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21 Best Gel Nail Polish Brands You’ll LOVE

Gel nail polish changed what we expect from our polish. Whether you want to start doing your gel nails at home or you’re looking to improve the gel manicure service you offer as a professional, using the best gel nail polish brands is essential to a flawless, long-lasting manicure. If you’re new to doing your own gel nails, you’ll need an LED or UV nail lamp to cure (dry) or you can pick up a gel nail kit gives you everything you need to get started with one purchase.

There’s a huge jump in quality from cheap gel polish to the trusted names in the industry. The market is flooded with options so let’s go over the pros and cons of the best gel nail polish brands around today.

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Why Are My Gel Nails Still Tacky?

If you've cured them under a nail lamp a few times but they still feel a little bit sticky, don't panic.

When gel polish cures it leaves behind a tacky film called an inhibition layer. Don't worry about messing with it until you've cured your final top coat layer. Then all you need to do is use a prep wipe (or isopropyl alcohol on a lint-free pad) to wipe this tacky layer off leaving you with a smooth, hardened gel surface. 

If this extra step bothers you, you can also pick up a no-wipe top coat that doesn't have this tacky film at all.

Should I Get an LED Lamp or UV Lamp?

Either will work because they accomplish the same thing. Originally all nail lamps used UV bulbs which work but can get warm and need to be replaced like normal light bulbs. 

As technology advanced, they started using dual-light LEDs which emit both LED and UV light. These bulbs are smaller, last longer, cure faster, and are cheaper.

You can still buy UV lamps, but early all the nail lamps you'll find out there are going to be LED-powered.

How Long Should I Cure My Gel Polish?

It varies depending on your lamp type, strength, and brand of polish. 

In general, you should count on a UV bulb lamp taking around two minutes to cure each layer of polish. 

LED lamps with a power of 35W or less tend to take between 30 seconds to a minute and a half to cure each layer.

Higher powered LED can cure in fifteen to 30 seconds depending on the polish.

I personally tend to cure my gel under LED for a minute just to be safe.

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.

But gel nail polish will never evaporate and will only completely dry through a chemical chain reaction that is triggered by UV light. The Toast's Gal Science series sums it up as the curing process essentially turning the liquid polish into a durable plastic.

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.

According to the chemistry site Compound Interest, this chemical reaction begins when UV light hits photoinitiators in the liquid polish which sets off 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.

An issue of the Royal Society of Chemistry's publication The Mole explains this gel polish reaction as taking loose beads (monomers) and stringing them together into a necklace (polymers) creating strength and structure. 

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

Is Gel For the Salon Only or Can I Do Gel Nails at Home?

You can absolutely do your own gel manicure at home. 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.

All you'll need is gel nail polish (top and base coat please) and a UV or LED nail lamp. 

That said, the gel you get at the salon will likely last you longer than the one you do at home unless you're a professional yourself because how you apply gel polish is as important as the quality of the polish and lamp.

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 UV and LED nail lamp options available in a huge range of prices. Some as cheap as the price of a single salon manicure, like this SUNUV Dryer will get the job done but not as quickly as higher-powered, professional lamps like the Gelish 18G.

Will Gel Wreck My Natural Nails?

On its own, gel is not going to destroy your nails. Gel polish is harder on nails than standard polish but not as harsh as having acrylics. Unless you're using CND Shellac, 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. Picking your gel manicure off is what will damage your nails. But if you remove the polish properly, the damage to your nails should be minimal.

How Do I Remove Gel Polish?

See my article on the best Gel Polish Remover for more an extended step-by-step guide, but here's a quick rundown.

Gel nails will need to soak in pure acetone for 10 to 20 minutes to loosen their bond on the nail. Filing the surface of the gel polish first, just enough to remove the shine of the top coat) can help to speed up the process. To make soaking easier there are nail clips or steaming bowls so you're not just sitting over an open bowl of acetone.

Once the acetone has weakened the gel, it will look wrinkled and waterlogged. You should be able to push it off with a cuticle pusher tool without much effort. Never pry or pick your gel lacquer off with a sharp tool. It will take the top layers of your nails with it and weaken your nails.

If you take the right steps and are patient, there's no reason gel should do serious damage to your nails.

Always follow up the removal process with cuticle oil to pamper your fingers, especially if they've just sat in acetone for 10 minutes. I personally use Londontown's Kur Cuticle Oil. If you can, use cuticle oil daily to keep your nails hydrated and healthy. 

If you're unsure about this, please go to a nail salon where a professional can properly remove your gels with as little effect on your nails as possible.

Is Your Gel Manicure Chipping?

Always remove your gels as soon as they start chipping or lifting. Water, from washing your hands for example, can get trapped under your nail and become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. No one wants that so don't let your peeling gel nails sit.

What's the Best Gel Nail Brand for Beginners?

For those looking to try doing their own gel nails for the first time, I'd say pick up a bottle of CND Shellac. You don't have to rough up the surface of your nails for Shellac so if you decide you don't love the process, you haven't had to buff your nails which unavoidably does weaken them a small amount. 

If you're more on a  budget or don't have access to professional brands like CND, I'd recommend Beetles because their formula is similar to regular nail polish and easy to work with.

If you're having trouble controlling your gel polish and find that it's always flooding your cuticles, they make pudding gel polish (also called solid cream polish) which is much thicker and won't spread around on you where you don't want it.

Which Is Best--Gel Polish or Nail Dipping Powder?

If you're not deep in the nail world, these two can seem almost interchangeable other than the way you apply them, but they're actually very different. 

Gel nail polish is polish that is hardened by a chemical reaction triggered by UV light, which we've discussed. 

Acrylic nails use acrylic powder that is mixed with a thick monomer to create a malleable paste and then sculpted into nails. They're tough to get off and last around a month.

Nail dipping powder is acrylic nail powder, usually tinted, that skips the monomer and is instead activated with a clear liquid that is painted on like nail polish. It's basically a way to apply acrylic to nails without sculpting. 

Both gel nail polish and dipping take less practice to apply but dipping powder tends to last longer than gel nails and is much harder to remove since it's still acrylic.