For the glossiest and longest-lasting DIY mani-pedi from the comfort of your own home, try one of these home gel nail kits for salon-quality
Gel nails – a style of manicure where nails are painted with an acrylic nail polish that’s then “cured” or set under a UV lamp – have become increasingly popular in recent years, delivering a durable and chip-resistant alternative to both classic manicures and acrylic nails.
The attraction of gel nails is that they’re stronger and shinier than after a classic polish; the gel polish bonds to your nail, lasting for up to three weeks without chipping. With the right care, gel manicures can also help you grow your natural nails, since they provide a strong top coat that helps to resist damage – and unlike acrylic nails, they don’t require the natural nail to be filed down.
However, since gel polish needs to be “cured”, or set, using an ultraviolet lamp, up until recently this type of manicure required a trip to a beauty salon. Now, though, an increasing number of “at home” gel nail kits – complete with lamp – are arriving onto the market, promising salon-standard results from the comfort of your own home, saving you both time and heaps of cash.
Some are affordable introductory sets, while others offer more options – but all are suitable for use at home without professional training. See below for our guide to how to choose the best at-home gel manicure kit for you, and read on for our recommendations.
Best gel nail kits: At a glance
|Best gel nail kit for beginners
|Sensationail Gel Starter Set (~£40)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best gel nail polishes for people with weak nails
|Red Carpet Fortify & Protect Pro (~£10)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best gel nail kit for ease of use
|Blue Sky Starter Kit (~£40)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best gel nail kit for on-the-go beauty
|Le Mini Macaroon (~£30)
|Check price at Amazon
How to choose the best gel nail kit for you
Are gel nail kits expensive?
The upfront cost of a kit will be, in most cases, more than a single gel treatment in a salon. However, if you get gel manicures regularly, the savings to be had in the long-run from investing in a home kit will soon mount.
What do gel nail kits contain?
Most at-home gel kits contain:
- A UV lamp
- Base and top coats
- At least one shade of nail colour
- Tools for preparing the nails such as files and buffers
- Many kits also contain equipment for removing the gel manicure when you’re ready for a change
Some at-home kits contain the gel colour, base and top coats only, and require a lamp to be purchased separately. We’ve indicated in our reviews if this is the case.
How do I remove gel nail polish?
To remove gel nails, you’ll need cotton wool soaked in acetone, a textured nail buffer and around half an hour of time – don’t rush it. The most common way is to start by buffing the colour off the nail before wrapping it in a cotton pad soaked in acetone. You may also find it helpful to wrap the nails in foil to stop the acetone from evaporating and to keep the cotton pad in place. Leave for around 10 minutes and then check to see if the polish is lifting easily; if not, replace the wrap and wait a little longer. The polish should come away easily from the nail when it’s ready – avoid picking at or peeling the polish, since this can damage your natural nails.
Finish with a soak in oil to moisturise the nail and nail bed before applying any new polish.
Can gel nails cause allergic reactions?
Gel nails are safe to use when applied and cured properly. The British Association of Dermatology, or BAD, recently re-issued a warning about using gel nail kits, citing a concerning increase in life-long (meth)acrylate allergies among acrylic and gel nail users. This is a key ingredient used in gel nails, acrylic nails and gel polishes, including those listed below.
The BAD says that at-home kits, such as those listed here, can be “riskier, due to the lack of experience the public has with these products. The particular risk arises when the uncured products come into contact with the skin.” The BAD adds that “if the product isn’t cured sufficiently then this can increase the risk of an individual developing an allergy.”
Make sure you always read and follow the instructions carefully; avoid skin contact with the gel polishes and make sure you cure the nails properly to avoid developing a sensitivity.
Are gel nail kits bad for natural nails?
Gel manicures cause less direct damage to the nails than acrylic tips, since they don’t require the nails to be filed down. You may find that a layer of gel polish helps your natural nails beneath to resist damage and grow longer and stronger. The key is to apply and remove gel nails carefully, always following the instructions provided with your gel kit. In addition, moisturising the hands and nails in between manicures with a nourishing nail oil will help rehydrate the nails after using an acetone nail polish remover. As already mentioned, avoid peeling or picking off gel nails since this can cause your natural nails to flake and weaken.
Are gel nail kits suitable for home use?
Yes – all of these kits are suitable for beginners. It takes a bit of skill, patience and a steady hand to become adept at gel nail application, but practice will make perfect.
That being said, make sure you read the instructions for each kit carefully before you start applying the gel. The process is slightly different for each, and you want to ensure you apply the product safely.
Do gel nails really need a lamp?
Yes. Some nail polish brands offer a thicker gel-like polish formula that’s stronger and harder-wearing than a classic polish, but which doesn’t require UV curing. However, without a UV lamp the gels won’t be securely bonded to the nail, reducing the time they last and their resistance to chipping. Only the UV curing lamp can give gels a strong finish that lasts for several weeks.
How do I use my home nail gel kit?
