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HOW TO | Gel nails at home with a DIY gel nail kit

As I mentioned back in this post, one of my Christmas presents from Terry this year was a DIY gel nail kit, which I’ve already been getting plenty of use out of over the festive season.

A gel nail kit is something I’d been considering for absolutely ages. As some of you may recall, my nails – and particularly my cuticles – are the bane of my life, and I always feel a bit embarrassed by the state of them. A bit of polish makes them look much better, but it always chips so quickly on me, that even with  a decent topcoat, I find myself having to remove it and re-do it more often than I can really be bothered with.

I have, however, had a few professional gel manicures, and have always loved the fact that they allow me to just completely forget about my nails for a couple of weeks (or more!) at a time, so when I opened up my own little gel nail kit, I was really exited to try it.

how to do gel nails at home with a gel nail kit - www.ForeverAmber.co.uk

CREATING YOUR GEL NAIL KIT
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Terry bought the various components of my gel  nail kit separately, but there are tons of different ones available which provide you with everything you need to get started, and, as far as I can gather, they all seem to work in roughly the same way. If you’re buying everything separately, you’ll need:

01. AN LED OR UV LAMP

Mine is this one, and is uses LED lights rather than UV ones, which I’m happy about, because I’d have worried about putting my hands under UV light too often.

prep + wipe solution for DIY gel nails

02.  PREP + WIPE SOLUTION 
03. BASE and TOP COAT

(These are often sold together, but you can also buy them separately.)

gel polish

04. GEL POLISH COLOUR

The fun bit! I’ve already amassed a small collection of these, and can’t seem to stop myself acquiring more!

05. REMOVER

Again, this is often sold along with the prep + wipe solution, and is essential for when you come to remove your polish!

06. ASSORTED OTHER ITEMS…

Most of these are things you’ll probably already have, but if you’re going to try doing gel nails at home you’ll probably want to stock up on items like lint-free pads, orange sticks, emery boards etc.

As I said, you can buy all of these items separately, or you can go for a gel nail kit starter pack, which will give you everything you need in one go: up to you!

HOW TO DO GEL NAILS AT HOME WITH A DIY GEL NAIL KIT

If you’ve ever had a professional gel manicure, the process of doing gel nails at home will probably be pretty familiar to you, but for those who haven’t, here’s how to do it…

STEP ONE | PREPARE THE NAILS
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howto do gel nails at home using a gel nail kit

First things first: before getting started with your gel nail kit, you’ll want to prepare your nails by making sure they’re clean, free of any polish, and filed into the shape you want. (Please excuse the state of mine in these close-ups: I’m obviously not a professional, and have bad nails to start with, so my results are never going to be perfect!) Once you’ve done that, give each nail a quick wipe over with a lint-free pad soaked in the Prep+Wipe solution.

STEP TWO | APPLY THE BASE COAT
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Applying the base coat for gel nails

Once your nails are prepped, it’s time to apply the base coat. You’ll be applying quite a few coats of polish, so make the base coat as thin as possible, and try to paint all the way up to the tip of the nail, to help “seal” in the polish and make it harder to chip off. It’s also best to do one hand at a time, because as soon as you have that first coat done, you’ll be moving straight to step three…

STEP 3 | CURE THE BASE COAT UNDER THE LED LAMP
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using an LED lamp for gel nail application

using a gel nail kit at home

The most important step of the process, and the thing which makes gel manicures different (and longer lasting) than regular ones is the part when you “cure” the polish by placing your hand under your LED lamp. My lamp has three buttons on the top, allowing you to set the length of time it’ll remain switched on for. I give each coat two minutes to cure, and I’ll sometimes do my thumb separate from the rest of my fingers, purely because it’s a  little easier to position it that way, but you can easily do all five fingers at once.

Once the lamp switches off, your polish will be almost dry, but will still feel slightly tacky to the touch, so it’s important that you don’t touch your nails, or rub them against anything. (This is also why your cotton pads should be lint-free: the last thing you want is “hairy” nails!)

STEP 4 | APPLY THE FIRST LAYER OF COLOUR THEN CURE FOR ANOTHER TWO MINUTES
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applying gel nail polish at home

Next up, apply your first coat of colour, again going for as thin a layer as you can. In this photos, I’m using a shade called ‘Wildfire’, which is a nice, classic bright red. Once you’ve painted each nail, it’s back under the LED lamp for another two minutes.

