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Gelish Review and Tutorial

Everybody is telling everybody about soak-off gels.  This new innovation is safer on natural nails than acrylics or traditional gels because it applies and removes like regular polish; no harsh filing is needed to prep or remove it.  This essentially means you can grow longer, stronger nails.  Perhaps even better, these manicures last an average of two weeks, resist chipping or breaking, and keep their glossy shine.  There are several brands, the front-runners including CND’s Shellac and Hand and Nail Harmony’s Gelish.  While brands such as CalGel and OPI Axxium retain the professional appearance of pots and separate brushes, Shellac and Gelish, along with NSI’s Illusion and IBD’s Gelac, come in polish bottles, a more user-friendly option which most likely sparked the do-it-yourself at home trend.

As I’ve received many questions regarding at-home application of soak off gels, I wanted to provide an in-depth tutorial using the Gelish system.   If you’re paying about $30-$35 for a Gelish manicure (not to mention the added expense of pedicure and tip), by buying the products yourself, you can recoup the costs after only 4 trips to the salon!  This makes doing-it-yourself an enticing choice.  I scoured the internet to find the best deals, and have linked to the products that I recommend.  I suggest purchasing materials at one time to save on shipping and handling costs.  Here are the products you should procure as well as some troubleshooting tips to achieve professional salon results at home!

What You’ll Need:

1.) Lint-Free Nail Wipes

Sure you have paper towels, tissues, cotton balls or even terry cloths around the house, but once you start swiping these across your nails, you risk fuzzy, threaded residue that can stick to and smudge wet polish.  Lint-free wipes are a great investment in order to eliminate the frustrating discovery of a little white fiber swimming in the middle of your freshly painted digits.


Recommended buyIBD Nail Wipes- Lint Free 80ct


2.) Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol

For prepping nails, the Gelish pH Bond can be substituted with isopropyl alcohol (its main ingredient), as its purpose is to dehydrate the nail bed.  By drying the nail’s natural oils, the polish will better bond.  You can find a decent-sized bottle of 70%-99% isopropyl alcohol in any pharmacy for a few dollars.


3.) Gelish Foundation Base Gel

Using a base coat is a necessary step in any manicure.  Not only do base coats protect against polish colors staining your natural nails, they contain nourishing proteins for the nail bed, and create a smooth, tacky layer to which the polish will adhere.  You can interchange the Shellac base coat with the Gelish, but I recommend using the brand of products that work together as a system.  Emerging TEAM Shellac and TEAM Gelish proponents argue over the ‘best’ product, but as a DIYer, I personally prefer the lower cost and double volume (0.5 oz. bottles) of the Gelish line.  It’s worth investing in the full-sized bottle.


Recommended buyHarmony Gelish FOUNDATION / Base Gel


4.) Gelish Soak-off Polish in the color of your choice.

What’s made Gelish a competitor with renowned CND Shellac is its color variety.  Gelish offers 72 colors, beyond the muted neutrals, reds and pinks of Shellac.  Gelish also boasts glitter polishes for a sparkly finish.  To view all of the Gelish color swatches, click here.  A note of caution, however: the swatches are not very accurate to the actual color results.  Try to find images of someone wearing the polish or read reviews to gauge the true hue.  Mini bottles (0.3 oz) allow you can sample more colors at less cost ($9 in comparison to $13-$16 for full-size 0.5 oz bottles).  Need some color guidance?  My favorites are Starburst, Tiger Blossom and Passion.


Recommended buyGelish Mini Soak-Off Gel Polish



5.) Gelish Top it Off Sealer

Like a regular top coat, Top It Off adds protection and shine.  This coat seals in the color, and can be re-applied after a few days for added protection, although too much extra application could make the nails look unnaturally thick. Like the Foundation Base Coat, you will use more, so I suggest buying the full-sized bottle.


Recommended buyGelish soak off sealer gel top it off



6.) Gelish Gel Cleanser

As a sanitizer, the cleanser can be used during nail preparation, but it’s really the crucial, final step in the Gelish application process to smooth the tacky surface layer, enhancing shine.  Although like the pH bond isopropyl alcohol is the main ingredient, the Gelish Cleanser contains moisturizers in addition to the solvents which break down unwanted residue on the nails.  For this reason, I recommend this product over its household counterpart; the cleanser has a silkier feel.  Its formula is especially designed to work with Gelish Top It Off, but it also works in conjunction with various other soak-off gel products, making it an overall versatile product.  I suggest the 120 ml, but if you are a professional nail technician looking to stock up, the larger 16 oz. refillis a better value.


