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. There is one brand of polish, Nutra Nail Gel Perfect UV-Free Gel Color does not require a lamp, but I have not used it (I have heard mostly bad things) – and to my thinking, it is not a true gel polish. All the other gel polishes do require a special lamp. If you try to air dry it, it will never dry.
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?
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 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.
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 this battery powered UV light ($20); 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 this plug-in LED light ($50), which is more powerful and superior. It cures any layer in 45 seconds, and the light has a timer so it turns off after 45 seconds. I would recommend this one if you need just a lamp, and not a starter kit.
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, light not sold separately) 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.
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 new gel polish set – I’ve actually seen it in store – but it’s very new, and I can’t find any information online about it yet.
Per the website, the OPI Axxium is only available at salons. OPI also has a GelColor system, but I couldn’t find much information on what lamps it has.
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 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.