Decoding the Gel Nail Jargon: 4 Types to Try Now

What’s the difference between a gel manicure and a gel top coat? When do you need a lamp? We break down the mystery and explain gel nails once and for all

Spring Beauty gel nails
(Photo: Anthea Simms)

Gel Manicure
A salon-applied 100 percent gel colour, each layer of which is cured under a UV lamp, delivering wet-looking, rock-hard tips for up to 21 days.
Pro Dries instantly.
Con Requires in-salon 15-minute acetone removal.
Pack Leader Gelish Soak-off Gel Polish, $45–$70 (Red Carpet Manicure’s Pro Kit, $99, is a DIY alternative).

Gel-Hybrid Manicure
A gel-in-polish professional formula, also cured under a UV lamp, that offers high-gloss, chip-free results like gel manicures and lasts more than14 days.
Pro Dries instantly.
Con Requires in-salon eight- minute acetone removal.
Pack Leader CND Shellac Brand 14+ Day Manicure, $35–$45 (Sally Hansen’s Salon Gel Polish Starter Kit, $80, is a DIY alternative).

Long-Wear Nail Polish
Though many brands call this DIY polish a gel, it’s actually an at-home two- or three-step lacquer system that lasts seven to10 days with gel-mimicking shine that becomes more durable when you use the daylight-activated topcoat.
Pro Comes off with store-bought remover.
Cons Not as strong or as long-lasting as the real deal; takes 20 minutes to dry.
Pack Leaders CND Vinylux Weekly Polish, $12; OPI Infinite Shine Gel Effects Lacquer System, $16; Sally Hansen Miracle  Gel Nail Colour and Top Coat, $11 each.

Gel-Effect Topcoats
For use atop regular nail polish, these final-step gel-like formulas boost the finish to hyper-gloss—no UV required.
Pro Comes off with store-bought remover.
Con Doesn’t extend the life of your manicure.
Pack Leaders Essence Gel Look Plumping Top Coat, $3.50; Dior Gel Coat, $27; Guerlain Le Top Coat Gel, $27.

Filed under:

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

FLARE - Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to FLARE Need to Know for smart, sassy, no-filter takes on everything you're interested in—including style, culture & current events, plus special offers—sent straight to your inbox each day. Sign up here.