A Step-By-Step Guide To Giving Yourself An At-Home Gel Manicure

The longer we stay home, the more we must improvise. I, like many others, quite enjoyed my biweekly routine of getting my nails done. Aside from the obvious relaxation aspect, there is something about a fresh manicure that adds a little sparkle to my look. For obvious reasons, that hasn’t and likely won’t be something on our radar anytime soon, so I turned to the internet to find the best at-home gel manicure kit a gal could buy.

Cue ZOYA’s Gelie-Cure Foundation Pro Kit. This set retails for only $65 (approximately how much I spend on one single gel manicure at the salon) and contains EVERYTHING you could possibly need: cuticle serum, all the gel goodies, foils to make you feel legit, and even a travel LED light so you can do your nails on the go (but please, STAY HOME). 

Obviously, I needed to put this kit to the test, because you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.

*Spoiler alert* it actually worked really well overall. We may have hit some minor speed bumps along the road, but this was definitely a step up from my regular DIY manicures that chip within the first five minutes of being dry. 

Here is my step-by-step guide to get your nails looking fab with an at-home gel manicure, regardless of which brand or kit you so choose to proceed with.

Step 1: Prep What You’re Working With

I have somehow managed to keep my nails in good condition throughout this quarantine, but if that isn’t the case for you, that is OK. First things first, you’ve got to shape your nail. I personally chose a “square with rounded edges” look, which is so easy to do on some nails, and a challenge on others. But, as long as the nails look semi-related, it works. I used the nail file from the kit, but obviously you can use any nail file that works for you.

Pro tip: After shaping, be sure to buff the edges to prevent cracking/breaking, because let’s be real, there is nothing more annoying. 

Step 2: Apply Treatment

After you’re ~ feeling good ~ with your nail base, it’s time to treat the nail and cuticle area. I am guilty of always having janky cuticles, so this step is everything, IMO. Unsure of what I did to deserve such a thing, but just thankful there is a solution. I apply a small amount of ZOYA’s Rescue Serum to my index finger (again, you can use your serum of choice) and then place a tiny little bit to each finger and massage into the nail. A little goes a long way here, so follow directions. If your cuticles are fine, let them be, but if they need a little loving, that’s ok too. Take a cuticle pusher, and GENTLY push cuticles back. And… then leave them alone. 

Pro tip: Don’t cut them, don’t pick them, just push back and let it be

Step 3: Base Coat

This is essentially common knowledge, but I’ll walk you through it anyway. Apply a gel base coat—I’m using ZOYA’s Repair Base, you’re using the base you so choose to proceed with. Cover your entire nail, and seal the free edge to avoid peeling/cracking. This is most applicable to those with longer nails, but if you’ve got short stubby nails (as I typically do), then just make sure you’ve covered what you’ve got. Easy enough? Yes. Moving on. 

Step 4: Foundation

Once you’ve got your base coat to protect your nails from all harm that gel causes, you’ll need your gel foundation. If you’re confused as to why you need two “base coats”, think of Repair Base as your SPF, and Naked Gelie as your makeup foundation. One layer to protect, one layer to work as a foundation for all of the following steps, if you may. For this step, you’ll actively avoid the cuticles and skin surrounding your nail (leave a small gap), but you will want to seal the free edge again. You can do a quick check under your nail light to ensure that the nail is properly covered, glowing, and not messy. I’d be lying if I said I did this flawlessly in one step. My left hand was easy, because I’m a righty, but my right hand was a bit of a struggle because my left hand has a mind of its own. 

Pro tip: Less is more, because the gel slides around the finger. One swipe down the center of each finger (with the brush fanned) will do.

Step 5: Go Glow Time

So now is when things get *serious* because we are locking in the gel coat and making moves!!

This step is important, but simple. You’ll turn on your light and bake. Put your fingers under the light for the allotted time, and make sure your nails do not stick out and have full exposure to the light. I have long fingers so I wish this light was a bit bigger, but most gals aren’t 6 feet tall like I am, so I guess I’ll take the L for this one. Once you’ve done this for all nails, it is safe to move on.