Recommended buyHarmony Gelish Gel Cleanser ; Harmony GEL Cleanser Refill



7.) LED or UV lamp

LED lamps, like UV lamps, can only be used with gel products with the correct photo-initiators for the type of light.  Although these seem to be the wave of the future, LED lamps are not yet universally popular.  They are much more expensive ($200-$400), but will cure nails in half the time–approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute.  They use substantially less electricity than UV lamps (I’ve read approximately 60%) and the bulbs last longer.  In addition, they do not contain mercury or emit UV rays.

UV curing lamps are the more popular budgetary option.  Their price ranges between $30-$80.  Hand and Nail Harmony advertises a 36-watt UV lamp for Gelish, but I have used a 9-watt successfully, although it necessitates more curing time–up to 10 minutes.  From reviews and personal experience, I recommend the 45-watt Thermal Spa 49135 Professional U/V Gel Light Nail Dryer.  It is large enough to place both hands (or feet), which is a huge time-saver.  It also has automatic timers, and removable tray for easy cleaning.

Many concerns have recently emerged regarding this exposure to UV light, but most sources indicate the process is safe.  UV light is characterized into three categories–UVA, UVB and UVC–according to strength.  UVC light is the most damaging, with the shortest wavelength.  Earth’s atmosphere luckily is impenetrable to UVC light.  Both UVB and UVA rays cause damaging effects to the skin, ranging from melanoma cancer to aging.  Nail curing lamps produce UVA light, with far less intensity than the sun or tanning beds.   With the long-lasting results of UV cured gels, you won’t be needing to expose your hands daily or even weekly.  If you still have worries, you can apply a “broad-spectrum” sunblock (meaning it deflects both UVB and UVA rays) beforehand.  You will still need to clean the nail bed well to eliminate the oils in the sunblock, but your surrounding skin will be safer.


Recommended buy Thermal Spa 49135 Professional U/V Gel Light Nail Dryer (less expensive option)

Recommended buyNOVA LED Nail Light Lamp (fastest curing time, more energy-efficient, but more expensive option)



8.) Pure Acetone

Instead of purchasing the Gelish Soak Off Artificial Gel Remover, pure acetone substitutes just fine.  The Gelish brand remover may take slightly less time (10 minutes rather than 15), but you can buy larger bottles of acetone for cheaper than any specialty gel-remover product.


Recommended buyBeauty Secrets Pure Acetone Manicurist Solvent 8 oz.


The Steps:

1.) Prep your nails by shaping, pushing back cuticles and buffing.  The Hand and Nail Harmony website instructs removing the shine from the nail with a 100/180-grit buffer for proper adhesion of Gelish.

2.) Using a lint-free cloth or wipe, apply Gelish Gel Cleanser.

3.) Dehydrate the nail by applying rubbing alcohol.  Note that dehydrating the nail bed can simultaneously dry surrounding skin – so use a small brush to apply the rubbing alcohol only to your nails.

4.) Apply one coat of Foundation Base Gel.  Paint the edges of nail tips for longer-lasting results.  Before curing, use a damp cloth over an orange stick or other bluntly pointed object to wipe off any excess polish while it is wet.  Wiping all excess off of your fingers and cuticles is crucial because once it cures, not only will it be difficult to remove, but it may lead to lifting or peeling of the polish.  Since the excess is most likely an overflow from your nail onto your finger, peeling off excess from the base or sides of your nail can lift the polish on the nail as well.

Once the base coat is applied properly, cure for 2 minutes.*  To test if the curing is finished, you should be able to lightly tap your nail without imprinting the polish.  IT IS NORMAL THAT NAILS  WILL STILL FEEL TACKY TO THE TOUCH.  Why? 

Well, as I am a teacher after all, let me take a moment for some scientific explanation.  Oxygen hinders the polish’s molecules from bonding into a hard polymer.  Since the top layer of polish is exposed to more air than the bottom, the surface of the polish will remain tacky.

*Curing time is based on the previously recommended Thermal Spa UV lamp.  Proper curing times do differ depending on the lamp’s wattage, bulb intensity, and gel consistency.  A great article from Professional Beauty which gives some tips is: 7 Secrets to Curing.

5.) Apply one coat of color, again painting the tips of the nails and making sure to wipe off any excess, and then cure for 2-3 minutes.  UV light needs to penetrate through the polish, so as the top layer absorbs the majority of the rays, it can impede the light from reaching the base layers.  The more colorful, opaque polishes may require more curing time for this reason.  Painting the polish too thickly can also result in wrinkling during the curing process.  Therefore, you should apply the polish in thin layers with ample exposure time.

Once the first coat of color has cured, apply a second and cure.

6.) Apply one coat of Top It Off, following the same application guidelines as above.  Cure for 2 minutes.

7.) Using another lint-free wipe or cloth, wipe each nail with the Gel Cleanser, which will break down the sticky surface layer.  Make sure to wait until after the top coat is cured to apply the Gel Cleanser, or you will just be wasting it – subsequent applications of polish will re-establish the tacky layer.  After the cleanser, your nails should be free from the former tackiness, super-smooth and glossy.


