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A Step-By-Step Guide to DIY Gel Nails at Home

Photo by Kristina Ratobilska/Getty Images

If there’s one thing we’ve learned after a global pandemic, it’s how to DIY—well, a lot of things. While sitting in the chair of your favorite beauty professional is always preferred, there’s a host of benefits to doing your nails yourself like saving money, avoiding long wait times, and the simple satisfaction of knowing you’re responsible for your own gorgeous gel nails.

About the Expert:

Micah is a certified nail technician based in Ontario, Canada. She specializes in nail extensions, manicures, and always stays up-to-date with the latest nail art. She loves when her clients allow her to get creative and experiment with new designs. When she isn’t doing a manicure you can find her roller skating, playing fetch with her dog, or hanging out with friends and family.

Doing gel nails at home might seem a bit intimidating to those of us that aren’t nail techs, so we tapped into the expert opinion of Ontario-based nail artist Micah for her tips and tricks. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide of doing your own gel nails at home, plus the products you need to make it happen.

Step One: Prep

According to Micah, “The most important part for long- lasting gel nails is prep! Push your cuticle back and use a 180-grit nail file or buffer to remove the [dead] cuticle off the nail plate. Then, very carefully, use a cuticle nipper to remove the dead skin tissue around your nail (if you want),” says Micah. “Next, use your 180-grit nail file to remove the shine off your nails and file your nails to the length and shape you want.” “Then, dust off the dead skin and cuticle from your nail and cleanse it with isopropyl alcohol.”

Step Two: Prime & Base

“Apply your dehydrator and primer to all your nails. Now you can apply your gel base coat! I like to do 2-3 layers of gel base to give the natural nails more strength.” Be sure to allow your nails at least 30 seconds to cure under your UV lamp (depending on your specific lamp.)

Step Three: Apply Polish & Top Coat

“After you apply your base coat, you can now start applying your gel polish,” Micah explains. Cure your nails with a UV por LED lamp between each coat. Lastly, apply your topcoat and give your nails some cuticle oil, like the DEBORAH LIPPMAN It’s a Miracle Intense Cuticle Therapy Oil. Pro tip: when you top coat your nails make sure to get the free edge of your nail!” 

Must-Have Kits & Polishes for DIY Gel Nails

Best Base & Top Coat: PEAR NOVA Gel Base & Top Coat

PEAR NOVA Gel Base & Top Coat
Courtesy of PEAR NOVA

Having a strong base and top coat is essential to a lasting gel manicure, and this convenient bundle has you covered. Use “Beneath Me” from the cuticle to the free edge of your nail before your polish color, and be sure to seal with the “Clearly” top coat.

Best Nail Prep Kit: ZOYA Gelie-Cure Foundation Pro Kit Travel LED Light

ZOYA Gelie-Cure Foundation Pro Kit Travel LED Light
Courtesy of ZOYA

The best gel nails begin with nail beds that are prepped and ready. This handy kit has everything you need to get your nails ready from soak off foils, a 3-way nail file, and the option to choose a travel or pro LED light.

Best Travel UV Lamp: GELISH MINI On The Go LED Light

Courtesy of SALLY BEAUTY

If you’re looking for an LED light to keep in your travel bag, or just a low-investment way to get started, this lamp is for you. The lightweight and compact lamp has a 45-second timer and can plug into your computer, laptop, or wherever is convenient for you.

Best Salon-Quality Lamp: LUMCRISSY Professional Nail Lamp

LUMCRISSY Professional Nail Lamp
Courtesy of LUMCRISSY

Not a rookie? This salon-quality lamp gets the job done just as well as any professional LED lamp. It features a touch sensor and typically cures nails in 45 seconds, though it also has options for 10, 30, and 60 seconds.

Best for Beginners: LE MINI MACARON Rose Creme Gel Manicure Kit

LE MINI MACARON Rose Creme Gel Manicure Kit

This easy to use kit has everything you need to create a sweet, baby-pink gel manicure at home. This one-step polish doesn’t need a base or top coat, just allow each nail to cure under the mini LED lamp after each coat and your polish will last for 7-10 days.

Best Polish Bundle: MODELONES® All-In-One Kit

Courtesy of MODELONES®

This kit wins when it comes to value and variety. You get 6 beautiful neutral colors, plus matte or shiny top coat. It also includes all of the tools you need to prep your nails and cure your polish.

Best UV-Lamp Free Polish: ESSIE Gel Couture

ESSIE Gel Couture
Courtesy of ESSIE

Love the gel look but not quite ready to whip out the LED lamp at home? The ESSIE Gel Couture polishes are a great option. For those that love a classic look try Spool Me Over, or opt for a fierce scarlet red with Rock The Runway.

Best Gel Removal Kit: NAILS INC. Gel-less Gel Nail Polish Removal Kit

NAILS INC. Gel-less Gel Nail Polish Removal Kit
Courtesy of SEPHORA

No matter how much you love your manicure, all good things come to an end. This kit makes gel removal easy with a buffer, remover pot, and conditioning acetone.

Runner-Up, Best Gel Removal Kit: RED CARPET MANICURE Remove Kit


Gently remove polish without damage with this easy-to-use kit. It comes with convenient foil nail wrap and helpful tools to scrape off any remaining color.

And finally, if you’re not up for doing your own gel manicure at home or you're just busy (because, life), these nail wraps from MANIME are the next best thing.

Looking for more ways to up your beauty game at home? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get your first IPSY glam bag. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

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About the author
Kindra Moné
Kindra Moné is a writer and content creator who works with brands and magazines to create culturally relevant fashion and beauty content. She is also the founder of The Moné Edit: a community and podcast at the intersection of style and wellness.
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Article Last Updated September 1, 2021 12:00 AM