Gel Manicure

Sally Hansen Salon Gel Polish Test

February 27, 2013

Every once in a while here at Daily Something someone asks if I like gel manicures. I believe they are referring to soak off gel manicures, or “paint on” gel polish.

In the past I’ve never really been curious enough about it to try, especially since gel manicures are boasted to last up to two weeks and I change my polish WAY more often than every two weeks. But the appeal of a two week manicure is strong when it comes to travel. Traveling with nail polish can be very inconvenient. Usually I travel with a just few polishes (or a lot when I’m going to a girls weekend—click here to see how I pack polish for travel) and I don’t mind packing the polish. So I never really felt the urge to try gel polish.

That is until I was walking through Target and saw the Sally Hansen Salon Gel Polish Starter Kit (not gel polish strips, but the full-on polish). My curiosity was peaked and I thought my upcoming trip to Disneyland would be the perfect opportunity to test it out. Travel is murder on my nails!

I ended up buying the kit, which included an LED light, base coat, top coat, one polish color, 20 alcohol wipes, a small nail file and orange stick, and a small bottle of acetone for removal. I wasn’t crazy about the color the kit came with (Wine Not), and you can buy colors separately, so I bought Back to the Fuchsia as well.

(image from Sally Hansen)

First try

I attempted a gel manicure using the color that came in the kit just to test the waters and see how it worked before embarking on the real deal. This was about a week before my trip to Disneyland. I followed the instructions that came with the kit and application wasn’t too difficult. However, when they say thin layers, they mean thin layers! LOL! My polish was too thick on a couple nails and it seemed to bunch up and crinkle. I ended up redoing those nails a couple hours later because I couldn’t stand how they looked.

Also, the polish seemed to pull away from the tips a bit and it looked that I had tip-wear already. I found some tips online to solve that issue that I’ll have to try out later (keep reading to see where).

And as I predicted in Target before buying the kit, I really hated the Wine Not color. Thank heavens I bought an additional color! You might have noticed that I don’t wear a lot of polishes with shimmer in them? I’m very selective with shimmer polishes. Anyhow, Wine Not had a definite shimmer that I hated. So I got my first try at removal just 24 hours later.


Removing the gel polish was super easy. Nothing more time consuming that removing glitter polish…

You just soak a cotton ball with acetone (100% acetone, not regular nail polish remover), place it on the nail, and wrap a small square of aluminum foil around the fingertip. The foil keeps the cotton ball on the nail and prevents the acetone from evaporating. Wait about 10-12 minutes and check the nail. If the polish doesn’t flake off, put the foil and acetone back on for another 3-5 minutes.

I did all ten nails at the same time and just watched some YouTube videos while I waited. With the exception of some dry skin from the acetone (which I remedied with cuticle oil and hand lotion), the removal was not bad at all.

Second Try & Putting It To the Test

About a week later, I was heading out for Disneyland and needed to try out the gel polish for real. I read up on the application process and got some awesome tips from this message board post. That’s how I learned to “dry brush” after the base coat to prevent the polish from pulling back from the tips. I ended up not needing to do that with Back to the Fuchsia, but as they mention in the message board post, darker colors are more prone to that and Back to the Fuchsia isn’t a dark color.

Anyhow, I applied Back to the Fuschia and headed off the airport later that day. I loved how shiny my nails were and they did feel a bit stronger. I wore the polish for five days until I returned home. Here are day by day photos. Please excuse the different lighting. I took all photos on my iPhone…

I documented only my left hand in photos, but on Day 2 I had a small chip on the corner of my right thumbnail after riding on the Matterhorn Bobsleds. Stupid Bobsleds! I put a bandaid on my thumb to stop me from picking at it and later at the hotel I removed the polish and re-applied. Since I didn’t know what I was in for, I ended up bringing the kit + Back to the Fuchsia just in case I need to fix a nail. I’m glad I packed it since I did need it.

I had no chipping or lifting on my left hand at all! I was super impressed…

In full disclosure, I did have to repaint two more nails on my right hand on the fifth day. Before packing up and heading back to the airport, I noticed the polish on two nails were just barely starting to peel up. I know myself and knew I would mess with them on the plane, leaving me polish-less on those nails. So I opted to remove the polish and reapply them before packing my bags.

Once I was home, I wanted a new color. Five days of the same color was way too long! LOL! So I removed all the polish and went back to regular polish.

Conclusion & Nail Damage?

All in all, I think the Sally Hansen Gel Polish is pretty great! As with most things in life there’s a learning curve. As my application gets better and I use it more, I suspected that the wear time will increase. I liked that the polish stayed shiny for the entire time I was wearing it, too.

While I was doing my gel manicure test, I was sharing photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Many people wondered if the gel manicure damaged my nails. I’m happy to say that no, there was no damage. If you don’t buff your nails (or only very lightly buff them—DO NOT use a file directly on the nail, especially the nail file that comes in the kit because it’s much too abrasive), and you remove them using the foil method, there is no damage. I think when people say their nails were damaged by a soak off gel manicure it’s because they peel off the polish and pick at it. That’s how you damage your nails. If you follow the directions correctly, there will be minimal or no damage at all.

