I Tried 7 At-Home 'Gel' Polishes to See How They Compare to the Real Thing

Getting a gel manicure just makes everything easier: no drying time, no chips, no dings. Not to mention, the shine is unparalleled. But, we frequently get asked by readers about which at-home versions of "gel" polish (the kind that don't require any sort of UV light) compare to the real thing, and are they worth it. 

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I'm someone who prefers to do my own nails—I like changing up my color often and I tend to think my results look just as good as those from a professional (OK, my filing isn't always perfect and my cuticles aren't always either, but so what?). The money and time saved make DIY worth it, but, the quality of the polish is super important to pulling it off. If you choose at-home over salon, there's no reason your nails shouldn't have the same smooth, shiny finish. 

From the drugstore to the department store, I tested seven of the top at-home polishes (they come in multiple shades) to see how they fared. My overall findings: The shine factor was almost identical, but the long-wear (the 10–14 days they claim), not so much. On average, they lasted seven days.

If you're looking for perfect nails that last up to two weeks (wedding, honeymoon, work retreat, etc), whip out your credit card and make an appointment. If you have a party Saturday night or a weekend getaway planned, DIY is a great option (and you'll own the polish, so you can keep it with you in case of any nail emergencies).


Nail Polish: Butter London Patent Shine 10X Lacquer in Smashing ($18)

Base Coat and Topcoat: Butter London Patent-Gel Top & Tails ($40)

Feedback: This was my favorite of the pack in terms of shine. It really had a just-left-the-salon look.


Nail Polish: OPI Infinite Shine Lacquer in In Pursuit of Purple ($12.50)

Base Coat and Topcoat: OPI Infinite Shine ProStay Primer & Gloss Duo ($20)

Feedback: If you're an OPI fan and you haven't tried the Infinite Shine collection, you're missing out. I loved the variety of colors, long wear and iconic brush shape, which made application on small nail beds like mine easier than ever.


Nail Polish: Nails inc Gel Effect in Covent Garden Place ($15) 

Topcoat: Nails inc Gel effect Top Coat with Kensington Caviar ($7.50)

Feedback: This polish glided on super smooth and the color was punchy and bright (some colors look dull outside of the bottle, but this one did not disappoint). Plus, it's formulated with coconut water to help condition and hydrate nails while you wear it.


Nail Polish: essie Ballet Nudes Gel Couture in Satin Slipper ($11.50)

Topcoat: essie Gel Couture Top Coat ($11.50)

Feedback: This color would be perfect for a wedding (it's neutral with just the right amount of shimmer to look luxe). It was also the second longest-wearing polish of the group. 


Nail Polish: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Nail Color in After Midnight ($20)

Base Coat and Topcoat: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Base and Top Coat ($45)

Feedback: Everyone was asking me about this polish while I had it on. Maybe it's because I don't wear dark shades often, but I attributed the compliments to the rich, navy color and incredible shine.


Nail Polish: Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy Nail Enamel in To The Chapel ($8)

Topcoat: Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy Diamond Top Coat ($8)

Feedback: The least expensive of the bunch, this formula really delivered on its promise for shiny nails. The Diamond Top Coat is a must—my nails dried noticeably faster.


Nail Polish: Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Polish in Street Flair ($10)

Topcoat: Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Top Coat ($10)

Feedback: Sally Hansen's Miracle Gel shade range is unmatched—more than 70 high-shine colors to choose from! I did need three coats to get the look I wanted, but it lasted longer and looked better than traditional SH polish.