Ten years ago, if you'd told me there'd be a manicure that would last longer than some of my relationships, I'd probably have asked you who the hell you were and how you knew so much about my disastrous early college love life. Also, I wouldn’t have believed you.
So gel polish has been a damn miracle, and I suspect I’m not the only one who’s praised the nail gods for this life changing innovation.
It’s not perfect, though. The UV light required to cure the gel polish layers has been the subject of many a click-bait-y article, and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends limiting exposure, despite several studies that found no correlation between cancer and UV lamps.
Plus, these manicures last a long time because they’re serious business: removal is no joke. I have a terrible habit of peeling the whole thing off instead of soaking the nail in remover for five years (or whatever is recommended), but even playing by the rules can be damaging to weak nails.
Naturally, just as I've finally bought my own little UV lamp, the nail world has exploded with non-UV gel polish. I got ahold of some of these new polishes from five different brands, each of which dries quickly with a glossy (sometimes plump) look that mimics the real deal. The wear time is four to six days, slightly longer than the one to three days I get from regular nail polish. I’m sort of a walking disaster, though, so just imagine how long you could stretch them out with a little bit of patience--and these tips from Alle!
Nails Inc. Gel Effects Polish
You’re looking at “Plasticiser technology” (yes, spelled the British way--this is a U.K. brand), which is what gives that gorgeous, shiny finish. By that same token, though, these polishes do require a deft hand; the texture gets funny if you don’t use long, fast strokes. My nails are crazy-short right now, so I wrestled with a bit of a learning curve. And I’m so not a pastel person, but I couldn’t believe how flattering these colors were.
How it wore: chip-free for four days (no top or base coat).
Sally Hansen Miracle Gel
This was the first of the non-UV gel products that I noticed on drugstore shelves, and you better believe I did a cartoon double-take. She’s got her finger on the pulse, that Sally. I didn’t notice a marked difference between the look of this combination versus regular polish, but they have a good grip and decent shine.
How it wore: chip-free for four days.
L’Oréal Paris Extraordinaire Gel-Lacquer
The color selection is more sophisticated than most of the other brands; lots of gorgeous dark shades (my personal weakness). It applied beautifully--two coats were fully opaque, but I really liked the plumpness of three coats.
How it wore: chip-free for five days (with base and top coat, sold separately).
Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab
Instead of a special polish, the base coat and top coat are the heavy lifters in this set: you can use them with “any Deborah Lippmann polish,” but I’m fairly sure the manicure police won’t nail you (see what I did there?) for mixing brands.
I also appreciated that the set came with instructions; it was helpful to know exactly how much time to spend on each step. And when it was time, the stray polish I didn’t pick off was easily removed with Lippmann’s The Stripper, which, in addition to having the best product name ever, smells like lavender. Sigh.
How it wore: One nail chipped the next day, but the rest hung on for five days after that.
CoverGirl XL Nail Gel
These were actually my favorite of the bunch, which I wasn’t expecting. The shades are really vibrant and eye-catching, without being obnoxious, and I only needed one coat for completely saturated color, though I applied two anyway. CoverGirl also totally nailed the “plump” effect, which is impressive since that didn’t affect the wear.
How it wore: shiny and chip-free for five days (two coats, no base or top coat).
I certainly understand why the “gel without UV light” angle is appealing, but these products are not exactly gel polish as we’ve come to define it. Then again, I remember thinking, Wait, why are they calling this new Shellac stuff "gel"? It’s not even an artificial nail! So I suppose the definition will just continue to shift, since that’s kind of how words work. I wonder what’s next in the future of gel?
What do you guys think? Miracle product or marketing gimmick?