STEP 5| REPEAT STEP 4
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second coat of gel polish

Now do it all over again, adding a second coat of colour, and once again curing it under your lamp for two minutes. Don’t worry, we’re almost done…

STEP 6 | APPLY THE TOPCOAT AND CURE
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how to use a gel nails kit at home

You’ll probably be an old hand (boom boom!) at this by the time you reach this stage, so all I’ll add here is that when I’m applying the clear topcoat, I try to make sure I paint the very edge of the nail too, to seal in the colour and stop it from wearing around the tips. As with all of the stages, you also want to avoid making any of the coats too thick or lumpy, or you’ll be left with super-chunky nails, which will look (and feel a bit strange). Once the topcoat is on, there’s one final two-minute session under the lamp, before the final stage…

STEP 7 | WIPE THE NAILS WITH THE PREP + WIPE SOLUTION 
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the final step in using a gel nail kit

When you remove your hand from under the lamp for the final time, your nails will still feel a little bit sticky. Don’t panic, you haven’t done anything wrong – you just need to do one final step, which involves getting out your lint-free pads again, and gently wiping each nail with the Prep + Wipe solution. If you’re not used to gel nails, rubbing your freshly-painted nails with a cotton pad feels all kinds of wrong the first time you do it, but the polish won’t budge, and once you’ve completed this step, you’ll be left with shiny, polished nails, which will be dry to the touch, and which – most importantly – will not chip. Yay!

gel nails at home tutorial

SO, IS IT WORTH GETTING A GEL NAIL KIT? 

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I’ve had my gel nail kit for a few weeks now (Terry gave me it before Christmas, so I could use it for my Christmas day manicure!), and I absolutely love it. It takes me around 30 minutes to do both hands, which I don’t think is too bad, especially considering I can do it in front of the TV if I want to (and I usually do). Previously, I’d probably devote at least 30 minutes per week to doing my nails anyway, but the big difference with this is that it lasts so long that you only need to do it every two or three weeks. I get well over 2 weeks out of each manicure: by the end of that time I’ll be starting to see some wear at the very tips of the nails, and occasionally will notice a tiny chip in the polish – that could easily be patched up if you wanted to get more wear out of it, but I’ll also normally have some regrowth at the base of the nail by then, too, so I prefer just to remove it and start again.

My toes, meanwhile, were painted before Christmas, and because my toenails seem to grow much more slowly than my fingernails do (is that just me?), I’ll get even more wear out of it: they’re going on for three weeks now, and still look perfect. They’re also still perfectly shiny, which is another big benefit of a gel nail kit: while I find that most regular polishes will start to look dull after a few days (especially on my toes), this stuff remains shiny, and still looks freshly applied, weeks after you put in on.

bright red nails

I’m really aware here that my application isn’t perfect, and that some of you might think the gel nail kit is to blame: it really isn’t, I promise! I’ve never been very good at painting my nails, and I’m also pretty bad at shaping them, so the fault is all mine here. Although I’m not great with nails, I’m probably never going to be the kind of person who starts paying for salon manicures every couple of weeks, though, so in my case, this gel nail kit isn’t competing with “professional” manicures, as such – it’s simply competing with what I’d be able to do at home, with regular polish. In that respect, the gel nail kit is WAY better: it doesn’t take significantly longer to use, and the results last for much, much longer, so it’s been well worth it for me. With that said, if you’re good with nails, you can expect to get significantly better results than I do!

REMOVING GEL NAIL POLISH

Removing gel polish, however, is a different story altogether. I’m planning a separate post on that subject, which I’ll hopefully have up soon, but suffice to say that it’s a lot more time-consuming than removing regular polish, and can be a bit of a pain. The fact that you only need to do it every few weeks, of course, helps balance that out, although if you’re the type of person who likes to change your nail colour every few days, I’d guess this system probably isn’t for you!

In my case, I’m not particularly adventurous with my nails, and tend to stick to the same colours all the time, so I’m unlikely to get bored, or to find the removal process too much of an issue. With that said, I’m finding it such a novelty to have painted nails which don’t chip constantly that I’ve become much more interested in nail polish all of a sudden, and have bought a few different colours which I’m looking forward to trying out. I’m unlikely to become obsessed with nail art or anything like that, because I just don’t have the skill/patience to do it well, but I’m loving this little DIY gel nail kit, and am so pleased Terry got it for me, so I can highly recommend trying it out if you’re a fan of a long-lasting polish!

One small note of caution: I know gel polish can be quite hard on the nails if you use it too often, so I’ll be giving my nails a rest in between treatments, and doing my best to keep them healthy. I haven’t had any issues s far, but it’s something to bear in mind if you’re considering buying a gel nail kit of your own.

HOW TO USE A GEL NAIL KIT

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12 Comments
  • Julie McCready
    January 14, 2015

    I was looking into one of these actually, only because I would love to have painted nails at times but I work all day every day almost with my hands so it NEVER lasts! But with Gel home kit it can last up to 14 days 🙂 i just want to keep my own natural nails which is why this did look appealing somewhat.

    By the way you are so gorgeous 🙂

  • Chloe
    January 14, 2015

    I bought my own kit before Christmas, as I’d previously had access to one before and with a bit of application practice, decided it was well worth it, as it wasn’t a huge cost and for nail polish to dry properly would be about the same time as it takes me to do a gel manicure.

