After gel manicures, it’s hard to go back to regular nail polish that chips in days instead of weeks–but the time and expense of keeping up with your gel nail appointments at the nail salon isn’t easy either. An average gel manicure appointment is around $40 and around $50 after tip. You can get about two weeks out of a gel manicure before you’ve got chipping and the natural nail growth starts to show. To keep your nails looking perfect, you’d need a salon visit twice a month adding up to $1200 a year in nail salon visits. Even if you’re stretching your appointments to once a month, you’re still dropping $600 a year on gel manicures. That’s enough to make most of us grimace.
Despite the expense, gel manicures are more popular than ever because they’re now more accessible than ever. You don’t have to settle for chipped or bare nails to save money because you can do your own gel nails at home. Gel polish keeps getting cheaper and, most importantly, the UV/LED nail lamps keep getting smaller and more affordable. These days, you can even find a gel nail kit that cost less than a single gel manicure at a salon. See my guide to the Best UV and LED Nail Lamps for more information on choosing your nail lamp.
Skipping the salon does mean that you’ll have to put in the initial investment for the equipment and watch a couple of YouTube tutorial videos to get the hang of the technique, but in the long run you’ll be saving heaps of money.
Things you’ll need to do your gel nails at home.
A working knowledge of gel. If this is your first attempt at doing your own gel nails, it’s important to learn as much as you can so you can avoid time-consuming beginner mistakes. Read or watch tutorials on the best nail prep process, polish application, and use of nail lamps. For example: if you’ve never done you’re own nails, you may not realize that most gel tops coats leave a tacky layer after they’ve cured. People often think that means their lamp didn’t work and their polish is still wet–when really all you need to do is give your polish a wipe with rubbing alcohol on a lint-free cloth and you’re good to go. (Or see my article on the Best No Wipe Gel Top Coats to skip this step completely.)
A good foundation. If you’re going to be painting your natural nails with gel at home, you want to be sure that your nails are strong, shaped, and prepped or else your gel polish will lift and chip prematurely. You’ll need to shape the nail, lightly buff the surface just enough to remove the shine, and push back your cuticles. If you don’t own a quality personal manicure set, read my guide to the Best Manicure Kits and Sets for tips and recommendations for all the professional tools you need. Keeping your nails healthy is huge for this too and hydrated nails are happy nails. See my article on the Best Cuticle Oils and Creams for suggestions to keep your nails from drying out, peeling, or getting brittle.
A way to take it off. If you don’t know the proper way to remove your gel nails, then you’ll want to learn that before you start putting them on. (Hint: it’s not picking at the polish once it starts chipping.) For tips on removing gel polish and the best products to do it safely and quickly, read my guide to the Best Gel Nail Polish Remover Products.
The right equipment. You’re going to need a lamp, gel nail polish, and a gel top and base coat. Which is right for your depends on your priorities when it comes to strength, durability, and how long you’re willing to wait for your nails to dry. To compare and contrast lamps and polish, read my guides to the Best LED and UV Nail Lamps of 2018 and the Best Gel Nail Polish Brands of 2018.
There already isn’t enough time in the day, I get it. You might not have the energy to do a lot of research on specific products, but many brands are offering all-inclusive kits that contain nail lamps, gel polish, and other tools that you’ll need. With one purchase, you can get everything it takes for great at home gel nails. I’m here to help you figure out which one is the best value and fit for you. So let’s get right to the best gel nail polish kits and sets.
Gelish is probably doing the best job in terms of offering kits. They have several options including this Fantastic Four Kit that includes their Gelish Harmony 18G Nail Lamp. In my Best UV and LED Nail Lamps article, I ranked the Gelish Harmony 18G as “Best Professional LED Nail Lamp.” It’s salon-grade, sleek-looking, has long-lasting LED bulbs, three pre-set timers, a padded hand rest, and is acetone resistant. The controls are on the back of the lamp which is a plus in a professional setting, but the size is compact enough for at home use. Alone, this lamp runs $199.99. The Fantastic Four kit includes the Harmony 18G Professional Lamp as well as a full-size set of Gelish’s Fantastic Four: The Gelish Top it Off top coat, Foundations base coat, Nourish cuticle oil, and pH Bond nail prep solution. It costs over $34 to buy the Fantastic Four set on its own, so this kit saves you around $15.
For more variety, the you can get the Gelish Basix Kit with the same Harmony 18G lamp, mini bottles of the Fantastic Four, prep tabs, orangewood stick, nail file, nail polish remover, and nail cleanser. This set saves you over $22.
