Gel nails have become increasingly popular in recent years – they bond to your nail and can last for up to three weeks without chipping. The big attraction is that they are shinier, more durable and dry quickly. The only hitch? The application process involves a specific technique, specialist varnishes and the gel polish needs to be ‘cured’ to your nails with an LED lamp – something which has traditionally required a trip to a beauty salon.
However, there is an increasing number of ‘at home’ gel nail kits – complete with lamp – that promise to deliver salon-standard results from the comfort of one’s own home. Some are affordable introductory sets, while others are professional grade – but all are suitable and usable for anyone.
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How to choose the best gel nail kit for you
Are gel nail kits expensive?
Yes, the upfront cost of a kit is in most cases more than a single gel treatment in a salon. However, by investing in a kit you’ll save yourself a fortune in the long run. If you look at it as an investment you’ll actually find it’s pretty cheap.
What do gel nail kits contain?
In all of the sets we have featured you’ll find a lamp, at least one shade of nail colour, nail tools such as files and buffers as well as base and top coats of varnish. Many, but not all kits contain equipment for removing gel nails.
How do I take gel nails off?
Gel nails cannot be removed in mere seconds as with regular varnish remover. And you must resist the temptation to peel them off yourself. You need cotton wool soaked in acetone, a textured nail buffer and time. There are different ways to tackle the removal process but the most common way is to buff the colour off the nail before wrapping it in a pad soaked in acetone. This is then often wrapped in tin foil and left for a few minutes. This will lift the gel from your nail without damaging it.
Are gel nail kits bad for natural nails?
It depends who you ask. Some studies have found that gel nails damage the natural nail because of the chemicals in the polish and the heat from lamp. Other schools of thought claim that the gel actually protects the nail and allows it to grow stronger. What we can say is that how you apply – and remove – the gel will have the greatest bearing on nail condition. Those of us who peel and pick at gel nails can expect to have tender, peeling and flaky nails as a result.
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Are gel nail kits suitable for amateurs?
Yes – all of these kits are suitable for absolute beginners. With that said, practise will make perfect as it takes skill, patience and a steady hand to become adept at gel nail application. It’s something of an art form – so do prepare to quite literally mess up as you start out.
Do gel nails really need a lamp? Why?
Yes. Some nail polish brands claim to offer gel nails in one pot – but while these presumably offer a juicy, shiny finish they will not be securely bonded to the nail, nor chip resistant and won’t have the staying power. The heat aspect of the gel nail application process is what gives a perfect finish that lasts for several weeks.
What tips should I bear in mind?
One of the things we found most important was not to rush the preparation phase. Make sure your nails are filed, smooth, buffed and totally clean. A strong foundation is essential for obtaining the best results.
We also advise applying each layer of colour as thinly as possible. Going in with thick streaks is going to mean it takes longer to cure, and there will be more chance of the colour pooling in your cuticles.
Lastly, it’s crucial that you ‘cap’ the free end of the nail with the colour and the top coat: this is super simple, just run the brush over the nail edge. If you don’t do this, you can expect early chipping.
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The best gel nail kits to buy in 2021
1. Semilac Starter Set Love Me: Best gel nail kit for customisability
Price: £90 | Buy now from Amazon
This is called a starter set, but everything about it is professional quality. The whole package is clearly and spaciously laid out – this feels like a salon-class experience from the start.
The lamp is large – exactly what you’d find at an upmarket nail bar – and feels very advanced compared to many of the others on the market. It has a cooling fan, two different power modes and a base (which is surprisingly rare).
When ordering, you are given the option to choose three colours from a frankly vast range – neons, reds, glitters, pastels – you name it, it’s there. We opted for three muted tones and settled on Little Stone as our tester colour.
The package includes plenty of wooden nail sticks, a nail file and a buffer. Once our nails had been wiped over with the cleaner we set to work on the base. We were careful to ensure we were applying the varnish thinly – and this was easy to do – the liquid is malleable and slick, especially when ensuring the end of the nail is ‘sealed’. Two colour coats would have sufficed but we chose three – just to see what the effect and finish would be – we can report it still dried beautifully without smudging or tackiness. Almost two weeks in and all our nails are looking great.
Key specs – Colours included: 3; Lamp strength: 48/24W; Contains removal equipment? Yes; Quantity of polish per pot: 7ml
£89.90 (£89.90 / count) Buy now
2. Red Carpet Fortify & Protect Pro Starter Kit: Best gel nail kit for people with weak nails
Price: £100 | Buy now from Nail Polish Direct
Red Carpet’s kit promises to be gentle on n