How to Do Gel Nails: A Complete Guide

Your Go-To Guide for Gel Nail Perfection 

Looking for a great way to do your nails at home? Gel nails are a perfect pick. Gel-based nail polish is famous for its durability and the creative potential that comes along with it. From this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about doing your own gel nails, including the best tools, polishes, and more. In addition, we’ll cover some eye-catching design ideas to try if you’re aiming to get extra creative.

Why Should You Do Your Own Gel Nails? It’s Fun! 

Doing your nails is rewarding, relaxing, and fun. It’s a fantastic form of self-care, a way to prioritize some “you time” while being creative and constructive. Like any good project, once you’ve finished painting your nails, you can look proudly at the finished product and feel accomplished.

When you first start getting into at-home gel nails, there’s a bit of a learning curve, as there is with any new skill. However, once you get past the initial learning period, it’s extremely relaxing. You can chill out while painting your nails and even put on a favorite movie or show in the background to make a perfect evening at home. The learning process is fun, too – each time you successfully do your own gel nails, your skill level and confidence will keep growing.

In addition to being a great way to hang out solo at home, doing gel nails is a great girls’ night activity. Once you’ve mastered the art of gel nails, you can invite friends over for a manicure night, teaching everyone else in your circle the coveted skill you’ve learned. Everyone loves a good manicure, and when you can do your own, you’ll be the life of the party for sure.

...It’s Cheaper, Too 

Going for a professional manicure can be a luxurious experience, but it has a big price tag attached to it. When you’re trying to save money, it’s a much better idea to give yourself a manicure at home. Keep reading to learn how to master the art of doing gel nails. Your wallet will thank you.

At-Home Gel Nails: The First Steps

Before you put nail polish on, you always want to make sure your nails are prepped and cared for. This part of the process may seem like a chore, but it’s surprisingly relaxing. Taking good care of your nails is a great idea regardless, and prepping them for gel polish will get them in tip-top shape.

The first step in the nail prepping process is to push back your cuticles with a specialized tool. A cuticle tool is a small, metal tool that looks a bit like a little flathead scalpel. You can find one for cheap at your local beauty store.

Once you have a cuticle tool, gently push your cuticles back towards your knuckles with it. This motion shouldn’t take too much pressure or intensity, and it’s always best to be gentle with your fingers – they’re some of the most sensitive parts of your body! When you’ve finished pushing back your cuticles, your fingernails should look more even and symmetrical, leaving plenty of room for easy spreading of polish.

If you’re thinking about trimming your cuticles, make sure you only do so if it’s necessary. Overzealous trimming can make your fingers bleed, meaning you’ll have to wait for them to heal before you can use nail polish. Start with pushing your cuticles back before attempting to trim them – save that as a last resort.

Next, it’s time to shape your nails. Shaping is instrumental in getting your nails looking clean and symmetrical. Unlike acrylic nails, which artificially make your fingernails look longer and more defined, gel nail polish simply coats your nails. For this reason, it’s especially important to shape your nails to your desired length and look when doing gel nails.

After you’ve trimmed and shaped your nails,  you’ll finish off the prep stage by buffing your nails with a soft nail buffer and using primer. The combination of buffing and dehydrating  your nails removes excess moisture or oil from the surface of your nails that might interfere with the gel polish. Include primer or bonder to ensure adhesion. 

Painting Your Nails 

Now that you’ve made it through the prep stage, it’s time to paint your nails. Be sure to use proper care not to touch the skin while the polish is being applied.  Do not touch or flood the cuticle area with polish to avoid peeling or lifting. 

Before you start with colored polish, you need to apply a clear base coat to each nail and cure. The base layer will need to cure before you can start polishing your nails to avoid contact with your skin when applying the base coat.

Now, it’s time to put on your first layer of polish. With a brush, gently cover each nail with a thin coating of polish. With this first layer, your nails will still look far from done – there’s still a ways to go in the process. After you finish the first coat, cure your nails under a UV light for 60 seconds

Some gel polish can be used as a one coat coverage. Depending on how opaque you want your gel nails to be. Either top coat glossy or a matte top coat. With each layer cure under a UV light for 60 seconds. At times, some nails will get drier than others when cured, especially those on your fingers, as opposed to your thumbs. If this occurs, you can cure your thumbs separately under the light.

Design Ideas

If you’re feeling daring and want to get extra creative, you can top off your gel nails with a wide array of designs. To do gel nail art, you’ll typically be using a small, fine brush called a liner brush or a dotting tool.   The dotting tool allows you to add tiny details to the surface of each nail without smudging or crowding the small canvas that each nail provides you. Confidence and willingness to experiment are key when it comes to nail art, and you might have to endure a few less-than-perfect attempts before you get it down. It’s worth it, though!

You can use a dotting tool or liner brush to add polka dots, stripes, and even floral designs to your nails. By dipping the dotting tool in polish of a different color than the one you used on your nails, you can create a contrast between your nails and the designs. Dots or stripes are a great place to start your nail art journey. You don’t have to do anything crazy and elaborate at the beginning!

Removing Gel Nails

When it’s time to remove your gel nails, you’ll start by working with a file before you open up that nail acetone. Use a file to rub off the top layer of your nails, exposing the bottom layers and making them easier to remove. After the top layer is gone, it is much easier to use acetone to remove the rest of the polish. 

Next, take five individual cotton balls and soak them in 100% acetone solution. You want to make sure you’re using acetone for this step. Acetone is a solvent that works extremely effectively for dissolving nail polish. Once you’ve soaked the cotton balls, place one on each nail, and wrap it in a small strip of tin foil. The tin foil will hold the cotton ball in place on each nail and allow it to work at dissolving the nail polish.

Once your nails are wrapped with the acetone-soaked cotton balls sitting on top of them, let them sit for fifteen minutes. After you remove the foil and cotton balls, the majority of the nail polish will have dissolved. After you’ve done this for one hand, switch to your other hand and do the same. The whole process will take about a half-hour, so take the opportunity to enjoy a show or some music while you wait.

Finally, you can use a cuticle tool to remove any remaining gel polish from your nails. At this point, your nails should be looking all clear again. After your first time doing gel nails, take some time to reflect and figure out what you might do differently next time. It’s all about enjoying the process and leveling up your skill level as time goes by!