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11 Best Gel Nail Polishes for Fun Manicure at Home

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Gel manicures are a fan favorite, and for good reason – they last longer and look amazing. And who doesn’t like that high-shine, plump effect that only a gel nail polish can provide? But if you’re thinking of going the DIY route for an at-home gel manicure, you’re going to need the best gel nail polish for a 10-set, so perfect people will swear you had a professional do it. Keep reading to see our top picks for the best gel nail polishes for home manicures.

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Our Picks for the Best Gel Nail Polishes

These days, you have a choice between true gels and gel-like polishes. Depending on your experience with doing your own gel nails, and your comfort with gel versus gel-like polishes, there are a variety of options to get you started.

1
Best Overall
Essie Gel Couture
Essie Ulta.com
$11.50

When it comes to nail lacquer, Essie is one of those brands that reigns supreme. Along with usually having a wide shade range, this nail care brand is also known for quality polishes that won’t chip off within hours of application. So, it should be no surprise that we picked their Gel Couture collection as the best gel nail polish. This two-step system is great for beauties that are short on time.

You’ll like that these gel polishes don’t require a lamp, helping to speed up your application process. We like that you don’t need a base coat either, as the color polish is designed to provide a proper base. Essie promises that you’ll get up to 14 days of wear. More importantly, removing this gel is easy, too, so no endless moments spent soaking your nails. You’ll get a gel-like finish with less color transfer and a faster drying time. Plus, you won’t get scuffing either. Choose from 37 colors, ranging from neutrals to bold hues. Buy it at Ulta!

Key Features

  • Product Type: Two-step system with no lamp required
  • Size: 0.46 oz.
  • Shade Range: 37 colors available
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: Unclear/No
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • Ultra-glossy finish
  • No base coat required
  • Faster drying time
  • Topcoat provides shatter-proof protection
  • Patented swirl stem brush for better applications

Cons

  • Color selection is a bit limiting, with most hues dedicated to neutrals, pinks, and reds

2
Best TLC
Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Nail Color
Deborah Lippmann Sephora.com
$20

Historically speaking, nail polish can be rough on your nails. But Deborah Lippmann’s Gel Lab Pro Nail Color is one of the best gel polishes infused with 10 active ingredients designed to improve the overall health and look of your nails. While you still get the high gloss, plump effect associated with gel polishes, key ingredients like evening primrose, biotin, and green tea extract help infuse moisture, stimulate keratin production, and fortify weak, brittle nails.

You’ll also get protection against free radicals and platinum powder to improve wear. You’ll like that you don’t need to use a UV lamp with this polish either. You’ll get a salon-quality manicure with just two coats of polish. For added strength, use these colors with the Deborah Lippmann hardener for the base and topcoat. Buy it at Sephora or Nordstrom!

Key Features

  • Product Type: Three-step system with no lamp required
  • Size: 0.5 oz.
  • Shade Range: 46 colors available in 4 finishes
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: Yes/Yes
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • 10 active ingredients to improve nail health
  • 10-free formula
  • Designed to mimic gel manicures without the damage
  • Improves moisture retention and strength of nails
  • Contains platinum powder to resist wear
  • Silk fibers help even out nail plate for a smooth finish

Cons

  • May chip faster than advertised

3
Best Shade Range
Sally Hansen Miracle Gel
Sally Hansen Ulta.com
$9.99

Sally Hansen is another one of those nail product brands that are usually top of mind when you think of nail care. While the brand has an impressive portfolio and was one of the first to enter the at-home gel polish niche, their latest Miracle Gel collection is a fan favorite – and for good reason! With a massive 67-shade collection, you’ll love that no UV lamp is required.

Note that their gel polish is also a two-step system requiring the color gel polish to be followed by the accompanying topcoat. However, you won’t get quite as much wear as other brands, with Sally Hansen promising just eight days of wear. We like that this is a chip-resistant polish but that it can be easily removed like regular polish. Buy it at Ulta or Amazon!