For a salon-style finish, don’t rush the preparation phase. Make sure your nails are filed, smooth, buffed and totally clean. A strong foundation is essential for achieving the best results.
We also advise applying each layer of colour as evenly as possible. Using too much polish will mean it takes longer to cure, upping the chance of the colour pooling at the sides of the nails.
Lastly, it’s crucial that you “cap” the free end of the nail with the colour and top coat, by running the brush over the nail edge. This will help prevent water damage and chipping at the ends of the nails.
How we test gel nail kits
We test all the home gel kits we review, either at home or during a live product demonstration. We use the kits as recommended, preparing the nails first and following the instructions in the box.
When testing, we confirm the contents of the kit and complete a full manicure using the products as directed. We evaluate the overall ease of use of the nail kit, including application of the polish and the lamp provided, and we record how well the resulting manicure lasts in a typical week of wear. Finally, we note the size of the bottles of polish included in each kit.
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The best gel nail kits to buy in 2024
1. Semilac Starter Set Love Me: Best gel nail kit for customisability
Price when reviewed: £109 | Check price at Amazon
The lamp is large – exactly what you’d find at an upmarket nail bar – and feels very advanced compared to many of the others on the market. It has a cooling fan, two different power modes and a base (which is surprisingly rare).
When ordering, you’re given the option to choose three colours from a frankly vast range – neons, reds, glitters, pastels, you name it, it’s there. We opted for three muted tones and settled on Little Stone as our tester colour.
The package includes plenty of wooden nail sticks, a nail file and a buffer. Once our nails had been wiped over with the cleaner, we set to work on the base. We were careful to ensure we were applying the varnish thinly, and this was easy to do: the liquid is malleable and slick, especially when ensuring the end of the nail is “sealed”. Two colour coats would have sufficed but we chose three, just to see what the effect and finish would be; we can report it still dried beautifully without smudging or tackiness. Almost two weeks in and our nails are still looking great.
Key specs – Colours included: 3; Lamp strength: 48/24W; Contains removal equipment? Yes; Quantity of polish per pot: 7ml
2. Sensationail Gel Starter Set: Best gel nail kit for beginners
Price when reviewed: £40 | Check price at Amazon
This kit arrives in a compact box – everything is small, neat and efficient – including the lamp, which allows feet and hands to fit snugly within.
The lamp automatically turns on when you put fingers or toes beneath it – there is no manual on/off button – and stays on for 30 seconds, flashing at 15 seconds to go. We imagined that the small lamp and relatively low power might have an impact on finish but our fears were misplaced: as promised on the packaging, the lamp cured each layer quickly with no tackiness.
The polish (we opted for Scarlet Red) was on the thin side, which made application really easy. There’s no chance of clotting here.
We think this would make a great gift, not least because you can pick up additional Sensationail varnishes on the high street for £2.50. And the biggest sign that this kit does a great job? We were asked where we went for our pedicure.
Key specs – Colours included: 1; Lamp power: 4.5W; Contains removal tools? Nail shields which aid easy removal; Quantity of polish per pot: 3.69ml
3. Red Carpet Fortify & Protect Pro: Best gel nail polishes for people with weak nails
Price when reviewed: £9.56 | Check price at Amazon
Red Carpet’s Fortify & Protect Pro gel polishes promise to be gentle on nails. Each polish includes both vitamin A and biotin, which makes the range a great choice for anyone who suffers with nails that peel, snap or bend easily. Note that you’ll need to purchase a separate lamp to cure these gel polishes. Start with the protective base coat, add your choice of colour and finish with the glossy top coat.
We thought the varnish had a lovely fluid texture, perfect for building up the layers, and the brush made it easy to “cap” the nail at the free end without the polish going onto the hand. The result when cured was smooth and firm nails with a long-lasting, shiny finish. The Fortify & Protect range includes a good range of fashion-forward colours.
Key specs – Colours included: N/A; Lamp strength: N/A; Contains removal equipment? N/A; Quantity of polish per pot: 9ml
4. Blue Sky Starter Kit: Best gel nail kit for ease of use
Price when reviewed: £60 | Check price at Amazon
This set comes in a super chic box which smacks of quality from the moment it arrives. Inside, all of the elements – the polishes, the base and top coats, the nail files, the lamp – are laid out clearly. This sense of simplicity and clarity permeates every aspect of the kit.
We loved the instruction manual. It uses simple, clear language which we found easy to follow; there’s absolutely no room for confusion.
The lamp is one of the sturdier options out there, and the glossy and smart design feels expensive – it’s a cut above the insubstantial lamps included with some other kits. It’s also larger than many others as you can easily get your hand inside. It’s really simple to use even if you aren’t really familiar with LED lamps.
We tried the Pillar Box Red shade and found the consistency to be wonderfully smooth; a little really went a long way. Two coats provided solid coverage, and despite our amateur status our nails emerged looking like they’d just come out of a salon – juicy, neat with no sign of chipping or peeling. They’ve lasted well, too, with those results surviving intact for almost two weeks now.
