At-home gel manicure kits put to the test

Wednesday, July 29, 2015
At-home gel manicure kits put to the test
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A shellac or gel manicure can cost up to $50 at the salon, but we found the same results for just $10!

HOUSTON -- One of the most popular salon services today is the shellac manicure, which also is called a gel manicure.

The reason it's so popular is because it doesn't take very long and it dries very quickly and you can have polish that lasts for up to two weeks.

If you get a shellac or gel manicure done in the salon, expect to pay between $30 and $50. But you can achieve the same results at home with new polishes. The at-home systems are very affordable and start at about $10 and go up to about $60.

We tested several to see which deliver the salon product without the salon pricetag.


Price: $59.99 for light kit and polish for 10 uses
Lasted: 6 days

The SensatioNail kit is the most like a salon gel manicure because it comes with an LED light. The starter kit costs $59.99 and will last 10 polishes, but after that you can reuse the light and purchase additional polishes for $11.99.

To use, you paint a base coat and then let it cure in the light. Then repeat those steps with two coats of polish and a top coat, letting it cure between each step.

"It's a lot like painting your nails with regular polish," model Treschell Tolbert said. "Your nails are dry right away, and you don't have to worry about smudging them."

Essie Gel Setter

Price: $10 for topcoat
Lasted: 5 days

The Essie Gel Setter Top Coat is the only thing you need to purchase to turn your traditional polish into a long-lasting gel manicure. You can use it over any polish you already have at home.

But because there is no light involved, it takes the same amount of time to dry as a traditional manicure.

"You don't want to dig in your purse for about two hours," said model Cecilia Kerr.

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel

Price: $20 for 3 polishes and top coat
Lasted: 5 days

With the Sally Hansen Miracle Gel, you'll need to purchase a polish and a top coat. We found a kit at Walgreen's that had two different polishes and the topcoat for $20.

Just apply two coats of polish and one topcoat. There is no light needed because Sally Hansen says their product cures with natural light. It will also take the same amount of time to dry as a normal manicure would.

Revlon Colorstay Gel Envy

Price: $12.99 for polish and topcoat
Lasted: 7 days

The Revlon Colorstay Gel Envy is similar to the Sally Hansen Miracle Gel, but Revlon's product lasted the longest for our models.

To use it, brush on the base and color in one polish, and then finish with the protective ColorStay Gel Envy Diamond Top Coat.

Additional colors and top coats are $7.99.

Tips to getting a long-lasting manicure

Drying Drops

Any of the polishes that do not require a light kit are going to take longer to dry, which means you risk the chance of smudging your polish. You can purchase drying drops for about $10 to help your polish dry faster. Those can be used on any at-home gel system that does not require a light.


Polishes will adhere best to nails that have been buffed, just like they do in a salon. You can purchase one to use at home that is very inexpensive. Also, use acetone to prep your nails and take away any moisture, making the polish go on smoother.


Before you paint any polish on your nails, you can use a lemon to keep your nails from getting damaged. Many at-home gel kits don't require a base coat, so the lemon will act as a natural protectant from discoloring your nails.

Reapply Top Coat

With the polishes that do not require a light, it's okay to reapply the top coat after a few days to prolong the manicure.

Cuticle Oil

Use cuticle oil twice a day to extend the life of your manicure.


Make sure to follow the removal instructions of the product you choose to purchase. Some kits require you to purchase a separate product for removal.