Key Features

  • Product Type: Two-step system with no lamp required
  • Size: 0.5 oz.
  • Shade Range: 67 colors available
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: No/No
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • Massive shade range
  • Easy-to-remove gel polish
  • Chip-resistant
  • Up to 8 days of wear

Cons

  • Lower manicure longevity compared to average 14-day wear with competitor brands

4
Best Holographic
RARJSM Holographic Gel Nail Polish
RARJSM Amazon.com
$7.64

For people who want something more exciting than the traditional flat or pearlescent hues you normally get with gel polish, you’ll like this pick from RARJSM. We think this is the best gel polish for nail art fans who want eye-catching pigments. You’ll love that this brand offers 21 holographic hues that promise to last for up to 21 days without popping off or cracking.

While this pick does require curing with UV light, we do like that it uses natural resins that won’t harm your skin. Plus, depending on your base, you can change the overall hue of your nails once you apply these colors. More importantly, vegan beauty fans will appreciate that this is a vegan-friendly nail lacquer. And, it’s low odor too! Buy it on Amazon!

Key Features

  • Product Type: Three-step system with UV lamp required
  • Size: 0.25 oz.
  • Shade Range: 21 colors available
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: No/Yes
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • Non-toxic, natural resin formula
  • Can change overall hue of polish based on base coat color
  • Can last for up to 21 days
  • Low odor

Cons

  • Requires UV lamp to cure

5
Best High-Gloss
Nails Inc. Gel Effect Nail Polish
Nails Inc. Sephora.com
$15

Nail polishes that can pull double duty and improve the health and appearance of your natural nails are a big plus. Nails Inc’s Gel Effect Nail Polish is designed to do exactly that. Along with a high-gloss polish that gives you the plumping effect you get from traditional gels, this pick also contains a rare flower extract that can condition and strengthen your nails.

If you’re not the best at painting your nails, you’ll appreciate that this polish has an extra-wide brush so that you can easily apply more color per stroke for an even pro finish. This pick also features a high-reflection resin system so that you’ll get that powerful shine that’s designed to last. Buy it at Sephora!

Key Features

  • Product Type: Three-step system with no lamp required
  • Size: 0.47 oz.
  • Shade Range: 21 colors available
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: Yes/Yes
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • High-gloss finish
  • Improves and strengthens your nails with rare flower extract
  • Extra-wide brush for even application
  • Resin for a strong nail

Cons

  • Limited shade range

6
Best Topcoat
Essie Gel Couture Top Coat
Essie Ulta.com
$11.50

If you want a polish that can pull double duty, the Essie Gel Couture Top Coat is going to be your best bet. Not only can it extend the life of your gel manicure, but also many people also use it over regular polishes with equally spectacular results.

Essie promises that you’ll get 14 days of wear out of their Gel Couture Top Coat, which is intended to be paired with their Gel Couture color shades. Along with a fast-drying time and a gel-like finish, you’ll also get a protective coating for your nails and less scuffing. Many people opt to apply an additional layer of the topcoat a day or two after their initial manicure to help extend wear time. Buy it at Ulta or Amazon!

Key Features

  • Product Type: Gel topcoat with no lamp required
  • Size: 0.5 oz.
  • Shade Range: Transparent topcoat
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: Unclear/No
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • Quick-drying
  • Provides gel-like shine
  • Strengthens polish to prevent chipping or cracking
  • Up to 14 days of wear
  • Easy to remove
  • Can also be used on regular polish
  • Helps extend life of manicure
  • Prevents scuffing

Cons

  • Strong odor

7
Best Luxury
Dior Vernis Gel Shine & Long Wear Nail Lacquer
Dior Nordstrom.com
$28

Of course, luxury brands also offer gel manicure solutions, and Dior is no exception. While they only have six colors to recommend, you’ll get that gel-effect you desire without the need for a UV light. You’ll like that this nail lacquer comes with a precision brush for more precise applications and better coverage with a single swipe. All you need is two coats of Dior’s gel lacquer to create the perfect manicure. You’ll get a glass-like shine and extended wear with every application. Note that Dior also offers a gel topcoat as a companion to these colors. Buy it at Nordstrom!

