Sunday, March 4, 2012

Gelish At Home Manicure System (3 week gel polish) Review & Photos

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Gelish is a gel polish that is cured under an LED lamp and is supposed to stay shiny and chip free for two to three weeks. It is very similar to Shellac, but Gelish sells an at-home system and also offers a larger selection of polish colors (72 colors to be exact).

Gelish Soak-off Gel Polishes (photo from

I just love pretty painted nails; having shiny and polished nails makes me feel so much more ladylike and put together, but regular polish always chips on me within a day! My nails peel in layers, and this causes the polish to chip quickly. I also cook almost every day, and that means a lot of washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen, etc, which is obviously hard on nails. 

In hopes of having my polish last longer than one day, I tried getting Shellac manicures in the salon, but it was too expensive - I could not justify spending over $50 to have my nails polished for two weeks. I kept wishing there was some way to paint my nails myself with a gel-type polish at home - then I learned there was! Gelish! (Pronounced "GEL-ish" according to the company video).

Gelish nails and a jealous cat, LOL! She was upset I was sticking my hand out like this (to photograph the nails) and not petting her, so she kept jamming her head under my hand for a head rub. It was difficult to get a photo without her in it!

I decided to buy the Gelish system on because it was cheaper than some other sites, and I could select which parts of the system I wanted to buy. I did not want to buy the Gelish Basix Kit (starter kit) because the bottles are smaller and it comes with the cleanser (mostly alcohol), remover (mostly acetone), and cuticle oil. I read in reviews that plain rubbing alcohol works just as well as the cleanser, acetone serves as a remover, and I already own a cuticle oil, so I wanted to save that money and put it toward larger bottles of the products I do need. Here's what I purchased:
  • Gelish Ph Bond
  • Gelish Foundation (base coat)
  • Gelish Top It Off (top coat)
  • Gelish polishes in colors Red Roses and Passion
  • Gelish LED curing light

I ordered the Gelish mini PRO LED light from Sally's Beauty Supply. It was the only place I could find a 45 second LED curing light designed to work with the Gelish system for a good price (and with good reviews) - it cost $59.95. I do not recommend the smaller Gelish mini UV light ($17.95) - it gets terrible reviews and does not cure the polish properly.

This is the light I purchased - Gelish Mini PRO LED Curing  Light (photo from

All in all, I was set back a little over $100 after I purchased all the necessary products for the manicure system. I figured if it works, it will pay for itself in 2 manicures, since Shellac manicures cost $50 in Seattle.

So how do I like it? I have to say overall I am pleased with it, though it may not be for everyone.

Gelish Soak-off Gel Polish in Red Roses - immediately after application. I love how shiny it is!

While I won't go into the details about the application instructions (you can view a how-to video here and detailed instructions here), I'd like to share what I noticed about the application process and the performance of the product. 

Here's what I liked about the Gelish system:

1. I loved having completely dry nails after curing the polish in the LED light. As soon as it finishes curing and you wipe the tacky layer away with alcohol, you're good to go! I'm so used to spending an hour on my nails, then ruining them by touching something before they're dry. With Gelish you don't have to worry about this :).

2. The polish is super shiny and stays shiny for at least one week.

3. While my polish didn't stay on 3 weeks, it did stay chip free for 9 days - that is pretty good for my nails which go through a lot of wear and tear and usually chip in 24 hours.

4. All the products are toulene, formaldehyde and phthalate free.

5. I really liked the color Red Roses (a neutral bright red), and Gelish has a large color selection.

6. While application will take practice, it was not too difficult or messy. The gel polish is not runny or too dry, making for an easier application. It also did not take considerably longer than painting my nails with regular polish, since I usually have to wait an hour for the polish to dry anyway.

Here it is one week after application - still shiny and chip free!

