I've been a nail biter all my life and a friend suggested that getting protective, no-chip gel manicures might help me stop my bad habit. I wanted to give it a try, but the cost of getting gels done in a salon every 1-2 weeks can be prohibitive. Interested in getting more manicure for your buck? Read on to see what I put together for my own home gel kit, tips on execution, and non-essential things you can leave off your shopping list to save even more money.
1 Gel Manicure in a Salon = Approx. $25-30 (plus tip)
My self assembled essentials kit gives you DOZENS of gel manis at home for approx $62.00! That's a ton of money (and time) saved over the months.If this sounds like a good solution for your manicure needs, consider giving me a vote in the On a Budget contest :)
It'll feel like a chunk of change when you first buy it all, but it really is a money saver if you plan to do gels regularly.
Step 1: You Will Need...
A UV Gel Curing Lamp --This is the model I bought, based on favorable customer reviews and low price. Easy to install bulbs and the auto-timer feature is well worth it! I opted for a UV lamp rather than an LED lamp because it seemed more versatile. I can use a wider variety of gel polishes, not just the ones made for LED light.
Gel manicure Essentials: After doing some research I settled on ASP brand from Sally Beauty supply.
Gel color polish in the shade of your choice ($5.99-$8.99). Again, I stuck with ASP based on favorable reviews and lower price point. Gelish brand offers the widest array of colors, but I read reviews that said it was hard to control and would pool in the edges of your nail bed. China Glaze's gel brand was said to be much more sheer than the color swatches would lead you to believe. So far I have found ASP to be very manageable and true to shade, with the exception of glitter gels.
Square of toilet paper
Dawn dish liquid (optional, you'll see)
Step 2: Why Not Just Buy a Starter Kit?
Gel starter kits are available through makers like Sally Hansen for around $50, but here's why I chose to assemble my own kit instead:
--The kits usually come with MINI sizes of your essentials, like base coat and top coat. I didn't want to pay all that money only to run out of supplies quickly.
--I read a number of reviews complaining that the LED lamps that come in kits were not high quality and quit working soon after purchase. I wanted more control over the quality of lamp I was getting, and preferred the versatility of a UV lamp.
--Kits tend to come with one shade of color polish, and usually a color I would never wear, like "nude" or "classic red". Buying separately meant I could get a full size bottle of teal, black, plum, or whatever I wanted that I'd actually wear.
--Kits come with crap you don't need, like "finishing wipes". This is basically just an alcohol pad, and chances are you have the makings already in your bathroom cabinet.
While the grand total for my basics may cost a little more than $60, I have greater faith in the products I chose and know they will serve me longer and more effectively than a kit.
Step 3: Prep Your Workspace
First, make sure you have all your manicure goodies from the list in front of you. Your nails will get tacky during this process and the last thing you want is to have to go digging through cabinets to find your nippers or rubbing alcohol with uncured nails.
Work on a level surface that is near an electrical outlet (for your lamp). Either use a counter top that can be wiped clean, or put a paper towel under your equipment to catch any mistakes.
Be sure that you have 15-20 minutes free and clear to do your nails. Again, your nails will be a little sticky until your final phase, so you don't want to be juggling this with another task. Once I was in the middle of doing gels and my laundry timer went off. In trying to transfer clothes from washer to dryer, I got a ton of lint stuck to my nails and had to start all over! Learn from my mistakes.
Step 4: Prep Your Nails
Proper nail prep is the key to having the gels adhere correctly, giving you a long lasting and maintenance free manicure. Note: I'll only be doing one hand in this Ible because it is REALLY hard to take photos of your own manicure. Repeat steps on your second hand as logic dictates.
1) Use an orange stick to push back any offending excess cuticles. Try to mirror the natural, curved shape of your nail bed, clearing the skin off the surface of your paintable nail. Gels will not stick to skin well and will lift prematurely if you paint over the cuticle.
SAFETY NOTE: Excess cuticle should be moved easily. Do not poke with such force that you are going under the cuticle and cause bleeding.
2) Use Cuticle Nippers to trim away excess and dry skin from around the nail bed. This will maximize your paintable area. Only nip away dead/ dry/ excess skin! Do not try to sculpt away at live parts of your nail bed as this will cause bleeding.
3) Use a fine grain Nail Buffer to gently scuff the surface of all your nails.You want the surfaces to become a little dull and chalky, as this helps the gels bond to the nail surface. Use the flexible sponge-like buffing block to scuff the full curve of your nails and get down into the corners.
4) If you have especially oily nails, cheap dish soap will help dry them out. Dryer nails will have a stronger bond with your gels and keep them on longer. Drizzle dish soap over the nails, rub back and forth, then rinse under running water. I was surprised just how much of a difference I could feel between the hand I applied dish soap to and one I didn't!
Dry hands thoroughly before proceeding.
Step 5: PH Bonder
Ph Bonder is supposed to further dehydrate the nails for maximum gel adhesion. I honestly can't tell if using it makes a difference for me, but it is the cheapest of the ASP products you'll buy and I figure I may as well follow the recommended steps for the best results.
