Ive saved over £1k by doing my own gel nails – heres how you can too with minimal skill

With the ever-rising prices of gas, groceries and general life expenses, it's harder than ever to justify spending on little luxuries for ourselves. Whether it's an eyebrow treatment, hair highlights or a monthly mani, most of us will say we have at least one treatment we don't want to give up for the sake of money-saving. For me, it's manicures.

I love having my nails done; the process of a manicure, the look of the polish and then the satisfaction I get from having them stay chip-free in the weeks following. A shellac or a gel mani is something that makes me feel more put together, and it's something I have done to stay low-maintenance for weeks at a time.

The only downside? Priced from £35 upwards for regular shellac in a nail salon – with some cuticle work and shaping – I was spending a minimum of £70 each month on my nails. That's a minimum of £840 per year, and probably a total of around £1k if you count the times I got nail art or acrylics to lengthen a broken nail.

You may notice I swapped to the past tense there, and that's because I've spent nothing close to £1000 this year, despite the fact I've had perfectly manicured nails since last December. How, you might ask? I learnt how to do my own nails.

"But I've tried and they never last", I can practically hear you say. I thought the same back when I tried, along with the rest of the country, to do my own gels back in the 2020 lockdowns. My polish simply peeled off a few days after I painstakingly spent hours applying the layers and curing it under a lamp. Now, after some practice and some very useful intel, I can share how you can save yourself a small fortune by following in my footsteps. I promise you, it's all very simple, and after an initial upfront cost to get the equipment, you have everything you need to have polish that lasts 2-3 weeks at a time.

Here's exactly what you need to know…

How to do a home gel manicure

1. You need a good LED lamp

I promise you that choosing a good light-curing lamp will make a huge difference in how long your nails last. If you buy a cheap, small lamp with no base to it, it often won't be powerful enough to really set each layer of polish. Have a look at the options available in your price range, or shop the exact one I have: Mylee's Pro Salon Series Convex LED Lamp, currently £47.50 here.

I'd recommend spending a little more on Mylee's The Full Works Complete Gel Polish Kit, currently £99.99 here, because it includes a base coat, a top coat, polish remover, polish prep liquid, cuticle oil and eight gel polish shades. You'd have to buy these individually anyway so you're getting a great deal by investing in the full kit.

2. The polish you choose matters

…and sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error. I've splurged on big-brand gel polishes before that didn't last nearly as long as a shade I picked up from eBay, for example. Now, I go to Amazon for all my polish needs because I know they'll arrive the following day and I'm able to read all of the reviews before I buy a brand I haven't used before.

My current favourite long-lasting gel polishes include:

*For colours: MAYCHAO Gel Nail Polish, £5.99 each here in a choice of 68 colours.

*For French nails or gelly nail looks (more sheer than a block gel colour): Vishine 4Pcs Jelly Nude Pink Milky White Rose Gel Nail Polish Set, £8.99 here – the ballet pink will give you a very similar look to OPI's popular salon shade, Bubble Bath.

*For base and top coats: MYGEL by Mylee Nail Gel Polish Top & Base Coat, £15.99 here for the duo.

3. It's all in the application

You'll know the general application method from having had your nails professionally done, but here it is in short: wash your hands thoroughly so your fingers are free from any oil and dirt, file your nails into a desired shape, push back your cuticles, buff each nail properly, apply a dehydrator, apply one layer of base coat and cure it for 60 seconds, apply one layer of gel polish and cure it for 60 seconds, apply a second layer of gel polish and cure it for 60 seconds, and finally apply a top coat and cure that for 60 seconds.

Most of us will know this, but if you're following that system and you're still finding your nails are chipping and peeling off, here's where you may be going wrong.

*A dehydrator, also called a primer, is an essential step before you apply any nail polish as it gives your nails a good base for the polish to stick to. You can pick one up for £3.99 here from Amazon.

* You need to buff your nails to ensure oils are removed and the surface of each nail is smooth and ready for polish application.

* Your polish layers have to be thin and you have to make sure you apply it neatly enough (this includes the base and top coats) to avoid any getting on your nail beds or skin, as this can cause your polish to peel off.

4. Elevate your nails with extras

Once you feel confident you've mastered regular gel polish, you can have so much fun playing around with other looks. I recently added chrome to my manicures and it's been a game-changed. Last month I tried out a Hailey Bieber-inspired cherry glazed nail look, and I also love putting a chrome top (mine is £5.50 here) over a light pink or a white to give a more traditional glazed donut mani.

If you want to try out French nails or polka dot/wavy detailing, I recommend shopping a brush kit (like this £3.79 one here) to make sure you get precise results.

5. Stay safe

There's a lot of talk in the industry right now about the risk of skin damage on the hands as a result of over-exposure to UV/LED lamps. Many argue that the risk is minimal considering the hands are only in for seconds at a time and exposure isn't on a daily basis, however, you can still air on the side of caution by ordering some special protective gloves like these £7.99 ones here.

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