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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  • Pingback: Sally Hansen Insta-Gel Nail Strips Review & Photos | Project Swatch()

  • Sam

    I got the 90$ Sally Hansen kit. My light is very powerful. It works well and I just bought more gel polishes off of amazon but I need more base an too coat, although I’m not sure what kind I should get that’s not expensive.

  • It looks like most of the good quality lamps have two or three 2-watt bulbs, so a total of 4 or 6 watts. I’d double check the one you’re looking at, and buy one that has 4 or 6 watts (6 is better I think). And, a timer is great, but I think I prefer a 30 or 60 second timer, since then you can just reset it if you need it for longer.

  • Mel Latham


    How long has your lamp lasted? I have read many reviews on the Sally Hansen Gel pro kit that state they have only used the lamp 2x and a few of the lights are out. How long are these estimated to last?
    Thank you in advance!

    • Mine is still going strong after a year plus of occasional use – it’s concerning for a bulb to go out after two uses, LEDs in general should last a very long time.

  • I have mixed brands (I like the Sensationals base/top, and use a variety of different polish brands) – I’ve never had any problems at all! So, I think they’re all interchangeable 🙂

    • tima

      what about it you by a kit that is for a one step gel polish. the you use a gel base coat from another kit, nail polish colour, then a gel top coat? i’m just try to get value for money, no kit has worked for me yet 🙁 so i want to use what i have which are UV gels, with a lamp from a one step gel polish kit, so i can use all my nail polished 🙂

  • Sarbearski93

    Do you think you can mix and match the gel polishes or gel strips with a different brand of base and too coat? I have kiss gel strips that I would love to try but only have the Sally Hansen base and top coat. Do you think they would still work?

    • Oops, sorry I missed this question. Yes, I think using the Kiss gel strips with the SH base/top would work. Be sure to follow the Kiss directions though – I think the SH gel strips are applied directly to the nail & then you use a gel topcoat, so I’m not sure if you’ll need a basecoat for the Kiss strips.

  • maggie

    Can I use any basecoat with gel polish

    • Hi Maggie – You need to use a gel basecoat with gel polish. It won’t adhere to a regular basecoat. Hope that helps!

    • Monika

      You can use any -gel- base coat with a gel polish in that you can mix and match brands of -gel- products, if that is what you were asking.

  • Kate C

    Funny that you posted about the Gelish lamp being the same as the RC lamp – I can’t remember where I found it, but Gelish and Red Carpet are made by the same company, or are 2 brand names for the same product. And, I too have tried mixing and matching brand polishes with base/top coats and used regular polish colors too.

    • I didn’t know that about RCM & Gelish, good to know! How does using regular polish with a gel base/top work for you?

  • L.p

    Will household LED bulbs cure my nails while I’m still working on them? That would really suck!

    • I would be very surprised if that happened – I’ve used gel polish outside (on my balcony), and the UV from the sun didn’t cure them – I think you need very concentrated, direct LED or UV light. But if you try it and it does start to cure under your household LED, please come back and let us know!

      • deb

        I have an red Carpet Gel system and when i sat down one day in the summer to do it outside I found that the sun ruined the base and top coats in the bottles. They got all thick around the brushes while doing the manicure and i think it was from the sun.

  • Harwood

    I posted a couple questions yesterday. Did you get it? Where is it?

    • Hi Harwood – comments are moderated and I received your comment. I’m about to approve it and reply.

  • Yes, you can use a gel polish over your regular polish. Some people find that this greatly extends the wear, and others don’t – it seems to vary. One advantage of this is removal – since there are layers of polish under the gel, you can buff off most of the gel topcoat (when you’re ready to remove) without damaging your nails.

    I personally prefer to use a clear gel basecoat & topcoat (no polish), then apply regular polish on top. I find that this really extends the life of my mani, moreso than a gel topcoat. However, since the gel is directly on your nails, it doesn’t have the same easier removal advantage.

    Hope that helps! If you try the topcoat and it works for you, please let me know!

  • Harwood

    Thanks Emi. So to apply the gel top coat, Do I have to file the shine off the regular top coat? Or will it adhere without filing?
    And another question, does the LED light that comes with the red carpet gel polish pro kit also work on regular nail polish like they do at the nail salons? I don’t know if it is the same light they use. I’ve been using it with the regular nail polish and it doesn’t harm it but can’t really tell if it helps the drying process.

    • I think that the top coat will adhere without any filing – there are several UV-light topcoats out there (e.g.,default,pd.html), and filing isn’t required.

      I don’t think that LED (or UV) lights help with polish drying, but I’m not sure. Regular polish dries when the solvents evaporate, and I don’t see how lights would help with that – but I don’t know for sure. There are some topcoats designed to dry w/o UV lights but harden more in natural sunlight, e.g. CND Vinylux topcoat – and I bet that UV/LED lights would make those dry faster. I highly recommend Vinylux topcoat by the way – it’s very shiny and long lasting, and removes easily with acetone.

  • isabis

    I have the sally Hansen led lamp and it has a 30 second timer which takes about 4 minutes total to dry nails, not including polish time of course. I am very happy with it and it was worth the money spent.