If you’re looking for a more complete set and don’t need a professional salon-grade lamp, Gelish also offers two kits with the Gelish Mini Pro. The Gelish Complete Starter for $96.25 comes with all the accessories of the Basix Kit, the Mini Pro Lamp, and two full-size Gelish gel polishes. The Gelish Complete Starter Plus for $109.99 has all of that as well as three extra mini-size Gelish gel nail polishes.
If you’re looking for a more traditional UV bulb nail lamp, this kit from FairyGlo uses a 36 watt lamp with four UV bulbs. It’s compact enough for home use but large enough to fit your entire hand. (Not sure what the difference is between UV and LED lamps? See my Best UV and LED Nail Lamps article.) Along with the nail lamp, you get six FairyGlo gel nail polishes, a top coat, base coat, buffing block, nail file, cuticle pusher, cuticle nippers, bottle of nail cleanser, 50 pre-moistened nail polish remover wraps, and multiple rolls of striping tape for making your own nail art designs. If the included set of colors doesn’t interest you, FairyGlo has 29 different gel nail kit combinations including pink and red tones, neutrals, and metallic and glitter. If you’re still not happy with your options, for a little extra, FairyGlo has kits of Pick Any Six Colors and Pick Any Eight Colors where you’ll get all the same tools and accessories as the other kits but you can choose which nail polish colors you want and build your own kit.
For the nail art lovers out there, this Starter Kit by Azure Beauty will get you set up with all sorts of fun tools to create unique, interesting nail art designs right away. It comes with a 24 watt arc-shaped nail lamp with dual LED and UV bulbs. It’s not a salon-grade nail lamp, but perfect for beginners. It will definitely get the job done for your home gel nails and has three pre-set timers to choose from. Plus, because it doesn’t have a bottom to it, it’s a good shape for doing gel pedicures and comes with two toe separators. Along with an Azure Beauty top coat and base coat, you also get four gel polishes: one pink creme, two glitters, and one temperature-changing glitter polish.
The kit comes with nail files, nail buffer, nail brush, orangewood sticks, cuticle oil pen, cuticle pusher, cuticle knife, as well as nail wipes to remove the tacky layer of your top coat and pre-moistened nail polish remover wraps. One unique aspect of this kit is that it comes with the tools you’d need to create nail extensions including clear artificial nail tips, artificial nail clippers for your ideal nail length, nail glue, UV builder gel, and builder gel brush. Now to the fun stuff. For nail art, you get several types of nail stickers, striping tape, nail stencils for French manicures, 12 colors of loose, fine nail glitter, 12 colors of loose, chunky nail glitter, one wheel of clear nail gems, one wheel of colored nail gems, and a dotting pen to make gem placement worlds easier. That’s a lot of stuff in one kit.
This kit by Red Carpet Manicure is a good choice if you’d like to try doing your own gel nails but maybe don’t have the space for a larger kit. The kit contains an LED nail lamp, top coat, base coat, nail primer, cuticle oil, nail cleanser, nail polish remover, nail file, buffing block, and two gel polishes–all of which fit into the including travel case. That way you can have all the items you need for a gel manicure that you can store easily under the bathroom sink. To make this work, the bottles are mini-sized and you’ll probably want to do your thumbs separately when curing your fingers as the lamp is travel-sized. So while this isn’t the best choice for everyone, for those with limited space who don’t want to have to find an organized way to store a lot of items, this travel set is a good fit.
This kit from Gellen is also geared toward nail art, though I do have to say that, along with several other gel nail starter kits on the market, it has a large amount of crossover when it comes to accessories. This and the Azure Beauty Kit seem to include the same nail files, French tip guides, nail brush, cuticle oil, cuticle tools, and nail polish remover wraps. Certainly not all of it is the same, but it’s something I wanted to be upfront about as you can find other kits with similar accessories, some for lower prices and some for higher. I chose this set because of its lamp design and because it’s on the lower end of the price range for what’s included.
The 24 watt LED lamp is a good choice for beginners. It has three pre-set timers and a convenient digital display so you can see how much time you have left. It operates from the front so it’s perfect for home use. Along with the lamp you get a Gellen top coat, base coat, four gel polishes, nail files, cuticle pusher, cuticle knife, cuticle oil, nail brush, toe separators, and pre-moistened nail polish remover wraps. For creating fun nail art, this Gellen kit comes with a dotting tool, nail striping tape, French tip guides, angled tip guides, nail stickers, and clear rhinestones. If the polish colors aren’t your thing, Gellen does have several color combinations in different kits including pink and glitter, and neutrals.
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