Doing your own gel manicure is the solution to getting beautiful nails without going to the nail salon every two weeks. I tested out several of the best gel nail polish brands and have created a list of the five best you need to try.
Getting that perfect at-home manicure is effortless if you have the best gel nail polish for home use and are using the correct gel base coat, polish, and top coat
If you’re like me, and love the look of a perfectly polished gel manicure but don’t have the time to go to the nail salon every two weeks, keep reading to get the insider tips for that perfect gel at-home manicure.
What is gel nail polish?
Gel manicures are understandably popular thanks to gel polish’s shine and long-lasting power. Gel polish dries in minutes instead of hours like traditional nail polish and leaves behind an incredibly glossy finish that stays intact for up to three weeks.
I have tried my share of gel nail polishes and have picked the most talked about products to test each out several times before making any recommendations. I then narrowed my choices into five categories to simplify your search for the best gel nail polish.
For each category, I examined how well the gel nail polish performed and gauged that performance against what the polish was best suited for.
You’re sure to find at least one or two gel nail polishes in this article that will keep your nails looking perfect without a trip to the salon.
No matter which gel nail polish you choose from this list, each gel nail polish maintains the health of your nails and nail beds, and the polish lasts longer than traditional nail polish.
Best overall: Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish
My overall pick for the best at-home gel nail polish is Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish. There is so much about this polish that I adore.
First, you do not need a UV lamp. You get a professional-looking finish with two easy steps. First, you apply two coats of color polish and then top with a thin layer of top coat. After that, you do not even need to apply a base coat.
Voila, you have an immaculate manicure that holds up chip-free for over two weeks.
Another great plus to Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish is that it can be removed with any acetone nail polish remover, keeping your natural nails and the nail beds healthy.
Best budget-friendly: Beetles Gel Polish Set
Beetles Gel Polish Set is perfect for those who want glossy, shiny nails on a budget. This professionally formulated gel nail polish is ideal for the beginner at-home manicurist and the experienced nail art lover.
With proper application, Beetles Gel Polish can last at least three weeks, and the kit comes with six different neutral and pink shades that go with any outfit.
In my opinion, this is one of the best value gel nail polish kits on the market as it even includes a UV light and a base coat.
Best chip-resistant: CND Shellac Nail Polish
I love the durability of the CND Shellac Nail Polish. This gel polish is the best for providing chip-resistant nails and chip-free wear.
Typically I need to touch up my nails every few days, especially on my nail tips, but with CND Vinylux Polish, I went almost a week without touching them up.
Plus, with less than ten minutes of the curing process, this is the perfect nail polish for someone who does not have much time to waste. The manicure itself lasted me three weeks.
Note: you will need a Shellac base coat, a Shellac top coat plus a UV lamp for this system. For more on how shellac differs from gel, check out our shellac vs gel nail polish article.
Best range of colors: Gelish Soak-Off Gel Polish
No matter what color or shade range of gel polish you like, Gelish Soak-Off Gel Polish undoubtedly carries it.
Boosting over 200 shades, you can modify the color of your nails to match any mood or outfit. Most gel polishes do not have a gel formula like the Gelish Soak-Off Gel Polish, which provides a luminous shine and flawless coverage.
My favorite high-quality formula from these gel nail color shades is the neutral “Do I Look Buff Shade,” but if I am looking for a little more spice, I switch to the red “A Petal For Your Thoughts.”
To get started, I recommend the Gelish 6-Piece Starter Kit which includes literally everything you’ll need for a professional home gel manicure and costs about as much as two gel manicures at your local nail salon. 😉
Best gel alternative: OPI Gel Break Nail Polish
OPI is one of most nail salons’ preferred nail polish brands available. While not a true gel polish, this lacquer is a great gel alternative. It’s perfect for use between gel manicures to help strengthen your nails and give them a break.
It has an excellent flowy gel-like consistency that applies exactly where you want it to go.
The soft gel-like look this polish delivers is incredible, and it lasts up to ten days of wear and tear with no peeling or chipping. In addition, the polish can last up to ten days.
The only downside to this polish is that it only comes in three color choices, Barely Beige, Properly Pink, and Too Tan-talizing.
Things to consider when choosing a gel nail polish
You should keep several things in mind when picking out the best gel nail polish.
- Ingredients: Avoid what I call the toxic trio, formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). These are chemicals that are harmful to both people and animals.
- Ease of use and safety: Look for easy-to-open packaging that won’t spill easily and high-quality brushes. Some brands, like CND, have patented curved brushes that make application a breeze.
- UV lamp requirements: Not all gel nail polishes require UV light to cure. Some dry just like traditional nail lacquers. Note that prolonged UV exposure can accelerate pre-mature skin aging and lead to wrinkles so consider applying SPF to the backs of your hands before curing under a UV lamp.
- Color options: In my opinion, the greater the color variety, the more fun you’ll have.
- Durability: Look for a polish that will last at least two weeks without chipping. For extra long-lasting nails, check out our favorite dip powder nail kits. Dip nails can last up to 8 weeks as opposed to four weeks with gel.
- Drying time: Gel polish curing time is shorter than regular nail polish, double check reviews for actual dry time.
- Price: This can range from inexpensive to pricy, so find the one that best fits your budget.
What type of gel polish do salons use?
Nail salons tend to stick with one of three major brands of gel polish, Gelish, OPI, or CND.
Gelish is available in many gorgeous shades and is marketed as “soak off” UV gel polish because removal involves soaking your nails in acetone.
OPI is among the most favored gel nail polish brands in nail salons because it protects the nails beneath the polish and keeps them from becoming brittle.
CND is prevalent because it was the first to market with its shellac brand of polish. It is known to be long-lasting, chip-resistant, and comes in many shades and colors.
Takeaways on picking the best gel nail polish
After researching, painting, soaking, and painting some more, I found that the Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish was the best at-home professional gel nail polish for my personal use.
Having the perfect long-lasting manicure is as crucial to me as keeping my roots touched up and my eyeliner straight, so finding the right gel brand is also crucial.
Since now you have a few choices for the best gel polish brands available, try them all out and let us know how you like each one. Which is your favorite? Which do you consider to be the best gel nail polish out there?
To explore a range of manicure options, read our in-depth article on 15 Types of Manicures, almost all of which you can DIY at home.
Kim is an expert, with over 7 years in the nail art and makeup industry. She is an avid DIY nail artist and now contributing writer at BeautyStack.