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The best gel nail kits to buy in 2021

Martha Alexander
6 Sep 2021
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Fancy a DIY mani-pedi from the comfort of your own home? These chip-resistant gel nail kits will provide salon-quality results that last

Gel nails have become increasingly popular in recent years – they bond to your nail and can last for up to three weeks without chipping. The big attraction is that they’re shinier, more durable and dry quickly. The only hitch? The application process involves a specific technique, specialist varnishes and the gel polish needs to be “cured” to your nails with an LED lamp, something which has traditionally required a trip to a beauty salon.

However, there’s an increasing number of “at home” gel nail kits – complete with lamp – that promise to deliver salon-standard results from the comfort of your own home. Some are affordable introductory sets, while others are professional grade – but all are suitable for and usable by anyone.

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How to choose the best gel nail kit for you

Are gel nail kits expensive?

Yes, the upfront cost of a kit is in most cases more than a single gel treatment in a salon. However, by investing in a kit you’ll save yourself a fortune in the long run. If you look at it as an investment, you’ll actually find it’s pretty cheap.

What do gel nail kits contain?

In all of the sets we’ve featured you’ll find a lamp, at least one shade of nail colour, nail tools such as files and buffers, as well as base and top coats of varnish. Many, but not all, kits contain equipment for removing gel nails.

How do I take gel nails off?

Gel nails cannot be removed in mere seconds as with regular varnish remover. And you must resist the temptation to peel them off yourself. You need cotton wool soaked in acetone, a textured nail buffer and time. There are different ways to tackle the removal process, but the most common way is to buff the colour off the nail before wrapping it in a pad soaked in acetone. This is then often wrapped in tin foil and left for a few minutes. This will lift the gel from your nail without damaging it.

Are gel nail kits bad for natural nails?

It depends who you ask. Some studies have found that gel nails damage the natural nail because of the chemicals in the polish and the heat from the lamp. Other schools of thought claim that the gel actually protects the nail and allows it to grow stronger. What we can say is that how you apply – and remove – the gel will have the greatest bearing on nail condition. Those of us who peel and pick at gel nails can expect to have tender, peeling and flaky nails as a result.

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Are gel nail kits suitable for amateurs?

Yes – all of these kits are suitable for absolute beginners. With that said, practice will make perfect as it takes skill, patience and a steady hand to become adept at gel nail application. It’s something of an art form, so do prepare to quite literally mess up as you start out.

Do gel nails really need a lamp?

Yes. Some nail polish brands claim to offer gel nails in one pot, but while these presumably offer a juicy, shiny finish, they won’t be securely bonded to the nail or chip resistant, and they won’t have the staying power. The heat aspect of the gel nail application process is what gives a perfect finish that lasts for several weeks.

What tips should I bear in mind?

One of the things we found most important was not to rush the preparation phase. Make sure your nails are filed, smooth, buffed and totally clean. A strong foundation is essential for obtaining the best results.

We also advise applying each layer of colour as thinly as possible. Going in with thick streaks means it will take longer to cure, and there will be more chance of the colour pooling in your cuticles.

Lastly, it’s crucial that you “cap” the free end of the nail with the colour and the top coat. This is super simple: just run the brush over the nail edge. If you don’t do this, you can expect early chipping.

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The best gel nail kits to buy in 2021

1. Semilac Starter Set Love Me: Best gel nail kit for customisability

Price: £90 | Buy now from Amazon

This is called a starter set, but everything about it is professional quality. The whole package is clearly and spaciously laid out – this feels like a salon-class experience from the start.

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. Red Carpet Fortify & Protect Pro Starter Kit: Best gel nail kit for people with weak nails

Price: £100 | Buy now from Nail Polish Direct

Red Carpet’s kit promises to be gentle on nails. It includes both vitamin A and biotin, which makes it a great choice for anyone who suffers with nails that peel, snap or bend easily.

There’s a lot packed into this box, with plenty of files, sticks, pads and a brilliant oblong buffer to help you prep your nails.

We thought the varnish was lovely and light – perfect for building up in thin layers. The brush also made it easy to “cap” the nail at the free end without the polish going onto the hand, which can be damaging during the curing process. The result was smooth and firm nails that have cured beautifully and feel like they’re going to go the distance.

Key specs – Colours included: 1; Lamp strength: 6W; Contains removal equipment? Yes; Quantity of polish per pot: 9ml

Buy now from Nail Polish Direct


3. Blue Sky Starter Kit: Best gel nail kit for ease of use

Price: £60 | Buy now from 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

4. Le Mini Macaron: Best gel nail kit for on-the-go beauty

Price: £35 | Buy now from ASOS

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

Buy now from ASOS


5. Sensationail Gel Starter Set: Best gel nail kit for beginners

Price: £45 | Buy now from 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

6. Manucurist Green Flash Gift Set: Best eco-friendly gel nail kit

Price: £85 | Buy now from Manucurist

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

Buy now from Manucurist


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