Five Tips for a Flawless Gel Manicure

close up of gel manicure

I’m a huge fan of the DIY manicure. I find it so relaxing to sit with a glass of wine and do my own nails. And to be honest, I feel like I do a better job than most salons. In fact, I wrote an entire step-by-step post about giving yourself a salon-worthy manicure at home. 

I was such a huge fan of traditional manicures that I didn’t even get my first gel mani until late last year. The only reason I tried it at all was because I had a ton of business travel in a short period of time and knew I wouldn’t have time for the upkeep myself. 

Well after waltzing out of my nail appointment with a perfectly dry gel mani, I was hooked! Sort of. 

Now, I know gel can wreck your nails if not properly removed, but it’s still a great option for when you need your nails to be on point for more than 4-5 days. Because let’s be honest, even with the most precise application, regular polish just doesn’t last as long. 

I kept up my gel manicures for a bit and eventually took a break after my work travel slowed down. But once quarantine boredom set in, I got the bright idea that I should get all the items necessary to basically open my own nail salon. I bought a UV LED nail lamp, all the special base and top coats by Gelish, special polish remover, and of course my fave OPI nail colors

I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve gotten pretty decent at it if I do say so myself. So I thought I’d share the five most important things I’ve learned giving myself gel manicures at home the last couple months: 

5 Tips for a Flawless Gel Manicure

Prep your nails appropriately

Push – don’t cut – your cuticles back and try to scrape dead skin off the nail bed. You want a clean workspace!  Also, use a PH balancer, like OPI Bond-aid, before the base coat to make sure there’s no moisture on your nail bed. It gives the base coat better grip.

Read but maybe ignore the time instructions

This will be 100% trial and error based on the equipment you have. I have one brand of gel polish that says to cure for 30-60 seconds, another that says minimum of 60 seconds, and my lamp is preset for 90 seconds … go figure.

What’s worked best for me – again through trial and error – is to cure each layer (base + 2 or 3 color coats) for 60 seconds. For the top coat, I do 60 seconds, plus an extra 30 second hit. Be sure not to cure for too long though because extended exposure to the UV light can shrink the polish.

Stay within the lines!

Under no circumstances can you let any of the base, color, or top coat touch the skin or cuticle around your nail. It’s worth the extra time to clean up mistakes or “coloring outside the lines” because any place where the base, color or top coat is touching your skin or cuticle is the first place the polish will lift from. And it will happen immediately. It’s another reason why I suggested cleaning up your cuticles above. I keep a polish remover pen handy and fix those spots before my hand goes under the light.

photo of manicure and manicure supplies

Protect your skin

It’s a little weird and take some getting used to, but I’m glad I picked up fingerless gloves to protect my skin from the UV light. Another option is to apply sunscreen. Just remember to apply SPF at least 20 minutes before you start using the UV lamp.

You will get better with practice!! 

One hand will for sure be easier than the other, but like anything worth learning, it takes practice. To help keep your hand steady, prop both elbows on a hard surface or table top. 

If you need the full step-by-step for how to do a gel manicure, this Cosmo article has you covered. And if at-home gel manicures still aren’t your thing, I got you! Check out this post on how to give yourself a salon-worthy “regular” manicure at home.

So are you a regular or gel manicure loyalist? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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