I’m finally a DIYer! My First DIY Gel Manicure

So y’all know I’ve always said I’m not a DIYer, I’m a buyer. I’m not the crafty type, probably because I’m too impatient and a bit of a perfectionist. So sewing my own curtains or refinishing a yard-sale find? Uh, never.

For the last few years, I’ve been partaking of (READ: addicted to) salon-created gel manicures; I love the weeks of cushiony, gleaming, chip-proof, practically bullet proof color and shine they provide. I love walking out of the nail salon and being able to buckle myself into my car seat without the fear of mangling a nail. I love that I can wear my nails long and they won’t break.

But that UV LIGHT it takes to cure gel nails…it’s been freaking this sun-phobe out from day one. Even wearing fingerless gloves did not make me feel safer or better about that aspect of it. I don’t care how many doctors have said it’s a minimal amount of UV. I just couldn’t reconcile it. And then there’s the hassle of booking in with my nail girl. And the expense. I needed a solution.

Shifting to DIY

After a brief stint with acrylics (cheaper, gorgeous, but brutal on the nails…plus I couldn’t pick up my bobby pins, they were so thick), and a couple months rehabbing my nails, I got sick of painting every four of five days. Sure, I used to do it all the time prior to 2010, but now I’m spoiled. I thought, something’s got to give. 

acrylic nails with red tips
My Lana Del Rey-inspired acrylics and Alexander McQueen ring.

I knew LED-cured gel systems existed, but my hesitation was always the pain-in-the-you-know-whatty removal process. Then I reasoned with myself. Taking 15-to-20 minutes to remove gels every three weeks sure beats the hell out of removing your polish and repainting every four days (that’s FIVE times in 21 days, plus drying time, etc.). So I started researching. What was best? Sensationail? Red Carpet Manicure? Sally Hansen?

After Googling for the best LED lamps and systems, I happened upon DIY Gel Nails at home by Melissa of Lulu & Sweet Pea. I knew the process for gel manis, having had them so many times, so I didn’t need that info…if you do, check out her posts. Melissa is actually a trained nail tech, and she provides ample details and photos if you want to tackle a gel mani on your own, but aren’t totally sure of the steps.

I wanted to know which lamp and system to buy, and when I read on Melissa’s site that my favorite gel nail polish, Gelish, could be cured with UV or LED, I was sold. Although she cured hers with a UV light, I knew Gelish + LED was for me. I called my Mom and persuaded her to pony up her Sally card so I could buy my set-up with a discount. Gel fanatic that she is, she obliged.

Stocking Your At-Home Salon

In Melissa’s post referenced above, she noted her initial cost was $125, with the Sally discount. Mine was about $140 with my mom’s pro discount. I bought:

Also necessary is rubbing alcohol, but I already had that on hand, and it’s not more than a buck or two anyway. Melissa calls for 99% isopropyl alcohol; mine was only 91% and it worked just fine, for the record.

Essentials for a DIY gel mani.
Essentials for a DIY gel mani.

The Savings

Does $125 or $140 sound like a big outlay to you? Melissa broke down the cost in her DIY Gel Nails at home post as well. She estimates $35 per visit every two weeks, which is about right for me. That’s $910 a year spent on gel manicures. She estimates $125 twice a year, or $250 annually, for the initial investment and restocking, which is an average of $9.62 a manicure.

But I think it’s even less. You won’t be buying the LED lamp twice a year, so assuming you get the lamp at a discount, that’s $250 minus $65, which is $185. At-home gel manicures every two weeks for a total cost of $185 annually is $7.11 per manicure. That is so much better than $35 per manicure! Worth the investment, I say.

The Result

So how was my first experience painting and curing gel on my own nails? Super! And super easy! I have a pretty steady hand when it comes to painting my nails, so that helps. That and the wooden stick I use to clean up polish on my cuticles as I go.

Each layer (foundation, two coats of color, and top coat) was cured for 45 seconds in between, and it was rock-solid by the time I was done. These are the results immediately after the manicure (could have tidied my cuticles a bit more; this is prior to finishing with cuticle oil), but anyway…

Gelish gel color in Go Girl.
Gelish gel color in Go Girl.

I can’t believe how ridiculously simple the whole process was. I’m looking at my fingers at this moment, five days later, and my nails are still perfect. No chips, no lifting…just a little bit of growth. I even gave my mom a gel mani. This is the best thing, like, ever!

My mom (who is my hairdresser) and I now have an arrangement: I do her gel manis, she keeps coloring/cutting my hair for free. Uh, who am I kidding? I owe her for a lifetime of hair services! I’ll never be able to pay her back, but at least I can save her  a little money, and have some fun mother-daughter time.

The Verdict

Just do it! You’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!