For you visual learners, here’s my video tutorial of the process:

After Care and Removal:

It’s always a good idea to replenish moisture after a manicure, so apply cuticle oil or a good hand cream to nails after you’ve finished.

Gelish should last 12-14 days.  By then, you’ll notice nail growth and probably be ready for another application or color change.

Unlike acrylics, soak-off gels cannot be “filled” – they must be fully removed and reapplied.  For my soak-off gel removal tutorial, click here.


I hope this inspires you to do-it-yourself, saves you money and produces gorgeous, long-wear nails!  Class dismissed!

{ 39 comments… add one }

  • AGUEDA August 19, 2011, 8:37 pm


    • lisa February 15, 2012, 3:07 pm

      absolutely amazing!!! thankyou so much for your tutorial.. i’ve been searching the web trying to decide what to get shellac or gelish? to buy/not to buy? but watching your video, you made it so simple, that i’ve stopped my search and ready to purchase :)

  • biblia August 21, 2011, 2:41 pm

    Great job very clear and concise! One question that I haven’t see addressed anywhere. Can you go back a couple of days later and add a different color if you’ve maid a mistake? You know we all have…after looking at your nails for a day or so the color is just shrieking “what was I thinking?”

    • Reilyn October 1, 2011, 12:39 am

      hey biblia, i don’t think you can add another colour after the topcoat. My manicurist always tells me there’s no going back once the topcoat is added for gelish.

      • LaRonica July 19, 2012, 1:19 pm

        That’s not exactly true. I’ve gone over my topcoat before and just added a 2nd topcoat. Haven’t experienced any problems.

  • Ellen September 14, 2011, 9:48 am

    Does anyone happen to know how applying gelish at home compares to having it done at the nail salon? Do people find better long term results by having a nail tech complete their gelish or shellac manicure?

    By the way, great instructions!

  • Ferretkingdom September 19, 2011, 9:00 pm

    Actually the base coat should only be cured for 30 second to 1 minute in that 45watt thermal spa lamp. Gelish recommends a 36 watt lamp, with a cure time of 1 minute. That is directly from their website.

    • LaRonica July 19, 2012, 1:19 pm

      I had it done at the salon and I do it myself at home. I’ve experience absolutely no difference to the two scenarios. I actually think that they look better when I do them ;o)

  • Reilyn October 1, 2011, 12:37 am

    Thanks for the info on the remover for the gelish! the salons here charge S$20 for a soakoff, which i think is ridiculous! thanks very much :)

  • Gaby October 20, 2011, 5:35 am

    I have been trying to grow my nails for months now with no luck (they split and peel once they reach the free edge of my finger tips). I treated myself to my first Gelish Manicure today. It turned out quite nice, although the technician flooded my cuticles and nail beds. After reading your tutorial, I am concerned that the Gelish will lift or peel. What, if anything, can I do to remedy/prevent this? Also, I tend to change my polish every few days. Can I apply polish over the Gelish? If all of the great reviews I have read about Gelish hold true, I will definitely invest in doing it myself. Thanks.

    • Debra Listander August 27, 2012, 7:14 pm

      Gaby this sounds like an allergic reaction to me.

      • Trixie November 25, 2013, 10:56 am

        I am wondering if anyone has reported an allergic reaction to Gelish. I have a client whose nails do not seem to be growing and her fingers are breaking out and itching.

  • deanna October 21, 2011, 2:20 pm

    can you still do gelish nails with the same process with extension’?

  • Deb November 8, 2011, 3:16 pm

    When the base coat has been cured, there is still a stickyness to your nails. Does the sticky residue need to be wiped off with a lint free cloth before applying the color? Some of the videos I’ve watched show that it needs to be wiped off, while other videos (such as Gelish) don’t show the residue being wiped off before applying color. Any advice would be helpful :)

  • Heather December 22, 2011, 4:08 am

    Thanks for the tutorial! I am in looove with Gelish. I’m a nurse, so anything that can stand up to 4 12 hour shifts of gloves, harsh soap, and hand sanitizer is a winner in my book. For those of you looking, I found alot of the colors I couldn’t find at Sallys in an online store Bella Beauty. its at http://www.montealegremall.com Just typed Gelish in the search and yaaaaaay – all the pretty colors popped up

  • Denise December 29, 2011, 9:33 pm

    Can I use the foundation base coat then the top coat without a color, to have a natural look?

  • Gina O' January 5, 2012, 8:22 pm

    Excellent tutorial! I did the first application today. Next time I will definitely get the lint-free wipes you recommended. I had to use cotton balls because it was all I had and I was careful but still got fibers on several of my nails.

