9 Best Gel Nail Polish Brands: Your Buyer’s Guide (2018)

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Gel nail polish has changed the nail industry and whether you’re looking to improve the gel manicure service you offer as a professional or you want to start doing your own gel nails at home, using the best gel nail polish brand for you is essential to a flawless, long-lasting manicure.

Just like there’s a huge difference between drugstore nail polish and luxury polish brands, there’s a huge jump in quality from cheap, no-name gel polish and the trusted names in the industry. But the market is flooded with options so let’s go over the pros and cons of the best gel nail polish brands around today.

See the end of the article if you’re curious how gel polish works and for tips for first-time gel users.

What Are the Best Gel Nail Polish Brands?

Deep red shellac nail polish bottle, CND shellac, Wildfire, Creative Nail Design Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Used by professionals
  • No nail buffing needed
  • Quicker to remove
Price: $15.95 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Gelish gel nail polish Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Used by professionals
  • Wide range of colors and finishes
  • Lasts three weeks
Price: $13.98 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best gel nail polish, gel nails, gel nails at home, gel polish Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Last two week or more
  • Often comes with free matching polish
  • Wide color range
Price: $14.98 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best gel nail polish, gel nails, gel nails at home, gel polish Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Affordable
  • Lasts about two weeks
  • Trendy colors and effects
Price: $5.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best gel nail polish, gel nails, gel nails at home, gel polish Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Lasts two weeks
  • Bottles match color of polish
  • More subtle color choices
Price: $10.90 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best gel nail polish, gel nails, gel nails at home, gel polish Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Affordable
  • Lasts two weeks or more
  • Fun colors and effects
Price: $6.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best gel nail polish, gel nails, gel nails at home, gel polish Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Affordable
  • Lasts about two weeks
  • Fun, bright glitters
Price: $6.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best gel nail polish, gel nails, gel nails at home, gel polish Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Cheap
  • Lasts nearly two weeks
  • Wide range of colors
Price: $5.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best gel nail polish, gel nails, gel nails at home, gel polish Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Great color-changing options
  • Lasts nearly two weeks
  • Glitter and magnetic colors
Price: $8.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Our Unbiased Reviews
  1. CND Shellac

    Pros:
    • Lasts 14 days easily
    • Is applied without roughing up nail surface
    • Lots of great colors
    • Thin application
    • Fairly quick to remove
    • Used by professionals
    • Great French manicure colors
    Cons:
    • Performs best when used with other CND Shellac products
    • A bit pricier than others
    • No trendy color-changing options

    CND Shellac doesn’t require you to rough up of the surface of your nail before applying it. It applys very well to smooth, shiny nails so CND is already better for your nails than most gels. CND Shellac has great staying power and easily passes the 14 day test. Beyond that, chips will happen especially if you are hard your hands like I am. (Dishes have to get done somehow.)

    As a shellac form of gel nail polish CND Shellac has a much thinner formula that feels like nail polish and is very easy to work with. Since it goes on fairly thin, it ends up looking more like traditional nail polish (that lasts weeks) instead of that plump gel look that some people love. CND currently carries 128 colors covering the entire rainbow as well as a wide selection of neutrals and pinks perfect for French manicures.

    Shellac claims to only take five minutes to remove, and while that’s usually not the case, it is generally easier and faster to take off than most gel polish. You’re probably looking at more like 10 minutes to soak and then gently scrape the polish off.

    One catch is you really don’t want to mix and match when it comes to Shellac. Best not to use a gel base coat with shellac polish because the formulas are so different. You’re going to want the CND Shellac Base Coat and the CND Shellac Top Coat for your manicures to last as long as possible. CND does suggest that you cure your shellac under the special CND Shellac Brisa Lamp and the price on this just came down recently.

    Though I’m fairly certain you could get by for home use on other lamps, this one is calibrated to the shellac formula. Plus it’s an overall awesome lamp for any gel polish and I featured it on my best UV and LED nail lamps guide. Shellac is very fast curing, at least with the CND Shellac Brisa Lamp, with some steps taking only 10 seconds though it might take longer with other lamps.

  2. Gelish Soak-Off Gel Polish

    Pros:
    • Lasts three weeks before chipping
    • Lots of colors including a few glitters
    • Highly pigmented polishes
    • Works well with other brands
    • Used by professionals
    Cons:
    • Longer removal process
    • May need multiple coats
    • Cap design can be hard to open

    Gelish was one of the first on the scene when gel polish became popular. With 151 colors, Gelish has a wide range to choose from including the cremes above in Mint Chocolate Chip and Pop-arazzi Pose as well as glitter options like June Bride. When applied correctly, Gelish polish will last you three weeks before chipping. A Gelish manicure will have that higher profile, thick finish that you expect from gel and a glossy high shine. The polish colors are highly pigmented and you’ll rarely have to apply more than one coat of your color of choice. I like that Gelish polishes comes in standard bottles and mini bottles so you can try out colors without having to purchase the full size.

