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 • Nails  • Nailcare Guides  • How to (Safely) Do Your Gel Nails From Home For a Perfect Finish Every Time

How to (Safely) Do Your Gel Nails From Home For a Perfect Finish Every Time

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Main image – Sonjalekovic/Stocksy

If you want to save a bit of money by creating a DIY salon-worthy gel manicure, you’ve clicked onto the right place. I hear you, salon appointments are expensive. I mean, why pay someone to do it for you if it can be easily created at home?

But hear me out, just for a minute. Whilst the idea of doing it yourself in the comfort of your own home and possibly even catching up on the next episode of One Day on Netflix at the same time sounds tempting, please know that it is much safer and more sensible to pay a professional. 

I know, I know, such a spoil sport. But if you’re not a professionally trained nail technician, you could walk into all sorts of problems. “Most gel polishes are intended for professional use only because they are not safe for your skin,” explains nail artist Sadie Jordan

“This means that if they are applied incorrectly and your skin is exposed to them for long periods of time it is possible for you to develop sensitivities or even allergies to the products.” For example, a common reaction is an allergy to (meth)acrylate, a chemical found in gels. 


Image – Sonjalekovic/Stocksy


You could also experience a condition called onycholysis, which is damage to the nail plate and nail bed, often caused by using tools too forcefully. A professional nail technician knows their tools and products well, so they know how vigorous to be when using them, avoiding damage. 

They are also trained to keep a steady hand whilst painting the nail. “You must have a steady hand to ensure product does not live in your cuticle area or is cured to the surrounding skin as it can create multiple serious problems over time as well as causing the product to lift permanently,” warns nail artist Emily Gilmour.

And a professional also knows whether you’re nails are strong enough to even take to gels in the first place. Brittle, bendy nails? Forget about it. “If you have very weak and flexible nails or are unable to paint your nails neatly with nail polish, gel kits aren’t for you,” advises Gilmour.

If you’re still not convinced and insist on trying it at home, I surrender. But at least allow me to guide you through the process safely, using expert tips from Gilmour and Jordan as well as nail artists Jess Young and Jiak Hing


The right measures to take

A good idea is to use a kit that contains everything you need under one roof. This way, you’ll know you’re using products that were created to work together, meaning your curing times tally. 

Make sure your kit is by a brand that’s passed the right safety checks, and don’t be blinded by the price. Often, the slightly more expensive kits are a safer option.


Image – Pixelstories/Stocksy


“For example, Mylee and Candy Coat –  two brands which I have collaborated with on multiple occasions,” says Jordan

And if you are buying things separately from a kit, don’t go for all singing, all dancing tools. “Please stay away from using e-files (electric drill files) unless trained as they can cause significant damage,” Gilmour warns. “Just stick with the classic tools like a cuticle nipper and pusher.”

She also says to check your lamp. “Make sure it has the correct wattage for the products you are using.”


The tools you’ll need

  • “A good quality gel lamp – not off Amazon,” says Young.
  • Cuticle nippers
  • Cuticle pusher
  • Cuticle softener
  • Nail file
  • Buffing block
  • Acetone
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • A gel base and top coat
  • Gel colour
  • Cuticle oil
  • Hand cream


Step 1: Clean up the nail

Like most things beauty-related, you’ll need a clean, blank canvas before you start. So remove any old polish and make sure your nails and hands are clean. “You want to create a clean and dry base to work on which will help the gel to adhere to the nails better,” says Young.

You can read our separate guides on this for advice on how to safely remove your gels or acrylics.


Step 2: Work on your cuticles

“Apply the cuticle softener onto the cuticles,” Young explains. “I will then file the nails to give the softener a chance to work.” Once you’ve filed your nails down, push your cuticles back.


Step 3: Buff your nails

“As well as roughing the surface of the nail for better adhesion, doing the buffing at this stage also helps to buff off any remaining cuticle that I have missed,” she says.


