Save Time And Money With An At-Home Gel Manicure

by Sara Farrell Baker
Originally Published: 
Kristina Medvedeva / Shutterstock

Doing my nails is a friggin’ time-suck. I trim my nails when they’re getting rowdy, and once I notice they’ve grown a little and are kind of even in length, I think, Oh, I should give myself a manicure! And then I try to find the time to spruce them up. It usually has to occur after bedtime because the moment the universe realizes I have fresh (but not dry and set) polish on my nails, someone needs their butt wiped. Once bedtime actually happens, Netflix and carbs are the only forms of self-care I am interested in. Knowing my polish is going to chip in a matter of days doesn’t make the work going into a manicure more appealing.

Getting my nails professionally done is often just as much of a headache. Literally. The chiming of the little bell when I open the nail salon door triggers a Pavlovian migraine right before I’m smacked in the face with the smell of acrylic. Childcare arrangements need to be made in advance since bringing my kids with me requires repeatedly yelling, “What did I just tell you about touching the autoclave?!” into the megaphone I carry in my purse.

My solution to this most first-world of problems has been at-home gel manicures. They last twice as long as regular manicures (up to two weeks) and cure in minutes so I don’t have to worry about wet nails. The longer life of the manicure itself makes me more inclined to spend time on it, not feeling like all my efforts will chip away when I dive into my next sink full of dishes. Doing them at home has a bit of a start-up price, but overall is cheaper than going to a salon and paying $35 every two weeks.

Most of the supplies needed for a gel manicure are the same as a regular manicure, with a few exceptions or additions. The most important being gel polish and a UV light. This light is the one I use at home. I especially like it because it comes with UV-blocking gloves. Your fingertips will still be exposed, but putting these on before you apply your gel will help protect the rest of your hand and arm.

Start with clean, dry nails. Cut and file them to your desired length and shape, then apply a little cuticle remover. After a few seconds, push back your cuticles with an orangewood stick or cuticle pusher. If you can avoid it, don’t trim the cuticles. I know sometimes they’re super thick or scraggly, but they’re there to help protect your nails from bacteria. Get them out of the way so they don’t cause the gel to lift, but try to keep them intact.

During this stage, do not soak your nails in water. I repeat. Do not soak your nails. They will swell, causing your polish to lift and separate from the nail bed when they shrink back down.

Buff the surface of your nail to rough it up a tad and smooth any pronounced ridges. Go easy with the buffer so you don’t thin out your nails. Just like sanding furniture before you paint, this gives the polish something to grip onto. Apply a primer to dry up any excess moisture and to prep your nail for the gel.

Apply a gel base coat. When applying gel, be careful to paint your nails a small space away from the cuticle and sides. Curing gel that extends to your skin will cause lifting and premature chipping. You can easily remove wet polish with an orangewood stick or cotton swab if it gets on your skin.

Very important! Along with painting your nail with gel, you need to seal the edge. Run your brush across the free edge of your nail. This will help your gel last longer and prevent chipping and separating. Once you are finished applying your base coat to your first hand, cure under your UV light for 30 seconds, then repeat on your other hand.

Apply two coats of gel polish to your nails and free-edge, curing for 30 seconds between coats, and finish with a gel top coat and a final 30-second cure. Your nails will feel slightly tacky. Rub a lint-free cotton pad soaked in rubbing alcohol or a handy alcohol pad over all of your nails and underneath your free-edge and — voilá! — the stickiness will be gone and you have a long-lasting manicure on your hands.

After about two weeks, or whenever your manicure is looking less than stellar, the gel can be easily removed with some 100% acetone, cotton balls, and aluminum foil. Do not peel off your polish or try to sand it down with a file. This can severely damage your nails.

Take one cotton ball and tear it into 10 pieces. Tear the foil into strips long enough to sufficiently wrap the ends of your fingers. Pour a little acetone into a small ceramic, metal, or glass bowl. Plastic will dissolve and leave you with a big ol’ mess. Put the cotton pieces in the acetone until they are fully saturated, squeeze the excess liquid from them, then lay them across your nails. If you have long nails, you may need more cotton. Wrap each fingertip in foil, completely covering the nail.

Check your nails in five minutes. When you can see the gel peeling up from the nail, it’s ready to remove. If it doesn’t look ready, apply another piece of cotton soaked in acetone and check in another five minutes. To remove the gel, take your orangewood stick or cuticle pusher and, starting at the cuticle, gentle push the gel up and away from your nail bed, moving toward the edge of your nail. If you start at the tip and work back to your cuticle, you risk doing damage to your nails.

When you’re done removing your polish, take another cotton ball and soak it in acetone, then do a quick pass over your nails to make sure you didn’t leave behind any excess. Your nails and cuticles are going to feel dry from the acetone. Rub some cuticle oil into your nails and the surrounding skin and apply a little hand lotion to restore moisture.

At this point, you’re ready to start the process over again or give your nails a little break and go bare. You can do this whole process on your toes if you feel so inclined. I always like a gel pedicure before we go to the beach so the sand doesn’t chip away at my hard work. Either way, enjoy your longer-lasting polish. And when your friends ask where you got your nails done, especially enjoy the looks on their faces when you say you did them yourself.

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