Let's Talk About GEL NAILS!! 💅 DIY, FAQ, ETC.!

Let’s talk about GEL NAIL POLISH!!! I have so many thoughts so I’m going to break these into little sections to go over everything and all of the questions I sourced from you all on IG! We’re getting into the who, what, where, when and why of everything GEL! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

FYI: Anything that's underlined is a link!

WHY would I even use gel polish? I love regular polish!

Ok ok I get it, gel is not for everyone! If you have no interest in it, that’s fine!!! But I have done gel nails on clients and myself and I just LOVE IT! Here are my top reasons:

  1. It looks so shiny and beautiful, the exact look is just not achievable with regular polish 
  2. There is no dry time, you can move on with your life right when you’re done without any worry!
    1. This is THE BEST for nail art. You freeze your art in place, no smudging, so many cool techniques you can do with gel!!! It’s a nail artist’s dream. 
  3. You literally are FREEZING your work into place, and it LASTS
    1. This is the reason that I exclusively do gel nails on clients!! Think about it… If you are spending good money and time on a manicure, you wouldn’t want it to accidentally chip or smudge the same day. With regular polish (and ESPECIALLY when you do nail art), you can ruin your nails, break a nail, etc. at any time after your appointment. Of course this can happen with gel, but it’s far less likely! With proper prep and following my process (more on that below), your manicure will be frozen and will LAST for two to three weeks! 

If you want to get into at-home gel & you need a little help…

Wow you’re in luck :) I just launched my Gel Manicure Painting & Removal Process Course!!

My Gel Manicure Painting and Removal Process course is a THOROUGH, DETAILED, IN-DEPTH, 1 hour and 12 minutes course where I break down my exact process for painting your nails with gel polish and removing it safely. We go into the following:

  • One minor change to prepping your nails that makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE
  • My favorite gel base coats and how I like to use them
  • My favorite gel polishes and how they are a great transition from regular polish
  • My favorite gel top coats
  • How to use these products at home and get a long-lasting gel manicure 
  • Follow along style

With your purchase, you will also receive a downloadable PDF with my exact process detailed so you can refer to it when doing your nails, AND a list of all of the tools with links that I use and recommend. 

I’m so excited about this new course and I really hope you’ll check it out to learn how to do your gel as good, if not better!!!, than what you would get from a salon :) 

So can you use gel without damaging your natural nail? 

This is a HUGE misconception. Gel polish does not make your nails weak, but bad gel polish removal DOES! Gel adheres to your nails much stronger than regular polish, therefore the removal process is more intense/time consuming. We want to PROPERLY remove the gel so that we don't accidentally peel off layers of our nail plate. If you pick at your gel and peel it off, you're actually peeling off the top layers of your literal nail, making it weaker and bendy!! In my experience, gel has actually made my nails stronger and has allowed them to grow longer without breaking!

How do you remove it properly?

If you want to fully remove your gel polish, I am going in depth about the process that I recommend in my new course! Basically, we are filing off the top layers of gel, soaking it with acetone, and repeating with filing/buffing/soaking until all of the polish is off, and we are being patient and gentle!

You need to set aside enough time to gently remove it all! At salons, nail techs only have a certain amount of time for you, so they need to rush! We are not rushing and we are being careful!! Once you remove your gel, I would recommend putting a strengthening base on, and using lots of cuticle oil if your nails feel a little weird after having something so strong on, and now being naked. It's normal for them to feel a little soft after soaking in acetone, but the next day at the latest they should be back to normal!

Which gel polishes do I recommend and why?

First off, these are more expensive than, say, a bottle of Olive & June polish, but they LAST so long. Like they don’t dry out, and they will only cure if you expose them to a gel lamp, so air will not make them goopy like regular polish does. I have used a bunch of brands for gel, and while they all will work/get the job done, I have decided that my favorite brand is Kokoist Japanese gel! Japanese gel is different than other gels that you might find on amazon or other stores (like OPI, Essie, Gelish gel polish, etc.). It's made with cosmetic grade pigments and often is thicker than other gel polishes. This means you can sometimes put on one coat of polish and get that glossy, super opaque or saturated, gel look! 

It’s the only polish I will use on clients now and they consistently tell me their nails look great still three or four weeks later! Specifically, I like to use this base coat, this top coat, and the Nail Thoughts collection for colors (and I will use the potted gels for art sometimes!).

