When I began working in retail over a year and a half ago, I noticed my nails took a beating whenever I would stock shelves or ring up guests on the register. My colleagues wore fancy gel nails that protected their natural nails from the stress of everyday work while keeping them looking great. After learning that they cost upwards of sixty dollars per set, I set off on a quest to achieve the same look for less. To save you from some of the trial and error that I’ve gone through over the last year and a half, here are some easy steps to the perfect at-home gel polish application.
1. Purchasing and Choosing Supplies
There are countless brands and types of gel polish to choose from online. For me, what was most important was color payoff, longevity, and affordability. I choose to go with Beetles gel polish because of their great online reviews, as well as the many recommendations I received from friends and co-workers. They’re easily found on Amazon or their own website.
A great thing about Beetles is that they make affordable starter kits that include small bottles of nearly everything you need, as well as a LED lamp to cure the polish. They have different colors to choose from within their sets, but you can always buy single polishes or polish kits if you have the desire to branch out from your starter set colors.
In addition to the starter kit, you’ll need some rubbing alcohol, paper towels, and a non-acidic primer. The rubbing alcohol removes the natural oils from your nails, and the non-acidic primer further preps your nails for polish application. Together, they make your manicure chip-resistant and long-lasting. Additionally, you may choose to purchase clean-up brushes to correct any mistakes you might make when you’re first getting started. In total, all the supplies you need comes in at well under the cost of a single gel manicure.
2. Nail Preparation
When first doing my nails at home, I had a hard time getting the gel to stay on for longer than a week. I later found out that it was my poor nail prep that caused the problem. Removing my cuticles with a cuticle pusher (included in the Beetles kit) helped with the longevity of my manicure. If you have a hard time removing the dead skin with the pusher alone, you may choose to purchase a cuticle remover solution that helps dissolve the dead skin, or even cuticle cutters. Just be careful with the cutters, it’s very easy to cut off too much and accidentally slice yourself.
To prepare your nails for gel polish application, trim and file your nails to your desired shape and length. Push back your cuticles with the pusher tool, and use the solution and cutters if necessary. Then use a paper towel dampened with rubbing alcohol to remove all the nail dust and debris. After this, apply a thin layer of the non-acidic primer. Now, your nails are ready for the gel!
3. Gel Polish Application
After all the prep, you’re now ready to apply your gel! The first coat that goes on is the basecoat, or as Beetles refers to it, the foundation layer. Apply your basecoat in a thin even layer, being careful to not get any on your skin. If you do get some on your skin, dip a clean-up brush in rubbing alcohol, dab off any excess, and wipe it away. It’s important to remove any polish that gets on your skin because once you cure each layer, it won’t budge. Cure the foundation layer according to the bottle instructions. From now on, you should not touch the surface of your nails, as they will be sticky until you put on the top coat.
Now you can move on to the color layers. The key to a good manicure is applying the polish in thin, even coats, and wrapping the tip of your nail. Wrapping the tip makes your nails look more professional and helps them last longer. Between each coat, be sure to remove any gel that you got on your skin, then cure according to bottle instructions. I typically apply 2-3 coats of color to achieve full opacity.
Once you have the color that you like, it’s time to apply the top coat. Again, apply a thin even coat, being sure to wrap the tip, and then cure according to bottle instructions. Once your top coat has fully cured, the nails should be dry and safe to touch. A great thing about gel is that there is no need to wait until they air dry because they cure fully under the lamp!
After finishing the polish application, use the cuticle oil included in your kit. This will help revive the skin around your nails and give them back some much-needed moisture.
4. Common Problems and Solutions
After doing my own gel nails for almost two years, I have come across some issues and figured out solutions along the way. One issue was that even after all of my prep, the gel would still lift in certain areas. I found that gently filing the surface of my nails gave the basecoat better adhesion to my nails. And no, it has not damaged my natural nails. As long as you don’t file too much and you properly remove your gel by soaking your fingernails in acetone, you won't damage your natural nails. Here is a great video tutorial on how to properly remove gel nails at home with no damage.
Another issue that I’ve come across is the polish flooding into my cuticle midway through application. A solution I found to this is flash-curing each finger for 5 seconds immediately after applying it. This helps to set the polish in place so it doesn’t move around.
Another issue that I still sometimes deal with is the occasional heat spike when curing. I find this happens most often when I apply coats too thick or some polish gets on my skin. When that happens, just remove your hand from under the lamp, let it cool off, and then put it back under. The only way I’ve found to prevent this is making sure I keep my coats thin and the polish off my skin.
Doing your own gel nails doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. Will it take some trial and error? Of course, but don’t let that discourage you from at least trying. After all, it costs less than a salon manicure for many applications worth of product. Saving money doesn’t have to mean skipping out on the things you love, especially your manicure.
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