Gel manicures -- polish that dries in minutes and lasts for up to two weeks -- are all the rage. Want to nail the look at home? We'll give you a hand. Try these easy step-by-step secrets from top manicurists.
Before you apply gel color, get rid of any natural oils on the nail's surface, says Candace Szpiech, manicurist for Red Carpet Manicure. "Gently buff nails with a white buffing block until there is no shine left," she says. To ensure the job is done, swipe nails with an alcohol-based solution. Try: Red Carpet Manicure Purify Pre & Post Application Cleanser ($4; ulta.com).
Paint -- and cure -- your thumbs before you polish any of your other fingernails, says celebrity manicurist Pattie Yankee. “Often, the thumb nail tilts to the side under the lamp while curing, allowing the gel polish to run onto the sides.”
Apply all coats (usually one base, two applications of color, and a top coat) super thin, says Katie Cazorla, manicurist and star of TV Guide’s Nail Files. “If it’s too thick, the polish will ripple or shrink under the light and that will cause it to chip or peel off,” she says.
Planning to paint your nails a vampy plum shade like Sally Hansen Salon Gel Polish Gel Nail Color in Ruby Doo ($12; target.com)? Layer on an extra coat. "When working with dark shades, it is better to apply three very thin coats of color than try to get coverage with two heavy coats," Yankee says.
“Sealing the edge will prevent chipping,” Szpiech says. Brush enamel along the very outer edge of each nail.
Before you stick your freshly painted nails under the lamp, clean up any excess gel on your cuticles and the surrounding skin with a small makeup brush dipped in acetone, Yankee says. Try a slanted eyebrow brush such as the e.l.f. Studio Small Angled Brush ($3; eyeslipsface.com). “Gel that leaks onto skin and is then cured under the light will easily lift off the nail and peel,” she says.
After your final clear coat is cured under the lamp, swipe nails with alcohol to remove the sticky residue. Then top with cuticle oil to make them shiny. Keep applying the oil twice daily, Szpiech says. "It'll keep nails flexible, which makes the polish less likely to chip." Try: OPI Avoplex Cuticle Oil To Go ($8; ulta.com).
Even the best gel mani can chip. The good news: You don’t have to take off all your color and start over, Cazorla says. Use a buffer to lightly buff the area. Then apply a thin layer of color and cure it. Top it with a clear coat and then cure it again.
Acetone dissolves the gel, but it can be rough on your skin. Instead of soaking your fingertips in a bowl of it, apply the solution to a cotton ball, press it against the nail, and then wrap your fingertips in foil, Szpiech says. After 10 minutes, the polish should come off clean. If not, wrap nails up for a few minutes longer. Resist the urge to scrape or pick off the remaining gel; you’ll only damage your nail plate.
Once nails are clean, treat them to another dose of cuticle oil and top with hand cream. "Your nail plate is dry after removal, so moisturizer is an absolute must," she says. Try: Ahava Mineral Hand Cream ($21; ahavaus.com).