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gel manicure at home

With many nail salons still closed, people are increasingly turning to do-it-yourself gel manicures to save a few bucks and unleash their inner creativity. Bonus points: This is a great way to practice self-care during quarantine. If you’re thinking about trying your hand at a home manicure, here’s a step-by-step breakdown of everything you’ll need to get the job done sans nail tech.

Remove Old Polish

First things first: Spend some time on educating yourself about how to do a gel manicure at home by watching YouTube tutorials or following a few nail accounts on Instagram. Gel manicures typically require a more-intense removal process before doing the manicure, specific polish, and LED- or UV-light lamps, so make sure you have the supplies on hand before starting the process.

gel manicure at home - steel cuticle remover

Get it on Amazon for around $6

After you’ve purchased any necessary items and accumulated plenty of inspiration for your nails, it’s time to get rid of the remnants of your last manicure. 

  1. Start by using a nail file to swipe across the nail beds and break down the top layers of your current polish. For the best results, make sure to go only in one direction instead of back and forth.
  2. Next, tear cotton swabs or aluminum foil into 10 small pieces. One by one, soak the nails in acetone and then wrap each one tightly in a swab or foil. 
  3. After 15 minutes, most of the old polish will have come off on its own. Scrape off whatever is left with a steel cuticle remover or cuticle stick. Repeat these steps as necessary until you remove all of the old nail polish.

Shape Your Nails

gel manicure at home - nail clippers

Get it on Tophatter for around $8

Next, clip, file and shape your nails using nail clippers and a nail file. The options are endless when it comes to shaping your nails, and you can switch it up by going for a different look each time, from round to square to oval. Finally, buff the tops and sides of your nails gently with a nail buffer to make them look and feel smooth.

Push Back Your Cuticles

gel manicure at home - cuticle remover liquid

Get it on Amazon for around $6

Apply cuticle remover liquid to your cuticles, rub it in and let it sit for a few moments to soften the area and remove any dead skin. Then use a cuticle remover to scrape off the cuticles. Be careful during this step so you don’t accidentally nick yourself. Afterward, rinse your hands to remove any dead skin and apply some lotion to make your hands feel nice and smooth.

Apply Gel Nail Polish

Once your nails are looking picture-perfect, it’s time to apply the polish. If you’re feeling bold, go for a bright cherry-red or deep purple. If you’re looking for something a bit more neutral, opt for white or beige.

gel manicure at home - led nail polish dryer

Get it on Tophatter for around $25

Start by applying a gel base coat to safeguard the nails and reduce the risk of premature chipping. “Cure” each finger under an LED or UV lamp (check the instructions to see how long you need to cure them for, since it varies based on the type of lamp you have and how many nails you’re curing at one time). Some nail experts recommend curing each finger individually to ensure even light distribution.

Next, apply the first coat of your desired gel nail polish, moving the brush gently to make sure it covers all the way from the cuticles to the corners of the nail. Keep this layer thin and avoid doing too many strokes — if possible, do one stroke down the middle and one on each side.

gel manicure at home - gel nail polish

Get it on Tophatter for around $9

Once you’ve cured those nails, apply the second full coat of polish. If the polish is especially sheer, you might want to do a third coat to ensure adequate coverage. Finally, seal off the polish with a topcoat to protect against chipping and add extra shine to the nails.

These at-home gel manicure tips will keep your nails looking fresh and beautiful for a fraction of the cost of a salon visit. Even after nail salons open up again, you just might find yourself giving yourself these picture-perfect manicures.

Shop the Gifts:

  1. Fingernail Clipper Kit
  2. Cuticle Remover Liquid
  3. Cuticle Pusher and Cutter
  4. Gel Nail Polish
  5. LED Lamp Nail Dryer
  6. Nail Buffer

Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.


Rebekah Bell is a writer who lives in Los Angeles.

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