Salon Quality Gel Nails At Home

My best tips for a salon-comparable result plus my favorite products.


As far back as I can remember, I have been a nail junkie. It began in high school already; back then I obviously couldn’t afford to get my nails done on any regular basis, so I did them myself. My big nail challenge has always been that my natural nails are quite weak and tend to be brittle. I take supplements to no avail for this, and as a result I’ve been using gel overlays for years as the best remedy I could find.

A lot of people claim they’ve had issues with nail health after gel-use, but this has never been the case for me. I sometimes end up in a no-gel phase for whatever reason, but my nails never seem any different from their normal, useless selves. So I gel away.

The caveat to all of this is that I live in Switzerland where the labor is costly and the attitude towards service in general leaves something to be desired. I’ve used many different nail salons in Zurich, and there’s always a trade-off, because as we all know, you can’t have Cheap, Good, and Fast…

I have previously owned the sensatioNAIL kit and liked it until I felt the gel polish would just flake off eventually, and I felt the products were rather expensive as well. With the aforementioned nail predicament, a plan gel polish in itself also didn’t do the trick of adding strength.

So when lockdown hit in March, I decided to ditch the salon (involuntarily, and for now, at least) and get some gel-nail basics. It’s required some time and effort, but all in all I’m happy to have the alternative now.

If you’re wondering how to get salon quality gel nails at home, look no further! I’ll be sharing all the fundamentals plus my favorite learning resources and insights.

salon quality gel nails

The Best Youtube Channels For Learning Gel-Nail Basics

Chances are, you’ll have a ton of questions about some fairly basic, technical questions. There’s obviously a whole profession around being a nail technician, and I’m definitely not one myself. But even an amateur can learn to do some basics, and as long as you focus on learning a few simple styles, with a bit of practice you will have good results with the right tools.

The top Youtube channels that I used A LOT to catch on to some basics, were Nail Career Education, The Beauty Vault and Young Nails Inc. Some of the channels are real nail technicians, but all three channels really give you a small variety of techniques as everyone develops their own working ways over time. There are so many channels, so chances are whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find. 

The Must Have Supplies Needed For Salon-Quality Gel Nails

The truth is you don’t need a lot – and that being said, there’s always the trial and error of finding the products you truly love using and working with.

Personally, my must-have supplies are as follows:

  • UV/LED light (I use the SUNUV Sunone 48W Professional UV LED Nail Lamp)
  • A good quality electric file (You wouldn’t use anything with more than 10,000 RPMs, but you’ll need more than 5,000 as well) with attachments
  • Nail files / different grits
  • Cuticle trimmers
  • Lint-free wipes
  • 100% Acetone
  • A nail cleanser / top finish cleanser (to remove the tacky layer of residue after curing the gel)
  • A Gel brush
  • A good PH-bond / primer (IMPORTANT)
  • Clear builder gel (I use this to add strength and protect my nail beds from filing off old product)
  • Top coat
  • Colors 
As you can see, it does require a bit of investment up front to build out your kit… but I’ve saved more than I spent so far, so if you’re committed to making it work, it will be a good use of money. 

My entire nail kit is in this basket.

cuticle drill-bit

This is the cuticle drill-bit. It’s a life saver!


This is the e-file I currently use. 

Lint free wipes and nail cleanser

Lint free wipes and nail cleanser are an absolute must.

How I usually Do My Nails In Steps

Everyone’s nails are different. I find that my nail beds are quite sensitive and easily bleed, so I’m lucky that my cuticles are fairly easy to manage. What works for me might not work for you, but to give you an idea of what the process looks like, here’s a step list.

For Refills:

1.) Start off by manually filing off top layer of all nails OR use e-file with arbor bands (they’re little rounds of sandpaper/nail file that you can put on the e-file and I find it’s VERY difficult to hurt myself this way). I generally file off anything that has lifted, and otherwise just until the gel is thin enough for me to apply a new set on.

2.) Shape the nails like I want them

3.) Push back cuticles, remove dead skin with e-file using the gentle drill-bit (as pictured later)

4.) Wash hands to make sure everything is clean, wipe off with lint-free wipes + cleanser

5.) Apply PH-bond to all of nail. I use the Gelish product line as shown below and find that they are an excellent range of products to begin with.

6.) Apply builder gel and cure. I try to center it at the bottom to “fill” any difference in levels between the nail bed and the previous manicure. Tip: You really need to load up the brush with enough product, not just brush on like regular polish.

7.) After builder gel, I remove the tacky layer with cleanser and shape the nails if needed. Most of the time the shape and dimension of the nail is fine, and then you shouldn’t remove the tacky layer.

8.) Apply color, cure as needed. Be sure to cap the edges. 

9.) Top coat and cure. Remove tacky layer with cleanser, and you’re done.

After first filing

After first filing, before refilling

After the growth with builder gel

After the growth has been filled with builder gel

Foundation builder gel

Foundation is a builder gel


I use and recommend the Gelish products

My 17 best tips for how to get salon quality gel nails at home

First of all, by far the best thing you can do is to watch videos and practice. In any case, here we go:

  • The biggest issue with gel nails is lifting, really. To prevent this the primer or PH bond plus good preparation is the most important parts
  • Good nail prep will leave the nail bed and nail surface buffed gently with no shine left
  • Get a steer on using the e-file on a model nail (cheap to purchase) first, and master when to use Forward/Reverse. If you use builder gel to increase the strength of the overall nail plate, it’s a must to work with an e-file for time considerations
  • Stabilizing your working hand with your pinkie helps a lot
  • Aggressively filing at lifted edges during removal/prep can exacerbate the lifting further and have you filing for ages. Go gently
  • If your cuticles are rather persistent and difficult to remove, hand sanitizer will dissolve them much like cuticle-remover
  • I have had the best results doing nailprep only using my e-file with the appropriate drill-bit
  • Good drill bits make a difference 
  • When filing with arbor bands, make sure you “season” the edges as they can be very sharp and cause injuries by first running the file while rounding the edge off against a regular nail file
  • Don’t clean off your gel brush with cleanser; just wipe it off on lint-free wipes
  • Leave the tacky layer of the gels in between coats
  • Make sure you cap the free edges of your nails for better durability – and shape the nails as one of your first steps for this reason
  • When curing your nails make sure your gel products (other than what is on your nails, obviously) are not exposed to the UV/LED light
  • If applying builder gel, a more even shape of the nail and apex (the thickest point of the nail, mostly relevant if you have long nails) can be achieved by simply holding your hand with the palm facing upwards while gravity works to shape the gel
  • If the viscosity of your product is on the liquid side, you can flash cure nails individually for 5 seconds to avoid the gel from moving until you cure the full hand for 45 seconds and work your way through all nails this way
  • Always make sure you have a podcast and a beverage on hand while doing your nails!!!
  • And finally: Make sure you have ample time, especially in the beginning. It’s a skill that takes time to master. 🙂
Let me know in the comments below how you’re getting your nails done at the moment and if you have more tips and resources to share!

xxx Annie

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