I am a bit late to the party on the whole gel nails thing, but now that I am up to speed, I am here to evangelise to you about the wonder of gel nails that you can do for yourself at home, giving you perfect, glossy chip-free nails for two weeks. No, REALLY. Don’t believe it? I didn’t either, which is why I am planning on converting as many people as possible to this amazing new thing.
Read on to find out more about gel nails, how to do them and what you need to buy.
Ok, gel nails Whatever the name is conjuring up in your mind, you’re probably wrong. Gel nails are not stick-on nails or an equivalent to acrylic with powder and liquid that you have to mix; the term refers to a system of painting your nails with specific products, which you can use with nail tips or on your bare nails to provide a genuinely perfect finish that will stay good until your nails get too long, rather than chipping and peeling off in a day or so.
The maddest thing about gel nails is that rather than sitting around for an hour while they air dry and you can’t touch anything, you cure them under a UV light-each layer cures in 120 seconds-and then they are dry, like totally dry, straight away, and rock hard. I don’t know how this witchcraft works, but it really does.
It is important to note that gel polishes are not the same as regular nail varnish, and you have to buy specific gel colours rather than using your current polish collection. However, gel polishes cost around the same as a normal varnish, and come in just as many variations too.
What you need
As gel nails are becoming more and more popular, there are now a huge range of complete kits including the UV light that you can buy to get you started, and this is all fine if you want to go that route. However, the price of any given kit seems to work out more costly than buying each of the individual components separately, and I got everything I needed on Ebay for under £40 as a one-off cost. I’ll leave it to you to compare the relative merits of different brands and things, but here is your shopping list:
- A UV curing lamp-I bought this one for £12:
- Gel nail primer
- Gel base coat
- Gel top coat
- Your colour of choice
- Files and buffers
- Cotton wool
- Pure acetone
- Orange sticks
- Removal caps
- Gloss wipes or rubbing alcohol
When it comes to colours, you can get UV gel polish in buttloads of types and effects, from colour-changing ones that magically go a different colour at the tip, to magnetic ones that you use a wand before curing to create a pattern with, like I did here:
If you do buy a magnetic polish, check whether or not it comes with a magnet wand, or if you will need to buy that separately.
What you do
The first time you do your gels, it will probably take you over an hour as it takes a while to get to grips with it all. Also, your first set will probably be less than perfect as you learn from your mistakes-mine was, but it was still good, and from my second set onwards, they were brilliant.
The basics of application are this:
- Remove any old polish or anything else from your nails, push your cuticles back with an orange stick, and shape your nails how you want them to be. You can also apply tips with gel, but I haven’t done this-check out this tutorial by Bones and Lillies if you want to have a go.
- Use a fine buffer to roughen the surface of your nails, as this allows the gel to stick.
- Do one hand at a time-this is way easier to do a whole hand from scratch and then the other, with dry nails, when you are doing this yourself.
- Paint your first hand’s nails with the primer. This does not dry. Then, carefully paint a not too thin, not too thick layer of the base coat, and cure it under the lamp.
- Apply your colour, cure it, repeat the process.
- Apply top coat, cure it, use cotton wool and gloss wipes or plain rubbing alcohol to remove the sticky residue, and your nails will be bona fide dry, done, ready to go, just like that.
- Use your files to file off any odd bits.
It really is as simple as that, I swear down. One mistake I made the first time that you can avoid involved doing both hands together, which made it all more fiddly.
- Also, when I apply regular polish, I don’t worry if it gets on my cuticles or down the sides of my nails, as I can just pick or scrub it off. However, gel sets hard, and picking or otherwise trying to lift it from areas other than your nails will likely lift it from the nail too, so apply with precision, and take your time-UV gel will not set until you cure it.
- Run the top coat along the tips of your nails to kind of seal the ends.
- Also, remember that all of the paints to use with UV light are designed to set and cure in the light-this is why they all come in black or non-opaque bottles, so don’t sit with the lids off the polish when the light is on.
- Don’t be tempted to dollop on each layer too thickly-you might think this will make it stronger, but it just makes it too thick and more likely to lift.
- You have to have faith in the process that it really does cure in the light and whatnot, because your logical brain will likely tell you throughout the whole process that this is impossible.
If there is a way to do infills of gel nails without removing them and starting again, I am unsure what it is, and so this means that every couple of weeks, you will need to start again-I can now do the whole thing from start to finish in 50 minutes, which is less time than it takes to do a couple of coats of regular polish when you factor in the drying time.
Removing the gels actually takes me longer than putting a set on, so I tend to do this the night before while watching TV or something. You need to use pure acetone, not an acetone-based remover, and soak the gel off, picking at the edges to help them to lift as you go. These removal tips at around £3 for ten can help with this, and if you do one hand at a time, you aren’t held captive.
Finally, about that acetone-it does not sting or burn, but if will melt laminate table surfaces, and anything else similar that it comes into contact with, so consider covering the table or whatever it is you intend to use it on.
Show me yours in the comments!