the gelly sandwich: how to get gel nails with regular nail polish

The Gelly Sandwich – or How to do gel nails with regular polish

Can you use regular nail polish with gel?

the gelly sandwich: how to get gel nails with regular nail polishSo, it’s been eight months now <insert gasps of astonishment at how quickly time flies> since I got my DIY gel nails kit for Christmas, and unlike most other obsessions I go through, this one is still going strong. I don’t do gel manicures all the time, but to be completely honest, it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I’ve identified three main drawbacks to the whole “gel manicure” thing, namely:

Jelly Sandwich Nails: It’s a pain to remove

The reason gel manicures are so popular is because the polish doesn’t budge once it’s on. That’s great, because it means you get chip-free nails for three weeks at a time, but it also means that, well, it doesn’t budge once it’s on. So if you decide you want to change the colour or whatever, you’re going to have to spend a lot more time on removing that gel polish than you would a regular polish. And, you know, sometimes you won’t feel like soaking your nails in acetone for twenty minutes, so you’ll end up just picking it off while you’re watching TV one night. You will, I mean. I would obviously never do that. Ahem.

You feel guilty about all of the regular polish you have no need for any more

Now, I was never really into collecting nail polish (I basically just like red, pink and… that’s it.), but even I had a small collection of colours I love, and recently I’ve also developed an inability to walk past the Essie stand in Boots without stopping and cooing over all the pretty colours. Which, of course, there’s no point buying now, because GEL NAILS. And the gel nail colours themselves are great, don’t get me wrong, but it looks like I just wasn’t cut out for nail polish monogamy. Sometimes I want to have a little flirtation with other brands, you know? But, of course, the problem with THAT is the gel nails have spoilt me: once I’d experienced the joy of chip-resistant nail polish, which stays shiny for WEEKS, there was just no going back – I’d still buy the regular polish occasionally, but then it would chip within three hours of application, and I’d be all, “Gel nails, take me back – I promise I’ll never cheat on you again!”

Luckily, though, there is a solution, and it’s a solution I stumbled upon totally by accident a few weeks ago, when I was searching for something else altogether. Probably dresses, let’s be honest. Anyway, the solution is the gelly sandwich, and it’s a technique which allows you to mix your gel nails topcoat and basecoat with your regular old nail polish. So, basically you go through all the same steps I wrote about in my How to Do Gel Nails at Home post, but instead of using a gel colour, you just use your regular polish instead. Yes, it’s that simple. Well, sort of. It goes like this:The gelly sandwich technique: how to do a gel manicure using regular nail polish and a UV lamp

How to use the gelly sandwich technique for a DIY gel manicure:

The Gelly Sandwich manicure: how to do gel nails with regular nail polish

01. Prep the nails by cleaning with the Prep + Wipe Solution

02. Apply the gel base coat, and cure under the lanp

03. Wipe the nails again with the Prep + Wipe solution to remove any stickiness

04. Apply as many coats of your regular polish as you need to get the colour you want.

05. Let it dry completely.

06. Apply the gel top coat and cure.

07. Wipe the nails one last time with Prep + Wipe

The most important step here is number 5 – your coat of regular polish has to be TOTALLY dry before you add the top coat. In my case, most of the polishes I have are pretty fast-drying anyway, so it’s not a huge deal, but you know how some nail polishes just seem to take FOREVER to be completely dry? If you’re using one of those, you have to wait FOREVER. Or until it’s dry, anyway. Do that, though, and you get the gel nail effect, but with your regular polish as the colour coat. Now, I know what you’re thinking…

What’s the point?

It’s a good question. I mean, if you’re going to have to go through basically the same process as a full gel manicure, AND wait for the regular polish to dry… why not just DO a full gel manicure? Well, the simplest reason is that this method gives you a lot more choice, because you can use any polish you like, without having to stick to the range of gel colours (which I always have to buy online, meaning that the colour isn’t always what I was expecting…). The other reason, however, is that I find this method is much quicker to remove – you’ll still have to soak your nails to get through the gel layers, but it won’t take nearly as long, which allows you to switch colours more often.

Does it last?

When I first read about this, most people seemed to be saying that the gelly sandwich method doesn’t last quite as long as a full gel manicure. Actually, though, I’ve been pretty impressed: although the whole point of gel manicures is that they last for weeks, I normally find that by the end of the first week, I’m itching to remove it. The polish itself will normally still be perfect, but my nails grow fast, so I’ll have a lot of regrowth at the nail bed, and I’ll also be HATING the feeling of having my nails long. Try as I might, I just can’t get used to the sensation of long nails, and I find it hard to type with them, too, so a week is really long enough for me with one set of polish. When I use this gelly sandwich method, my polish is still chip-free by the end of that week (I haven’t tried leaving it longer than that, but there are no chips at all after 7 days, so I think it would definitely last longer than that…), which is at least 6.5 days more than a non-gel manicure would last for me: result!

The biggest downside of the gelly sandwich is the time you have to spend waiting for the regular polish to dry, which means it does take a bit longer than a full gel manicure. I find that it’s still quicker than doing a “normal” manicure, though – having to sit around waiting for all three coats of polish to air dry takes much longer for me than this does, and the results last much longer too. As I said, most of my polishes seem to be fairly fast-drying anyway, but even the ones that aren’t are normally dry enough to allow me to do something else (as long as it’s not something involving my nails, obviously!) while I’m waiting, so it’s not been a deal-breaker, so far.

