Is This A Safer & Cheaper Gel Mani Alternative?

As a self-proclaimed beauty addict, I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I've never gotten a gel manicure. I've always been worried about the safety concerns surrounding the UV lights, but I've also heard horror stories about gel manicures ruining nails, leaving them ragged and frail. So when I heard about Deborah Lippmann's Gel Lab, a safer, easier, and cheaper alternative to a real gel manicure, I was instantly intrigued. After all, I've always been curious about whether gels really do last longer than traditional polishes.

Deborah Lippmann's Gel Lab is full system, including a base coat and top coat polish that promise to give a long-wearing, shiny effect similar to that of a gel manicure done in a salon. Made without parabens or sulfates, the polish also doesn't require UV light to set it, making it considerably safer and healthier than a real gel mani. It costs $45, which is the price of about two salon gel manicures.

What makes it different than a regular long-wear base and top coat? The base coat, Coat of Arms, is made with epoxy resin to keep the polish stay put. The top coat, Shining Armor, should give you the glossy, shiny finish a salon manicure would. The packaging doesn't say anything about the polish lasting for a full two weeks, but it's kind of implied.

Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab System, $45, Amazon

Possibly the best thing about this duo? It will save you money, and it's versatile. You can use this with any brand of nail polish (not only Deborah Lippmann), and you don't need a special nail polish remover to take it off. Also, since it's two full-size bottles of polish, it should surely last you a few months of use. This makes the $45 price tag totally worth it, when you consider how many salon manicures you could get for that price.

But here's the important question: Does this stuff actually work? As a big fan of Deborah Lippmann, and a good manicure in general, I knew I had to try it out for myself.

I started my experiment on a Friday morning, using one of my absolute favorite Essie colors, Too Too Hot, which is an amazing red. I was leaving for a weeklong trip to Spain that night, and I figured there was no better time to try out a long-lasting manicure than a time when you really want your nails to look great for a few days. I didn't even pack the polish with me so that I could eliminate any desire to touch up any chips I got.

I headed to the nail salon with all of my fancy nail polishes, and had my manicurist use it on my nails. The directions on Gel Lab state that, for the best results, you should wait one minute between each coat of polish. I didn't time it, but I don't think we waited a full minute between each coat, but maybe about 45 seconds, so, pretty close.


I couldn't have been more happy with the end result. Too Too Hot is a gorgeous, bold color on it's own, but this top coat made it shinier and glossier than usual. I could definitely see a difference from when I usually use it. It just stood out more than it usually does, and my nails truly looked awesome, even if they significantly shorter than I'd like them to be. Now to find out if they would they actually last.


So, as you can see, things started to do slightly downhill by day three, which was a little bit disappointing. However, it's not entirely the fault of the nail polish. The nail on my middle finger broke a little, which caused the polish to chip. I inspected the rest of my nails to find that none of them were chipping except for that one. The polish still had a glossy, shiny look, although it wasn't as perfect as the first day. But maybe that's what over 10 hours of traveling with a suitcase giant enough to fit you will do to you? I don't know.


To be honest, I was pretty frustrated to find that, on day four, two of my nails on my right hand had chipped. I wasn't all that surprised though. I'm right-handed, and the nails on my right hand ALWAYS chip before the nails on my left hand, obviously because I use one more than the other. Also, I'm allergic to a lot of things and dealt with a case of hives on my wrist the night before, so I'm thinking that all of my scratching contributed to the chipping. However: Isn't this manicure supposed to be like gel? Doesn't that mean it's not supposed to chip as easily? Hm.

I will say this, though: My nails were still super shiny and glossy, as you can see in the picture. Usually my nails will start to look dull and icky a few days into a manicure, so this really was an improvement.


Towards the end of the week, my nails started chipping more and more. As you can see, my nails were chipping much worse on my right hand, while they were still pretty close to perfect on my left. They were still pretty shiny, so they didn't look as dingy as they could have.


This is when things just kind of fell apart. By the seventh night, the shininess and glossiness I had previously loved were almost gone. From far away, my nails didn't look too bad, but from up close, they were kind of a total mess. But to be honest, I don't think this is really that bad for seven days with the same nail polish on. I get manicures every seven days, and I've seen a whole lot worse than this.


Here are my day nine nails at the nail salon because, oh my goodness, I needed a manicure badly. By the end of the week, my nails had grown out, the polish looked super messy, and every single nail was chipped. Looking on the bright side, it's still kind of shiny, though!

Conclusion: If you're looking for a shinier, glossier manicure, Gel Lab is a really great option. I was a little bit disappointed with the product because I had been hoping that it would last longer before it started chipping, but maybe I was being a bit too optimistic. Looking at the Gel Lab packaging, it never promises to last the same two weeks as a real salon manicure, but it does promise to make your nails LOOK like you've had a gel manicure. And in terms of shininess, it definitely did!

I would absolutely use Gel Lab again, and I will use it until it runs out. I really liked the high shine and the way it made the color even more bold than it already was. I do think that my mani looked nicer and less chipped than regular manicures I've gotten in the past. So, while it didn't last as long as I would have liked it too, it still made me happy. And isn't feeling a little happier the whole point of a manicure?

Images: Jessica Booth; Sephora