  • margarita January 31, 2012, 11:42 pm

    were can i buy this product in Mexico city?

  • Kelly February 15, 2012, 5:52 pm

    I have been using the Gelish and doing it myself and I love it. There is one thing I have noticed that is bothering me though – my fingers are getting splits (small cuts) under the tops of some of my nails or the sides of my thumbs. It can be quite painful and it seems to only happen when I use this system, not just regular nail polish. In fact, my nails feel really tight for the first few days then seem to split. Is there something I am doing wrong? Thanks

  • Slovak teacher March 25, 2012, 5:04 am

    Great work! That is the type of info that are meant to be shared across the net. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this publish higher! Come on over and seek advice from my site . Thanks =)

  • Carol May 20, 2012, 4:37 pm

    That is pretty sloppy looking. If you wouldn’t touch your cuticles with the polish brushes it would look a lot cleaner. Try to use your cuticle pusher wrapped with a paper towel as little as possible as it makes for a sloppy edge. Maybe soak the wooden cuticle pushers instead.
    As you’ve said – be careful and practice!

  • Farah May 23, 2012, 3:06 pm

    Hello, I have a 36watt uv lamp that U bought off of ebay, and I use a ibd base and top coat. however for the color i use a brand off of ebay. I do you a ph bond. and do all the steps correctly. But My nail Polish keeps chiping after a day!!!!! I need help. I bought a lot of stuff and hope to get my money worth. :(

    • Liza February 27, 2014, 3:18 am

      Smaac-dkb what I was looking for-ty!

  • elaine June 18, 2012, 1:31 pm

    I am wondering if my Light Elegance cleanser would substuite for the cleanser for Gelish. It is acetone and alchol mix? I am assuming yes, any advice would rock. Less stuff I have to buy!

  • Vickie June 22, 2012, 6:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the wonderful tutorial and the web page with the info on what to get and where.

    • Marzy May 20, 2015, 9:50 am

      How to do a French nail application? Also can the nail be extended very minutely (my-nute-lee) with a form?

  • Lizeth Medina June 22, 2012, 10:25 pm

    Excellent Tutorial, I have seen a lot of them and I like yours the most!

    Thank you for taking the time to make such a good video!!

  • ieva July 8, 2012, 8:39 am

    Hey, I want to start by using your tutorial, I will buy 36watt UV lamp, so how long each time I need to hold hand inside? Because I found in the internet information how long to hold the hands just about LED.

  • Joyce July 29, 2012, 12:30 pm

    I have tried to do french tips twice and both times the gellish wipes right of in areas.I have cured up to 4 min. after applying the first coat of white. It just wont stick. My daughters does just fine. Does anyone have any ideas?

  • mariana August 16, 2012, 5:45 am

    I am so glad to finally have a website that explains well what materials need to work, and film attachment. Thank you. By the way, I bought 20 colors of this company and I am very pleased.

  • Mellow September 4, 2012, 10:29 am

    Thank to your tutorial I manage my first gelish application with the harmony pro 45 led lamp.

    The result is awsome, I can’t help to look at my nails all the time.

    Thank you very much from Belgium !

    I fact I bought the products because of this tutorial, I didn’t heard about the soak of gel ou Gelish before. I’m delighted :-)

  • Sally February 7, 2013, 3:03 pm


    Every question I had was answered and all the required research was done for me!

    Thank you so much!!!

  • HLS March 24, 2013, 7:57 pm

    I have the gelish system. I follow all the steps and the timelines for curing. Most of the time, after I apply it, it peels off within 1-2 days. Only one time, did it stay for 7 days. I did not do any steps differently. It does not damage my nail, it simply peels off. Is it possible that my nail chemistry just doesnt work with the product? What am I doing wrong?

  • Glenda November 26, 2013, 4:08 am

    I am going to start using gelish,thank u for all the usefull information!!

  • Connie January 2, 2014, 1:05 pm

    Hi. Great tutorial. I am just getting into manicures and plan to do myself. This is a great..thx…I will use as my guide. I have been interested in the Thermal Spa 49135, but would like to know if it has a cold air setting for curing natural nails regular polish as I use that too? And what type of top coat do you recommend using on regular polishes cured with the 49135. Thanks again…

  • Ms. Studdard February 14, 2014, 6:27 pm

    Dear Nail Teacher!
    The information you provided here has been so terrific for me. Well over a year ago I discovered your site and proceeded to take all your advice and purchase the recommended supplies and follow your instructions. I have been doing my toenails and fingernails this way every since. For the first time in my life I am able to grow my nails out thanks to the extra strength that the gel application offers. The BEST part is having my nails look so beautiful all the time. I often get compliments on them!

    Anyway, I just wanted to sincerely thank you for posting this valuable information!
    A. Studdard

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