  1. So, I am horrendous at painting my own nails. Seriously bad. BUT my sister is amazing at it… this could actually be a pretty great gift for her (and then when I am back in the States I will reap the benefits).

  2. The gel manicure looks great. That ring is fierce.I have always been cautious of using it because I didn’t know if it would damage my nails. How easy is it to remove the gel coat ? How does your nails look after you remove the gel? I have been looking at Mally Beauty gel nail system.

    1. Hi love, I will admit that removing gels isn’t the easiest thing. I’ve done it before. The key is to not be impatient, and just soak for 10 minutes or so, and gently scrape it all off. They are definitely easier to remove than acrylics, though.

      Your nails look fine after you remove the gels. But if you keep removing and re-doing gels, it does take its toll. They say you’re supposed to let your nails recover like every other mani, but it’s hard to do that. They really are addictive. Another good thing about doing them yourself, however, is you aren’t at the mercy of an overzealous or rough manicurist. You don’t have to file as hard as they sometimes do. So your nails don’t take as much of a beating.

  3. I still haven’t tried gel polish at all….my collection of polish and my unwillingness to stick to a color for more than 3days has put me off for the time being. Although I’ve heard you can do this process with regular nail polish and just the gel top coat.

    Your nails look fab as always 🙂

    1. Hi Whitney! Yes, you can layer regular polish between gels, or just do clear gel and paint polish on top. Why would you want to do that? Because unlike polishing on natural nails, the polish sticks to the gel and does not chip. It may show some wear at the edges, but that’s it.

      Thanks, love!

  4. Wow both manicures look amazing. I’m super impressed with the one you did it looks as good as any professional mani I’ve seen people rocking. I loved how you broke down the costs as well, definitely worth the initial investment.

  5. I must say, I am am very impressed with this V. Now, this is an area that I usually have no patience for, and goto a professional. But, if it’s this simple, I am definitely interested. Your manicure looks topnotch and I love the info you gave about it as well. Hope you’re having a fab summer! 🙂

    1. Hey love, thank you! It really is that simple. I love the splurge of a pro handling my nails…now with the money I’m saving on manicures, I can spoil myself with pro pedis more often.

      Hope your summer is fab too!

  6. this is awesome. i am going to give it a go with lulu’s tips. i have the exact same kit as you do and bought it 6 months ago only to use it once because i couldn’t get the right result… but i see now that (as i imagined) i was too impatient and cut corners. thanks for the push to try again, v! x

    1. So you are already set up? Go for it, sweets! It takes a little practice, but you can do it. I’ve done three so far, and my results are getting better each time in terms of durability and neatness. This next time I’m going to “fill-in” my white mani using Melissa’s guide. Can’t wait to see your results…hope you will Instagram them. 🙂

  7. Your nails came out great!!!! So glad the tutorial helped. By the way- I switched to the Gelish LED lamp a few months ago too- I just need to update my blog post! LOVE the LED over UV any day. UV bothered me too- even with the sunscreen & stuff.

    Can’t wait to see more gel manis! I tried out one of the Sally Hansen gel colors (sandwiched between the Gelish base & topcoat) & had great results with it! My next step is trying out some simple nail art using gels 🙂 Thanks for the links & whatnot to my blog!

    1. Hi Melissa! Yeah, good to hear you switched to LED. So much better, and super fast too.

      Will have to check out the Sally Hansen colors too…have you done the gel strips sandwiched? I am curious about that as well.

      And you’re welcome for the links. Your posts were so informative, and since I’m not a tutorial kind of blogger, they are a great resource for any readers who want to learn how to do gels at home.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  8. That sums up me..not doing nail colors because they look disgusting in a few days. At the end of 2015, I picked up a variety of Jamberry nail wraps and was given the heater as a gift. So I’ll be trying that soon.

    I’ve considered Gels for some time, but never made the time to really look it up. Gel looks awesome. I’ll have to give it shot now.

    1. Nina, I actually just discovered a system even better than gels called SNS. It’s like a gel/acrylic hybrid, but it doesn’t smell and require painful removal like acrylics, and it doesn’t require a light to cure it like gels.

      Honestly, it’s pretty amazing! It has the hardness of acrylics which is nice…gels do bend and show lines in them after a week or so, if your nails are longer. It doesn’t lift like acrylics tend to. It also requires no paint, as it is applied using a dipping-in-powder system…so there is no worrying about dry time or ruining your nails as you leave the salon. Removal just requires a little soaking in acetone. It also (supposedly) has vitamins in it, and comes in dozens and dozens of colors.

      You can see my first SNS mani here: https://www.instagram.com/p/_fVh0Al-wO/

      SNS is a little more expensive, but so worth it!