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Best gel nail polish 2024: For a long-lasting manicure at home

Best gel nail polish - featured

For glossy, salon-worthy nails at home, these tried and tested gel polishes have you covered

You know how it goes: you specifically dedicate the time to painting your nails, and you wait patiently for them to dry, all while resisting the bored urge to scroll your phone for fear of smudges or telltale creases, only to do the washing up a couple of hours later aaaand… yep, they’re chipped.

This is where a gel manicure can come in handy. In a salon, that means a soft gel polish – a blend of acrylic oligomers and pigment – that’s applied from a bottle and “cured” underneath an LED or UV light. A professional gel polish looks particularly plump and glossy, and can last for around two to three weeks

However, when it comes to at-home gel polishes – such as those in our roundup below – these are a different product altogether, and don’t require curing. In this case, the term “gel” is used to describe a nail polish that’s thicker and more durable than traditional polish. They also tend to last around two weeks although they can, generally, be removed earlier with regular nail polish remover. Giving you, in essence, all the benefits of a salon manicure, but without the stubborn removal.

How to choose the best gel nail polish for you

Is gel nail polish bad for your nails?

None of the at-home products we’ve gathered together here are bad for your nails and the in-salon gel polish isn’t necessarily bad for your nails either, so long as it’s removed properly. It’s only when we pick at the polish and peel that it causes trauma to the nails and the nail bed. That said, many people swear by giving their nails a break from salon nail treatments every couple of months or so, to rest their nails and allow them to strengthen.

How can I make my gel nail polish last?

The answer to longer-lasting polish is healthier nails and the secret to healthier nails lies in the prep work. According to Beth Davis, from The GelBottle Inc, “Cuticle oil is key for keeping your nails and the skin around your nails hydrated, which means they’re less likely to crack and break. It will also boost the circulation around your nails, which will stimulate nail growth.”

“You should also wear gloves whenever you’re handling chemicals – such as cleaning products – as these will dry out the hands, skin and nails. And minimise soaking your hands in water as this can soften the nails and cause premature lifting,” she adds.
According to most nail techs, a typical gel manicure should last around two weeks, unless removed sooner.

How should gel nail polish be removed?

As we mentioned, most of the gel nail polishes we’ve included here can be removed safely and swiftly with just regular nail polish remover. However, if you’re using a UV lamp to cure your gel polish, or you want to remove nail polish that has been applied in a salon, the safest and most effective way to remove gel polish is to soak your nails in acetone.

“For the removal process, start by using a hand file to remove the topcoat as the topcoat doesn’t soak off with acetone,” says Beth. “Soak your removal foil in acetone and wrap each nail individually, leaving them to soak for around five to ten minutes. Then, removing one foil at a time, use the flat-bladed end of a cuticle pusher to scrape the gel off, holding your tool no higher than 45-degrees so you don’t dig it into the nail plate.

“Once all the gel is removed, use a sponge buffer to smooth over the surface of the nail and apply cuticle oil to rehydrate,” she adds.

READ NEXT: The best nail strengtheners to buy

What is BIAB?

BIAB stands for “builder in a bottle”. While it looks similar to traditional gel nail polish, it’s more strengthening and can be built up to create a hard-wearing, shiny finish.

“It works by adding a protective layer, preventing your nails underneath from chipping or breaking and allowing them to grow,” says Beth. “BIAB also offers a lot of structural support, so it’s great for people who have weak or brittle nails. Plus, it allows for various designs, including extensions and overlays.”

Currently, BIAB is only available in salons and The Gel Bottle products are only available to purchase by qualified nail technicians.

How we test gel nail polish

We spent a month putting some of the best and most popular gel polishes to the test ourselves, evaluating everything from how easy they were to apply to how long they lasted.

Our testers regularly enjoy professional manicures. When it comes to painting their own nails at home, it’s useful to have a baseline to be able to compare the finish each product achieves to the quality of salon nails. We checked whether or not a base coat, a top coat, and/or UV light was required to achieve the best results. We considered the range of colours and shades available, and the ingredients of each sample. Finally, we noted whether a brand marketed itself as cruelty-free, so you can see at a glance whether or not a product is right for you.

READ NEXT: The best nail files to buy

The best gel nail polish you can buy in 2024

1. Sally Hansen Miracle Gel: Best overall gel polish

Price when reviewed: £9.99 | Check price at LookFantastic

Best gel nail polish Sally Hansen Miracle Gel

As glossy as a Quality Street wrapper and with a highly pigmented, thick texture similar to salon gel, the Sally Hansen Miracle Gel polish applies like a dream and gives bare nails an instant upgrade. The flat, slightly angled brush coats the nail in colour smoothly and when paired with the brand’s top coat – which gave a super-shiny finish – our tester’s manicure lasted a solid week and a half before chipping.

We tested out the Proper P-Rose shade – a gorgeous deep pink that looked feminine and clean – but Sally Hansen makes a wide range of covetable shades to choose from. Such a professional-looking quality for such a low price tag really impressed us.

Key details – No. of shades: 36; Bottle size: 14.7ml; Base coat required: No; Top coat required: Yes; UV required: No; Cruelty-free: No

2. Dior Vernis: Best luxury gel nail polish

Price when reviewed: £26 | Check price at John Lewis

Best gel nail polish Dior Vernis

If your attitude to nail polish can be summed up as “go bold or go home” then you’ll love the vibrancy of the Dior Vernis gel-effect lacquers. The wide, ergonomically designed brush makes application easy, and the pigment delivers immediate intensity. We loved that they offer such a variety of red hues to choose from, and we settled on 080 Red Smile for testing – a softer alternative to pillar-box red that works well with pale skin.

