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The Best Gel Top Coats For Salon-Level Manicures At Home

Bustle / Amazon

You could get away with nixing the top coat on a regular manicure — not recommended, but sure. A gel manicure, however, simply cannot exist without a top coat. “A gel top coat is an extremely important step since it seals and protects your gel manicure,” Hannah Lee, Sally Hansen Brand Ambassador, tells Bustle. “It also gives you a beautiful, glossy shine that gel manicures are known for.” The best gel top coats work to create a hard seal that will extend your gel manicure’s longevity for about two to three weeks, and they should be formulated specifically for use with gel nail polishes (though it may seem obvious, this part is key.)

A few notes. If you’re doing a traditional gel manicure at home, then a UV/LED lamp is absolutely required to cure each layer of your manicure. (You can find simple, relatively affordable ones on Amazon, like this one from SUNUV.) However! There is such a thing as gel-effect nail polish. It behaves just like a regular nail polish — i.e., no curing lamp required — but, thanks to their special formulations and top coats, they’re shinier, more durable, and last longer without chipping than a typical polish will.

Whether you’re curing or air-drying, the three best gel top coats featured on this list will keep your manicure going strong.

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1
The Best UV-Cured Gel Top Coat

If you're doing a traditional gel manicure at home with a UV/LED lamp, try this Beetles gel top coat and base coat set alongside any soak-off gel nail polish — whether that’s one of several Beetles gel polishes available on Amazon, or one from another brand entirely. Here’s how to do it: Paint on a thin layer of the base coat included in this set and cure it for 60 to 90 seconds. (The base coat acts as double-sided tape between your nail and the polish — one reason why gel manicures last so long). Next, paint on two thin layers of gel polish, curing each for 90 to 120 seconds; a third coat of polish is optional. Finally, paint on (you guessed it!) a thin layer of the gel top coat and cure it for 90 to 120 seconds. For your patience, you’ll be rewarded with a shiny, durable gel manicure that lasts up to three weeks without chipping, cracking, or peeling.

Glowing review: “For the price, this is an excellent top/base coat. I started doing my own nails at home to save money, and I’ve gone through a few different top and base coats with little success. This works as well or better than the more expensive ones. The shine is excellent after a week and is wearing really well! It goes on very smoothly in thin coats.”

2
The Best Lamp-Free, Glossy Gel Top Coat

Unlike true gel polishes, gel-effect polishes dry just like a regular nail polish. (They also don’t need to be preceded by a base coat, though the polish will go on smoother and last longer if you use one.) This best-selling Essie gel top coat gives you all the gloss and durability of a UV-cured gel top coat, and reviewers say it dries even faster than a non-gel top coat. Even better: You don’t need to soak off gel-effect polishes and top coats with acetone then scrape the polish away. The whole kit and kaboodle removes just like regular nail polish, so you can opt for an acetone-free nail polish remover that’s much less drying to your nails.

Glowing review: “I can't live without this product. With two coats of any color and one coat of this, my nails look professionally done. It dries super fast, too. I reapply it every two or three days and maintain my home-mani for about a week and a half without any chipping!”

3
The Best Lamp-Free, Matte Gel Top Coat

If you’re into a powdery, matte finish on your nails (how very Kylie Jenner of you), opt for this Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Matte Top Coat. You can air dry it like any old top coat, though it’s formulated to cure more quickly when it’s exposed to sunlight. It’ll get stronger over time, too. This works best with any of the Sally Hansen Miracle Gel polishes you can get on Amazon, but reviewers confirm that this shine-free top coat works equally well over any gel-like nail polish.

Glowing review: “This is my new favorite top coat. I use it with any nail polish and with nail polish strips. It dries quickly [and] makes my manicure last 7-10 days without chipping.”

Expert:

Hannah Lee, Sally Hansen Brand Ambassador.