I don’t plan to wear the gel polish too often—mostly when I travel. So it’s nice that the price point was fairly reasonable ($64.99). For the cost of 2 salon gel manicures, I got the kit and an extra polish that I can use multiple times. I think it was worth it. :)

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  • Christy February 27, 2013 at 10:44 am

    My cousin as the OPI system and I tried it. Not very user friendly but I do like the results. I’m just like you and change my polish every other day or so. I plan on getting a system of my own but I wantto try just clear, you can polish over it and take it off with non aceton remover.

  • Kathy Camasso February 27, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    What a great review, thank you Kristina! I’ve gotten 2 gel manicures since January and while I was happy with both, especially the French I did first, I was so bored with the color after a week that I deceide to skip that last week and had a regular manicure done; I was spoiled quickly though because this manicure has only lasted a few days! I am going to watch for a sale on the Sally Hanson kit and try it out; I think I have a 20% off coupon at CVS!!! Love that pink too, BTW!

  • Jennifer February 27, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    helpful review. Thanks!

  • joy February 28, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Thanks so much for your blog on the Sally Hansen ‘s Gel Nail Kit. I too saw them at Target and thought about whether or not to try them before splurging for the $150+ lacquer nail kits. I too love changing my polish regularly so now I am considering that before spending the money on gel or lacquer and think more about the nail stamping! Thanks, I believe you now have another daily follower.

  • Dani March 3, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    I have the Sensationail gel nail kit, sold at Walgreens and Walmart. It has all of the same stuff as the Sally kit. I scored it on sale before Christmas at for $34.99. It usually retails for $49-$59. I loved the results and it lasted about 10 days and I was ready for a polish change any way. My daughter likes to use the led light that came with the kit to dry her regular manicure, she swears it dries faster. I think she might be right.

  • Wanda Jollymore March 6, 2013 at 10:36 am

    I have very thin, peeling nails and I simply stopped wearing polish for several years. I kep tmy nails very short, and i still had raggy nails. When I heard about gel nails, or “shellac nails”, as they are called some places, I thought I would try them. Now I wear them all the time, but with a variation. Like you, I can’t stand to go for 2 weeks with the same color. So I do a thin base coat and a thin top coat of the shellac., cure it and use the alcohol to take the stickiness off. Then I use regular polish over it. As long as you remove the polish with a non-acetone polish remover, you do not damage the clear shellac base. The polish lasts longer than on natural nails and my nails are stronger. I agreee with her observation about thin coats. When they say ‘thin’ coats, they mean THIN coats. Otherwise you get ‘paint runs’ in your nails or waves and it looks yucky. I have been doing it this way since early last July.

    • Noonum February 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Do you have to remove the gel after 2 weeks or do you just add to it as time goes on?

  • Amber March 10, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I used to work in a nail salon doing acrylic nails. I didn’t do gels but was shown many times how to do them. (Gel supplies were too expensive to get started in them) but with salon gels they are easily filed to smooth them out like you file acrylics. Not sure if the gel polish is similar makeup but I think if you get any bumps or waves then you could gently file them and buff them to shape them how you like them. Then proceed as per directions.

    Gel is like acrylic and will let your polish adhere to it so you don’t get chips in it. You can still change out your polish color you just need to use a non acetone polish remover. So you could put a clear gel on and polish away.

    Hope his helps.

  • margaret ann chamblee November 5, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    i use sensationail and have enjoyed doing “gelly sandwiches” involving a base and top gel coat, with any other color in the middle – sometimes gel, sometimes regular polish – and on top of the gel top coat, once cured, i’ll stamp a design, then cure one more top gel coat. looks great and lasts! i too had a learning curve but it’s worth it when you learn that a gelly sandwich allows you to use all your regular polishes but just with that glossy shine and it lasts for days!

    another reader said her nails are thin and peel. mine are too, and i’ve never been able to keep them long. they’re a great length now because they’re not chipping and peeling – the gel is protecting them – but i’m not ruining my nail beds with drills or long-term acrylics being on there (haven’t done that in years, anyway). anyhoo, i love it! i’ve been instagramming my manis lately. msdixie72 :)

  • Tracy November 28, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    I don’t know what I’m doing wrong then. Whenever I use the instant gel strips nail kit, the polish literally peels off within hours. I’ve tried everything I can think of. I tried very very think coats, curing in between. I tried thicker coats, curing in between. I tried making absolutely 100% sure that there’s nothing on my cuticles. I tried buffing a bit, I tried without buffing. I tried using the included cleaning pads and I even tried using pure acetone to dehydrate my nails first. Nothing works! Today I was worried because pieces of the gel manicure were coming up while I was cooking!! GRRRRR!!