Cobbling together a gel manicure: Fails and near-fails

Like any nail fiend, I am naturally drawn to almost any new nail trend or technique. Some work out, some don't (for instance, my experience with stamping and most other forms of nail art) but all of it interests me, however briefly.

I've been unable to shake my curiosity in at-home gel manicures, even though it seems silly for someone like me to want a manicure to last as long as two weeks. Convenient, fuss-free...sure, but I like changing my nail color frequently. I'm happy when a manicure lasts and looks good the entire time I have it on, but I usually get a little impatient with a color at the 4-5 day mark.

Late last year I went on a ten-day trip overseas and I did think about what I would do with my nails during that time. I wouldn't need a pedicure but I'd want my nails done and I didn't want to pack a bunch of polishes and implements to take with me. I scheduled an appointment for a gel manicure but cancelled when I realized the timing wasn't going to work out—I would have been getting the manicure almost a week before we left, so it would be half grown out by the time vacation started. I ended up giving myself a manicure with OPI Casino Royale and just taking that bottle, a bottle of Seche Vite and some remover wipes with me. I fixed small chips and redid nails with big chips. And as I suspected, I was too busy and having too much fun to really have my nails be a huge priority. (I know...bad nail fanatic, bad.)

Anyway, I've been weighing whether or not to try at-home gel manicures, but every time I was ready to pull the trigger on buying all the things to do it, I balked. I tried the Nutra Nail UV-free kit, which was horrible and wrecked my nails. Then I started seeing Nailene's Sensationail kits (about $50-$60) at CVS and other stores, and hearing good things about them. Sally Hansen now offers a gel kit ($60-$70) and a gel strips kit ($30).

This weekend I had some Extra Bucks and other coupons, so I got the SH gel strips kit for about $20. I'm glad I didn't pay full price because the strips were a huge fail. I've done fine with strips in the past but these were thick and wouldn't conform to the shape of my nail. So I ditched them and began a grand experiment in gel manicures.

First I tried curing the SH gel top coat over regular polish. Someone I know gets this done at a salon and it works for her but I think you would have to let the polish get pretty dry before you do the gel coat and cure, because while the gel coat was dry, the polish wasn't, and my nails wrinkled. Fail!

Next I used a Sensational gel polish that I got on clearance at Rite Aid. I used the SH gel coat as a base and top coat and cured my nails tediously, one by one, with the tiny gel strip light. This worked fine, but would work better with a proper gel base coat and primer. The polish on my right thumb peeled completely off in one sheet because it hadn't adhered properly.

My other nails look great, though. I love how shiny the gel stays, and that it dries so quickly. Pardon the Instagram, but here's a quick snap:

I'll definitely be going to pick up the primer and base coat to give this another try very soon.

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