Makeup Monday: More about Gelish

I have had so many questions about Gelish since my post a couple of weeks ago (which you can read here) that I though I should write a little more. So here are a few more details:

This is what you must have for Gelish:

Foundation Gel


Top it Off (all three products are by Nail Harmony. They also make Red Carpet Manicure which is sold by Ulta and has almost identical colors.)

LED light or UV light (LED lights in a nail lamp are stronger than those in an LED flashlight. Which is why you can’t find a decent LED nail lamp for less than $200. Don’t you think somebody would be selling a super cheap version on ebay if they could?)

Nail prep. Either use the Gelish Cleanser by Nail Harmony or 90% rubbing alcohol sold in most pharmacies. You have to remove all residue from the nails or the Gelish will just peel off. This is also used at the very end of your manicure to remove the sticky layer.

Paper towels. Good for applying nail prep/alcohol. Cotton balls leave tiny threads that get stuck in the polish.

These things are nice but not necessary:

Pro Bond (by Nail Harmony). This is used after the nail prep/alcohol but before the foundation gel. It keeps the polish on extra well. I just use it at the tips.

Cuticle Clippers. Keeps cuticles nice and tidy.

Orange Sticks. These multi purpose wooden sticks are great for a dozen different tasks. I use them constantly. I prefer the slightly fancier ones with a nice pointy end rather than the kind that are sold in a huge pack for super cheap.

Several people have asked if it’s possible to use regular nail polish sandwiched between the Gelish Foundation Gel and Top Coat. Yes, technically it works. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t last nearly as well as Gelish brand polish. It chips sooner. Plus you have to wait for the polish to completely dry before you can apply the Top It Off. That adds up to an hour to your manicure while you sit around waiting for your polish to dry.  The UV light will not make it dry faster. It’s an entirely different chemical reaction than takes place with Gelish polish. It sucks that the Gelish nail polish costs $10-$15 dollars per bottle, but it does, so too bad.

Since the Gelish color palatte is somewhat limited, here is what I do to make it seem like I have more colors than I do: I own five or six basic Gelish colors that I use often and I pour small amounts in a dish and mix up new colors. I have not had any issues with my new concoctions chipping or not wearing as well. I will just mix a few drops at a time (enough for ten nails which is really not that much at all).

I also layer colors. Some are more sheer than others and will completely change the look of your polish. Samuri is a lovely, purplish sheer that is OK on its own, but looks marvelous when applied over most any other color. Two coats of Gossip Girl with a coat of Samuri over the top is my favorite.

Here’s a quick run-down on the complete Gelish application process:

1. File nails and push back cuticles.

2. Apply nail prep/alcohol with a paper towel.

3. (Optional) Apply Pro Bond to nail tips, edges, underneath free edges.

4. Apply Foundation Gel very sparingly.

5. Cure for 1 minute.

6. Wipe off excess foundation gel with a paper towel.

7. Apply a thin coat of color, including free edges and tips.

8. Cure for 2-3 minutes (under UV lamp. Less for LED. 2 minutes for pale colors. 3 for darker colors.)

9. Repeat color and curing until you have three coats.

10. Apply Top it Off.

11. Cure for 2-3 minutes.

12. Wipe off sticky residue with rubbing alcohol and paper towel. DONE!

As far as removing the Gelish goes, it is a bit of a pain. The top layer must be filed with a coarse file so that the remover can penetrate the layers underneath. The nails must be soaked for about 10 minutes in 100% acetone (available anywhere). I usually fill up a little dish and soak one hand at a time while I read a book. After the nails have soaked, use an orange stick to scrape off the polish. It won’t hurt your nails but it will make them look kind of gross. Afterwards wash your hands with a big dollop of soap and your nails will look just fine.

This would not be worth it if you had to do it all the time, but every two or three weeks is certainly worth the trouble. All told it probably takes me about 45-60 minutes to remove my nail polish and apply a new color from start to finish. I adore Gelish and don’t think an hour every couple of weeks is too much to ask for great-looking nails.

Let me know if you have any questions!

| Filed under Makeup and Hair, Nails

32 thoughts on “Makeup Monday: More about Gelish

  1. this is perfect! Thanks! I’m so excited for this.

    Where do YOU typically buy your nail polish? Online? Sallys? Ulta?

  2. can you use regular nail polis OVER all that gelish thing? im sure i wont be able to wear one color for weeks, so im curious if i can do it.

    1. I doubt regular polish would stay very well. I know if I’ve gotten a little chip and covered it up with regular polish it has chipped again within a couple of days. Sometimes if I’m bored with a color I’ll do a layer of Gelish in another color over the top and then put a layer of topcoat. That seems to work OK.

  3. You do not need to wipe the surface between coats. Gelish instructions say that and
    in fact I do not do it either (for some reason they do it at the salon but it is a different
    brand than Gelish that they are using). Just cure between coats and clean the top it off
    coat with the cleanser and voila .. beautiful job.

  4. Hi im looking to intrudce gelish to my beauty room i already use shellac and thought gelish is a good second gel polish as they have so many colour but whats confusing me is why you wipe the sticky layer of after the top coat is applied? also what product is used on the issue paper to remove it?

  5. Can I put a thicker coat of gelish color after I’ve finished the last step? Rather have a thicker coat so the nail can be protected longer.

