At Home DIY Gel Manicure and What You Need To Get Started

Before I started doing my own gel nails at the end of June this year, I had only ever had 3, maybe 4 gel manicures in a salon, and the same amount of gel pedicures, so I was a newbie for sure. I've come a long way when it comes to doing my own nails, and as a result have quite a high standard when I am paying $50-75 for manicures and pedicures. Most times I shape my nails and trim my cuticles before stepping foot in the salon, and only allow the technicians to paint my nails, and for sure NEVER allow them to buff them!

The few gel manicure experiences I had I was not happy with, and chalked it up to a chemical reaction with my nails, considering they chipped within a week at most, sometimes days of getting them done. This, of course makes paying that kind of money even more painful. I started getting gel pedicures last fall when I started yoga and barre, as working out in bare feet puts extra wear and tear on your toe nails and I wanted them to look good with them bare all the time.

I decided I can paint my own nails, better AND cheaper, with a little practice and a little expense up front. I originally intended to keep the gel nails for vacations, business travel, etc. but have repeatedly applied them for about 6 weeks now. Each manicure I learn a little bit more about technique, and would like to share what I have learned with you.

I'm still rather new to gel manicures, but manicures are my thing. I am a self-taught nail technician of sorts, and can talk forever about nailsssss. Disclaimer- again, I am NOT a certified nail technician, I am just a self-taught guru who is sharing what I've learned. In an effort to keep this from being a novel, I will keep nail and hand care tips out of it as well as gel removal, and keep them for other posts.

Let's get into it, shall we?

OPI 'Don't Bossa-Nova Me Around'
I priced together products and tools from a mixture of youtube videos, salons I've been to, and my general knowledge of nail care, etc. to come up with a system that works well for me. I'll start off with supplies, give a little blurb about each, include substitutes for budget, etc. and finish off with a few more photos of (in my honest opinion,) my absolute perfect nails.

purchased from Amazon, ~$200

I did a bunch of research on what lamp I wanted to use, and ultimately decided on the top of the line Gelish 18G LED Professional Nail Lamp. Whoa, when I went to pull up the lamp it is now $250 on Amazon, so look around before paying that, check Ebay- I almost bought mine there but wanted the 2 day Prime shipping plus I had a gift card for Amazon which helped in the expenses. You can get a smaller Gelish LED lamp here for $62 or that same smaller Gelish lamp with a starter kit of other supplies here for $150. What's the difference? The 18G shown above is the same one multiple salons have used on me, and has two main advantages: 30 second dry time and your whole hand fits in at once. The smaller ones are a 45 second dry time, which isn't that big of a deal honestly, but you will have to do your thumb separately.

Also to note... there are a TON of lamps on Amazon, just read thru the reviews and hey, if it doesn't work return it. Just make sure it has a return policy before purchasing. ALSO, take note if it is an LED or a UV lamp! This is SUPER important! I lucked out, trust me, I didn't even think gel polishes and what type of bulbs in the lamps mattered, BUT THEY DO. Some polishes will only work with LED, and vice versa. Lastly, be sure to use adequate UV protection on your hands if using an UV lamp. The UV lamps also take considerably longer to dry.

purchased from Amazon, prices listed below
Fantastic Four Set: $30
Gelish Remover & Cleanser Set: $13
CND Scrub Fresh Cleanser: $16
OPI Lint-Free Wipes: $10

After reading and watching multiple Youtube videos and reviews about at home gel polishes, I decided to go with Gelish supplies as they seem to be the best you can get without a salon or license to shop elsewhere. As I stated above, you can get an entire kit for about $150 including a lamp which has mini bottles of most of this (excluding Structure) AND 2 bottles of color on Amazon, which is a GREAT way to dip your toe into all of this. OR, you can go ahead and buy full size like I did.

Here is a brief description of what you need:

1.) ph bond- used sparingly, this dries all the oils off your nails to ensure a proper bond
2.) foundation- this is gel base coat and is not always necessary, MORE TO COME further down
3.) structure gel- available in clear and pale pink, supposedly good for your nails and provides a glass like surface
4.) top it off- top coat for your gel mani
5.) nourish- cuticle oil to apply when you're all done

6.) artificial nail remover (pink liquid bottle)- removes your gel in 15 minutes, highly recommend
7.) nail surface cleanser (blue liquid bottle)- cleans off excess oils, cleans off rubber finish at the end

I have not used the Gelish one as I had already purchased the CND version, Scrub Fresh:

1.) Lint-free nail wipes- you can get any wipes, but ensure that they are lint free or you'll have fuzz in your manicure
2.) nail clean up brush- I bought mine years ago, but Olive & June sells a good one here for $8 or just pick one up at a craft store. Just make sure it's tapered and will work for cleaning along the cuticles.
3.) Glass mini jar- I bought this at Sally Beauty years ago, for maybe $2-3? Pour in some acetone nail polish remover while you're painting each step and use your brush to clean up around your cuticles

OPI Gel Polish purchased on eBay here, and Universal Nail Supplies here, average $13-15/bottle
DND Daisy Gel Polish purchased on eBay here, average $9/box

I started off on the cheap, and purchased these polishes, DND because the salon I frequent uses them in bulk, so I figured they must be the best. And don't get me wrong, there is NOTHING wrong with them, I've used two of them so far with no problems. They are extremely reasonable at $8-10/box and they come with the matching regular polish! I think that's pretty neat. Oh and wait...remember I said further up that base coat isn't always needed? Some of the DND Daisy polish as you can see from the picture below are All In One Gels, meaning you could use just the nail color and exclude other steps. I haven't tried this, when I did use DND I used the DND base and top coat also purchased from eBay. I am curious though and will let you know if I try it.

I have pinned a TON of DND Daisy gel colors as well as OPI colors on my Nails Board on Pinterest if you need some inspiration! Remember, and this is the nail color to see swatches and real applications of the color before purchasing, do NOT trust the outside of the bottle. Gel polishes are packaged in special coated or covered glass to protect them from lights and sunlights, and the label/packaging doesn't always match up to the color. Look at this one:

Of course in this photograph it doesn't look very different, but in real life the paint is much pinker than the bottle. 

NOTE on POLISHES: do a little research like I mentioned earlier what will work with UV or LED lights, and what polishes work well together. I heard from numerous sources and will attest myself that gelish and OPI work wonderful together, and that's what I'll continue with. Plus I wanted some iconic shades to be gel and last longer. 

What I would do differently

I went overboard with polish as usual, and I do regret that. Looking back I wish I would have purchased a few colors- a pale pink (OPI Bubble Bath,) a red, and a neutral. I don't have a red, I need to find the perfect shade of red and that will be my last color for now. I have about 10 colors which isn't much, but 7 of them are pinks or neutral pinks, I have a type.

PROS. Well, it's a gel manicure, so it lasts longer than regular polish, make your nails stronger, and has a glass surface finish.

CONS. Time consuming and expensive.

That's about all I have to say about getting started, I will share photos and tips of my application and removal over on my Stories on IG, so make sure you're following me there! I will save them to highlights as well.

So, have you tried an at-home gel polish or want to try?