How to: At home gel manicure — Application, useful tips and removal

Opi Big Apple Gel Colour

OPI Big Apple Gel Colour

I love a good manicure but I’m always a bit scared of going to a salon to get my nails done, mainly, because some nail technicians tend to be quite rough with my nails and leave my nails very thin and brittle from over buffing.

I have had some good experiences. The most notable was at an OPI nail bar in the Birmingham Airport departures lounge. I went in asking for just a regular manicure but the nail tech recommended a gel manicure for longevity and the drying time. I explained to the nail tech that the nail buffing usually leaves my nails very brittle but she explained to me that with gel manicures, the nails only need to be buffed to remove the shine so there’s no need for so much buffing. She did the manicure and when I removed the gel myself a couple of weeks later, my nails were actually stronger than they were before. I was impressed.

Of course, I ended up getting my own gel manicure system when I realised that gel manicures don’t have to result in thin brittle nails. I’ve been doing at home gel manicures for over a year now and here’s what I use, how I do it and most importantly, some useful tips that I’ve learned.

OPI GEL System

Gel System — OPI Gel Color Base Coat, Top Coat, Big Apple Red Color and Avoplex oil

Things you’ll need

  1. Nail file
  2. Nail buffer
  3. Cuticle remover
  4. Cuticle pusher
  5. Cuticle cutter
  6. Alcohol wipes
  7. Sunscreen
  8. Gel Base Coat, Colour and Top Coat
  9. 36 Watt UV lamp
  10. Cuticle oil

How to apply a gel manicure

  1. First off, your hands will be exposed to UV light. To protect your skin against UV damage, apply a high SPF sunscreen 15 mins before putting your hand in the UV lamp.
  2. Next, file your nails to your desired shape.
  3. Apply cuticle remover and push back cuticles. Cut any excess cuticles.
  4. Lightly buff your nails. For gel nails you only need to remove the shine.
  5. Use an alcohol wipe to make sure that your nail bed is clean and free of any product.
  6. Apply a thin base coat and dry for 2 mins in the UV lamp.
  7. Apply a very thin layer of the colour gel and dry for 2 mins.
  8. Apply a second thin layer of gel colour and dry for 2 mins. Also making sure that you’re happy with the application before curing.
  9. Assess whether you’re happy with the coverage. If the colour is not as opaque as you want it to be, you might want to apply a third layer of colour and cure it again.
  10. When you’re happy with the colour and coverage, apply the top coat and cure it for 2 mins.
  11. After curing the top coat for 2 mins, I like to cure my polish for an extra 2 mins just to make sure that all the layers are properly cured.
  12. At the end of this, your nails will end up with a sticky film on them. Wipe this off with an alcohol wipe.
  13. Finally, apply cuticle oil and massage into cuticles.

Useful Tips

  1. While applying any of the coats, stay away from the cuticles and from the skin on the sides of your nail. If the gel goes on skin, it can lift and aside from making way for all sorts of nasties, your manicure won’t look nice for as long.
  2. When applying the gel colour remember that while the gel is not cured, it can be removed and/or manipulated very easily. Once it’s dried in the lamp, it can’t be fixed unless soaked in remover. Work slowly and in thin coats, and make sure that you’re happy with your application before curing.
  3. Gel colours are not made equal. Some cheap brands of gel colour are too harsh and much more difficult to soak off. My favourite gel colour brand is OPI. The gel colour is opaque and it removes very easily. It lasts for the 2-3 weeks that I want my manicure to last. Beyond that, I can’t handle the unsightly regrowth so I remove it.

Removing Gel Colour

To remove my gel nails, I like using the ready made OPI Expert Touch Professional Removal Wraps for Gels & Acrylics and the OPI Expert Touch Lacquer Remover. I apply some of the remover onto the fabric pads and wrap my nails with the wraps making sure that the fabric is covering the nails.

If you don’t want to use ready made wraps, simply soak some cotton in an acetone remover, put it over your nails and wrap in foil. I prefer the OPI remover over pure acetone because it has extra ingredients to prevent drying out your nails.

Let the nails soak for 15-25 minutes or until the gel colour has lifted from your nails. Then gently scrape it off. Don’t try to buff off the gel colour of force off the gel colour because that will damage your nails. If the gel colour is stronger, it will take much longer to soak off. I find that the OPI gel colour is particularly gentle and lifts very easily.

I hope that you found this post helpful and don’t forget to subscribe to this blog to never miss a post.


Updated: Swapped steps 3 & 4 of application. Thanks a lot to Lorraine Stagno from for suggesting the edit 🙂

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