Category Archives: Gel Nails

Do-It-Yourself Gel Nail Polish FAQ

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Red Carpet Manicure LED lamp, gel base coat, gel top coat

Red Carpet Manicure LED lamp, gel base coat, gel top coat


Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of search terms with questions about gel nail polish, so I thought it might be helpful for me to post a FAQ with answers to some common questions.

1. Can I use one brand’s lamp with another brand’s gel nail polish?

Yes – the lamps are all interchangeable.  I personally own a Red Carpet Manicure lamp, and have used Red Carpet Manicure and Gelish polish, but SensatioNails, Kiss, Sally Hansen, OPI GelColor, and other gel nails all use the same technology.  It’s fine to buy any gel polish once you own one lamp and one starter set! LED and UV polish lights are interchangeable.

2. Can I dry my gel polish without a UV / LED lamp?

No – sorry.  Regular gel polish requires a lamp.  If it doesn’t require a UV/LED lamp, it’s a regular polish marketed as gel-like.

3. Can I use regular polish with a gel basecoat and topcoat?

You can, but you have to make sure that the regular nail polish is 100% dry before applying the topcoat – wait several hours or overnight. Some people find that using a gel topcoat really helps polishes last longer, and some people find it makes their polish peel off in sheets – it seems to depend on your body chemistry.

Another option is to apply the gel polish normally, then apply the regular polish on top.  This way, you get the strength of gel polish, but can use all your regular polish colors.  You can remove your regular polish with non-acetone remover without harming the gel polish. This is a great way to practice stamping and nail art – you can use a base of gel polish, then use regular polish on top to do the stamping or art, and any mistakes are easily removed with non-acetone remover without harming the gel polish base.

4. The gel polish isn’t coming off! Help! How can I remove the gel polish?

First, file the surface of the nail lightly to break the seal on the gel.  Then, try the foil method – soak a cotton ball or pad in acetone (or acetone based remover), and place it on your nail.  Wrap your nail in foil, and leave it on for 5-10 minutes. Then, remove the foil – the gel polish should be soft, and you can take a orangewood cuticle stick and scrape off the polish without harming your nail.  If it’s not soft yet, repeat with the remover & foil; never peel off the gel polish, because it could harm your nails. Note that non-acetone remover will not remove gel polish.

5. The gel polish is peeling off in sheets! Help! How can I get it to stick?

Use the thinnest layers you can of everything – the base, color, and topcoat. Make sure that you wipe your nail surface with either alcohol or acetone before you use the gel kit – if you have oils on your nails, the gel basecoat won’t adhere properly.  You could also have cuticle on your nail plate; using cuticle remover all over your nail should help with this.  And finally, if you’re still having problems, you can also lightly buff your nails with a file to rough up the surface a little bit; this may help the gel basecoat adhere.

7. How long should a gel manicure last?

It really depends.  Just like regular polish varies from a day to about ten days depending on the person, the polish, and the application, gel polish seems to vary from about three days to about three weeks, with most people finding that a gel polish application lasts more than a week.

8.  Will using gel polish harm my nails?

Maybe.  I’ve heard that even with proper removal and lots of moisturizing, some people find that using gel polish makes their nails weaker, makes them peel, and dries out their nails and fingers. Others can use gel nails either all the time or off and on with no ill effects.  It just depends on your natural nail strength and flexibility, and how your nails react to being soaked in acetone.

All gel polish comes in opaque bottles;
look up swatches online before you buy!

9. Can I use a gel polish without the gel base coat?

I haven’t tried this, but I find that if I miss a spot when I’m applying the gel basecoat, the gel polish doesn’t adhere to my nail at all. So, I think that if you tried to use a polish without the gel basecoat, it would not work at all.

10.  How long does it take for you do to an at-home gel manicure?

Personally, once my nails are filed and I’m done removing cuticles, it takes about 25-30 minutes to apply the layers of gel polish.  It would be a little faster if I used a color that only required one coat.  That is longer than it takes me to do my nails with regular polish, but at the end of it my nails are 100% dry, which is worth something!

11. What gel nail polish light would you recommend?

I’ve tried out both of Red Carpet Manicure’s lights.  I would not recommend their battery powered UV light ($25 at; it takes up to three minutes to cure a single layer of dark colored polish, which is frustrating, and you have to time it yourself.  I bought this because it was inexpensive, but ended up selling it.  I now own the plug-in LED lamp ($50 at, which is more powerful.  It cures any layer in 45 seconds, and the light has a timer so it turns off after 45 seconds – very easy to use!

I haven’t tried any of the other available lights, but based on reading about the specifications:

The SensatioNail light (around $50 for starter kit or $30 for the lamp only) looks great – it’s an LED light with a 60 second timer that beeps at 30 seconds. With the caveat that I have not tried this, I would recommend this lamp if you are in the market for a starter kit, because the lamp looks good and it’s the least expensive one out there.