Now, if anyone needs me, I’ll be at the Essie stand trying to choose between all those subtly-different shades of red…

Sistaco Reviews: Sistaco Mineral Bond Powder

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  • Hi! I just wanted to add, that for me it is not pain to get the gel-polish off. I use some kind of special oil (don’t remember the brand). The process goes like this:
    1) Apply the oil;
    2) Wait for it to soak in for some minutes;
    3) Put you hands in hot/warm water;
    4) Tear the polish off with your hands still in water. You can take them out and then tear the polish off, but for me it works better while hands are still in water.

    You should try this taking off method. 🙂 I’ve done the acetone and it was horrible! I thought the gel-polish would never totally come off and it took me some time to apply it again. 😀

    Have a nice evening!:)

    August 4, 2015
    • Charlotte


      AAaaack! I’m discovering this 7 years later, but it’s still genius. Thanks!

      April 3, 2022
  • I agree it is a pain in the behind to remove. I always have to go back to the nail salon to get them off. I have stopped doing them.

    August 4, 2015
  • Gill


    I bought some neat little remover-impregnated wraps by GDI Nails – for example Ebay item 351134517842 – they take the stuff off super-quick. I do one hand first, then re-use the wraps on the second hand. You can use the pads as wipes afterwards. Worth every penny (and they don’t cost many).

    Tried a gelly sandwich but realised why my nails were always messed-up before. There’s nothing like wet nail polish to make you want the loo! Shame, as I have a zillion gorgeous colours of nail polish. I’m slowly using it up on my toes.

    I’m not selling the wraps, by the way, just delighted with how they work. Hope it might make your life easier.

    August 4, 2015
  • Elia


    I was literally thinking about trying this for the past week but didn’t have time to research whether it’s an actual thing that people do! Same reason here, I want to use particular colour but don’t want to order a gel version, just to end up with two bottles of the same colour. But then again, I need it to last a week, half of which is at the beach …

    Have you tried using a rapid dry spray or oil to get the regular coat to dry quicker? I like using those because they’re pretty effective but also make the polish dry more evenly. The only thing is that they’re oil-based, so I suspect it would negatively affect the adhesiveness of the gel top coat. I might try it anyway 🙂

    August 5, 2015
  • Kim


    I’ve done gel nails only once and it was in . When I had to take it off I came to the same salon, because I was afraid to do it at home. Didn’t know these tips then). But what I really liked was a special nail care they applied to prevent damage.

    August 24, 2015
  • This is brilliant. Like you, I’m not a two-weeks-with-a-color kind of girl. I need variety from week to week. I wonder, can each coat of regular polish cure under the uv lamp to speed up the process?

    November 2, 2015
    • Helpful


      No Nicki, regular polish has to air dry a uv/led lamp has nothing to do with it’s drying time.

      March 17, 2016
  • Meri


    My boyfriend’s mum has given me a gel nail kit for Christmas and to be honest I had never considered gel nails in my life. I like variety and enjoy treating myself by painting my nails once or twice a week. I have a huge collection of lovely non-gel polishes and I am totally in love with the top coat I use which is Seche Vite. You paint it on thick while your nail polish is still wet, it dries really fast and I find it generally lasts up to a week without chipping. The idea of having the same coloured nails for 3 weeks is horrifying to me and I’m trying to find an excuse not to use the kit!

    December 28, 2015
  • Amanda


    I loved reading this, thank you. Just a thought, could you use follow your process but use Seche Vite to make your normal polish dry quickly and then put the gel top coat over that??

    June 22, 2017
  • Natalia


    I love gel nails, but hate to remove + my nails literally DIE after the removal. So I tried a peel off basecoat under all of it and it works wonders. It lasts up to 2 shiny weeks, and when they dont look so nice I simply peel them off with the help of an orange stick. Of course you have to take care of them to last that long without chipping or peeling them by accident, but it works for me.

    September 20, 2017
    • jennifer


      Amazing idea! I always wondered how well that would work but never put it to the test.

      February 20, 2018
    • Emily


      Hi there! What brand of Peel off do you recommend? Is it a peel off gel?

      December 17, 2021
  • jennifer


    I find that if I do a gel manicure sans the color polish, base, cure, top, cure, wipe, I can easily use regular polish on top and as long as I use a NON acetone remover I can remove and repaint with no problems. I have always found that no matter what regular polish adhered better and longer to any type of acrylic more so than my natural nails. This is another good option for anyone who likes to swap colors often but needs a little extra structure from gel polish.

    February 20, 2018
  • Thank you so much for posting this! I tried the gelly sandwich method and failed! I didn’t allow my regular polish to dry all the way and it ended up a sticky mess…I will definitely try again with the quick dry polish. I use the OPI Gel Color Pro – Health Base and Top Coat. To remove the gel polish, I just wet a cotton ball with polish remover, place it on my nail and wrap aluminum foil around the cotton ball and nail together and wait a couple minutes and the polish usually comes off all at once, no scraping.

    April 11, 2019