  • Harwood

    The top Coat i would like to use is the brilliance form Red Carpet because I already have several bottles of it. So after I have done a regular manicure (not gel) with a regular top coat, once it is totally dried like the next day, when I go to apply the brilliance top coat, do I need to file the shine off of the regular top coat to apply that second coat with brilliance or will it adhere. I ask because I don’t know if Brilliance is the same as the one you suggest Vinylux (is it a gel also?). I will defiantly try the Vynilux, but for now I’d like to use the Brilliance until it’s gone.

  • Hi Nanc – I’ve done this with a gel basecoat plus topcoat, or if you find something that works as a basecoat and topcoat, you can use that. I believe that topcoats don’t adhere to the nail very well, so I woudn’t put something marketed as a topcoat only directly on the nail.

  • Lily

    I didn’t realize that regular nail Polish had to be 100% dry before applying the gel top coat. Is there any way to correct this mistake? Will the regular nail polish under the gel top coat ever fully dry?


  • Stephanie Jo

    I agree with the posts below. I didn’t take the time to read all the others, but I DID spend time reading your entire post, which says a lot considering the condition of most I’ve come across in the past (on all subjects). It is very informative with great detail and advice. I would think you were a professional “gel-nail-er” 😉 I am about to attempt my first run with my set, and the only questions I have (which you might have already answered) are: how long do you put your nails under the LED/UV light for each coat? Second, what is your opinion of the “Gelish On-The-Go USB LED Nail Light”? I bought it at Sally’s and I don’t remember the exact cost, but it was somewhere around $25-$35. I appreciate any info you might have on it.. Thanks!

  • Brittany M.

    Very informative! I have been trying to do gel manicures at home to save money. I purchased a starter kit from Haute Polish. They have a “one step system” but the colors aren’t opaque and it takes about four coats to get any substantial color. With the time that takes, I would rather use the Gelish system (with the pH bond, base coat, etc.). Do you know anything about the Haute Polish LED light? Would it be OK to use with a Gelish set of polish if I got a starter kit from a beauty supply store? Thank you in advance for your help!

  • alexa

    can you use one brand’s base coat and top coat with another’s color gel?

    • Lisa A

      Yes! I use Gelish basecoat and topcoat and usually use Sensationail colors. I have the Sensationail LED lamp, and although I haven’t tried any others, I think it is amazing for the price! It hardens my nails rock hard, 30 seconds for the base and top coat and 1 minute for each color layer.
      REMOVAL TIP: I don’t know if this just works for me because of my nail chemistry, but I discovered this by accident and will never remove by soaking in acetone again. When I want to remove my gel polish, I take some regular (non-gel) nail polish and paint it on super, super thick on top of the gel polish. Crème colors with no sparkle work best, but it can be the cheapest polish you can buy. Let it sit for about 5 minutes so the polish forms a skin, but it will still smudge when you touch it. When it reaches that stage, I take my removal tool, work it under all the polish and everything comes away clean! No soaking and no scraping. Hopefully it works for other people. I don’t know why it works for me, but it does!

  • Supernova

    I have the Sally Hansen Pro Gel Nail kit and it’s fantastic! The lamp fits all fingers at once (except thumb), plugs in, has an auto-off 30 sec timer that is button activated. The polish is decent quality (wouldn’t recommend the mint green one though, very transparent even with 2 coats). The whole kit including lamp, alcohol wipes, file, cuticle stick, base coat, 1 color, and top coat was $69.99 plus tax at Shopper’s Drug Mart.

  • Gina

    So happy I found you – I’m new to the DIY gel kits – just got my first one Sensationail for Christmas and so far LOVE it! My questions – Is the clear gel polish the same as a top/base coat – and also – can you use regular french nail strips (not gel) and put a gel base coat over it? Thanks!!

  • Lidiya Krykun

    Hello. I bought a gel polish and when I heard it needs a uv/led lamp I figured they meant any light would work? I have a usb led light for a computer that I tried but the gel pretty much stayed wet. Does that mean the salon light is some kind of special light?

  • Raven Isa Skydancer

    What is the difference between UV and LED Lamps? And what nail polish typed do you use with which one’s>

  • AnimeChick4067

    Can I use the gel top coat and LED lamp with all gel strips? I know some strips say “use with LED lamp” and others do not, I just didn’t know if I could use my lamp with those that don’t mention the top coat or lamp?

  • tima

    i love how you wrote this post, very informative and honest 🙂

  • Lorenca Bejko

    I am interested on buying a led lamp and i am wondering if buying the Sensatiolamp Kit should I use after all only their product with that lamp or I can purchase other brands and dry it with that lamp as well?

  • Tiana

    Hello girls,

    I have read all of your comments (and Emi’s post of course) but I still have one question.
    My sister bought me the Sensationail kit as a present and I loved it but than I bought OPI Gel Color Base and Top Coat and a few different colors as I really love their colors. Now, I have been successful in using them but I find it has to cure too long under the lamp (I read 3 minutes for the second color coat on one blog) – what would you advise? 30″ for Base Coat, 30″ for Top Coat worked just fine but I wonder how long should I cure the color layers…
    Sorry if I’m not perfectly clear, English is not my mother tongue.
    Thanks in advance,


  • Lily

    Really love this post! I agree with all you wrote PLUS the share on not trying gel without a base coat was interesting. Thanks!

  • Anubis

    Emi I recently buy a starter kit of fuse and for me is great but i dont find in my country the gel polish suitable for this, can yo recomend any particular brand or what kind of polsish do i have to use with this equipment?
    thanks!! by the way im from Cuba