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Top 10 Best Gel Like Nail Polish Products of 2018



I type all day, I’m clumsy as a baby giraffe, and I have a bad habit of ignoring all the good advice for extending the life of your manicure. I don’t wear gloves to do dishes and I don’t have a dishwasher so my hands are always soaking in water. I don’t bother finding a spoon to open soda cans. I’m pretty much a terrible example of how to extend your manicure.

But that makes me a pretty perfect candidate for testing limits of “long lasting” nail polish.

Here’s the other thing: I’m way too fickle for gel nail polish, the go-to for two week manicures. I like to change my look and nail art too often for that. Plus, my nails are prone to peeling so I prefer not to push it with the sometimes damaging effects of gel nail removal. That doesn’t mean I don’t love the look of those plump, high gloss gel nails I see coming out of professional nail salons.

Luckily the market has come up with lots of options for nail polish that has the appearance of gel but applies like regular nail polish. Gel like polishes are this unique sweet spot between a gel and a regular polish. You get the look and often lengthened wear time of gel but without needing special equipment or harming your nails.

Gel Versus Regular Polish

Curing versus drying. Regular nail polish air dries like paint or glue. Gel and Shellac polishes will never air dry. Instead, they are triggered by certain wavelengths of light to convert the liquid polish into a rock solid resin. This is why gel polishes need to sit under special UV or LED nail lamps. For more specific info on how gel polish works, check out my guides to the Best Gel Nail Polish Brands and Best UV and LED Nail Lamps.

Gel like polishes do not need a UV or LED lamp and will always air dry like normal polish. Some of these polishes harden with exposure to sunlight for extra-gel like strength.

With gel polish you’re looking at a wear time of between two to three weeks depending on brand, application, and how rough you treat your hands. Regular polish varies widely depending on the quality of the brand from one day to over a week.

Gel like polishes often have longer wear times than most regular nail polish, but not as long as real gel. Depending on the brand, you could have a wear time of up to two weeks.

Gel polish is thicker than regular nail polish and definitely thicker if you’re using enhancements or hard gels. It has a raised look which is very different from thinner layers of nail polish. It also has an extremely bright glossy shine. Gel should shine like glass. You can get a good gloss with a regular nail polish, but nothing like you can get with gel.

Gel like polishes are formulated to be plump like gel polish without the trouble of needing to cure it. There’s also a heavy emphasis in having an extra high gloss.

Gel polish will always be best applied by professionals. They have the top products, equipment, and training. That doesn’t mean you can’t do your own gel nails at home, just that it will take some practice and some special supplies. See my guide to the Best Gel Nail Kits for more details. Regular nail polish can be done almost anywhere and most of us have been doing our nails at home since we were kids.

Gel like nails are applied just like regular nail polish so you don’t need any fancy training or equipment.

Removal of regular nail polish is easy and can be done with acetone or non-acetone nail polish removers. Read my guide to the Best Nail Polish Removers for some recommendations. Gel nail polish has a much stronger bond to your nail and it takes more to get it off. You need to soak your nails in pure acetone for around 10 minutes before you can safely and gently remove gels without damaging your nails. If they aren’t removed properly, you can peel off the top layer of your nails along with it. For more info check out my article on the Best Products for Removing Gel Nail Polish.

Gel like polishes remove just like regular nail polish so they’re much easier, faster, and gentler on your nails.

Now that we’ve run down where gel like polishes land in the polish spectrum, let’s look at the best ways to get that gel effect without committing to a gel manicure.

1. Adesse New York Gel Effect Nail Polish

If you’re laboring under the impression that all nail polish brands, drugstore and high-end, are basically the same, we need to talk about Adesse New York. I grew up on drugstore nail polish and didn’t really think I was missing out on anything until I took the leap. There is a difference and Adesse New York needs to be on your radar. The shine on this Gel Effect nail polish was so bright that I was a little afraid to put a top coat over it for fear of dulling the shine I was getting on the polish alone. I used Jessica Brilliance which is extremely bright and it might have covered up a little of the ultra glossiness. I have to try wearing it without a top coat to see how it fares.

Adesse New York sent me a couple of sample colors, with no guarantee of a positive review or even mention their brand at all, but here is my experience. The lacquers go on smooth with no pooling and self-leveled well. I wore the shade Irina, a soft grey, for six days. My first chip was five days in and that’s only because my nail chipped taking the polish with it. I was getting antsy for a color change so threw a stamp over it for the last two days and I think that’s what really did the polish in. But six days with regular nail polish that doesn’t need a lamp is frankly miraculous, especially with how rough I treat my manicures. The only downside for me was that it wasn’t fast drying.