SensatioNail Starter Kit

SensatioNail Starter Kit

Sally Hansen Insta-Gel Strips Starter Kit ($30) includes a mini lamp that cures one finger at a time. That sounds like a giant pain, and I would absolutely avoid, avoid, avoid! (Note that any lamp can cure the SH insta-gel strips)

Sally Hansen Pro Gel Starter Kit ($70) includes a LED light with an automatic timer. It’s probably a good lamp, though I can’t find much information on it, but it’s more expensive than similar lamps.

Kiss Nails has a gel polish system, and the lamp looks good to me. It’s available in drugstores.

Sephora by OPI has a $159 gel nail polish set that includes a lamp.  The lamp looks fine, but frankly I do not understand why someone would pay $159 for a setup you can get for $50!

Gelish LED lamp

Gelish LED lamp

Gelish has an LED lamp ($70) that looks identical, except for color, to my Red Carpet Manicure lamp – down to the 45 second timer.  I’m sure it works well, but I’d go for the cheaper RCM lamp.

If you have any additional questions about gel nail polish, please ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond! I’m not an expert, but I have used my gel nail polish kit enough to be familiar with it, and I hang out on some nail polish forums and have absorbed some information.
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Red Carpet Manicure System Review, Photos

The Red Carpet Manicure System is an at-home gel manicure system.  It consists of Structure Base Coat, the gel polish (they offer many colors; I only own two so far), and Brilliance Top Coat. Those three pieces are mandatory, as is a light to cure the polish.  I own the $20 Portable LED Light; I sort-of wish I had bought the $50 Professional LED Light which cures the polish much faster.

Red Carpet Manicure also offers a prep to clean your nails before painting them and a cuticle oil for afterwards; those are optional, and I don’t own either.  They also have a Purify Cleanser to clean your nails after using the gel system. You do need something to clean your nails after application, so I bought the Purify. They have a remover, which I didn’t buy, since 100% acetone removes gel nails.

dripping in luxury

This at home nail polish system is advertised as lasting for “weeks of wear.” Because I get bored after several days, I haven’t tried to wear the polish for weeks. However, after approximately a week, my nails look completely perfect; no tipwear, no chips.  I am guessing that the Red Carpet Manicure system would last approximately as long as a professional gel manicure lasts, however long that is for you.

The trick is to get really thin layers of everything – thin layers of Structure, polish, and brilliance. I have two colors of polish, Dripping in Luxury and Black Stretch Limo.  I’ve found that “Dripping in Luxury” is thin and easy to work with, while “Black Stretch Limo” is much thicker, but uneven enough that it definitely needs two coats.  It ends up much thicker, no matter how carefully I try to make thin, even coats – and I can feel that it’s thicker on my nails.  The nails where I have both layered – one coat of each – feel fine though. It’s the two coats of Black Stretch Limo that feel too thick.

black stretch limo

The base coat, Structure is also difficult to work with – it’s very thick and goopy, and difficult to get a thin layer. Keep in mind that you have as much time as you want to get a thin layer – it won’t dry at all until you put it under the light.

One great thing about gel nail polish is that it’s an amazing base for nail stamping or other nail art, because it doesn’t come off with non-acetone remover.  So, you can use regular nail polish do draw or stamp designs on it, then if you make a mistake, just use non-acetone remover to remove the design and start over. This will leave the gel manicure intact; no need to redo the base layer. I find that this makes doing nail art much less frustrating!

both polishes layered

You can use different brands of gel nail polish, such as Gelish nail polish (which is sold at Sally’s), with the Red Carpet Manicure system. Gelish nail polish is more expensive than the Red Carpet Manicure polish, but if there’s a color you want, it will work just fine.  You technically are not supposed to use regular nail polish with a gel nail polish system, but nothing bad will happen if you do. Make sure to let it dry COMPLETELY if you do, and don’t expect it to last as long as a gel manicure.

Removal is typical for a gel polish – it’s a pain.  First, buff the surface of the nail to break the seal, then soak the nail in acetone for several minutes.  They remove just like any other gel nail.  Removal did not damage my nails at all.

Have you tried an at-home gel nails system? Would you?

 This post contains affiliate links. For more information please see my disclosure policy.


This post is from Project Swatch. All rights reserved.

Nail Art for Short Nails: Nail Stamping

I’m still practicing my stamping skills!

Another great nail art option for short nails is nail stamping, whether Konad or knockoff.  I think geometric designs look especially good on short nails.   I have the “As Seen on TV” $10 nail stamping set that I bought at Rite Aid, and it works very well. I’ve also seen it at Sally Beauty.

I also have a tip for those new to nail stamping, as I am: use gel nail polish as your base layer.  You can get your nails done professionally, or use something like the Red Carpet Manicure System, an at-home gel nail system (review coming soon!).  Then, if you mess up while stamping, you can use a non-acetone nail polish remover to remove your stamped design, leaving the base polish intact. You can do this as many times as you want; it won’t hurt the gel polish at all. It’s much, much less frustrating than making a mistake stamping and needing to redo the entire nail.

This post contains an affiliate link. For more information please see my disclosure policy.


This post is from Project Swatch. All rights reserved.