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We Tried Nearly a Dozen Gel Nail Polish Kits, But These 7 Gave Us the Best At-Home Manicures – Latest Celebrity News, Entertainment News & Gossip

A fresh manicure can make you look and feel more put-together, whether it’s for a special occasion or part of your everyday look. But let’s face it: Heading to the nail salon every couple of weeks costs substantial time — and money.

To save some cash, you might try your hand at DIY gel nails. Light-cured manicures used to be something you could only get at a salon, but with the right products and tools, you can do it yourself in the comfort of your own home.

We tried out several at-home kits, complete with prepping products, lacquers, top and base coats, clippers, filers, and drying lamps. This might sound like a lot, but we promise it’s actually pretty easy. After putting 10 sets to the test, we narrowed it down to the most user-friendly, quick-drying options with professional-looking results.

Keep reading to learn more about the best at-home gel kits that PEOPLE tested.

Best Overall

Morovan Nail Kit

Amazon


Pros

  • This kit has impressive longevity, with most extensions and polish lasting more than two weeks.

  • It includes everything you need for a professional-level manicure, including an LED lamp.

  • The kit comes with thorough instructions with helpful illustrations.

Morovan’s Poly Gel Kit clocked perfect scores for drying time, finished look, staying power, ease of removal, and nail integrity post-removal. We only dinged it for ease of use since there was a bit of a learning curve. Still, we thought the instructions were thorough and easy to understand and appreciated the illustrated how-to booklet.

This set has all the essentials for a pro-level manicure as well as some embellishments and extras that are just fun to explore. It comes with eight polish shades, including six solid opaques and two ombrés. You’ll also get a primer, a dehydrator, a base coat, a top coat, an LED lamp, and various tools for grooming your nails and cuticles.

The component with the biggest learning curve was the nail extensions, as this kit comes with an extension gel and shaping foil to help you create your desired length and shape. Once the hard part of applying the gel was over, it was smooth sailing with the drying process.

After two weeks only two extensions had fallen off, yet the stunning color and shine remained. When it was time to remove the polish, the gel rolled right off with help from a scraping tool. If you’re up for the challenge of DIY gel extensions and want a long-lasting manicure, this is a solid choice.

Shades: 8 | Dry Time: 2 minutes | Lamp Included: Yes

Best Budget

SensatioNail Gel Starter Kit

SensatioNail Gel Starter Kit

Amazon


Pros

  • This kit is an affordable option that includes the essentials.

  • It has a quick, easy dry time when using the included lamp.

Interested in something more budget-friendly? Go with the SensatioNail Gel Starter Kit. Since the instructions are a little confusing, we recommend reading through everything before starting. While this wasn’t the most user-friendly option we tried, we expect the process to be easier the second time around. We were pleasantly surprised by how quickly the lacquer was able to dry when we used the included LED lamp, but we suggest you go a bit slower and apply thinner layers of paint to get the best results.

While the brand claims up to two weeks of wear, the gel started chipping after about a week — slightly longer than regular lacquer but not as long as a professional gel manicure. Although this affordable set only comes with one polish color, you can buy additional bottles individually and build your collection.

Shades: 1 | Dry Time: 3 minutes | Lamp Included: Yes

Best for Beginners

Sally Hansen Salon Pro Gel Starter Kit

Sally Hansen Salon Pro Gel Starter Kit

Amazon


Pros

  • This kit has the fastest dry time we tested (about 30 seconds under the included lamp).

  • It offers smooth, hard, and shiny results with no streaking.

  • It’s a super easy three-step process.

If you’re a gel nail novice, this set has your name on it. Sally Hansen’s beginner-friendly Salon Starter Kit earned a perfect score for ease of use. We thought the three-step process was incredibly simple and we appreciated the lightning-fast drying time. (Curing your nails with the included LED lamp only takes about 30 seconds.)