It’s certainly a spenny option, particularly since Dior recommends using the polish with their base and top coat for best results, and that’s before you even consider adding their apricot oils or creams to the mix. However, the result is a glass-like finish that will far outlast your regular manicure.

Key details – No. of shades: 24; Bottle size: 10ml; Base coat required: Yes; Top coat required: Yes; UV required: No; Cruelty-free: No

Check price at John Lewis

3. Rimmel London Super Gel: Best budget gel nail polish

Price when reviewed: £6.99 | Check price at Boots

Best gel nail polish Rimmel London Super Gel

If you just can’t be without colour on your nails, you’ll want to stock up on Rimmel’s affordable Super Gel polishes. Though it promised up to 14 days’ wear, we found it only lasted nine days before chipping; however, when we were ready to take it off, removal couldn’t have been easier – the colour was gone in a single swipe with a regular polish remover.

There’s an array of hues to choose from, most of which we found to be thick, glossy and opaque. While you won’t need to worry about applying a base coat (don’t worry – there’s no staining either), a top coat is still recommended to keep your nails looking shiny and chip-free. But for less than the price of lunch, we don’t think you’ll mind.

Key details – No. of shades: 29; Bottle size: 12ml; Base coat required: No; Top coat required: Yes; UV required: No; Cruelty-free: Yes

4. butter London Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquer: Best gel polish for high shine

Price when reviewed: £15 | Check price at Sephora

Best gel nail polish Butter London Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquer

As one of the more expensive gel polishes on our list, we had high hopes for butter London’s lacquers and were suitably impressed. The application was smooth and, even without a base coat or top coat, the silky, mirror-like finish lasted for more than a week. There’s a decent range of rich, glossy shades to choose from too – the matcha-inspired Good Vibes was a favourite.

If you suffer from sensitivities, it’s worth noting that butter London’s gel polishes are free from formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin – ingredients that are still used in preserving some cosmetics and often used to add shine and durability to a polish. Instead, you’ll find only nail-loving ingredients, including diamond powder to brighten, UV absorbers to help fight colour fade and bamboo extract to help promote stronger nails.

Key details – No. of shades: 35; Bottle size: 11ml; Base coat required: No; Top coat required: No; UV required: No; Cruelty-free: Yes

5. essie Gel Couture Longwear High Shine: Best gel nail polish for shade range

Price when reviewed: £9.99 | Check price at LookFantastic

Best gel nail polish essie Gel Couture Longwear High Shine

If you live for bright fingertips, you’ll love essie’s Gel Couture in V.I.Please – a vibrant purple pink that became our colour of choice during testing. That said, the brand has more than 50 colours to choose from and is known for its beautiful selection of neutrals as much as its bolder offerings, so even if you prefer a more understated look, essie has a shade for you.

The rich, opaque colour glides on smoothly and we loved how the ergonomic design of the bottle allows for easy holding as you paint and also means you can get every last drop when you reach the end. Follow up with a generous layer of their coordinating top coat and your fingertips will look like you’ve come straight from the salon.

Key details – No. of shades: 50+; Bottle size: 13.5ml; Base coat required: No; Top coat required: Yes; UV required: No; Cruelty-free: No

6. Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro: Best glitter gel nail polish

Price when reviewed: £18 | Check price at Sephora

Best gel nail polish Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro

If you’re looking for a hue that’s more festive than a red robin on a glitterball, allow us to point you in the direction of Deborah Lippmann’s Gel Lab Pro in “Fallin’”, a sparkly silver shade that’s sure to shine.

The flat, tapered brush makes for a dexterous application, even with shaky hands, and we were pleasantly surprised with how quickly this dried and how long it lasted. Of course, Deborah Lippmann recommends that you apply it in conjunction with a thin layer of their base coat and a thin layer of their top coat, which will triple the already not-insignificant cost of this gel. However, since all of the Gel Lab Pro polishes are cruelty-free and vegan, and formulated with ingredients designed to promote nail health – including keratin, green tea extract, rice protein, bamboo and carnauba wax – the extra spend could be worth it.

Key details – No. of shades: 50+; Bottle size: 15ml; Base coat required: Yes; Top coat required: Yes; UV required: No; Cruelty-free: Yes

7. Mylee Complete Professional Gel Nail Polish Kit: Best complete gel nail polish kit

Price when reviewed: £90 | Check price at Amazon

Best gel nail polish Mylee Complete Professional Gel Nail Polish Kit

This kit provides you with all the tools you need for a flawless, long-lasting manicure. Complete with a Pro LED lamp, four nail polish shades, base coat, top coat, a bottle of nail prep solution, gel polish remover and lint-free wipes, this is as comprehensive as it gets and great for anyone who enjoys regular manicures.

While the price point might not be for everyone, we think this is great value for money, particularly if you’re someone who frequently pays upwards of £30 for a professional mani – it pays for itself in just a few uses.

Much like the ones you see in salons, the lamp is straightforward to use and spacious enough to fit a whole hand underneath quite comfortably. We also loved the colours that came with this set – particularly Diva, a gorgeously glossy, deep, dark red. As expected, the texture of the polish is quite thick, so go in with a light touch as the results will be longer-lasting if you build up thin layers.

Key details – No. of shades: 4 included, with over 200 available; Bottle size: 10ml; Base coat required: Yes (included); Top coat required: Yes (included); UV required: Yes (included); Cruelty-free: Yes

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