Key Features

  • Product Type: Three-step system with no lamp required
  • Size: 0.33 oz.
  • Shade Range: 6 colors available
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: No/No
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • Precision brush for improved applications
  • No light needed
  • Glass-like high-shine gel effect
  • Easy to remove with nail polish remover

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Chips easily

8
Best Nail-Strengthening
Red Carpet Manicure Fortify & Protect LED Gel Nail Polish Collection
Red Carpet Manicure Ulta.com
$10.99

Whether you’re someone who bites their nails frequently or has nails that tend to break or split, picking a nail polish that strengthens your nails is a smart idea. The Red Carpet Manicure gel polish is one of the best you can buy. First, we love that there are 64 colors to choose from, ensuring that there’s something for everyone there.

Along with the massive shade range, we like that you’ll get up to 21 days of wear between manicures. This soak-off gel is infused with vitamin A and biotin to help not only protect your nails from environmental factors but also prevent brittleness. And you’ll still get that mirror-like shine associated with gel manicures. However, you do need to set these with a lamp. Buy it at Ulta or Amazon!

Key Features

  • Product Type: Three-step system with UV lamp required
  • Size: 0.30 oz.
  • Shade Range: 64 colors available
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: No/Yes
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • Infused with vitamin A and biotin
  • Up to 21 days of wear between applications
  • Mirror-like shine
  • Large color range
  • Strengthens nails and prevents brittleness
  • Soak-off removal

Cons

  • Requires UV lamp to cure

9
Best 1-Step
Le Mini Macaron 1-Step Gel Polish
Le Mini Macaron Ulta.com
$12

While two-step gel manicures are fairly standard, this still might be too time-consuming for people on the go. So, if you’re short on time, we recommend Le Mini Macaron’s Gel Polish when you’re in a hurry. You’ll get a commendable 44-color shade range and a bottle that combines the base coat, color, and topcoat in one for a manicure that you can do yourself in just 15 minutes.  

This is a 7-free polish for those concerned about harmful ingredients. However, this gel manicure requires curing – although you can use either UV or LED lamps. You can get up to 10 days of wear on two coats or three weeks if you use three coats. Le Mini Macaron promises a glossy, brilliant shine that’s chip-free and dries in just 30 seconds between coats. Buy it at Ulta!

Key Features

  • Product Type: One-step system with UV lamp required
  • Size: 0.29 oz.
  • Shade Range: 44 colors available
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: Yes/Yes
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • 7-free formula
  • Combines base coat, color, and topcoat in one polish
  • Great shade range
  • Dries in 30 seconds
  • Quick application process
  • Easy to remove

Cons

  • Requires lamp curing
  • Longevity varies based on the number of coats used

10
Best Top and Base Coat Duo
Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Duo
Deborah Lippmann Nordstrom.com
$45

No one wants a manicure that barely lasts 24 hours, but it happens! If this annoying reality bothers you, then the Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Duo is one of the best base and topcoat sets intended to give you mega-shine nails while also enhancing your manicure’s longevity.

The base coat features an epoxy resin that combines with polyvinyl butyral to bind the lacquer layers while also strengthening and fortifying brittle or weak nails. Meanwhile, the topcoat has a dual polymer technology that creates a high-shine long-lasting, durable finish. The result is a salon-quality manicure that lasts longer. Buy it at Nordstrom!

Key Features

  • Product Type: Base coat and topcoat duo with no lamp required
  • Size: 2×0.5 oz.
  • Shade Range: Transparent base and topcoat
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: Yes/Yes
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • Strengthens weak and brittle nails
  • Extends lifespan of manicure
  • Can be used on gel and regular nail polish
  • Prevents premature manicure chipping
  • Provides high-shine

Cons

  • Expensive

11
Best Set
Deborah Lippmann True Colors Gel Lab Pro Nail Polish Set
Deborah Lippmann Nordstrom.com
$36

It can be hard to choose which color you want to buy when you’re picking nail polish. So, why settle for one hue when you can get a full set? Deborah Lippmann’s True Colors Gel Lab Pro Nail Polish Set is the best pick for people that love pastels. This rainbow-colored collection is designed with everything you love about Deborah Lippmann’s nail-friendly gel polish but in fun whimsical pastels.

Just like with the brand’s other colors, you’ll get 10 active ingredients designed to improve the look and condition of your nails while helping to block free radicals and improve moisture retention. You’ll get six colors in total. However, this doesn’t come with the base or topcoat. Buy it at Nordstrom!