Once dry, our nails were smooth, super shiny, and hard without any stickiness. While the kit only comes with one color, you can buy more bottles individually. But despite promising up to two weeks of wear, our manicures didn’t last very long. The gel began to peel when we cleaned around the house, even while wearing gloves. This may not be the best option for people who work with their hands, but it’s still a great choice for anyone looking to explore lightly cured nails at home.

Shades: 1 | Dry Time: 30 seconds | Lamp Included: Yes

Best Value

Gellen Gel Nail Polish Kit

Gellen Gel Nail Polish Kit

Amazon


Pros

  • This kit offers several timer and drying settings.

  • It comes with 12 gel colors, plus a base and top coat.

  • It includes grooming tools, nail-prep products, embellishments, and a UV lamp.

For something a bit more comprehensive, Gellen might be your best bet. We gave the brand’s Gel Starter Kit a perfect score for ease of use and loved the 12 included bottles of polish, various nail embellishments, grooming tools, and UV lamp. The directions say to dry each coat for 60 seconds under the light, but we found that our nails were still tacky after a minute, so you might need to go a little longer to fully harden the lacquer (we found that 90 seconds was the sweet spot).

However, after our nails were painted and dried, we loved the overall look of our gel manicures. The color was beautiful, and the polish dried smooth with a gleaming finish. However, the lacquer began to chip around day six and had peeled off completely by day eight, so soak-off removal wasn’t necessary. Though we wish it lasted longer, this feature-rich kit is still a great value.

Shades: 12 | Dry Time: 90 seconds | Lamp Included: Yes

Best for Travel

Le Mini Macaron Le Maxi Deluxe Gel Manicure Set

Le Mini Macaron Le Maxi Deluxe Gel Manicure Set

Ulta


Pros

  • The polish quickly dries after one minute under the included lamp.

  • The tiny compact is perfect for throwing in a purse or suitcase.

  • The lamp includes a laptop-friendly USB cord.

Cons

  • The gel began peeling after a few days.

  • The lamp is small, so you have to dry your thumbs separately, adding more time.

This compact kit from Le Mini Macaron is perfect for on-the-go manicures. We gave it perfect scores across the board for ease of use, drying time, finished appearance, and nail integrity post-removal. These gel kits can often feel intimidating to beauty newbies, but this pick from Le Mini Macaron was easy (and fun!) to use, even for novice self-manicurists. We were surprised by how quickly the gel lacquer dried with the included LED lamp, leaving us with glossy, hard nails in just one minute. But since the travel-friendly lamp is small, you’ll need to dry your thumb separately.

Though we loved how this quick-drying paint looked on, the polish began peeling within a few days and was completely gone soon after. (You might get longer-lasting results if you use a nail-prepper product, apply thinner coats of paint, or dry your nails for longer.) Our nails weren’t damaged, and while the staying power was disappointing, we still think this kit is an excellent choice for travel.

Shades: 2 | Dry Time: 1 minute | Lamp Included: Yes

Best Polish

Essie Gel Couture Longwear Nail Polish + Top Coat Kit

Essie Gel Couture Longwear Nail Polish + Top Coat Kit

Amazon


Pros

  • This polish lasted more than two weeks with minimal chipping.

  • The removal process left our nails damage-free.

  • It’s a thick, non-dripping formula that’s easy to apply.

If you want to get the gel manicure look sans the UV drying light, then a great option is the Essie Gel Couture Longwear Nail Polish. This thick polish applies no differently than a regular polish (besides its goopy, yet non-dripping formula) and dries down to a hard, gel-like surface that leaves your nails looking like a glossy salon job. We sported these nails around for more than two weeks and experienced very minimal chipping, which feels up to par with the professional manicures we’ve gotten in the past. Not to mention that removal was a breeze — simply use acetone for a damage-free process that leaves your nails looking just as healthy as before.

While you get speedier results with the lamp-involved others (this polish takes about 15 minutes to fully dry), we thought that this polish had some of the best staying power. We were enamored by the gorgeous colors and preserved natural state of our nails even after removing the polish, which slipped off easily with drugstore nail polish remover. If a lightless gel experience is what you seek, then this is the best option for you.