Irina was opaque in two coats and had a gloss that could rival the best gel polishes. While it had a slightly higher profile than some, I wouldn’t say it was a very plump polish. It is thick enough that my nails had a smooth profile even though I have ridges and didn’t use my ridge-filling base coat. I also got a chance to try out Suzannemi (which is the brightest red I’ve ever owned) and 175 Fifth Avenue a deep eggplant with a subtle shimmer that’s glam and casual all at once. Adesse New York polishes are vegan, cruelty-free, and gluten-free. It’s 12 free meaning it omits 12 of the nastier chemicals normally found in nail polish like formaldehyde and it’s fortified with bamboo extract and shea and argan oils.

  • High gel gloss
  • Long lasting
  • 12 free
  • Organic pigments
  • Vegan and gluten-free
  • Nourishes nails with argan oil and botanical extracts
  • Great range of colors
  • Ridge-filling
  • Easy to work with formula
  • Not as plump as others
  • Not as versatile as a gel like top coat
  • Not fast drying

2. CND Vinylux Weekly Top Coat

The Vinylux system doesn’t need a UV or LED lamp to cure, but it is reactive to sunlight. The formula is designed to air dry like nail polish but contains some polymers that react to light in a similar way to gel, but in much smaller quantities. This means that as you go about your week (yes week) whenever your nails are exposed to natural light, the polish hardens and strengthens just a little bit more, extending the life of the manicure. In this way the Vinylux Weekly Top Coat occupies this middle space of between gel and regular polish. It doesn’t, however, necessarily aim for trying to pass as gel appearance-wise. The glossy is very bright and it has a lower profile like a regular polish. It works best and lasts longest when used with CND Vinylux Nail Polish which comes in 91 colors. I recently featured this top coat before in my Best Top Coats for Long Lasting Nail Polish guide.

  • Hardens in natural light
  • Long lasting
  • Trusted brand
  • Can be used over any nail polish
  • Works best with other Vinylux products
  • Not trying to look like gel

3. Essie Gel Couture System

Essie, a brand with nice shine on its normal polishes, has kicked up the gloss with their line of Essie Gel Couture. This line of colored polishes is meant to be worn without a base coat and topped with their Essie Gel Couture Top Coat. The colors are creamy and highly pigmented. Two coats give off that plump, gel look. It has an easy to use formula that goes on well, though some colors might be a little thinner so you need to be mindful of not flooding your cuticles. To get a solid week of wear from this gel like polish, you’d want to pair it with the Essie Gel Couture Top Coat which adds even more shine and enhances the plump gel finish without having to deal with a lamp. They say you can get 14 or so days out of this, but unless you’re extremely gentle with your hands, you can probably count on a week of chip-free nail polish. Essie Gel Couture had a wide range of colors including Blush-Worthy, a classy neutral from their Bridal Line.

  • Plump gel look
  • Great formula
  • Lots of colors to choose from
  • Long lasting
  • Trusted brand
  • High gel gloss
  • Works best with other Essie Couture products

4. Unt Sun Envy Gel Effect Lacquer & Gel Top Coat

Best known for their exceptional Peel Off Base Coat, Unt’s Sun Envy Gel Effect Top Coat is fast drying, glossy, and tall in the best way. It even applies a little like gel polish because it’s a little on this thick side, but not so much that it’s hard to manage–just enough that you’re getting that plump, high profile look you want out of gel. Like the Vinyulx Top Coat, this top coat contains polymers that are activated my natural light so your manicure gets stronger every time it’s exposed to the sun.

Unt Sun Envy Top Coat works on all nail polishes to give durable and glossy protection, but it pairs wonderfully with its own line of Sun Envy Nail polish which have a gel-worthy shine all on their own. Together, you’ve got a manicure that will last you almost a week and fool anyone that it’s gel. I’m highlighting this set which comes with the top coat and multi-chrome nail polish because you save over $5 compared to buying them separately.

  • High profile plumping
  • Hardens with light exposure–no lamp needed
  • High gloss shine
  • Long lasting
  • Cheaper in a set
  • Fast drying
  • Vegan
  • 10 free
  • Works best with other Sun Envy products
  • Thicker than some are used to

5. Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Duo

Sally Hansen is the classic drugstore brand that most of us start out with and still use often. This package comes with the nail polish shade Take the Plunge, a deep clear blue, and the Miracle Gel Top Coat. The nail polish and top coat both react to light to harden over time without a nail lamp. This adds to the life of your manicure and prevents chipping. It claims to last 14 days, but that’s a bit of an overreach. A week is a much more realistic estimate of how long you can expect this to last if you’re not too hard on your nails. The polish is very opaque and the glossy shine is bright enough to make up for the lack of the kind of plumping some of the other brands have. Miracle Gel has a wide range of available colors and the Top Coat is available separately.