Also, you can use my code KARA10 for 10% off your purchase at Kokoist!!

I like to use the Kokoist x Nail Thoughts polish for a few reasons:

  1. They come in bottles with brushes which makes them really user friendly and it’s a great transition from regular polish to gel
  2. There is a great range of colors and they are all SO pigmented, which means you can get by with one or two coats. I’ve tried some gel polishes that have such bad pigmentation that you need a bunch of coats and it takes FOREVER (like some brands that you find on amazon… sorry I just don’t trust them!). These ones are so pigmented and look amazing with two coats
  3. The tinted base gels. OMG let's make this its own paragraph later :) 

CND Shellac:

Another system that I really like and used in nail school is CND Shellac! It’s a 3 step system that’s really easy to use. The brushes are also wide and have a rounded edge so they are SO user friendly. These are basically a hybrid type of gel, so they really work best with CND’s top coat and base coat for a long lasting mani. The polishes are pretty similar to regular polish consistency wise, but they will dry completely under a lamp like regular gel. They come in so many colors too! You can buy them at Beyond Polish!

IBD Just Gel Polish:

I have also used IBD gel polish a bunch before! It comes in so many colors and it’s only $7.50 per bottle. Is it the best quality and most pigmented? Not really, you might need to do more coats to get a super opaque look, but if you want to try it out or maybe grab a fun color or two for art, this is a good brand to try! You can also buy these at Beyond Polish!

Tinted Base Gels aka your nails but BETTER

Tinted base gels are probably my favorite nail related discovery EVER. These specific base coats from Kokoist are semi-hard gel, which means they will soak off like regular polish, but they’re HARDER when they cure than some other gels. I love this for when you’re trying to grow your nails long. Have you ever been so happy with your nails getting longer and then one day you just break one on accident like opening the fridge?? Just me? These bases give your nails sooo much strength, like you won’t even be able to bend your nails, but in a good way! If you have any length and want to preserve it, these are your best friend!

AND they are tinted, the Peach Base, Milky Base, and Strawberry Milk Base are SO GORGEOUS!  It’s a sheer neutral, a sheer white and a sheer pink, respectively, and they are just so chic and pretty as base colors for art, and they look amazing on their own. 

One of my FAVORITE gel nail hacks…

Ok this is my favorite thing. I will paint 2 coats of the Peach or Strawberry Milk Base on my nails, top coat it, and then I will use REGULAR POLISH over it!! You can paint your entire nail, or just add some art accents, put a regular top coat over it, and have a new mani every day of the week, PLUS added strength and a beautiful base palette for art. I did this in these photos below! When you want to remove the regular polish, you can use acetone or non-acetone remover. The acetone won’t remove the gel, because you need to file a few layers of it off for it to penetrate. This is the exact same process that you can do with press-ons, you just have a gel base as your foundation! 

I absolutely love doing this as a sneaky way to keep my nails super strong and help them grow out, while still being able to use regular polish for content and switching it out sometimes multiple times per week ;) Great for people who want to have a neutral base for nail art, or for nail art content creators! If you ever see viral nails on IG that are long with a neutral base, there's a good chance they are doing this process!


This is something that legit blew my mind when I learned about. I follow a bunch of nail techs on instagram and one thing I learned from them when they have recurring clients, is that instead of soaking off their manicures during each appointment, they will remove the top layers including the art and the color, all the way down to the base, BUT you keep the base in tact, so it just looks like you have a matte layer of polish over your nail, and then you prep your nails like normal (following my manicure prep course of course :)), and then you start the gel painting process all over again! 

Here’s a video of this process: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CQljX8SnAsN/

Why do we do this? 

  • It eliminates the entire acetone soaking process, aka TIME SAVING!
  • It eliminates the need to buff/file/scrape off the base gel (which is where the damage can occur if you aren’t gentle and accidentally buff too much)
  • It keeps a strong base layer on your nails at all times!! Thus giving your nails extra strength!
  • The base gels that I recommend from Kokoist are thick enough that you can put another layer over the top of your old base, and it’s not visible/no one will know!
  • The removal process time is SO MUCH SHORTER than soaking it off

It’s the perfect way to keep your nails so strong and looking so good if you want to re-do your nails every two-three weeks!