    Gelish plays well with other gels so if you have a top coat you love, you don’t have to swap it out like you do with CND Shellac. Gelish also offers several starter kits that hook you up with colors, top, and base coats all at once which is perfect if you’re just starting out with gel. It’s about average to remove for gel. You have to soak for at least 10 minutes in acetone, but it could take more like 20 minutes depending on the application. I’ve featured the Gelish 18G Professional Nail Lamp in my best UV and LED nail lamps article.

  3. Lechat Perfect Match Gel Polish

    Pros:
    • Lasts at least two weeks
    • Includes matching non-gel nail polish
    • Wide range of colors including color changing polish and holographics
    • Easy to see the color on the bottle
    Cons:
    • Formula can be a little thick
    • You may not want extra polish
    • May chip is you don't use thin layers

    When you buy a gel polish from Lechat, you generally also get a second bottle of the same color in a non-gel, traditional nail polish base. This is perfect for touching up your nails if you have just that one little chip and you don’t have the time to redo your nails that day. It also works to have matching manicures and pedicures if you don’t want to use a gel on your toes. Or you can just wear the color as a normal polish. It's good to have options.

    As far as color choices, Lechat has a good variety of neutrals, bold colors, color changing shades, and intense holographics like this one. The Lechat formula is thicker than some of the others on here so you want to make sure you’re putting on thin layers so it will cure properly. This polish will likely pass the 14 day mark and keep going.

  4. Elite99 Nail Gel Polish

    Pros:
    • Lasts around two weeks
    • Immense variety of colors
    • Popular polishes like unicorn shimmers, magnetic, and color changing
    • Affordable
    Cons:
    • Not a professional brand
    • Not as durable
    • Longer curing times

    If you’re on a budget and want a huge variety of color choices, you need to check out Elite99. They have 337 colors out right now and the range is staggering. Elite99 has all the standard colors you expect, but they also have loads of glitter polishes, magnetic polishes, color-changing polishes that shift with the temperature, and iridescent shimmer polishes like this unicorn iridescent (color 9515).

    Elite99 isn’t a professional product like the Gelish or CND and you’re less likely to find it in a salon, but it’s still a great brand that’s very popular with home gel folks because you don’t have to give up the funky colors on trend with nail polish right now.

    The formula is fairly thin and easy to work with. Elite99 plays well with other base and top coats so if it’s just that one color you really want, you can integrate it with your other gel collection. The curing times are slightly longer than some others, but not drastically. Staying power is surprisingly good for the price and heavily depends on proper application. It likely own’t last you much past two weeks, but with all these color choices, by then I’d be itching to put on a new color.

  5. IBD Just Gel Nail Polish

    Pros:
    • Two weeks of wear
    • Polish color easily visible
    • Nice range neutral colors
    • Used by some professionals
    Cons:
    • Needs several coats to be opaque
    • Formula can be streaky if you press too hard
    • Mostly neutrals

    IBD Just Gel is a lesser known brand that can compete with some bigger names in polish. The gel has two week staying power a wide range of colors.

    The formula is thin but easy to control, though you will likely need two or more coats for the colors to really pop. I also like that the bottles are the color of the polish inside so you don’t have to be checking the bottom of your bottles to find the color you want.

    They don’t really mess around with the fancy color changing, magnetic shades, so if you’re looking for show-stopping holographics, this isn’t for you. IBD Just Gel does have a few glittery polishes in there to jazz things up a bit, but for solid, creme colors with lots of choices for neutrals, this is a great brand to look at. 

  6. Aimeili Soak Off UV LED Gel Nail Polish

    Pros:
    • Lasts two weeks easy
    • Bold, vibrant colors
    • Holds up to rough wear
    • Offers trendy color-changing, glitter, and glow in the dark shades
    Cons:
    • Fewer colors to choose from
    • Needs multiple coats
    • Not for those looking for neutrals

    Aimeili has over 50 gel polish colors and many of them are color changing by either temperature or light. They even have some that glow in the dark. So this is another fun, affordable brand that has the bold colors you’re looking for. One of their ranges is called the Candy Range, and it’s the perfect word because their densely pigmented colors remind me of a candy shop.

    Of the lower priced gels, Aimeili is one of the most durable, easily hitting the 14 day mark before chipping. It can take a beating which is something you want in a gel. It’s a little thin so you may need two to three coats depending on the color. If you’re looking for neutral or soft colors, this isn’t for you. Even their more subtle looking shades end up being a bit more vibrant in person, which is great if that’s what you’re looking for.

  7. FairyGlo Gel Nail Polish

    Pros:
    • Lasts around two weeks
    • Bright glitters to neutrals
    • Very durable
    • Formula is dreamy to apply
    Cons:
    • Some polishes need several coats
    • Difficult to remove
    • Not as long-lasting as others

    A newer brand on the market, FairyGlo is starting to gain a little ground. These gels are thick, but not so much that they’re unwieldy, but just thick enough that many solid colors are opaque in one coat. For jelly colors and glitters, you’ll need several coats to get you there.