Key Features

  • Product Type: Three-step system with no lamp required
  • Size: 6×0.27 oz.
  • Shade Range: 6 colors available
  • Cruelty-Free/Vegan: Yes/Yes
  • 3-Free: Yes

Pros

  • Helps strengthen nails and improve moisture retention
  • Contains 10 active ingredients to improve nail health
  • High-shine finish
  • 7-free formula

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with top or base coat


What to Look for in the Perfect Gel Nail Polish for You?

Once upon a time, you could only get a gel manicure in a salon. Thanks to advancements in nail art, you too can create Instagram-worthy manicures without the hassle of a trip to the salon. But before you start picking your colors, you need to think about which gel nail polish is right for you.

Air-Dry vs. Lamp Curing

After reading through our top picks for the best gel nail polish, you’ve probably noticed that some polishes require a lamp to cure while others can air-dry. Is one inherently better than the other? It depends.

True gel polishes require a UV or LED lamp to cure. LED lamps can cure faster than UV lamps, but regardless of the lamp, you must cure between every coat. If you’re concerned about UV exposure, or simply dislike the idea of having to pause between coats (which you should technically be doing anyway!), then real gel polish probably isn’t for you.

In contrast, you probably also noticed that many of our recommendations used language such as “gel-like.” These products are not true gel polishes and rely on air-drying between coats. These polishes are designed to mimic the look and hardness of traditional gels. Often, they’ll include hardeners in the formula, such as epoxy resin, to help strengthen the lacquer.

True Gels vs. Gel-Like

Along with lamp versus no lamp, both gel and gel-like polishes have pros and cons that need to be considered. Traditional gels tend to last longer. Most brands offering true gel polish will promise at least 14 days of wear before you might notice chipping or lifting. And many promise as much as three weeks of wear before you’ll need to remove the manicure. In contrast, gel-like brands may offer lower timelines that range from as little as seven days to around 14 days.

If you’re not interested in frequently changing your polish, then true gel polish can be a better investment, as you’ll only need to paint your nails at most twice a month. However, the one major drawback of true gel polish is the removal process. Unlike regular nail polish and many gel-like polishes, real gel polish requires some serious soaking to remove. And often, this means soaking your nails in acetone, which can be drying.

More importantly, if you have a habit of picking at cracked and chipped polish, doing this with real gel polish can damage your natural nails. And this is where gel polish gets a bad wrap – no pun intended.

Conversely, if the idea of having to cure your polish between coats and spending a lot of time soaking it off when you’re ready to switch up your look sounds unappealing, gel-like polish is a better bet. Depending on the brand, gel-like polishes are relatively affordable and are usually sold as systems. This means that they’re usually designed by brands to be used in conjunction with a base coat and topcoat for best results.

How to Choose the Best Gel Nail Polishes?
@leminimacaron

Ingredients

Once you’ve chosen between gel versus gel-like, you might also want to consider the ingredients list. Nail polish is notorious for being full of chemicals – many of which are unpronounceable. However, these days you can find nail polishes that are free from harsh chemicals.

While this is more common with gel-like and regular nail polishes, it is possible to also find real gel polish that doesn’t have as many harsh ingredients. Typically, polishes that are free from harsh chemicals will be labeled as such, with taglines such as “10-free,” “8-free,” or “7-free” featured in the product description with additional details on the specific ingredients that aren’t included.

The most common toxic ingredients that fall under this header include formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBT), formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), xylene, ethyl tosylamide/epoxy resin, parabens, and gluten.

Color Range

Some brands like Sally Hansen and Essie have fairly impressive shade ranges that cover traditional and neutral hues as well as bold colors and even different finishes, like metallic or holographic. If you prefer classic colors like red or pale pinks, pretty much every brand offers those. But if you want more variety, it pays to do some research.

Price

Prices can vary dramatically across nail polish brands. But if you opt for true gel polish, you also need to factor in the cost of a lamp. Unless you buy a complete gel nail kit, many brands don’t include a lamp with the polish.

Additionally, regardless of whether you opt for gel-like or true gel polish, also remember that often the base and topcoat may not be bundled with the color polish. While the additional coats might not be expensive, it’s important to make sure you have everything you need to complete your manicure rather than finding out halfway through your at-home project that you don’t have all your supplies.

Photo via Ulta, Sephora, Instagram