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We Vetted the Best Gel Nail Kits of 2022 — These 5 Are Worth Buying

Yes, you can DIY professional gel nails with a beginner skillset.

best gel nail kits

This article was updated in September 2022 to include only products we believe meet the FDA’s Cosmetic Labeling Requirements, as vetted by the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab. We also included updated information on safety criteria to keep in mind.

Gel manicures feel like a special, fuss-free treat: Walk into a salon and walk out shortly after with glossy, smudge-proof nails that will last for weeks. Gel nails are different than traditional types of manicures because instead of waiting for your nail polish to air dry, a UV or LED light is used to cure or harden the gel lacquer in seconds. Gel manicures also tend to last longer than regular polishes. But gel manis aren't a luxury exclusive to salons — thanks to at-home gel nail kits, they can be done in the comfort of your own house.

While all different types of at-home nail kits virtually pay for themselves after one or two uses, the options can range from professional quality to beginner-friendly. To find the best gel nail kits, the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab pros vetted the most popular products on the market, ensuring our recommended picks have clear ingredient labels that follow the FDA’s Cosmetic Labeling Requirements. We reviewed each product’s packaging, including ingredient and warning labels, giving preference to products that clearly advise avoiding skin contact to prevent irritation caused by methacrylates, a known allergen and skin sensitizer included in every gel polish.

Note: All gel nail polishes use methacrylate polymerization technology to obtain the long lasting, chip resistant coating. While the 2005 Cosmetic Ingredient Review Report ruled methacrylates “safe as used in nail enhancements products when skin contact is avoided,” the study concludes that these ingredients are known to be skin sensitizers, so skin contact should be avoided.

Here are the top gel nail kits you can buy, according to reviewers and vetted for safety by our experts.

Our top picks:

Post-mani, we recommend using a hydrating cuticle oil and a top-rated hand cream — and a few weeks post-gel mani, be sure to follow our experts' instructions for how to remove gel nails at home without damaging your natural nails.

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      Best Overall Gel Nail Kit
      Red Carpet Manicure
      Pro 45 Starter Kit
      Red Carpet Manicure
      LED light Yes
      Nail polish colors included One
      Additional kit contents Nail primer, base coat, top coat, cuticle oil, pre- and post-application cleanser, gel polish remover, foil remover wraps, nail wipes, wood pushers, cuticle stick buffing strips, nail file
      Claimed dry time 45 seconds to three minutes
      Best Value Gel Nail Kit
      Sally Hansen
      Salon Pro Gel Starter Kit
      Sally Hanson
      LED light Yes
      Nail polish colors included One
      Additional kit contents Cleanser pads, base coat, top coat, gel polish remover, cuticle stick, buffer, alcohol cleaning pad
      Claimed dry time 30 seconds
      Best Professional Gel Nail Kit
      Gel Basic Kit
      LED light Yes
      Nail polish colors included Two
      Additional kit contents Base coat, top coat
      Claimed dry time Not listed
      Best Gel Nail Kit for Beginners
      Pro Kit
      LED light Yes
      Nail polish colors included Two
      Additional kit contents pH Bond, Foundation, Nourish, Top it Off, nail surface cleanser, artificial nail remover
      Claimed dry time 45 seconds
      Sally Hansen
      Miracle Gel Nail Polish
      Sally Hansen
      LED light No
      Nail polish colors included One
      Additional kit contents None
      Claimed dry time Five minutes
      How we test gel nail polish kits

      In the GH Beauty Lab, we have a century-plus worth of experience testing beauty products, including nail polish. In our last nail polish test, we sent over 174 polishes to consumers and evaluated more than 3,700 surveys and tested products both in the Lab and with consumer testers. In consumer tests, we ship products to testers who give honest feedback on factors including ease and evenness of application, dry time, resulting shininess, chip resistance throughout wear and, finally, ease of removal. In our Lab, we enlist a manicurist to professionally apply polish and give grades for ease of use, application and coverage while we record dry time every 30 seconds and measure gloss using a specialized gloss meter.

      For our evaluation of gel nail kits, our Beauty Lab pros assessed ingredient safety by checking them against the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) database, which classifies substances based on whether or not they may be carcinogenic, and California’s Proposition 65- the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Prop65) databases, which provide a list of substances that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. From there, we also reviewed, if available, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) safety assessments final reports for any ingredients that were red flags from our initial scan of the three databases.

      After thorough review of eight gel nail kits currently on the market, we found the only ones that will you gorgeous results and that you can feel good using, knowing they've been thoroughly vetted for safety by our pros, based on available data to date.

      Are at-home gel nail kits safe?

