lamp!), a base coat, nail color (my kit included the bright red shade Red My Lips), a top coat, nail cleanser pads, a file and cuticle stick, plus special acetone remover. 

I often paint my nails while multi-tasking on the couch, but this technique requires about 15 minutes of devoted time and a tabletop near an outlet. I followed the simple instructions, leaving my nails under the light for 30 seconds between every coat of polish. After “curing” the final layer of top coat, I was thrilled to see that my nails were completely dry. I usually spend about as much time waiting for my regular polish to dry as I did completing this entire process. 

I’m not used to such a high-tech mani at home, but I have to say, the results are pretty amazing. The candy apple red is seriously glossy, with a shiny, glass-like finish that regular polish rarely achieves. Despite showers and dishwashing, I’m still chip-free on day four, which is pretty impressive in my book. 

The downsides? The color options are pretty limited, and the removal process for gel nails (whether at home or in a salon) is a bit daunting. The instructions for my kit recommend soaking a cotton ball in remover, pressing the cotton ball to each nail, and then wrapping each finger with aluminum foil to let your nails soak for 15 minutes. Time consuming, yes. Difficult? Not really. Potentially harmful if done excessively? Possibly.

I like to switch up my polish too frequently to commit to gel nails year-round, but they’re brilliant for a vacation, wedding, or any time when I don’t want to worry about chips. And forget the salon—I’ll be plugging in my LED lamp for the same results in the comfort of my own home.

Still trying to master giving yourself a mani? Here’s our foolproof guide to an at-home manicure.

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