It hasn’t been long since at-home gel manicure kits started popping up in drugstores and mass retailers, but there are now many different kits to choose from. It can be a little overwhelming to choose a kit, especially if you’re going to be shelling out $60-$100 to get started, not knowing if it is even going to work well for you! We understand- and that’s why over the past few months, we’ve been lacquering up with tons of different at-home gel polish manicure kits to find which one is the best.
The good news is, most of them are pretty darn good- and you’ll definitely save a lot of money in the long run taking one of these kits home instead of bi-weekly trips to the salon. The problem is that some of these kits are better at certain aspects like ease of use, simplicity, longevity or the removal process. Some of these factors might be more important that others- so we’ve rounded up our 7 favorite kits and why you would pick each one of them.
I’ve been doing at-home gel polish manicures for many months now, trying out different kits, new techniques and even discovering a couple tricks along the way. I wanted to share some tips to keep in mind when purchasing gel polish manicure supplies that will hopefully save you some stress and money!
1. Gel Polishes Are (Mostly) Interchangeable
At-home gel polish is considered “Soak Off Gel Polish”. This differs from hard gel (the kind you would get a sculpted manicure with) and is a hybrid between said hard gel and a nail polish. They can be cured under UV or LED light. All of these kits (and pretty much all other at-home gel manicure kits) use LED lights. They cure faster, have longer-lasting lights and are generally a little more safer. All of the gel polishes in this article (and all other LED polishes) can be interchanged. If you want to use a Kiss Everlasting Gel Polish color with a Gelish lamp and the SensatioNail removal kit- go ahead.
2. Don’t Buy Cleansers and Removers
Well, of course if you want to- go right ahead. However, you might be surprised to know that gel cleanser is really nothing other than plain old rubbing alcohol, and gel removers are 100% pure acetone. You can grab those at a local beauty supply or even drugstore and you’ll pay a LOT less.
3. Don’t Throw Out Your Regular Nail Polishes
Of course, brands will tell you to only use gel polish with their systems… and if you want the results, I’ll say the same thing. I didn’t want to say goodbye to all of my regular nail polishes though, so I tried “sandwiching” regular polish in between gel polish base & top coats. It didn’t last a full 2 weeks, but it certainly lasted a lot longer than my usual 2-3 days of chip-free wear. So even though they say not to… I say rules are meant to be broken. Check out my step-by-step tutorial here.
4. Always Soak Off- Don’t Peel!
There’s a reason it’s called “soak-off” gel polish… you need to soak it off! Gel manicures are great because they dry instantly, last for up to two weeks and don’t damage nails… ONLY if you remove them properly. If you’re going to commit to gel polish manicures, then be prepared to commit to lengthy removal processes involving lots of acetone and tin-foil wraps. If you peel, you will damage your nails. I’m telling you from experience!
The Best Salon Quality Results
Gelish Mini is definitely the most salon-like quality, because well, it is a salon brand. Gelish “Mini” is the at-home version, which essentially features the same quality products in smaller bottles. This one lasted the longest, felt the strongest and really looked like I just got back from the salon.
This set is also going to be one of the most expensive, with the lamp setting you back about $80 while a starter kit full of the basics (Primer, Base Coat, Top Coat, Cuticle Oil, Cleanser & Remover) costs about $45. Individual shades can be purchased for about $15, and Gelish has the largest range of shades with over 90 to choose from. They do have a complete starter kit for $110 which is definitely the best value!
Available at Sally Beauty Supply.
The Easiest Removal
Kiss Everlasting Gel Polish is quite simplistic, with a 1-2-3 step application (this one has a ‘built-in’ primer). The LED lamp is sold separately at about $35, while color and french manicure kits run about $30-35 each, containing all the bottles and tools you need to get started. Extra colors cost about $12 each.
While this gel manicure didn’t last as long as some of the other kits, this one was by far the easiest to remove (which can be a huge pain, and a total deal-breaker for some). If you’re looking for a simple, accessible kit that comes off easily, try this one out.
Available at drugstores and online at kissusa.com
The All-Inclusive Set
The Red Carpet Manicure set is great for gifting, because it has everything you need right in the box- an LED lamp, Primer, Base Coat, Color Gel Polish, Top Coat, Cuticle Oil, Cleanser, Remover and tools- and it will only cost $80 for everything. Extra polish colors are available for $10 each, making them one of the more affordable individual shades.
This system is actually quite similar to the Gelish Mini set, not only in looks but also in quality. The salon-worthy polishes last almost as long, and are much more accessible from the drugstore.
Available at select drugstores and online at ulta.com.
For The On-The-Go Gal
If you’re always on the go, travel frequently or just want to save space, the ORLY SmartGel system is going to be your best friend. The ultra slim LED Lamp is about the size of an iPhone, but it will run you about $100. It pops open to cure 4 fingers at once, or opens up at the bottom for a single finger (it’s so much easier to hold the lamp over the thumb).
The starter kit complete with Primer, Base/Top Coat, Cleanser, Remover and tools only costs $40 and individual shades go for $10 each. Having a single Base/Top coat not only simplifies the process, but also makes it easy to travel with.
Available online at orlybeauty.com.
For The Polish Novice
The second kit that Sally Hansen offers is the Insta-Gel Strips system. Sally Hansen has become famous for their awesome nail polish strips, and now they bring them to the gel manicure world. This is also great for the polish novice with an unsteady hand or for those who want some fancy nail art.
The kit includes a mini (single finger) LED lamp, a pack of gel polish strips, a top coat and the necessary tools for only $30. Individual gel strips will run you about $15 (and only offer a single manicure), so even though it’s convenient and easy to use, the convenience comes at a higher price. This one didn’t last as long as the salon-inspired system, but it was much easier to remove with just regular nail polish remover.
Available at drugstores and online at target.com.
The Most Simplistic System
Sally Hansen offers two different gel polish systems; the first is a traditional salon-inspired system with a Base Coat / Color / Top Coat process. The kit includes everything you need to get the show on the road for $70, and extra colors cost $13.
The kit includes individual cleansing wipes, which isn’t as practical as a bottle of it… but the good news is, you can just use a bottle of rubbing alcohol when they run out.
Available at drugstores and online at ulta.com.
The Best Overall Kit (Editor’s Choice)
SensatioNail was one of the first to enter the at-home gel polish market, and to this day they are still one of my favorites for overall quality, ease of use, accessibility and performance. A kit will cost about $50 for an LED Lamp, Primer, Base/Top Coat, Gel Color, and Cleanser while individual shades cost about $10 each (and there’s lots of them, including magnetic and limited-edition shades).
I also like how SensatioNail as various removal kits & tools, as well as almost all of their essential products can be purchased individually. They are also accessible and rival the longevity of salon brands.
Available at drugstores and online at target.com.