Step 4: Get rid of debris

“I will then go in with the cuticle nippers and nip the cuticles,” Young explains. “It is important to do this part slowly to prevent yourself cutting too deep.”


Step 5: Clean up any residue

“Finally, wipe the surface of the nail with acetone to strip the nails from oils and dirt, creating a clean and dry surface to work on.”


Step 6: Apply your base coat and cure

‘When painting your gel, make sure the layers are evenly and thinly painted whilst capping the free edge to prevent chipping,” explains Gilmour. Apply your base coat sparingly and hold your hand under the lamp to cure. 

“Base coats and colours I cure for 30 seconds,” Young says. However, your curing time will vary depending on which polish you’ve bought, as well as your UV lamp. Make sure you always follow the instructions to get it just right with the particular products you’re using.


Step 7: Apply your chosen polish and cure

“If applied too thickly, you may get wrinkling or undercuring which will affect the wear of your gel mani,” Young says. Applying too much can also affect how long your gel manicure lasts too. 

“A lot of the time I see gel polish ‘flooded’ in the cuticle area and cured there which not only can cause lifting and effect the longevity of the manicure but also be harmful in terms of allergens,” warns Jordan.

Young adds, “your layers should be thick enough to evenly cover the whole nail, but thin enough to not create any bulging at the top of bottom of the nails, which is where the paint appears more raised compared to the rest of the nail surface.”


Step 8:  Apply your topcoat and cure

“This is the only layer that should be applied more generously,” Young says. “The thicker the layer, the more curing time you will need.” But remember to follow the instructions.


Step 9: Maintain your mani

“To aid your nails’ health in between manicures, make sure you are using a cuticle oil daily.” Keep it on your bedside table so that you remember to apply it before bed and so that the oil can soak in while you sleep.


The safer alternatives to doing your own gel mani

“Nail varnish or gel-like varnish is making a comeback,” says Hing. “Treatment nail varnishes with improved formulas are available. Nail wraps and press-on nails are also safe alternatives.”

Jordan agrees. “There are many ‘gel effect’ polishes available on the high street or online,” she says. “These are not the same as a gel manicure as they air dry as opposed to curing in LED or UV lamps and will not last as long but they are much safer to use from home.”


The takeaway

Did I mention it’s safer to go and see a professional for your gel manicure? Ok, ok, you get the message and hey, it’s your choice. But the above tips will help you make it a safer one.

Invest in a kit that you’ve done your research on and study your curing times. Be patient with them – it needs curing for that amount of time for a reason.

Paint your gel thinly, trying not to touch the cuticle or surrounding skin, and keep a steady hand. Keep a cuticle oil close by as well to ensure you’re maintaining the health of your nails in between home manicures.

There are safer alternatives out there – gel effect nail polishes and nail wraps for example – but if you’re intent on going down the home gel route, read the instructions (then read them again!)


Meet the experts

Jess Young is a London based nail artist, model, music producer, DJ, and founder of Boys In Polish, with a mission to use her creative aptitudes to make the world a better place. Having started her nail art journey from a young age of ten years old and honing her skills and experience at WAH Nails (now known as The Stack World), Jess is now working freelance, specialising in gel nail art at her home studio.


Sadie Jordan has over 10 years of first hand experience in the nail industry, working in nail salons and as a session manicurist traveling to Paris, Milan and New York to do nails backstage for various shows at multiple fashion weeks.


Jiak Hing is a is a highly acclaimed nail artist with a passion for creativity based in Greater Manchester. As a multi-award winner, including being honoured as a two-time Scratch Stars Winner, she specialises in pushing the boundaries of nail art. Her expertise lies in crafting innovative and award-winning nail designs, showcasing a commitment to excellence in the field.


Emily Gilmour is a London-based nail artist who’s been in the industry for 10 years, working across salons, various London Fashion Weeks, magazine publications and celebrity clients. Specialising in natural nails and intricate nail designs, Emily is known for creating tiny works of art on small surfaces. 


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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