beauty

Do at-home gel top coats actually work?

Image via iStock.

The promise of long-lasting, chip-free nails that don’t require fortnightly visits to the salon seems too good to be true. And until now they have been.

But some new gel-effect top coats are making it easier and cheaper to have shiny, salon-like nails without dropping $50 every fortnight. So do they actually work?

The $12 wonder drops that dry your nails instantly.

Well, yes and no. I’ve been testing out several brands and kits of late and here’s what I reckon is worthwhile and what’s not.

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Top Coat.

Sally Hansen’s Gel Top Coat comes in 18 shades from nudes and pastels to brights and darks, so there is a decent shade range to choose from. I tried both ‘Sugar Fix’, a pastel blue, and ‘Malibu Peach’, a peachy coral.

You apply two coats of colour – I found this was enough for the blue, but the softer peach shade required three coats – and wait for each to dry. I found this took roughly 10 minutes or a bit longer than a regular polish. You then ‘set’ it with the Miracle Gel Top Coat – you don’t need to cure this under a uv lamp, just daylight or a reasonably lit living room will do the trick. You remove this one with regular nail polish (acetone and acetone-free) remover, and you don’t need to soak or wrap the nails.

The genius tool for people who can’t paint their nails.

The results for me were a bit unbalanced. The pastel blue shade lasted eight days before chipping, but I only got five days from the coral colour before it started chipping at the tops of my nails. I’m not sure if it’s because I had more coats on the coral colour or I was doing more with my nails that week. I did love the shine though, and found it was almost identical to a salon finish.

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Price: $16.95 each, available at Priceline and selected pharmacies.

Revlon Colourstay Gel Envy.


The first big tick is that these polishes are free of nasties like formaldehyde, Toluene and DBP, and the second is that the smell doesn’t make your eyes water.

Revlon’s Gel Envy polishes are also a two-step process, a special base colour and top coat, like the Sally Hansen range. Firstly to the positives: I did love the colour. It comes in a vast 30 shades, which is great for different skin tones. It’s highly pigmented, which means that I only had to use one coat (an excellent time-saver for any impatient folks like me). I tried High Roller, a stellar dark navy, and Checkmate, a warm grey that unfortunately made my nails look anemic.

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The shine is actually equivalent to a salon manicure. I did find that this one peeled off after four days, and had almost completely gone (ok, I picked it off) by day five. You can also remove it with your regular nail polish remover.

Price: $15.95 each, available at Priceline.

Mecca Gel-Effect top coat.

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This one was my favourite, mostly because it can be used over the top of regular nail polishes. i.e. any of the other 87 nail polishes already own. This one is a gel-effect topcoat so I wasn’t expecting it to last as long as the Sally Hansen and Revlon two-step polishes but it does. I got 10 days out of this manicure before it started to chip off.

Price: $22 or $38 in a set of two pictured above, available at Mecca Cosmetica.

A word on at-home nail kits.

Since the nail world has moved on to gel top coats since at-home gel kits were invented, you’d have to be a serious nail junkie to invest in one now.

But since I’d never deny you in your quest to find the best long-lasting nail polish for you, the SensatioNail Starter Kit, $71.95, is my top pick. I’ve also tried the Opallac at-home kit, $99.95, but I found the time needed to cure the polish was so labourious that it ended up taking me over two hours to do both hands.

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Have you tried at-home gel top coats or kits? Let me know in the comments which ones are your fave.

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