Shades: 1 | Dry Time: 15 minutes | Lamp Included: No

Best for Nail Care

Red Carpet Manicure Pro 45 Starter Kit

Red Carpet Manicure Pro 45 Starter Kit

Walmart


Pros

  • This kit includes several pre- and post-manicure care products, including cuticle oil and foil wraps.

  • Nails dry in just 45 seconds with the included lamp.

  • There was minimal chipping after two weeks of wear.

If you’re big into skincare, then you should care about the health of your nail beds and cuticles as well. This heavily-equipped kit comes with everything from cuticle oil to sealing top and base coats and cleansers, accompanied by foil wraps, cuticle pushers, and so much more. We watched as the gel hardened into a shiny gloss on our nails in just 45 seconds and stayed looking smooth with very minimal chipping over the next two weeks.

We did notice that the brushes were a bit uneven and frayed, which made it hard to get all the edges of our nails perfectly. But with a steady hand, we were able to paint on our glossy shades while knowing our nails and skin were protected. Upon removing the polish after two weeks, we were pleased to find that our nails were as strong as ever.

Shades: 1 | Dry Time: 45 seconds | Lamp Included: Yes

You’ll Also Need

Although these kits include almost everything you’ll need for a DIY gel manicure at home, we suggest adding sunscreen and cuticle oil to your shopping list to keep your hands protected and hydrated.

Supergoop! Handscreen SPF 40 Sunscreen

Amazon


While the FDA says there is a low risk for skin cancer or skin damage from a UV nail curing lamp (does not apply to LED lights), any exposure to UV light does pose some potential risks. According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian, UV exposure carries “a small but real risk,” especially for cumulative damage, such as regular salon manicures. “Not only does UV light increase the risk of skin cancer through the creation of unstable molecules, but it also contributes to premature aging of the skin,” says Dr. Nazarian. “There are a lot of reasons to avoid the UV lamps at the salon: cancer, dark spots, wrinkles, and thin, crepey skin.” If you do choose to use a UV lamp for curing, though, she recommends applying sunscreen beforehand to keep your hands better protected. If you have any concerns or are especially sensitive to UV radiation, opt for an LED curing lamp instead (just make sure the gel polish you use works with an LED lamp).

L’Occitane Shea Nail and Cuticle Oil

Sephora


Similar to applying serums and moisturizers to the skin, a good cuticle oil is an essential part of nail care. Cuticle oils hydrate the cuticle and skin and promote healthy nails. Whether you rock natural nails or go the gel or acrylic route, adding a cuticle oil to your nail care regimen will keep your nails strong and flexible.

Things to Consider When Buying an At-Home Gel Kit

Included Shades

While some at-home gel kits come with several shades of polish, many starter sets only include one or two. That said, additional colors are often sold individually so you can build up your collection over time with shades you’ll actually wear. An extra bottle of white nail polish is great for timeless French manicures and trendier “glazed donut” nails.

Curing Lamp

Most (but not all) kits come with a UV or LED lamp. As celebrity nail artist Elle Gerstein explains, “[Gel polish] needs a UV light to cure/dry and provides a chip-free manicure that lasts much longer than regular nail polish.” Depending on the bulbs and wattage, each coat will take anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes to cure. Most of our top picks (except for Essie’s Gel Couture Longwear Nail Polish) come with an LED/UV lamp, so we’ve got you covered.

Staying Power

One of the main draws to at-home gel nails is the promise of professional-level longevity. The products, tools, and formulas should ostensibly provide similar results to what you’d get at a nail salon. However, most of the options we tried didn’t last more than a week. A myriad of factors come into play here: improper use of the kits, the level of day-to-day wear and tear on your nails, not making sure all natural oils were removed from your nails before painting, etc. Be sure to thoroughly read all instructions and don’t skip on any nail care suggestions from the manufacturer for best results — and consider wearing reusable gloves when cleaning and doing the dishes.