Gelish Red Roses after one week of wear
Here's what it looked like at day 10 when it started peeling up from the cuticles, and I had to remove it:

At day 10

Here's what I did NOT like about the Gelish system:

1. The removal. While the removal was fairly simple, it dried out my nails and cuticles badly, and left a yellow stain. Fortunately, after 2 days of applying cuticle oil and hand cream, they were back to normal (and the yellow stain disappeared as well). While I thought I could keep my nails constantly polished with Gelish, I realized I'll always want to give my nails one week break between applications. **I did realize that maybe I should go ahead and buy the Gelish remover - even though it is mostly acetone, maybe it won't dry my nails out as much as straight acetone. I'll try it and let you know!**

Just after removal. Yikes! So dry and yellow :-(

2. It didn't last as long as I'd hoped - I wish I could get at least 2 weeks out of it. With practice, maybe I can. I think the "3 week" claim Gelish makes is kind of silly; I never expected it to last that long.

3. I am not 100% comfortable with placing my hands under LED/UV lamps. I usually take such care to protect my skin from sun damage that purposely exposing my hands to UV feels odd. However, I will only be using the light once a month, and the little LED light I bought is not very strong, so exposure should be limited (and is probably less than taking a short walk without sunscreen).

Here are some application tips:

1. Buff your nails with a buffing block that is not too coarse. The buffing block I had only scratched my nails, but didn't buff them finely enough to give the polish a good surface to adhere to.

2. Make sure you have your station completely set up before you start the process. Cut up paper towels into squares. Do NOT use cotton wipes/balls even if they say "lint free." They are NOT lint free - believe me, I spent most of my time trying to pick out stray fuzzies from the polish with tweezers! (And I was using 2 brands of "lint free" cotton rounds). Paper towel works MUCH better.

I set my station up on the kitchen table. I realized LED lights do NOT work on glass tables - I had to put my laptop pad underneath it.

3. Be sure to paint very thin layers of the foundation, polish, and Top It Off gel. Thick layers do not cure well. I think I definitely got my layers too thick, and I think this is why my polish only lasted 10 days.

4. Make sure to wipe away any foundation gel, polish, or Top It Off gel from the cuticle before putting it under the LED light. If you don't, it will harden and stick to your skin, looking messy.

5. Consider buying the Gelish remover instead of using plain acetone. Though I haven't tested it out yet, I suspect it will dry nails out less than 100% acetone.

6. Remember to seal the edge of the nail by running the foundation gel, polish, and Top It Off gel horizontally along the tip/edge of the nail.

In summary, do I think Gelish is worth it? Well, I think it depends. If you usually get a full week out of regular polish (some people do, I don't know how!), then it may not be a worthwhile investment for you. If you are like me, however, and polish only lasts a day, then it is nice to paint nails at the beginning of the week and not have to worry about them again till the next week. It is also nice having polish that is shiny and dries instantly. I'll keep practicing, and let you know how it goes! Right now, I'd have to say I do think it is worth it, even if the polish only lasts 10 days. :)

One last thing: there is another manicure system out now that is almost identical to Gelish - Red Carpet Manicure. I haven't tried it, but it is getting good reviews. I decided to go for Gelish instead of Red Carpet Manicure because Gelish offers more colors, the bottles (the ones sold on Amazon, not Sally's) are bigger, and there were more reviews available for Gelish.

I have no affiliation with Gelish or Sally Beauty Supply, and I purchased all the Gelish products myself for review.


  1. I just got the worst manicure today. I got french tips and I left bleeding in more than one place. Every finger is sore to the touch. Do you wear contacts? Contact solution seems to eat away at my nail polish.


    1. Oh gosh Jennifer, that sounds awful! What salon was it? Did you get gel or acrylic nails, or just a regular polish? Can't believe they could mess up so badly for regular polish. Yes, I wear contacts - I didn't ever think about it chipping my polish - maybe it does! I'll have to look into that.

