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How to Do a Gel Manicure

Updated on September 19, 2011
Gel manicure on day 4
Gel manicure on day 4 | Source

What is a gel manicure?

A gel manicure is a method of painting nails using a special gel polish that is tough, long lasting and beautiful. Gel nail polish is formulated to produce a virtually chip-resistant finish with high shine that is the holy grail of manicures.

Gel can be applied to bare nails or to false tips to create any kind of look you would like. One of the benefits of gel is that because each layer is cured, wet layers can be "edited" by wiping parts off with rubbing alcohol without damaging the already-cured layers. This makes it a lot easier to create fanciful designs, if you want.

Here, I give a detailed guide to doing a basic gel manicure without any artificial tips or designs.


To successfully create a great gel manicure, you'll need the following:

  1. UV light (either battery-operated or plug-in)
  2. Gel base coat (I use Red Carpet Manicure in Structure.)
  3. Gel nail polish
  4. Gel topcoat (I use Red Carpet Manicure in Brilliant.)
  5. Rubbing alcohol
  6. Orange stick
  7. Cotton balls

Prep Work

Start by removing all traces of previous polish, trimming and shaping your nails how you'd like them. Next, push back your cuticles with the orange stick. If you want to use a cuticle softener, then do that and push them back according to the directions on that product.

Wash your hands and dry them thoroughly. Make sure your nails are as clean and dry as you can get them. I like finishing the prep with a nail prep solution that really dries out the nails. You could use rubbing alcohol for this step, too, just make sure it has all evaporated before you start applying polish.

Gel manicure on day 4
Gel manicure on day 4 | Source

The Manicure

As you get started, always remember you can remove the gel with rubbing alcohol before it is cured. After curing, you will have to use acetone which will likely ruin the manicure on that nail.

This stuff is heavy duty, so do not let it touch your skin-- especially if you have any open sores near your nails. Be sure to use very little gel. It is better to start with too little than to try to remove excess. Note that the gel base coat will spread to cover your nail. Take your time and get familiar with how it behaves on the nail.

Step 1: Apply the base coat to the first four nails.  "Cap" the free ends of your nails with a little gel to seal the layer. Failing to do this will result in an open edge that is more prone to chipping or even ripping off. Cure your nails for 1 minute. Be sure to expose the free edge of the nail to UV light as well, to ensure that part cures.

Move on to the other hand and do four nails. Cure them for 1 minute. Then do the thumbs and cure them for 1 minute.

Step 2: Apply the gel polish. Use the same technique as you did for the base coast, using very thin layers. You may notice the surface of your nails is tacky-- it is supposed to be! Don't worry! This layer will need to be cured for 2 minutes. Cure between each layer.

Step 3: Apply the topcoat. Use the same technique again, capping the nails and curing for 2 minutes. Again, make sure you get light exposure on the tips of your nails to cure the polish there as well!

Step 4: Wipe with rubbing alcohol. Using the cotton balls (or other low-fiber applicator), wipe each nail with rubbing alcohol. This will remove the tackiness and leave your nails with a brilliant shine.


To remove a gel manicure, it is best to soak it for a while. The way to do that is to take an emery board and rough up the top layer of polish. Don't sand too much-- you don't want to take all the polish off this way! That would ruin your nails!

Next, soak some cotton in acetone and press it onto the nails. You can wrap the cotton onto the nail with tape to hold it into place. Leave it in place for 10 to 15 minutes.

While pressing down on the nail a bit, pull off the cotton. You should see much of the manicure pull off at that time. For what's left, use more acetone to remove the polish and use an orange stick to gently scrape off the stubborn bits. With enough patience, your nails should be in great condition after removing the gel polish.

You're then ready for your next beautiful gel manicure!


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    • profile image

      Janeth 5 years ago

      Its seems very easy but it all depends how good people can do it

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Good job explaining this process, amazingchild. voted useful and interesting.

    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Hi amazing child,

      These steps seem really simple to do a gel manicure. I thought it would be a lot trickier than that! Thanks for the easy instructions.


    • amazingchild profile image

      amazingchild 6 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      Thanks for reading!

    • jloeding profile image

      jloeding 6 years ago from Lafayette, LA

      Your nails look beautiful, and your instructions make it seem fairly easy. Very informative Hub.