Removal

Gel manicures generally call for soak-off removal. This means you’ll douse 10 cotton pieces with pure acetone, place them on your nails, wrap them in foil, and let them sit for about 15 minutes. After soaking, the polish usually scrapes off without a fuss. If you don’t feel like making multiple trips to the store, you can grab the Red Carpet Manicure Pro 45 Gel Starter Kit and utilize its foil wraps, gel polish remover, and more, right from the get-go.

Byrdie/tamara staples


How We Tested

We selected 10 at-home gel kits to try first-hand. Each set was evaluated for ease of use, drying time, finished look, staying power, ease of removal, and nail integrity post-removal.

  • Instructions: We carefully followed the brands’ step-by-step instructions to see how well each tool, lamp, and formula performed in a real-life setting.
  • Application: We monitored how long it took each lamp (or gel-like polish) to dry and whether or not that aligned with what the instructions claimed. We then utilized each tool, evaluating how well they performed and judging the quality of each.
  • Removal: Though we planned to wait two weeks before removing the gel, most formulas came off on their own while we went about our days. Since longevity was somewhat disappointing with several kits, we ultimately chose the most user-friendly options with the best-looking results.

Every category was rated on a scale of one to five (lowest-performing to highest). The kits with the highest average ratings earned a spot on this PEOPLE Tested list.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which is better, UV or LED lights for gel nails?

    LED nail lamps can cure gel manicures more quickly than UV nail lights. While the price of LED lamps is higher, LED bulbs last longer than UV bulbs so the cost may be lower in the long term. Note that some gel polishes are specifically formulated to be used only with UV nail lamps, so an LED nail lamp will not work for those polishes.

  • Why do my gel nails peel off so quickly?

    The most common reasons why gel polish peels off quickly are improper curing of the polish and excess moisture on the nails. Other issues include a lack of preparation of the nails, such as filing the nails and pushing back the cuticles. For long-lasting gel manicures, it’s important to apply several thin coats — including a top coat and a base coat — and cap the edges.

  • How do you remove gel nails?

    According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, the most effective way to remove gel nail polish is by soaking your nails in acetone. First, protect your skin from the acetone by applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the cuticle area and the skin surrounding each nail. Soak cotton balls cut to the size of your nails in acetone and wrap each nail in plastic wrap to hold it in place. Leave it on for 10 minutes. Remove and dispose of the plastic wrap and cotton and wipe away any remaining polish with a damp cloth. Wash your hands with mild soap to remove any remaining acetone from your skin, and apply more petroleum jelly to moisturize your nails and skin and reduce irritation. Also, keep your cuticles well-hydrated with a good cuticle oil.

  • Can you use a top coat on top of gel polish before curing?

    No, make sure to cure your nails between each coat, including the final coat of color before your top coat. Finish by curing the top coat and wiping any sticky residue from your nails.

  • Can you reuse nail forms?

    Metal and some plastic nail forms are reusable. Nail forms made of paper or foil are disposable and only intended for one-time use.

Why Trust PEOPLE?

Alyssa Brascia is an experienced commerce writer for PEOPLE. She covers beauty, fashion, home, and lifestyle products and has written for many outlets, including InStyle, Shape, and Southern Living. To compile this review, she considered insights from our testers, who evaluated each product for ease of use, drying time, finished look, durability, ease of removal, and nail integrity post-removal. She also spoke with experts who each provided professional expertise on what to look for in the best at-home nail polish kits.

What Is PEOPLE Tested?

We created the PEOPLE Tested seal of approval to help you find the very best products for your life. We use our unique methodology to test products in three labs across the country and with our network of home testers to determine their effectiveness, durability, ease of use, and so much more. Based on the results, we rate and recommend products so you can find the right one for your needs.

But we don’t stop there: We also regularly re-review the categories in which we’ve awarded the PEOPLE Tested seal of approval — because the best product of today might not be the best of tomorrow. And by the way, companies can never buy our recommendation: Their products must earn it, fair and square. In short, PEOPLE Tested provides recommendations you can trust — every day, every purchase.

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