For me, there is something totally transformative about emerging from the nail salon with a fresh gel manicure. From the perfectly preened cuticles to the precisely applied colour, I always feel like I'm ready to take on the world when my nails have spent an hour under the care of a true professional. However, while nail salons are now fully back in business and ready to fulfill all of our spring nail art dreams, living through multiple lockdowns has meant that I've had to embrace doing my own nails at home—a task that I absolutely hate. No matter how carefully I prep my nails, wait for the polish to dry, apply a top coat and then sit around aimlessly without touching anything my nails always chip, smudge or streak within hours of application. And while I'm totally willing to admit that it might just be my total ineptitude as a manicurist that causes these issues, I think a lot of it is actually down to the nail polishes that I was using. Because I've started exclusively using gel nail polishes and it's been something of a revelation: No chips, no smudges, just smooth, glossy nails that last all week.
I have to be clear here though, when I say gel nail polishes what I actually mean is gel effect nail polishes. While I love the longevity and quick-dry nature of a professional gel manicure, I have no interest in investing in a UV lamp and the various varnishes and tools that I'd need to do it myself at home. Instead, gel effect polishes offer up that same high-shine finish that I love but with none of the removal hassle that comes with a proper gel mani. These just wipe off with a standard nail polish remover.
Ahead, my 5 favourite brands that deliver the best gel nail polishes I've tried.
#1: Essie Gel Couture
I am a big fan of Essie's regular nail polishes anyway—their colour offering is always so innovative and trend-led when compared with the rest of the high street. However, their Gel Couture formulations are seriously impressive. While the shade range is a little more pared-back than the main collection, the polishes themselves come the closest I've found to a professional gel manicure at home. It's a two-step system with step one being your colour of choice and step two being a quick-drying top coat and the results are really good. All of the polishes have a wide brush which makes it so easy to apply an even coat of colour and the finish is so glossy and truly chip-resistant.
For trending nail polish colours or more experimental shades, Barry M is one of my go-to brands for purse-friendly options and the Gelly Hi Shine formulations are so good considering they're less than £4 a pop. The polishes are thick, without being gloopy, and give you gel-like coverage in basically just one stroke. (Although two will certainly improve the longevity.)
#3: Nails Inc Gel Effect
The Gel Effect polish range is one of Nails Inc's bestsellers and it's easy to see why—these polishes deliver on coverage, glossy and longevity and are incredibly east to apply. Plus, the new and improved formulations are enriched with a nourishing flower extract to actually condition and strengthen your nails at the same time. So clever.
#4: Rimmel Super Gel
The Rimmel Super Gel nail polishes are another one of those two-step systems which requires a coat of colour and then a special top coat which locks everything in place. The clever thing about this dual-system is that rather than requiring a UV lamp (like they use in salons) Rimmel have infused their top coat with natural light curing technology which means that daylight actually helps to set everything and keep your colour looking glossy and fresh for up to 14 days.
Sally Hansen might not be the coolest of nail polish brands but when it comes to nail expertise it really can't be rivalled. Beloved by beauty editors stateside, the Miracle Gel system really lives up to the hype—just make sure to apply the dedicated top coat for the longest-lasting colour. However, the thing that I love most about this range is the abundance of unusual colours and finishes—if you want metallics, glitters or even matte finishes then you can't go wrong.