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How to Apply Gel Polish- Advice from a Licensed Professional

Updated on March 2, 2015

What to Know Beforehand

There is a certain commitment with gel polish nails. The whole process takes about an hour and a half. This fluctuates based upon skill-level. Once they are all done, you have to clean with caution. Always wear gloves when you're cleaning with chemicals or washing dishes. Be prepared to moisturize your hands and cuticles regularly. I always recommend investing in a quality vegan, organic, phthalates-free, paraben-free moisturizer. Also, try not to use your nails as tools. My teacher in school always said, "treat you nails as jewels, not tools".

Buy Your Supplies

I have used a few different lines- both professional and otherwise. For this article I will be using Finger Paints Gel Polish. It's easily-accessible, affordable, and simple. You don't have to have any license to purchase this product and it's a great brand. There are a lot of fun, funky colors and glitters. I have Sally Beauty Supply stores in my area so I've purchased the majority of my product there. If you don't have one in your area they do have a website. Amazon is a good resource as well.

Necessary Supplies- metal cuticle pusher, cuticle nippers, medium-grit file, coarse-grit file (or crystal file), fine-grit buffer, alcohol (70%-99%), chip-free bonder, gel polish base coat, gel polish (color), gel polish top coat, 12w LED lamp (with timer), solar oil, fine paint brushes, acetone, lint-free cotton pads, cotton balls, aluminum foil, elmers glue, and glitter if you like (either loose glitter or a gel polish glitter).


Use the metal cuticle pusher to push back the cuticle of each nail plate. Use cuticle nippers to clip off any excess dead skin. Do not trim any live tissue as it can turn to scar tissue over time.

Use the metal cuticle pusher to gently scrape the shiny layer of tissue off of your nail plate. Make sure there is no shiny tissue left on the nail plate. Scrape all the way into the sidewalls of each nail. Remove and deadened, remaining tissue with your cuticle pusher (or a curette, if that's how you roll).

Use a coarse-grit file to shape your nails. Always file lightly.

★Try to avoid touching your nail plates. The oils on you skin can harm the integrity of the gel polish.

Clean any gunk out from under the edges of your nail plates with your cuticle pusher.

Use the curved edge of your medium file to buff the entirety of each nail plate. Use the fine-course buffer to buff each nail plate. Make sure to use a corner of the buffing block to clean around the edges. Again, scrape off remaining dead tissue with your cuticle pusher.

Soak one of your lint free pads in alcohol. Scrub each of your nail plates generally with the alcohol. Use multiple pads if need be.

Apply your chip-free bonder on each nail plate. Try to keep the bonder off of your nails. If you get overly exposed to chemicals used in this process you can develop allergies. Put the bonder closer to the tips of your nails, rather than the base.

Your nails should be looking pretty roughed up at this point. Fear not; they will be beautiful again once more.

Nail Shapes!

Would you ever try stiletto nails?

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Applying the Gel Polish

☆Base Coat- Apply a thin, thin layer of base coat on each nail plate except for the thumb*. Make sure to follow through to the tips of your nails to coat over the edges just slightly. At first, I would suggest doing one hand at a time. Make sure not to get any on your skin or cuticle. Leave a very thin frame around the nail plate clean. Use a fine-tipped brush to clean around this frame. A light touch will go a long way. Use a dry brush or a brush dipped in acetone and blotted almost dry. Once you are satisfied with your base coat, place your hand in the LED light for 30 seconds. I suggest buying a light with a timer. It's easy to get distracted and lose track. Once the timer goes off the light will turn off automatically. Always read the info that comes with your lights though.

*We will be doing both thumbs last.

☆Color Gel Polish- Follow the same process as above. Once this coat is cured you will do another of the same color. After your second coat of color is cured, examine your work so far. If you are doing a lighter color this is probably enough. If it's a darker color you may want to do a third coat of color. If you choose to do this cure the third coat for 1 minute. If it's a red-toned color I highly recommend talking this extra step.

☆Glitter- This step is optional. This step is also amazing so stay tuned. If you are using a gel polish glitter you can just paint the same as the steps above and cure. If you are using loose glitter, you simply dip a fan brush in the glitter (i usually pour the glitter onto a lint-free cloth or small dish) and gently pat onto each nail. This is the only step where it doesn't really matter if the product gets on your skin. Once you're pleased with your glitter, you can move onto top coat. Be careful with your nails during this step. The reason the glitter sticks to the polish at this point is because it has a sticky top layer. This is a double edged sword because anything can stick to them at this point. One time I made the mistake of zipping up my jacket right before I was ready to apply the glitter. I was more smooth than James Bond but when I looked at my nails they were covered in cat hair. No thank you.

☆Top Coat- Follow the same process as described in the base coat set. Cure for 30 seconds.

☆Thumbs- Follow the same process as your fingers. I always do my thumbs together last because it gives a better angle in the light.

☆Clean up- Scrub each nail with lint-free pads soaked in alcohol. This will remove the final sticky top layer.

☆Do your other hand.

☆Massage hands with your moisturizer of choice. Finally, Drop solar oil onto each nail and massage it all around. They are immediately dry and look beautiful for weeks.

Removal Process

I make my own remover pads because it is insanely less expensive. Seriously, it's outrageous. I buy a huge bag of cotton balls from Amazon, buy dollar tin foil at Rite Aide, and use any bottle of glue in my house (except super glue). It costs next to nothing. Cut the aluminum foil into squares (around 4X4 inches), glue the cotton ball (or 2 depending on size) in the middle. I do this beforehand so the glue has time to dry.

To take off the gel polish, soak the cotton part in acetone and wrap the foil around your finger. The cotton should be positioned onto the nail plate. Let them soak for 10-20 minutes. You will be able to judge this timing better once you do it a few times. Everyone's nails are a little different. Finally, use your cuticle pusher to scrape any remaining reside off of your nails. If you're having trouble, soak them longer.

Have you had gel polish applied at a salon?

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If yes, were you pleased with the gel polish?

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Have you applied gel polish at home on yourself or a friend?

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If yes, were you pleased with your results?

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Has this article helped to improve your results or your knowledge on the subject?

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    Post Comment
    • Linzie Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

      Linzie Roberts 

      3 years ago from Port Angeles, Washington

      It's all about proper preparation. Your prep work should take twice as long as the actual painting.

    • Jasmeetk profile image

      Jasmeet Kaur 

      3 years ago from India

      I have tried gel pigments,but they peel of instantly.. any advice for it?

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      Thank you for the tips. I will be doing this at home now. Voted up and more, and in sure love the photos.


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