      As long as you know what to look for and what to avoid. We recommend that at a minimum, gel nail kits should contain packaging that meets FDA Cosmetic Labeling Requirements with a proper ingredient label on the primary packaging for the safety of the consumer. Here's what else to keep in mind when shopping:

      ✔️ Purchase gel nail kits from reputable retailers and brands. Based on our analysis, we found that some products sold on third-party retailer sites posed a safety concern to consumers as they did not have proper ingredient labels on primary packaging, did not clearly state the name and place of business and/or had misspelled ingredients on the ingredient label, which does not meet FDA Cosmetic Labeling Requirements. We suggest purchasing UV gel manicure kits from trusted brands like the ones included above, and, when shopping at third-party retailers like Amazon, be sure to check that the item is being sold by a reputable storefront or a verified brand marketplace.  

      ✔️ Avoid skin contact when applying gel polish. All of the ingredient labels on the gel nail kits we evaluated contained at least one methacrylate monomer, a known allergen. Consumers should avoid skin contact with these lacquers due to the sensitization potential. The good news is that any sensitization or contact dermatitis can be “resolved after removal ... or discontinuing work with gel manicures," according to a 2016 literature review in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. If any redness or irritation develops on skin or near eyes after gel application, completely remove the lacquer from the nails immediately.

      ✔️ Use the correct light source with your nail kit and follow manufacturer instructions. If the incorrect light source is used or if the time allowed for curing is not sufficient, higher levels of the acrylate monomers (which are allergens) may remain on the nail which can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Use kits as directed, but as a rule of thumb, use them in a well-ventilated area and keep away from heat, sun, open flames and reach of children.

      Is UV or LED light better for gel nails?

      Gel nail polishes are cured using UV or LED lamps and some gel nail polishes can even use both. While both are effective, according to the International Journal of Women's Dermatology, “LED lamps accomplish photocuring more quickly because they emit a narrower spectrum of light. However, UV lamps are less expensive and are therefore more routinely used in the photocuring process.” It is super important to use the proper light source for the corresponding nail polish, so use the lamp your kit comes with and closely follow usage directions.

      While you may immediately think of skin damage when you hear "UV," damage to skin from UV exposure during gel manicures is basically a nonissue, according to new studies. “The risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer was 11-46 times lower than the risks of being exposed to natural midday sunlight,” according to a 2013 study in the Photochemistry and Photobiology. A 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association echoed these findings, saying the average UV-A energy exposure during a typical gel manicure is low enough to be unconcerning. If you're still worried, the American Academy of Dermatology says you can apply a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher before getting a gel manicure to your hands, or put on dark, opaque, fingerless gloves.

      What to look for in a gel nail kit
      ghi line

      When shopping, seek out these key items and tools for the best DIY gel manicure results:

      ✔️ Lamp: If you're just starting out and don't already have a lamp, be sure to check the kit contents to see if there's an LED or UV lamp included since that's needed to cure the polish.

      ✔️ Gel nail polish: Of course, your kit should come with at least one polish in a shade you like. We recommend buying any additional polishes from the same brand to ensure compatibility with the light from your kit as well.

      ✔️ Additional polishes: Some kits come with more than one color for versatility. We also like when a kit comes with both gel base and top coats for the longest-lasting DIY manicure.

      ✔️ Manicure accessories: Depending on what you have and what you need, look for useful extras like files, buffers, cuticle pushers, cuticle nippers, nail brushes or even nail art accessories and tools.

        How to use a gel nail kit
        ghi line

        Every kit differs and may have slightly different directions, and you should be sure to follow your kit's instructions carefully to get the best results. Generally, here's what to do:

        1. File and buff nails until you get the desired length and shape and clean up cuticles.
        2. Use the included nail cleaner/prep or wipe nails with an alcohol pad to remove any natural oils and make sure there is no residue left on the nail.
        3. Apply the base coat and cure under the lamp (typically for 30-60 seconds, but defer to your kit's instructions).
        4. Apply two coats of your chosen color, curing for the recommended amount of time in between coats.
        5. Finish with one layer of topcoat and cure again. If nails feel a little sticky or tacky, wipe with another alcohol pad.
        Why trust Good Housekeeping?

        With a background in color cosmetic development, Danusia Wnek, a chemist in the Beauty, Health & Sustainability Lab, has spent years evaluating nail polishes and nail treatments in the Lab and with consumers. For this article, she authored a testing report that included the results of an in-depth review of gel nail polish kits' packaging, up-to-date ingredient safety review and provided usage suggestions and safety considerations for consumers.

        Good Housekeeping Institute Deputy Editor Jessica Teich has over 10 years of experience formally researching, testing and writing about beauty products, regularly teaming up with the GH Beauty Lab's scientists to write about the very best nail products on the market, according to their testing data. A lover of nail polish, gel and otherwise, she wrote this article based on the findings from Wnek's report and by gathering additional recommendations from prior Beauty Lab evaluations.

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