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9 Best Gel Like Nail Polish: Your Buyer’s Guide

gel like nail polish

123RF.com (titovstudio)

If you’d prefer to avoid the potentially damaging effects of gel nail removal but love the look of those plump, high gloss gel nails then gel-like nail polish is where.

There are innovative options for nail polish that look like and even have a longer wear time like gel nail polish but apply like regular nail polish without needing a lamp. They also remove just like regular nail polish without damaging your nails.

Let’s look at the best ways to get that gel effect without committing to a gel manicure.

What Are the Best Gel Like Nail Polishes?

Black bottle of Londontown Gel Genius Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Cures in sunlight
  • Extremely long-lasting
  • Gorgeous shine
Price: $20.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Red essie polish with topcoat bottle Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Plump
  • Lots of great colors
  • Trusted brand
Price: $16.29 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Black bottle of vinylux top coat, CND Vinylux, creative nail design Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Cures in sunlight
  • Top coat and polish
  • Trusted brand
Price: $11.90 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Adesse NY nail polish bottles Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Gel-like gloss finish
  • Chip-resistant
  • 12-free
Price: $18.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Blue bottle of Seche Vive gel top coat Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Affordable
  • Can be used on any nail polish
  • Fast drying
Price: $7.70 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Essie gel setter top coat Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Works on any nail polish
  • Affordable
  • Long-lasting
Price: $9.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
OPI infinite shine top and base coat Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Trusted luxe brand
  • Whole system
  • High gloss
Price: $22.50 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Maxus top coat bottle with box Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Long-lasting
  • Can be used on any polish
  • Dries quickly
Price: $17.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
black and white pair of Deborah Lippman polishes Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Plump
  • Five free
  • Nourishing extracts
Price: $49.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Our Unbiased Reviews
  1. 1. EDITOR’S CHOICE: Londontown Kur Gel Genius Top Coat

    • UV reactive
    • Chip-resistant
    • Self-leveling
    • Can work over any polish
    • Pricier
    • Brush may be too big for small nails
    • Not as plump as others

    If you’re looking for that wet, gel-like shine that lasts and lasts, you need to check out Gel Genius. I was sent a sample of this one and it immediately pushed its way into the best top coats of my collection.

    A gel-like top coat is much more versatile than gel polishes because you can use it over any of your polish colors to give it that gel look.

    It comes in an opaque bottle because while it air dries, this one is also reactive to the UV rays in sunlight. When light hits it, it cures in the same way that gel polish does, making it stronger as you wear it. You don’t need any special lamps or any special steps to remove it though–it’s the best of both worlds.

    Gel Genius dries with a high shine that looks constantly wet and won’t dull on you even after days. For me, it didn’t feel very hard on the first day or two, but now I’m on day five and the top coat feels rock hard.

    I’m very impressed with how long it lasts. The first time I tried it I smudged my thumb badly enough to see the top of my nail and figured, “Well, that nail’s done,” but I left it to see how the top coat handled even with the seal compromised and that polish lasted four days before it started wearing. The nails that I didn’t smudge lasted much longer and never lost their shine.  As long as you have a quality base coat, this could last you a week easy.

    It says it’s quick drying, but it seemed fairly average to me in drying time. Totally worth it for how it extends the life of your manicure.

    The applicator brush is thick and full. Perfect for applying in one to two strokes without leaving brush marks. 

    This is an eight-free, vegan, gluten-free, and cruelty-free top coat that also contains rapeseed flower oil to nourish your nails.

  2. 2. Essie Gel Couture System (2-Piece)

    • Plump gel look
    • Comes with top coat
    • Lots of colors to choose from
    • Long-lasting
    • Best with other Essie Couture products
    • Polish colors are limited
    • Essie's skinny brush

    Essie, a brand with nice shine on its normal polishes, has kicked up the gloss with their line of Essie Gel Couture. This line of colored polishes is meant to be worn without a base coat and topped with their Essie Gel Couture Top Coat.  I’m featuring these two-piece sets where you can choose your polish shade and it comes with the Top Coat included, but you can also buy them separately.

    The colors are creamy and highly pigmented. Two coats give off that plump, gel look. It has an easy to use formula that goes on well, though some colors might be a little thinner so you need to be mindful of not flooding your cuticles.

    They say you can get 14 or so days out of this, but unless you’re extremely gentle with your hands, you can probably count on a week of chip-free nail polish. 

  3. 3. CND Vinylux Weekly Top Coat

    • Hardens in natural light
    • Longest lasting
    • Whole system
    • Can be used over any nail polish
    • Works best with other Vinylux products
    • Not trying to look like gel
    • No plumping

    The Vinylux Longwear System was created by CND, the same folks who gave us Shellac nails so they know their stuff. It doesn’t need a UV or LED lamp to cure, but it is reactive to sunlight. The formula is designed to air dry like nail polish but contains some of the same polymers from gel polish that react to light in a similar way to gel, but in much smaller quantities. This gives it a hint of gel’s staying power, but not the way gel looks. 

    This means that as you go about your week (yes week) whenever your nails are exposed to natural light, the polish hardens and strengthens just a little bit more, extending the life of the manicure. In this way the Vinylux Weekly Top Coat occupies this middle space of between gel and regular polish.

    While it has a longer life like gel polish, it doesn’t necessarily aim for trying to pass as gel appearance-wise. The gloss is bright but it has a lower profile similar to regular polish.

    It works best and lasts longest when used with CND Vinylux Nail Polish which comes in over 90 shades.

  4. 4. Adesse New York Gel Effect Nail Polish

    • High gel gloss
    • Long-lasting
    • Great range of colors
    • Ridge-filling
    • Not as plump as others
    • Not as versatile as a gel-like top coat
    • Not fast drying

    If you’re laboring under the impression that all nail polish brands, drugstore and high-end, are basically the same, we need to talk about Adesse New York. I grew up on drugstore nail polish and didn’t really think I was missing out on anything until I took the leap. There is a difference and Adesse New York needs to be on your radar.