    2. It was some luxury nails salon in Northgate - nothing high end. I got the pink and white tips, so it's not just nail polish. I don't know what I should be asking for when I go into a salon (I've paid to have my nails done maybe 5 times in my life) and I never know what they're asking me (in more ways than one). It hasn't been a week yet and my nails look rough, especially around the cuticles. Never again.

    3. I know the salon you're talking about. Yes, I also stopped getting my nails done in these type salons - there is no way to know the utensils are clean, and I can never communicate with the ladies to tell them what I want. If I ever get my nails done, (which is once a year when I have a Groupon, LOL) I only go to the really nice salons where I know the utensils are clean - like Gene Juarez, Source Salon in Ballard, and I bet Julep is fine. Only problem is, these type places are really expensive - that's where the Shellac/Gelish manicures are $50 or more. That's why I just do my own nails!

  2. Thanks for a thorough review! This red shade is very attention grabbing, but I guess nail polish lasts well on me, so no reason to splurge...

    1. Yes, I agree, if you get good wear out of polish, there is no need. It's a pain having to soak off the polish in acetone. If I could, I'd just use regular polish, but my peeling nails won't allow it.

  3. Did you soak off the gelish in a bowl of acetone or use little pieces of cotton ball soaked in acetone and wrapped in foil? (a long winded question sorry). I use Vaseline on my cuticles then place a little piece of acetone soaked cotton ball on my nail, then wrap in tin foil. Leave it 5-10 min and it soaks off no problem. Also buffing the top coat a little before soaking helps.

    1. Wish it worked that well for me, but alas it never has :-(. Yes, I buff the top, then place a cotton pad soaked in acetone (or Gelish brand remover) over the nail. I wrap each nail in foil as well. Even then, after soaking 10 to 15 mins, I have to scrape and scrape and scrap, THEN re-soak the nails for another 5 to 10 mins and re-scrape again. This whole process = really damaged nails. I will say that the Gelish brand remover dries my nails and cuticles out less than plain acetone, but it's still a terrible, long process that takes me an hour to remove the Gelish from both hands...

  4. Ashley, looks like you need to use cuticle removers first, that's likely why it didn't adhere well to your nails. Also, Gelish and RCM are the same; RCM is the version marketed to non-pros. Get some 'lint free wipes', and definitely use the RCM or Gelish remover - I had used acetone for the first few months, but found the real stuff both works faster and is gentler on my nails. Also, when soaking off do not soak your fingers in a bowl. Instead, cut cotton pads or balls to size, put remover on, then place on your nail, and wrap with a square of foil. Using heat (gel pack, etc) will make this way more effective - should be no more then 10-15 mins. Twist off the foil/cotton wraps and your nails should be clean.

  5. My gelish manicure lasted for 28 days! I made them on 21st of June and today is 18th. I would probably remove the colour 5 days ago if I had time, but ONLY because my nails are growing and the new nail parts are without the colour, making it look a bit strange, but nevertheless I got compliments for my nails after 2 weeks of wearing the polish, so I guess it all depends on how it is done.
    By the way, is your LED lamp working fine? I want to buy one not too expensive,but that really is worth the money. Of course, I wish I could afford buying HARMONY GELISH LED LAMP 18G :)) But that's out of my league at the moment :D

  6. I love gel polish kit of Runway Professional. I would like to show my nails with different looking every month. I have read out your post. Thanks for the post , I definitely try it.

    Cindy, Australia

  7. Will applying Gelish, make sure not to apply over your cuticles. If its does, the Gelish manicure would peel from the cuticle and thus shorten its lifespan.

  8. I love my Gelish system I also use IBD colours they work well with the Gelish Foundation and Top It Off. It comes off very easy but I use the Gelish remover for that I think that acetone evaporates a bit quick. I could go three weeks if I wanted to but my nails grow very quickly and I'm left with the big gap at the base of my nail. I'm so glad there is now an LED lamp the UV lamp it like baking in the sun. When I did use the UV lamp my hands were so brown, but very happy now with the LED and they are so compact these days.


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