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

gel like nail polish

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

There are lots of options for nail polish that have that gel effect 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
three adesse new york polishes Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Gel-like gloss finish
  • Chip-resistant
  • 12 free
Price: $18.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
clear bottle of gel setter top coat, essie, gel setter, no lamp gel Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Works on any nail polish
  • Affordable
  • Long-lasting
Price: $8.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Blue bottle of seche vive Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Affordable
  • Can be used on any nail polish
  • Fast drying
Price: $7.38 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
ooooooooo Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Plump
  • Five free
  • Nourishing extracts
Price: $45.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
essie couture Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Plump
  • Lots of great colors
  • Trusted brand
Price: $9.39 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
oooooooo 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 bottle of vinylux top coat, CND Vinylux, creative nail design Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Cures in sunlight
  • Can be used on any polish
  • Trusted brand
Price: $10.50 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
oooooooo Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Cures with sunlight
  • Plump
  • 10 free
Price: $25.98 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Our Unbiased Reviews
  1. 1. Londontown Kur Gel Genius Top Coat

    Pros:
    • UV reactive
    • Chip-resistant
    • Full and curved applicator brush
    • Self-leveling
    • Can work over any polish
    Cons:
    • 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 versitile 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 tired 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 brushmarks. 

    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. Adesse New York Gel Effect Nail Polish

    Pros:
    • High gel gloss
    • Long-lasting
    • 12 free
    • Organic pigments
    • Vegan and gluten-free
    • Nourishes nails with argan oil and botanical extracts
    • Great range of colors
    • Ridge-filling
    • Easy to work with formula
    Cons:
    • 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 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.

    I also got a chance to try out Suzannemi (which is the brightest red I’ve ever owned) and 175 Fifth Avenue a deep eggplant with a subtle shimmer that’s glam and casual all at once.

    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.

  3. 3. Essie Gel Setter Top Coat

    Pros:
    • High shine
    • Thick plump finish
    • Decent dry time
    • Trusted brand
    • Works with any nail polish
    • Chip-resistant
    Cons:
    • Performs best when applied thick and capped
    • 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.

  4. 4. Seche Vive Gel Effect Top Coat

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

    I love my Seche Vite Fast Dry Top Coat. It’s plump, glossy, and dries fast enough that someone as clumsy me can still have a flawless manicure.

    If you’re looking for a cheaper gel like alternative, Seche Vite is not a bad option, but it’s not without its issues as much as I love how fast it dries. Seche Vive takes 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.

  5. 5. Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Duo Set

    Pros:
    • High profile plump look
    • Nice shine
    • Five free
    • Infused with biotin and green tea extract
    Cons:
    • 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 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.

  6. 6. Essie Gel Couture System

    Pros:
    • Plump gel look
    • Great formula
    • Lots of colors to choose from
    • Long-lasting
    • Trusted brand
    • High gel gloss
    Cons:
    • Works 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.

    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.

    To get a solid week of wear from this gel like polish, you’d want to pair it with the Essie Gel Couture Top Coat which adds even more shine and enhances the plump gel finish without having to deal with a lamp.

    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. Essie Gel Couture had a wide range of colors including Closing Night, a classy grey with a subtle shimmer.

    VideoVideo related to essie gel couture system2018-10-25T10:44:31-04:00

  7. 7. Maxus Top Coat

    Pros:
    • Long-lasting glass-like shine
    • Can be applied to any polish
    • Long-lasting
    • 11 free
    • Vegan and cruelty-free
    • Fast drying
    Cons:
    • Not super plumping without several layers
    • Not has great of shine as others
    • Will smear nail stamping

    A brand that’s gaining popularity, 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.

  8. 8. CND Vinylux Weekly Top Coat

    Pros:
    • Hardens in natural light
    • Long-lasting
    • Trusted brand
    • Can be used over any nail polish
    Cons:
    • Works best with other Vinylux products
    • Not trying to look like gel
    • No plumping

    The Vinylux system 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 polymers that react to light in a similar way to gel, but in much smaller quantities.

    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.

    It doesn’t, however, necessarily aim for trying to pass as gel appearance-wise. The glossy is very bright and it has a lower profile like a regular polish.

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

  9. 9. Unt Sun Envy Gel Effect Lacquer & Gel Top Coat

    Pros:
    • High profile plumping
    • Hardens with light exposure–no lamp needed
    • High gloss shine
    • Long-lasting
    • Cheaper in a set
    • Fast drying
    • Vegan
    • 10 free
    Cons:
    • Works best with other Sun Envy products
    • Thicker than some are used to
    • Pricier

    Best known for their exceptional Peel Off Base Coat, Unt’s Sun Envy Gel Effect Top Coat is fast drying, glossy, and tall in the best way. It even applies a little like gel polish because it’s a little on this thick side, but not so much that it’s hard to manage–just enough that you’re getting that plump, high profile look you want out of gel.

    Like the Vinyulx Top Coat, this top coat contains polymers that are activated my natural light so your manicure gets stronger every time it’s exposed to the sun.

    Unt Sun Envy Top Coat works on all nail polishes to give durable and glossy protection, but it pairs wonderfully with its own line of Sun Envy Nail polish which have a gel-worthy shine all on their own.

    Together, you’ve got a manicure that will last you almost a week and fool anyone that it’s gel. I’m highlighting this set which comes with the top coat and multi-chrome nail polish because you save over $5 compared to buying them separately.

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