  • Affordable
  • Lasts five to seven days
  • Nice choice of colors
  • Top coat can be used with any polish
  • Nice gloss
  • Hardens in natural light
  • Not as plump as others
  • Works best when used with other Miracle Gel products

6. Seche Vive Gel Effect Top Coat

I love my Seche Vite Fast Dry Top Coat. It’s plump, glossy, and dries fast enough that someone as clumsy me can still have a flawless manicure. If you’re looking for a cheaper gel like alternative, Seche Vite is not a bad option, but it’s not without its issues as much as I love how fast it dries. Seche Vive takes Seche Vite and improves on it. The truth is that they’re very similar. It still has that high, plump gel look and same glossy shine.

Seche Vite dries just the tiniest bit faster but Seche Vive lasts longer. Vive has a slightly thinner formula to begin with that’s easier to apply and anyone who has dealt with their Seche Vite thickening up in the bottle knows that it can be a little tough to work with. Vive seems to also have solved the problem that some people have had with Vite where there was some shrinkage and lifting. Honestly, they’re both decent gel like options, but Seche Vive is slightly improved. The price has been going up and down on this one, so grab it while you can.

Price: $1.29 (87 percent off MSRP)

  • Cheaper option
  • Fast drying
  • Quite plump
  • Long lasting gloss
  • Can be used on any nail polish
  • Strong, unique smell
  • Not as long lasting as others

7. Essie Gel Setter Top Coat

This is one of the better gel like options out there if you’re looking for a top coat. As far as top coats that you can use on any nail polish and isn’t part of a system, it may be the most chip-resistant one. Gel Setter isn’t thick or difficult in formula but it sits thick on your nails with that plump gel look. It’s hard like you expect from gel and this lends great support for your nails and keeps them from breaking. The high glossy shine won’t fade and with decent quality nail polish this top coat can extend the life of your manicure to around a week. Like most top coats, you’ll get longer wear if you apply a second coat three to four days into your manicure.

  • Chip-resistant
  • High shine
  • Thick plump finish
  • Decent dry time
  • Trusted brand
  • Works with any nail polish
  • Performs best when applied thick and capped

8. Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy Duo

For a drug store option, Revlon has the ColorStay Gel Envy Duo with nail polish and Diamond Top Coat. It’s little lower down on the quality scale but also much cheaper than most. This Revlon will give you a nice shine, thick hard finish, and decent wear time if you’re willing to wait for it to dry. This is not a fast drying polish. You want to give it a good 10 plus minutes between coats for it to dry or else you could end up with dents or sheet prints the next morning. If you can commit to watching a movie while you do your nails, it does have a gel look to it and the manicure can last over five days. The formula is nice and tends to need only one or two coats for full opacity. The top coat has a double-brush design so you have a wider area when applying for a smooth, thick finish. The shine does dull a little after around four or five days.

Price: $9.42 (6 percent off MSRP)

  • Widely available and easy to find
  • Affordable
  • Great formula
  • Thick, hard gel feeling
  • Decent longevity
  • Takes a long time to dry
  • Shine isn’t as glossy as others

9. Maxus Top Coat

A brand that’s gaining popularity, Maxus Nail’s Top Coat is one way to get that gel like shine on any of your nail polishes. It gives you a bright, shining surface that looks like a pane of glass. A lot of top coats lose their shine as time goes on, but Maxus won’t dull on you. It doesn’t hurt that Maxus recommends reapplying a thin coat of the top coat every two days, which not only extends the life of your manicure but also creates that gel effect plump look. It’s fast drying, vegan, and 11 free. This top coat can help your manicure last around five or more days with that gel like high gloss by including nylon and ceramic powder in their formula for a durable finish.

  • Long lasting glass-like shine
  • Can be applied to any polish
  • Long lasting
  • 11 free
  • Vegan and cruelty-free
  • Not super plumping without several layers

10. Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Duo Set

If you’re going for the gel look and don’t care whether or not your manicure lasts as long as gel polish, the Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Duo Set will give you a plump, high gel shine. However, it’s the most likely to chip first among the options on this list. The set comes with a base coat and top coat. The top coat is thick and applies like a gel polish but without needing a lamp. This thickness is what gives the finish it’s high glossy shine, but it doesn’t hold its shine any longer than a normal drug store polish. For the first couple of days, this is among the most gel like in appearance, but simply doesn’t have the staying power I wish it did.

Price: $35 (22 percent off MSRP)

  • High profile plump look
  • Nice shine
  • Five free
  • Infused with biotin and green tea extract
  • Chips quickly
  • Shine dulls a little after a few days
Heavy, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon. Our product recommendations are guided solely by our editors. We have no relationship with manufacturers.

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