Gel Nails at Home: Steps and Equipment

Gel Nails at Home: Steps and Equipment

Photo: iStock


Gel Nails at Home: Steps and Equipment

A gel manicure stays pristine for weeks, but it’s much more expensive than your go-to homedone mani. The good news is it’s possible to get an immaculate manicure that lasts without going to the salon! Here, we show you how in just three easy steps.

What is gel polish?

Unlike traditional nail polish that air dries, gel polish is cured using an LED or UV lamp. The main advantage is that it can last two or three weeks, depending on the condition of your nails and what you do with your hands. Gel’s a popular choice at the salon, and now there are even more products available to do one of these manicures at home.


Begin by filing your nails to the desired shape. A 180-grit file works for most nails; however, if you have softer nails prone to breakage, opt for
240 grit, which is the least corrosive. Soften your cuticles in lukewarm water or with cuticle oil, then push them back gently using an orangewood stick. Remove all oil residue from your nails by washing them thoroughly and using a swipe of rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball. Lastly, buff the nail surface to promote the adhesion of the polish. Clean up any remaining residue with the rubbing alcohol.


The easiest product is a 3-in-1 UV gel polish, which is a formula that contains base, colour and topcoat. Apply a thin layer of polish to the nail, but be careful not to touch the cuticles because it can make the polish peel off. Cure your nails under an LED or UV lamp as per the lamp’s instructions or until dry, usually 30 seconds to two minutes. 

No wait time is needed between coats, so apply your second coat once the first is cured. Again, avoid your cuticles:
If any polish touches the cuticle, simply remove it using an orangewood stick. Cure your nails under the lamp again, and repeat the process until you’ve reached the desired level of opacity. 


Complete your at-home mani with a few drops of cuticle oil to hydrate your nails and cuticles.

Removing the polish

First, file the tops of your nails to remove the shiny layer of polish. Coat the skin surrounding your nails with cuticle oil to protect from the drying effects of the remover. Soak some cotton balls in 100 percent acetone (or other specialized product) and apply one to each of your nails; wrap in foil and allow acetone to sit for 10 to 15 minutes. (Nail clips can make this step much easier.) Once the acetone has broken down the gel, and it looks like it is lifting off the nail, you can physically remove the polish using an orangewood stick or file. Avoid scratching the polish off, which can harm your nails. If possible, going to the salon to remove your gel manicure is still the safest option to avoid damaging the nail beds. Finish by washing your hands and using cuticle oil to restore hydration.

Choosing nail length, shape and colour

Your everyday activities, the health of your nails and your preferences are all important when choosing the length, shape and colour for your manicure. Longer nails means you’ll need to be more careful doing day-to-day tasks. A rounded shape is classic and easy to recreate at home. It’s great for weak nails since they can be worn short. It also subtly elongates shorter or wider fingers. Square nails are flattering on long, thin fingers as they have a widening effect. They also break less easily, so it’s ideal for those who use their hands often or are prone to breakage. Almond-shaped nails help to lengthen the fingers. They are totally on-trend and perfect for nail art, too. Colour is totally up to you. Vibrant shades like bubble gum pink, yellow, orange-red and powder blue are all the rage! 

Must-have equipment

  • Nail file
  • Orangewood stick
  • Nail buffer
  • UV gel nail polish 
  • LED or UV lamp
  • Cuticle oil
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cotton balls
  • 100-percent acetone

Our product picks



NAIL CRÉATION Angelic Gel Polish 3 in 1 in #31, $12, 


NAIL CRÉATION Angelic Deluxe LED UV 24-48 Watt Lamp, $60, 


SALLY HANSEN Salon Gel Polish Gel Nail Color in Purplexed, $16, 


LOOKY BOUTIQUE 3 in 1 Gel Nail Polish in #541 Punch, $14,


LOOKY BOUTIQUE Hand & Cuticle Oil Peony, $14, 

Pro trick

“It’s essential to prepare your nails before applying polish. Set up in a quiet place and take your time. Show your nails a little TLC.” Nathalie Ouellet, president and founder of Nail Création



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Gel Nails at Home: Steps and Equipment