Brush a thin coat of Bonder on all nails. It will dry quickly and will not be sticky.
ALERT! This is your last chance to eat something, talk on the phone, pet the cat, etc. before you need to be 100% focused on nails and not touch other stuff!
Step 6: Base Coat
Paint a thin layer of Base Coat on all digits of one hand.
Locate your On/Off switch for your UV lamp. If you have an auto timer switch, I highly recommend using it! The lamp will automatically shut off when your nails have had ample time to cure. No watching the clock or guess work!
Insert Base Coated hand into lamp housing.
Flip the Switch and Cure!
During my research I encountered some articles addressing concerns that UV lamps will tan your hands. Some salons will coat your fingers in sunscreen before applying your gels, but I think this is mostly for show. Applying sunscreen would more than likely just grease you back up again, decreasing the strength of the nail-gel bond. I have never applied SPF to my fingers before applying gels and my hands are (as you can see) as pasty as ever. You're really not going to spend THAT much time in the lamp, and for all the hours I spend in a dark studio I could probably use the Vitamin D. If you are worried about the possible long term effects of the UV exposure, or you just tan very easily, choose a non-greasy SPF formula that is easy to control. Roll on sticks meant for babies would be a great option.
Cured nails will be glossy and a little sticky.
Step 7: Color: Coat 1
I chose ASP "Ravishing in Raspberry". It delivers the look of a "classic red" but is nicer with a cool skin tone. Of the ASP polishes I've tried, flat colors like this one provide the best opaque coverage. Metallics can be a bit more sheer. The one glitter polish I bought on clearance has been very sparse and rather disappointing. Since you can't do layer upon layer of gels like you can regular polish, expect glitters to be a very subtle accent on top of another color.
Paint a THIN layer of color on all digits of one hand. If you get polish on the surrounding skin, carefully wipe away with a Q-tip.
Wipe excess gel polish off the brush at the mouth of the bottle. Gel polish is very viscous and will ooze into the corners of your nail beds if you use big globs.
Try to keep the polish line just short of your cuticle. Avoiding overlap with skin will help ensure longer wear by lessening the opportunities for lifting edges.
Flip UV lamp switch and cure.
The cured 1st coat will probably look spotty and sheer. You're ok! The second coat is where we'll get our real coverage and color.
Step 8: Coat 2: Color
Apply a second coat of gel color to your four fingers. You can be more liberal this time. The second coat will follow the path set by your first and mostly settle right into place. The true color of the polish should be reflected after coat 2.
WAIT TO PAINT YOUR THUMB! Because your thumb tilts in a different direction than the rest of your hand, you don't want your thicker second coat sliding around and settling in the corners.
Insert 4 fingers into the lamp and cure.
When your fingers are done curing, go back and paint coat 2 on your thumb.
Cure the thumb, positioning your hand so that your thumb nail is level, not tilted to one side.
Step 9: Top Coat
Apply a thin layer of Top Coat to all digits.Take care not to get Top Coat on the cuticle or surrounding skin. This is the #1 reason you'll get a lifted edge in a few days and have to re-do a nail. Mistakes can be swabbed away carefully with a Q-tip.
Insert hand in the Uv lamp housing and cure.
Step 10: "Finishing Wipes"
Most nail kits include Finishing Wipes. This sounds like it must be some super secret formula that you need to buy from the source in order to finish the job properly.
No. They're just scented alcohol pads. You can skip buying these.
Saturate a square of toilet paper with rubbing alcohol.
Wipe each nail. This will remove the tackiness and now you can touch stuff again!
A little bit of color rub off is common, due to tiny places you may not have covered your color with top coat. This is not a big deal and will not affect the look of your mani.
Step 11: DONE!
You just did your own gels --and can do them over and over again for a fraction of salon prices!
Longevity will vary with the user. Most gel brands purport to last 14 days. Most customer reviews say this will never be the case. Frankly, I'm thrilled with 5-7 days. My nails are oily and my skin is very acidic, so even salon jobs fall off me way before 2 weeks. These are totally chip free and last way longer than polish since I use my hands all day. Since one week is about when I want to change color anyway, I've been quite satisfied for the cost. The gels HAVE also helped me stop biting my nails (knock on wood).
If you have dryer nails/ skin and REALLY rough them up with that nail buffer, you might actually get closer to 14 days. It depends on your body chemistry and habits. You will probably find they last longer after you've done it a few times and get better at keeping the gel off your cuticle.
Step 12: Removing
You can buy Soak Off Solution, which was under $6. I never use it on my nails, but I was glad I bought it when i spilled polish on the carpet! The directions indicate that you'd just soak your fingertips and then use a scraping tool or orange stick to remove the softened gel material.
My gels tend to peel off easily if I work up an edge with my orange stick, or if an edge lifts naturally over time.
Working the orange stick underneath the gel sheet usually pops it off in one piece --no fuss and ready to re-paint!