    The shine on this Gel Effect nail polish was so bright that I was a little afraid to put a top coat over it for fear of dulling the shine I was getting on the polish alone. I used Jessica Brilliance which is extremely bright and it might have covered up a little of the ultra glossiness.

    Adesse New York sent me a couple of sample colors, with no guarantee of a positive review or even a mention of their brand at all, but here is my experience. The lacquers go on smooth with no pooling and self-leveled well.

    I wore the featured shade, Irina, a soft grey, for six days. My first chip was five days in and that’s only because my nail chipped taking the polish with it. I was getting antsy for a color change so threw a stamp over it for the last two days and I think that’s what really did the polish in.

    But six days with regular nail polish that doesn’t need a lamp is frankly miraculous, especially with how rough I treat my manicures. The only downside for me was that it wasn’t fast drying.

    Irina was opaque in two coats and had a gloss that could rival the best gel polishes. While it had a slightly higher profile than some, I wouldn’t say it was a very plump polish.

    It is thick enough that my nails had a smooth profile even though I have ridges and didn’t use my ridge-filling base coat.

    They have lots of great shades to choose from including soft nudes like 14th Street and flashy multi-chromes like Lady Liberty.

    Adesse New York polishes are vegan, cruelty-free, and gluten-free. It’s 12-free meaning it omits 12 of the nastier chemicals normally found in nail polish like formaldehyde. These polishes are also fortified with bamboo extract and shea and argan oils.

  5. 5. Seche Vive Gel Effect Top Coat

    • Cheaper option
    • Fast-drying
    • Long-lasting gloss
    • Can be used on any nail polish
    • Strong, unique smell
    • Not as long lasting as others
    • A little thick for some

    If you’re looking for a cheaper gel-like alternative, Seche Vive Gel Effect is not a bad option. You’re probably familiar with Seche Vite, the fast-drying top coat that is actually fast-drying. I love my Seche Vite but it’s not without its issues so Seche Vive takes the good things about Seche Vite and improves on it.

    There’s a great comparison video on YouTube but to sum up they’re very similar. It still has that high, plump gel look and same glossy shine.

    Seche Vite dries just the tiniest bit faster but Seche Vive lasts longer. Vive has a slightly thinner formula to begin with that’s easier to apply and anyone who has dealt with their Seche Vite thickening up in the bottle knows that it can be a little tough to work with.

    Vive seems to also have solved the problem that some people have had with Vite where there was some shrinkage and lifting. Honestly, they’re both decent gel-like options, but Seche Vive is slightly improved.

  6. 6. Essie Gel Setter Top Coat

    • High shine
    • Thick plump finish
    • Decent dry time
    • Trusted brand
    • Performs best when applied thick
    • Best to add every few days
    • Essie's skinny brush

    Gel Setter isn’t thick or difficult in formula but it sits thick on your nails with that plump gel look. It’s hard like you expect from gel and this lends great support for your nails and keeps them from breaking.

    The high glossy shine won’t fade and with decent quality nail polish this top coat can extend the life of your manicure to around a week. Check out this swatch video on YouTube to see how shiny this top coat is.

    Like most top coats, you’ll get longer wear if you apply a second coat three to four days into your manicure.

  7. 7. OPI Infinite Shine System

    • A brand you know
    • Lots of colors to choose from
    • Claims 11-days of wear
    • Require whole system
    • Longevity varies
    • Formula thin for some

    OPI releases all their trendy seasonal collections as normal polish as well as in their gel-mimicking Infinite Shine Line of polishes designed to last longer and shine glossier than their regular polish. 

    The Infinite Shine system is made up of a primer coat, two coats of color, and one coat of their top coat. Those three products work together to create a manicure that stays strong for over a week without needing to be exposed to UV light or require extra work to remove. 

    The primer and top coat are available as a set, linked above, and you can pair them with OPI’s huge range of Infinite Shine Polishes. Technically, you can pair them with any polish you want but it will work best if you keep it in the system. 

  8. 8. Maxus Top Coat

    • Long-lasting glass-like shine
    • Can be applied to any polish
    • Nylon and ceramic powder
    • Not as plumping without layers
    • Not as great of shine as others
    • Will smear nail stamping

    A brand that deserves more attention, Maxus Nail’s Top Coat is one way to get that gel-like shine on any of your nail polishes. It gives you a bright, shining surface that looks like a pane of glass.

    Maxus recommends reapplying a thin coat of the top coat every two days, which not only extends the life of your manicure but also creates that gel effect plump look.

    Maxus Nails sent a sample to try out and I was incredibly surprised by how quickly this one dries, which scores a top coat huge points in my book.

    It’s fast-drying, vegan, and 11-free. This top coat can help your manicure last around five or more days with that gel-like high gloss by including nylon and ceramic powder in their formula for a durable finish.

  9. 9. Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Duo Set

    • High profile plump look
    • Nice shine
    • Infused with biotin and green tea extract
    • Chips quicker than others
    • Shine dulls a little after a few days
    • Pricier

    If you’re going for the gel look and don’t care whether or not your manicure lasts as long as gel polish, the Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Duo Set will give you a stunning plump, high gel shine. However, it’s the most likely to chip first among the options on this list.

    The set comes with a base coat and top coat. The top coat is thick and applies like a gel polish but without needing a lamp. This thickness is what gives the finish it’s high glossy shine, but it doesn’t hold its shine any longer than a normal drug store polish.

    For the first couple of days, this is among the most gel like in appearance, but simply doesn’t have the staying power I wish it did.