Which At-Home Gel Top Coat Stays The Shiniest?

by Danielle Guercio

If you don’t want to contribute to the detriment of the beauty industry, doing your nails at home is an excellent way to protect nail workers from their crappy bosses. Luckily for us, there are plenty of at home gel nail polish top coats and kits on the market, some of which are 3- and 5-free. Those take it one step further by protecting your body from potentially harmful chemicals (3-free contain no formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate, while 5-free have zero formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin, and camphor), while still maintaining that gel nail polish shine, of course. There are so many options for nail colors, but so few that are 3-free, 5-free, and high performing.

Recently, I got to try some amazing at-home gel and gel-type polishes, treating it like a science experiment, and was so happy with the results. All price ranges are represented here, and that means there is no day like today to get the glossiest, sturdiest, prettiest nails ever.

From drugstore bargains to top of the line luxury polish, there really is an at-home gel solution for everyone. The price range here is $5.98 to $59.99, extremely diverse, and ready for matching with your needs. If you like color polish, the world is your oyster! I stick to clear personally, as I stain my nails this fun red color with henna once a week to strengthen and protect them. Using 3 and 5 free top coat is a must for me, as standard nail polish tends to work up my eczema out of dormancy.

Here are five options for getting gel-like shine at home, from least to most expensive.

1. Flower Beauty Quick Dry Top Coat

Flower Quick Dry Top Coat, $4, Walmart

Nail's It right after application.

Nail's It five days later.

This 3-free formula lasted OK over a 5 day test. It didn’t stay perfectly shiny, but looked nice for 70 percent of the testing period. This formula dried very quickly and the shine level was decent at the beginning of the week. Flower is a Walmart exclusive line and really affordable, so it's less of a big deal if you have to reapply after a couple of days. You can also use this baby as a base coat!

2. Revlon Colorstay Gel Envy Diamond Top Coat

Revlon Colorstay Gel Envy Top Coat, $5, Amazon

Diamond Top Coat right after application.

Diamond Top Coat five days later.

Widely available at Ulta, drugstores, and big box stores, you can snag this under 10 dollar and 5-free topcoat almost anywhere! I think this polish fared very well; it didn’t chip terribly and kept its shine over the five day test. I love how accessible this polish is, and it’s great for people like me who are only using it as a top coat.

3. Dermelect Memento Manicure Extender Top Coat

Dermelect Memento Manicure Extender Top Coat, $20, Amazon

Memento right after application.

Memento five days later.

I LOOOOVED this top coat, so I was extra sad when it chipped. It has anti-aging properties from keratin and peptides, not oft heard in a nail discussion, but sadly chipped on the last day. It left an intense shine and was really fortifying — my nails felt really hard after a few coats! I don’t know if everyone will experience the same peeling as I have (even the legendary Seche Vite Top Coat has flaked off of my nails) so If you are looking for a top coat that is also nourishing, this is likely your best bet.

4. Butter London Patent-Gel Top & Tails

Butter London Patent-Gel Top & Tails, $40, Ulta

Patent-Gel right after application.

Patent-Gel five days later.

This is a sexy square packaged luxurious set of top and base coat from butter London. Available at Sephora, Ulta, and department stores, you can grab this kit and go to town on your manicure. Patent-Gel works best as a team, and you can use solo or over any nail polish. The shine dulled a little but there was almost no chipping after the five days. Plus, it's 3-free!

5. SensatioNail Gel Primer Starter Kit

SensatioNail Gel Primer Starter Kit, $10, Amazon

SensatioNail right after application.

SensatioNail five days later.

Who would have thought that you could actually grab an LED kit online and spare yourself smudged nails and a wait for drying time? Using this at home gel kit gives you mirror shine nails with a long lasting finish. My nails stayed super duper shiny for five days with no chips, and were easy to remove. I loved this kit! Clear gel enhanced my color so much and made nails hard and durable. You do have to use the included LED light to get the full effect, but it only takes 30 seconds for each coat. After you blast it with light, your polish will be completely dry, so there's no waiting around with this 3-free formula.

I hope you feel more equipped to skip the salon and treat yo self with the flexibility of being at home to nosh popcorn and binge Parks and Rec while doing your nails. You know what you're putting on your body, you know that your nail tech’s labor isn’t being exploited, and you know that you can save money in the long run, even with the more expensive choices.

Photos: Darnell Scott (1); Danielle Guercio (10)