Pro tip: Repeat step four and five twice for a stronger gel coat. They typically do this at the salon as well, and it’s for a reason.

Step 6: The Grand Finale

This title is misleading if you want to add color, but if you want to keep it simple with no polish and just a fresh clear gel look, listen up. You’ll need any after-gel cure spray to remove residue from the nail. Use a lint free nail pad to ensure that no little fuzzies attack and mess up your perfect manicure. Speaking from experience, there is nothing worse. And voilà, you’ve got yourself a pair of fresh nails. 

(Optional) Step 7: Polish The Nails

SO if you’re mad at me for leaving colored polish out of the equation, relax, it’s here. We have two options from this point on:

Option 1: If you’d like the option of removing polish as you please like a regular manicure, you can simply paint any color over your gel manicure (regular polish, not that special “no light gel” BS that destroys your nails). This gives you the ability to change colors as you please, and the base should last 2-3 weeks under the color(s) of your choice (this is true for any brand’s at-home gel kit if done properly). If you’re afraid of commitment, this move is for you. This is what I decided to do in the photo above, and I ask that you please refrain from judging how shaky I am with my dominant hand. I TRIED, I really did, but as you can see, this is where the manicure went south. If I was going out in public, I’d probably have started over, but I’m living in a bubble and I only exit my apartment in gloves… so I said f*ck it and left them as they were.

Option 2: If you’re the girl that has been wearing Ballet Slippers on her nails for the last 10 years and nothing can change that, then we switch gears to the “sandwich technique”. No I did not come up with this name in a fit of hunger, but yes, I would love a sandwich. You’ll start this method the same as you would option one, and paint a thin layer of your favorite regular polish over the gel foundation. Wait two minutes (if you have the patience) and apply a second thin coat of polish to the nails. After this second coat is applied, wait 10 more minutes (sorry not sorry) for the coat to be semi-dried. *Trust the process* and once the 10 minutes are up, apply a layer of gel polish to the nail again. They don’t need to be completely dry, hence my “semi-dried” statement one sentence ago. 

Pro tip: Once applied, you’ll need to clean up the edges all around—this is actually important, because if the gel spreads to cuticles or corners, it can result in an incorrect cure. I KNOW you don’t want any mistakes at this point, so do as I say. Pop the nails back under the light and repeat steps five and six. 

And there you have it, an at-home gel manicure, pretty and perfect without having to go to a salon.

Is it as relaxing as an in-spa experience? Absolutely not. It’s actually stressful, because it’s easy to mess up and I am simply not as artistic as the nail technicians that I go to. I made my boyfriend massage my shoulders while my nails were under the light, but the experience was not the same.

Quality-wise, the gel is better than I expected and hasn’t peeled yet *knock on wood* so being that we are trapped inside for an indefinite amount of time, I would recommend going the gel kit route for the time being. But will this kit replace my nail salon forever? Probably not.

OH. I almost forgot. I feel it is important to include the removal process here too, and it’s sooo easy (this was the only step I was confident that I could conquer). If you’ve been to a salon, you probably know the deal, but if you pick off your gel nails (cringe) then follow these steps to avoid doing such a thing:

Step 1: Soak cotton ball with polish remover and place on nail

Step 2: Wrap nail in tin foil and shape to nail/finger

Step 3: Wait two minutes if you are removing just base, and four minutes if you are removing “sandwich nails”

Step 4: Open foil, and use cotton to wipe the nail clean. This is where we differ from the salon, who would typically use a file to remove the hard gel. The at-home nail systems make for easier, safer removal and for that, I am thankful. 

Please tag me in all of your nail photos and LMK what kit is your favorite, so I can see how much more talented the world is than me/see if I am doing it right. And if all else fails, find yourself a cute pair of press on nails and call it a damn day. THANKS and happy manicuring. 

Images: Toa Heftiba / Unsplash; Dylan Rubinstein (9); Courtesy of ZOYA