If you’re a fan of salon gel manicures like Shellac, you may have seen at-home kits popping up in stores. With a little practice, we found that every one of these kits produced a professional-quality manicure that lasted at least a week—a good investment for anyone who drops a lot of dough at the salon. But each offered slightly different advantages. Read on for our reviews (and check out our DIY tips).
This kit produced an incredibly shiny, indestructible manicure that our testers thought was indistinguishable from ones they’d paid top dollar for at salons. The LED light cured faster than the other kits we tried, cutting down on the overall time it took to complete the manicure. If you’re a fan of Sephora by OPI’s line of regular nail polish, you’ll be pleased to learn that many of the same colors—a range of shades, finishes and trends— are now available in the gel line. You get your choice of any one of those gel colors as part of your initial kit purchase.
We loved the instruction manual that comes with this kit: Not only does it feature photos of each step, but the written instructions are incredibly detailed and include tips like, “Lightly press down on the brush so it fans out.” The UV light is large (suitable for toes, too!) and professional-looking, but doesn’t have a timer, which means you have to constantly watch the clock while you’re doing the manicure, and manually flip the switch on and off. But the pristine, long-wearing manicure that resulted was worth the hassle.
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This comprehensive kit had several more steps than the others, including a two-step priming process, but that didn’t seem to extend the wear of the manicure any longer or generally provide any better results. Still, it’s an impressive-looking kit, with several extras like an attractive carrying case for easy storage, and a plastic tub that makes the soak-off removal process less of a hassle. Another bonus: the kit comes with an impressive four color polishes: red, pink, sheer white and mauve. (Base kits from other brands typically include only one color.) As a total package, this kit would make a great holiday gift.
At less than half the price of the others, this kit does cut a few corners. You use the same product for your base and top coat, and you have to purchase remover separately. (Good old 100 percent acetone from the drugstore works just fine.) So we were thrilled to find that this kit performed just as well as the others, with long wear and an attractive shine. Plus, the Sensationail brand offers a wide, wilder range of colors, including blues, greens and purples. If you’re even the slightest bit uncertain about how often you’ll use a home gel manicure kit, we highly recommend you start with this inexpensive but high-quality kit.