    Like you I try and take a rest between- I do 2 weeks of gel and 1 week of a nail treatment to try and help them stay strong- I love OPI nail envy for the week in between, just to keep everything strong and stop my nails becoming too bendy. I also think that using foil wraps to remove the polish is the easiest way- they are really inexpensive on eBay and make the whole thing much easier.

    • Amber
      January 14, 2015

      Yeah, I definitely don’t think it takes much longer than a regular manicure with basecoat, topcoat etc – plus you don’t have to sit around waving your hands in the air waiting for it to dry, too 😉

  • Charlotte
    January 14, 2015

    I’ve been looking in to at home gel nails for a little while now as I find that normal polish just does not stand up to a shift in retail, I’m glad to see it’s as easy as I had expected it to be! x

    Charlotte / coloursandcarousels

    • Amber
      January 14, 2015

      Honestly, if I can do it, I think anyone can! I type all day, so normal polish just doesn’t last on me either: I have a great Sally Hansen topcoat, which does give me quite a few days, but even with that, I end up having to re-do them all the time!

  • Laura
    January 14, 2015

    I have a gel kit and also bought everything separately – it means you actually get colours you want and doesn’t even work out more expensive. The Bluesky colours are absolutely gorgeous but definitely read reviews/google swatches beforehand because their swatches aren’t true to colour 90% of the time. I also did a post about gel nails but it’s nowhere near as pro-looking as yours with all those nice photos!

    Also, I used to be terrible at applying nail varnish but since using gel I can actually do it really neat – I usually just wipe away any smudging with an ear bud before I cure it. It’s mainly just practice and soon people will be asking you where you got them done! xx

  • Suki
    January 14, 2015

    I was a nail technician for 20 years but did fiberglass and Gel or acrylic nails. After I stopped doing nails I went to a local salon to have them done and never had any problems with them, occasionally I would give them a few weeks break to have a breather. A couple of months ago I decided to try the Gel colour instead and couldn’t believe how good they looked and how long for, but the last time I had the gel colour removed my nails were so thin I have left it off for fear of ruining them completely. I think the fact that every time they are taken off they are scraped and flied makes then so thin and weak. When you have an in fill with gel or acrylic you have the gel or acrylic filed and not your actual nail so when my nails have recovered I will go back to gel nails. In my opinion if you use the gel colours be careful with how much you scrape and file them and like Amber said give them a rest now and then.

  • Rosanna
    January 14, 2015

    I bought my kit a year ago and I love it! My natural nails are brittle and ridged from banging away on the keyboard every day but now they look good all the time. I haven’t noticed any problems.with my natural nail, a rest now and then really helps.

  • Melissa
    January 14, 2015

    Well done for having the patience to do your own gel nails – the one time I got it done in a salon I was bored to tears with the time taken doing each layer! Saying that, I’m not really one for going to salons anyway.

    The one thing that I would say is that if you do have rubbish nails, it’s really easy for them to be damaged with the gel technique. Even 8 months or so after having the gel removed I have a split down the middle of one nail and it’s dipped in the middle right at my cuticle and even grows with the dip and my doctor blamed it on the chemicals from my manicure 🙁

    • Amber
      January 15, 2015

      Oh dear… it sounds like you might have had a bad salon to me: it really doesn’t take a long time to do each layer (much quicker than letting normal polish dry), and although it can be tough on your nails, it shouldn’t split them either: yikes!

  • Katharine in Brussels
    January 18, 2015

    Hi Amber, we have the same set up 🙂 I’m also a non-expert polish applier, but you do yours better than mine! Can I offer you some feedback? Just so you know, LED lights are in the UV spectrum so you are getting somewhat concentrated UV exposure. I use manicure gloves and sunblock on my fingertips. 2 mins is the curing time for a UV light, an LED can cure in 30-60 secs. I cure the base coat 60 secs and then the rest of the other coats 30 seconds each. If you’re looking to save money for more polishes, you can try rubbing alcohol for the prep/wipe off, and cut up an old tee shift for the lint-free wipes. Do you use cuticle oil afterward? I use some after, and try to remember to use moisturizer/coconut oil on my hands and cuticles every day to keep them healthy. Apparently the gel & acetone dries out the nail bed and cuticle, and I’ve noticed mine are healthier with this treatment. As long as I don’t buff my nail bed before applying and don’t scrape off gel during removal my nails look better than they ever did. I love the Nail Mates removal pads, and NAYY. You can use less acetone with them too to remove. I have a pair on one hand right now and can still type. Enjoy!

  • Judy
    March 20, 2018

    Hey Amber, I love this article thanks. Im thinking of getting one of the kits you listed but im not quite sure which one to go for. I keep reading reviews about them but cant make up my mind due to the prices they cost. I understand you can save a lot over regular salon visits but it still seems a lot. After reading this review (http://www.almondnails.com/best-gel-nail-kits/) I can kind of justify buying a kit as there are many affordable ones available. I would love an opinion from an expert just to ensure that I don’t need the most expensive one and that one of the cheaper ones do the job. Thanks

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