We think this is the pick of the bunch here, but there is a downside: the kit doesn’t include removal equipment so you’ll need to budget extra for that.
Key specs – Colours included: 3; Lamp strength: 24W; Contains removal tools? No; Quantity of polish per pot: 10ml
5. Mylee Builder Gel Bundle: Best gel nail polishes for growing natural nails
Price when reviewed: £43 | Check price at Mylee
If you’ve been struggling to grow weak, flaking or chipping natural nails – perhaps due to poor diet or wear and tear from the physical environment – then a strengthening builder gel, the strongest and most durable form of gel manicure, may be just what you need to protect the nails while they grow. This builder gel starter kit from home gel manicure specialist Mylee includes four neutral shades – clear, peach, pale pink and white – which you can use on their own or as a first coat under another gel colour. The clear shade can also be used on its own, under another colour, or as a top coat.
If you’re wanting longer nails straight away, builder gels can also be used with the supplied paper forms to create a gel top beyond the end of your natural nail. Simply brush the gel out as far as you would like to extend the nail, cure and file.
This gel bundle contains the builder gel polishes only. To cure the nails, you’ll need a separate UV lamp – or try the Mylee Mini Starter Kit (£65), which includes a lamp, three gel colours and a clear builder gel.
Key specs – Colours included: 4; Lamp strength: N/A; Contains removal equipment? N/A; Quantity of polish per pot: 10ml
6. Le Mini Macaroon: Best gel nail kit for on-the-go beauty
Price when reviewed: £30 | Check price at Amazon
If you didn’t think gel nail kits could be adorable, think again. Le Mini Macaron is a gel nail kit complete with a diminutive LED lamp shaped like the eponymous French confection. It isn’t a stretch to say the entire set could fit into a small handbag.
The USB-rechargeable lamp is designed for one finger at a time, so it’s not going to be the quickest manicure of your life. That said, the gel polish that’s included does three jobs – base, colour and finish – so it’s super hardworking and that saves time. However, we advise using at least two layers for a deep, even effect.
It dried beautifully and with a glossy finish. We opted for Fairy Floss, but if you aren’t tickled by pink there are other shades available, and the lamp’s shade comes in a colour to match.
We found the polish lasted for under a week before a couple of nails started to chip. It’s not quite salon standard, but given how easy it is to fix it didn’t feel like the end of the world.
We were thrilled to see that remover pads are included. The brains behind this package really have thought of everything; this is a very capable little kit.
Key specs – Colours included: 1; Lamp power: 3W; Contains remover equipment? Yes; Quantity of polish per pot: 8.5ml
7. Lily and Fox nail wraps: Best gel nail wraps
Price when reviewed: £6 per set | Check price at Lily and Fox
If you want a mess-free method for trying gel nails, then these semi-cured gel nail wraps from Lily and Fox are a fantastic choice. They arrive with lots of colour and nail art options: there are lots of choices suitable for work, play or a fun seasonal party look.
To use, size up one of the 16 pre-cut nail wraps as you would a press-on nail, use the wooden tool provided to smooth the gel wrap firmly over your natural nail and file off the excess. Cure with a UV lamp (purchased separately), and optionally seal with a glossy top coat. Voila – a perfectly finished gel nail in your choice of solid colour, glitter or nail-art pattern.
We found the nail wraps easy to use, and with typical wear and the help of a top coat, the looks lasted around two weeks. The wraps soak off easily with an acetone nail polish remover, and since you can apply them over your favourite nail strengthener, they’re a great choice if you’re aiming to grow out natural nails.
Key specs – Colours included: N/A; Lamp strength: N/A; Contains removal equipment? N/A; Quantity of polish per pot: N/A (wrap sets come with 16 wraps, enough for a full set
8. Manucurist Green Flash Gift Set: Best eco-friendly gel nail kit
Price when reviewed: £75 | Check price at LookFantastic
We know it’s not all about packaging, but we have to give a huge thumbs up to this gift set: the recycled brown paper packaging both looks cute and satisfies our environmentally conscious side. What’s more, the ingredients are 84% plant-based, with corn, sugarcane and clay, and made with renewable resources.
The opaque green bottles look wonderfully chic, and you can select two colours to be included in the set. The colours have a delightfully thin and runny consistency, which makes application easy. However, this will take longer to dry than other kits: each drying period under the lamp is measured in minutes rather than seconds
Green Flash is the first gel polish that can be taken off like a “normal” nail polish, and the remover found in the kit works like a dream. We were really impressed with this, especially as the formula is acetone-free and made from 97% bio-sourced ingredients.
We also appreciate that Manucure doesn’t over-promise. It says the gels last for up to ten days, and that seems like a respectable goal for a brand that is so hard-working in terms of its sustainability commitment.
Key specs – Colours included: 2; Lamp strength: 18W; Contains removal equipment? Yes; Quantity of polish per pot: 15ml