    For a cheaper gel polish, they’ll last you a full two weeks before chipping. FairyGlo has a wide range of colors, though not as many as others, from neutral pastels to glitters and color changing polishes. It does seem to be a little tenacious though and involves a long soaking time (around 15 minutes) when you want to remove it. It’s on there good, just be gentle when you don’t want it on there anymore.

  8. Gellen Soak Off UV Gel Nail Polish

    Pros:
    • Lasts around two weeks
    • 300 colors
    • Colors choices are either very traditional or really whacky
    • Brand has great top coats
    Cons:
    • Not a professional brand
    • Colors take several layers to build opacity
    • Won't last as long as others

    Gellen is another brand popular with home nail folks. This one has 300 colors to choose from and also includes color changing, magnetic, glitter, and holographics. Their standard colors tend toward neutral options with lots of taupes as well as many gradients of red.

    As a thinner polish, you’re looking at two to three coats of color with this brand so just be aware of that. It has decent lasting power and will get you past the 14 day mark, but after that depends on how much you baby your hands. It’s fine to use with other brands, but I did feature their glossy top coat and matte top coat in my best no wipe gel top coats guide.

  9. Clavuz Gel Nail Polish

    Pros:
    • Lasts around two weeks depending on application
    • Dramatic colors
    • Works well with other brands
    Cons:
    • Requires several coats
    • Not a professional brand
    • Don’t use their lamp

    Clavuz offers a lot of fun, trendy colors like color changing polish, glitters, and magnetics. If temperature changing polish is your thing right now, Clavuz is where you want to be.

    Most polishes have color changes like light blue to dark blue or baby pink to red, and don’t get me wrong–that’s awesome. But Clavuz has color changes like lime green to red. The shift is dramatic and stunning, particularly on longer nails.

    Clavuz gels are about on par with other non-professional polishes, just make sure you’re using a quality lamp to cure them. While the brand’s polishes are good, skip their lamp and invest in a strong, quality light that will last you.

See Also:

How does gel polish work?

Normal nail polish works just like standard paint does: pigments are dissolved in a solvent and when the solvent is exposed to air, it evaporates leaving behind the hardened lacquer.

Gel nail polish will never evaporate and will only completely dry through a chemical chain reaction that is triggered by UV light. Gel nail polish is packaged in opaque bottles so that light hitting it won't cause the lacquer to harden in the bottle instead of on your nails. If you ever see a polish advertised as gel but it has a transparent bottle, it's not a true gel.

This chemical reaction begins when UV light hits photoinitiators in the liquid polish which begin a chain reaction converting the liquid into a polymer. Polymers are tough materials and examples include things like silicone, PVC, amber, and the cellulose in wood.

This chemical conversion is called curing. For gel nails to have their deseired longevity, the polish has to be cured under special nail lamps designed to emit the appropriate UV light.

Salon only or can I do gel nails at home?

You can absolutely do your own gel manicure at home. All you'll need is gel nail polish (top and base coat please) and a UV or LED nail lamp. Lots of people are doing their own gel nails these days and it can save you a boatload of money compared to going to the salon every two to three weeks.

That said, the gel you get at the salon will likely last you longer than one you do at home unless you're a professional yourself. Still though, even if you can only get your at home gel manicures to last you two weeks, it's still a huge improvement over traditional polish.

Which lamp should I get?

There are lots of quality nail lamp options available in a huge range of prices, some as cheap as the price of a single salon manicure. See the link just above to read my guide to UV and LED nail lamps.

Will it wreck my natural nails?

Gel nail polish is harder on nails than standard polish but not has harsh as having acrylics. For gel polish to properly stick, you need to lightly buff the surface of the nail so the polish has a rougher surface to stick to, so right off the bat, that sort of thing will thin your nails.

Removing gel nail polish is where it can get tricky. If you're unsure about this, please go to a nail salon where a professional can properly remove your gels with as little effect to your nails as possible.

Gel nails will need to soak in pure acetone or gel polish remover for up to 20 minutes to loosen their bond on the nail. Filing the surface of the gel polish first can help to speed up the process.

Once the acetone has weakened the gel, you should be able to push it off with a cuticle pusher tool. Never pry or pick your gel lacquer off. That's how to wreck your nails. It will take the top layers of your nails with it. But take the right steps and there's no reason gel should do serious damage to your nails.

Chipping? Always remove your gels as soon as they start chipping or lifting. Water, from washing or hands for example, can get trapped under your nail and be come a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. Don't let your peeling gel nails sit.

Also, always follow up with cuticle oil to pamper your fingers, especially if they've just sat in acetone for 10 minutes. If you can, use a cuticle oil daily to keep your nails hydrated and healthy. 

Heavy, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon. Our product recommendations are guided solely by our editors. We have no relationship with manufacturers.

8 Comments

8 Comments

Livia

Really good list, but you are missing OPI soak-off gel. Really good brand

Jennifer

I think you are remiss in not mentioning Madam Glam. I started doing my own gel nails 2 yrs ago and have tried every brand on the market. By far and away my favorite is Madam Glam with Gelish taking 2nd place.

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