For many, gel manicures are a special treat. It feels like the ultimate form of pampering to go to a salon and walk out with stunning, chip-proof nails that will last for weeks at a time. But regular salon visits get time consuming and expensive. Luckily, you don't have to go to a nail salon to have perfect gel nails — you can DIY the salon service yourself.
Gel manicures are different than traditional manicures because instead of waiting for your standard nail polish to air dry, a UV or LED light is used to harden the gel lacquer. Gel manicures tend to last longer than regular polishes and were previously a luxury exclusive to salons, but now can be done in the comfort of your own home.
There are plenty of at-home nail kits exist that bring the salon to you and virtually pay for themselves after one or two uses. These kits range from professional quality to beginner friendly, and many of them even come with fun extras like glitter, gems and trendy colors to heighten the experience. Use a hydrating cuticle cream or oil and a top-rated hand cream for a luxe salon experience, and when you're done, be sure you follow instructions for how to remove gel nails at home.
What to look for in a gel nail kit
When shopping, seek out these key items and tools for the best DIY gel manicure results:
- Lamp (UV or LED)
- Nail cleaner
- Base coat
- Gel nail polish
- Top coat
- Manicure tools (files, buffer, cuticle pusher, cuticle nipper, nail brush)
- Gel nail polish remover
- Optional: cuticle oil or cream
- Optional: nail art accessories and tools
How to use a gel nail kit
Before you start applying any gel nail polish, you want to make sure your nails are clean and in good shape. Then, here's what to do:
- File and buff nails until you get the desired length and shape and clean up cuticles.
- Use the included nail cleaner/prep or wipe nails with an alcohol pad to remove any natural oils and make sure there is no residue left on the nail.
- Apply the base coat and cure under the lamp (typically for 30-60 seconds).
- Apply two coats of your chosen color, curing in between coats.
- Finish with one layer of topcoat, then cure it again. If nails feel a little sticky or tacky, wipe with another alcohol pad.
Keep in mind that every kit differs and may have slightly different directions; be sure to follow your kit's instructions carefully to get the best results. Here are the top gel nail kits you can buy, according to reviewers:
- Best Overall Gel Nail Kit: Red Carpet Manicure Pro 45 Starter Kit
- Best Value Gel Nail Kit: Gellen Gel Nail Polish Kit
- Best Professional Gel Nail Kit: Vishine Gel Nail Polish Starter Kit
- Best Professional Gel Nail Starter Kit: Sally Hansen Salon Pro Gel Starter Kit
- Best At Home Gel Nail Extension Kit: Makartt Poly Nail Extension Gel Nail Enhancement Set
- Best Hard Gel Nail Kit: Morovan Builder Gel Nail Kit
- Best LED Gel Nail Kit: Gelish Mini Soak Off Professional Gel Nail Polish Starter Kit
- Long-lasting results
- Fast application
- Fully stocked with supplies
This Red Carpet Manicure gel manicure kit is lauded for how professional it looks. Not only does the polish in this kit stay on nails, it's also fast and easy to apply. "The detailed instructions are very helpful and the products that come in the kit are easy to use and seem to be good quality," a reviewer reported. "I've done two manicures now and they've lasted me a whole two weeks (and could have lasted longer)." This kit also comes with remover and foil wraps to take off your manicure, completing the pro effect.
Kit contains: LED light, nail primer, base coat, top coat, cuticle oil, pre and post application cleanser, gel polish remover, one gel nail color, foil remover wraps, nail wipes, wood pushers, cuticle stick buffing strips, nail file
- Professional quality
- Comes with several gel polish colors
Gellen's gel nail kit is straightforward and leads to shiny, solid color. Reviewers say it doesn't chip at all and is easy to apply. For the price, this gel nail kit is hard to beat — you get six colors, a top coat and a base coat, a UV light, and tools to help your manicure go smoothly. "I’d recommend this product for all that you get for a low price," said one reviewer.
Kit contains: Lamp, base coat, glossy top coat, matte top coat, six gel nail polishes, nail file, nail brush, buffer, nail sticker, cuticle fork, dotting pen, cuticle pusher, cuticle oil, nail/toe separators, nail cleanser pads, nail remover pads, striping tape, nail stickers, nail art rhinestones
- Salon-quality nail tools
- Includes six gel nail polish colors
If you want a little something extra with your gel manicure, this Vishine kit is for you. Not only does it include six gel nail polish colors, but it also comes with tools that will help you feel extra pampered. Reviewers love how much they get in this kit for around the price of one gel manicure in a salon.
Kit contains: Base coat, top coat, six gel polishes, LED lamp, 13 nail tools (including for nail art)
- Dries quickly
- LED lamp technology
- Less accessories than other kits
The beloved nail polish brand Sally Hansen also makes a gel kit. It takes just three steps to a finished gel manicure, and the LED light that comes with it helps cut drying time. "The LED light was super convenient, even though I was hesitant about getting a smaller lamp," one reviewer notes. "It's the perfect size."
Kit contains: Cleanser pads, base coat, one gel nail polish color, top coat, LED light, gel polish remover, cuticle stick, buffer, alcohol cleaning pad
- Great colors
- Easy to follow
- Doesn't come with a dehydrator or lamp
Good for both beginners and experienced nail pros, this gel nail kit from Makartt has everything you need to create long, luxe nail extensions no matter what your nail shape is. Keep it simple and neutral or add some fun nail art—the choice is up to you. Reviewers suggest using an actual color (not clear) the first time you use the kit to get the hang of it. The best part: Your manicure can last a month — or even longer.
Kit contains: Base coat, top coat, six gel nail polishes, dual-ended nail brush and spatula, 60 nail forms for extensions, nail file
- Strengthens damaged nails
- No strong scent
- Easy for beginners
- Lamp not included
If your nails are weak, split, cracked or broken, Morovan's set could be a great option for you. The hard gel — which comes in three neutral colors — creates a strengthening barrier for any type of damaged nails. Plus, it's easy for gel newbies. "I’m a beginner and this product was easy to manage and apply to the natural nail," one reviewer shared. "It also helped strengthen my nails and not leaving them peeling."
Kit contains: Base coat, top coat, three gel nail polish colors, nail file, nail forms, gel nail brush
- LED lamp technology
- Professional quality
- Small light for curing
With five gel nail polish colors to choose from, this mini kit has everything you need to get started. Instead of a UV light, this one comes with an LED light (to cure nails faster and without UV damage!), but the polishes will still cure under UV lights. Reviewers say the LED light is a bit small, so you may need to dry your thumbs separately.
Kit contains: LED light, base coat, top coat, five gel nail polish colors, nail treatment, cuticle oil, nail surface cleanser, artificial nail remover