I did a question box on IG asking for your barriers to entry and what’s stopping you from trying gel. Here are some of your answers and my rebuttals :)

I need to spend so much money on products! 

This is true, you need extra products for gel nails like the lamp, and a whole new system of polish. However, they will last you a pretty long time when you’re just doing your own nails. What I mean by this is that you’re not going to be using your lamp enough for it to die on you from overuse. You won’t be using so much of your top and base coats that you need to replace them super regularly like professionals do. 

PS. This is the lamp I recommend! 

We used this Sun UV/LED Gel Lamp at nail school and it was great! It's great for at home use and works with all of the products I'm recommending here :) it's $40 on Amazon and usually there's a coupon! I highly recommend a lamp with a mirrored base so it cures fully.

PPS. You get a FULL list of products I recommend for your at-home gel starter kit with my course.

Also... shop some of my favorite gel products in my starter pack here!

I charge around $100 per gel manicure, and with my new course, I’m teaching you exactly how I do a gel mani on my clients and myself. So basically you can get a good starter pack of products plus all of the info you need for using the tools/products for $100 and you’re saving yourself money with each mani you do at home!! I’m not here to convince you to switch to doing gel nails if you truly love regular polish, but if you have gotten gel before and loved it, or you want to get into it, I just want to arm you with all of the info you need to DO IT! I think you will love it. 

The removal process! 

If you want to change your manicure every few weeks and you’re good with keeping gel on for these changes, I highly recommend you do the process that I outlined above!!! It takes SO MUCH LESS TIME! Because all you’re doing is filing it off, and then getting into prep. It’s seriously a game changer! Plus your nails will be so strong and you can grow them longer over time!!


Can I use regular polish and a gel top coat? Or mix regular polish with gel polish in any way?

No! UNLESS you are putting regular polish over a full gel mani like I described above in the Gel Base section. I wouldn’t recommend putting a gel top coat over regular polish, or sandwiching regular polish between gel layers. They just aren’t meant to work together like that!! 

I already struggle with dry peeling nails, would this damage them more?

This could actually be a great solution for you! With gel, you are covering your nail completely, and eliminating exposure to the elements, which could make your nails stronger and more resilient! Of course you should still be putting on cuticle oil daily and wearing gloves when you clean/do dishes etc!

I like to change colors frequently and gel is hard to take off…

I hear you!!! Again, I’m not trying to convince you to switch to gel, but if you love gel and want to get back into it, you can do the following:

  • Paint your nails with just a gel base, and then use regular polish over the top so you can change it as much as you want
  • Instead of doing the entire gel removal process every time, do the game-changing process that I outlined above!

Not being able to purchase with out a nail license? 

This is only true for some brands! You can get all of the polish that I recommended in this post without needing a license!!! And these are all brands that I use, mainly Kokoist. So trust me, you’re not missing out :)

Why does the gel sometimes just POP right off or peel up? 

Because you’re not prepping and painting your gel correctly! And you need to watch my course ;) No but for real, I am going over the top mistakes to avoid so that you won’t deal with peeling, lifting, or polish popping right off in my course. Bottom line is, you probably aren’t prepping your nails enough, you maybe got some paint on your skin, or you didn’t cure it properly.  

What other questions do you have about gel?? Drop your questions in the comments if I missed anything!  

I can’t wait for you to check out my gel manicure painting and removal process course and I’m so excited to hear what you think!!! See all of my courses HERE!

*Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning I get a small % of your sale, at no cost to you! This helps me support this blog and my life :) Thanks so much for using my links and codes and your support!!!


  • Hi Kara!! I think you sold me on trying gel. Does your gel package course (prep, paint, removal) go over the same prep process that you do in the prep & paint regular polish class? Just wondering if I’d be missing any good prep info by only getting the gel course package! Thanks in advance :)

  • I love this! I can’t wait for my order from kokoist to arrive so I can really dive into the course!

  • I love gel! I recently just got into them and I am definitely going to be trying leaving a base on instead of taking it all off every time! And the nail art over a gel base is genius 🤩

  • I LOVE the idea of painting a gel base and being able to change regular polish every day. How long could you keep the gel on? 3-4 weeks?


Leave a comment