  6. Hi,

    I have recently had Gelish done on my nails at a salon and am loving it. I’m about 10 days in with only a small chip on one nail which is great. Obviously as my nails are growing I now have an empty area at the top of my nails (having a preference for dark coloured polish doesn’t help!) I am due to go back at the weekend to have it reapplied but have a big night out before then. I was wondering, I learnt a trick of blending two colours by using varish remover and a cotton bud and smudging the join which I have done several times with normal polish – will the nail polish remover damage the gelish in any way if I attempt this by painting the top of my nails? Almost like a reverse french tip!

    Any help would be highly appreciated!

    1. I haven’t tried that. Usually I just put a couple more coats of the main color over what’s already there, then top it off. That will usually buy me a few more days until I do a complete polish change. You should try that method you mention and let me know how it works. It’s great to learn from each other. Cheers!

      1. Hi,

        Well I tried the two tone look last night and it works and looks fab! I have a dark burgandy on my nails in Gelish so I used a black normal polish to paint the tops of my nails and blended very gently into the burgandy using a cotton bud dipped in varnish remover. It hasn’t damaged the gelish in any way and I should avoid any chipping on the normal polish as it’s only on the nail bed end not the tips. Great! Makes a very funky look and should lengthen the time between Gelish application!

  7. I just bought the starter set last night and tried it with night reflection. I followed all of the directions, but I had problems when I went to apply the colored polish. I’m taking the color back this afternoon and trying a different one, in case it was the bottle, but I wanted to see if I am doing something wrong. At first I noticed that the color tended to slide around my nail surface, pooling by my cuticles. After 3 coats (curing 3 minutes each with my mini UV light) the polish was still pooling, not anywhere close to opaque (like one very thin coat of regular polish) and kind of crawling away from the free edge of my nail. I took it all off and tried again, this time trying to keep the color away from my cuticle and using the thinnest coats I could. I still had the crawling problem and noticed that when I went on to the second and third coat, the brush seemed to be pulling the polish from the previous coat off, instead of making the color darker. I’m sorry this is long, but I just spent a lot on this and really want it to work.

    1. Which starter set did you get? I haven’t come across this problem although I have noticed that Red Carpet colors are much more sheer and require more coats than regular Gelish colors.

  8. It must have been the bottle of night reflection I got. I exchanged it for black cherry berry, and it worked great! Thanks for your help.

  9. I can’t get harmony cleanse anywhere what else can I use to remove the tacky layer when manicure is finished could I use acetone ? Thanks

    1. Susan, don’t use acetone! 90% Rubbing alcohol will do fine in the place of Harmony cleanse. (You can get it at most pharmacies/Walmart. Regular rubbing alcohol is only 70%) This is what I use to prep my nails as well as take the sticky coating off at the end. Never had a problem with it! Good luck!

  10. Thank you do much for response I am in UK and have just googled rubbing alcohol and we call it surgical spirit so I can get some, just wondered why you say don’t use acetone? Someone else told me that that’s what the cleanse is? Looking forward to your response
    Regards Susan

    1. That is NOT what the cleanse is. That’s what the remover is. The cleanse is rubbing alcohol. Acetone is what removes gel polish so, as you can see, rubbing it with acetone would remove the gel polish. Not good.

  11. I bought the Gelish system and bought the nice light that goes with the system on Amazon. I LOVE IT!! I change my polish about once a week as I don’t like the grow out near my cuticles. I used it on my toes when we went to Thailand and it lasted for almost 2 weeks. 2 weeks at the pool and the beach and it looked amazing! I’d highly recommend it. I also do one hand at a time to keep track of what step I’m on.

  12. I bought the gelish mini kit with the handheld uv light… works great, however, I noticed that when it’s time for me to apply ‘Top it Off’ (after I’ve applied the color), I often find that some of the color comes off of my nail and onto the ‘Top it Off’ brush. Am I doing something wrong?? Is this normal? Are my color coats too thick? Or is it tat I don’t cure the color long enough? ( I cure for 2-3 minutes after each color coat)


    1. I have this happen too. Sometimes it’s just a bit. When I got the Red Carpet LED lamp I started getting a lot more polish removal, especially at the end when I’d wipe the nails with alcohol. I realized that the small Red Carpet light kept the sides of my nails form curing completely. I now try to lean my hands from one side to the other while they are curing in order to get every side exposed to the light. You might try curing all the coats for three minutes. Sometimes that makes a difference. My recommendation would be to buy one of the larger UV or, even better, LED lights off of Amazon. They’ll set you back $50-100 but I think that will really make a big difference. The Red Carpet lights are better than nothing but you’ll get tired of them fast.
      Keep practicing, though! Every time you do your nails you’ll get a little better!

  13. I bought the harmony gelish starter kit and use a LED lamp. The foundation is so thick that I have a really hard time making a THIN Layer! Is the layer supposed to be Shiney-thin? How do I know if the foundation has just gotten too thick (like regular nail polish gets after awhile.). Thanks for your help!

    1. Freddi, Even though the Foundation gel is quite thick, just keep wiping and wiping it on the side of the bottle. I do it maybe 15 times before I finally apply the foundation gel. It seems so thin that I’m not sure how much is on there. Sometimes I’ll swirl the brush around just to make sure the nail is all covered. You’ll get the hang of it!

  14. Hi Hildie,
    I just came across your site as I was looking for information on Gel Polish. Since you seem to be so sweet about answering questions, I was wondering if you might be able to help me out.
    I have had a couple of mani/pedis recently, using the gel. Love it, but can’t afford to go in every 2 weeks to get it redone. I made the decision to go ahead and try it on my own. I just purchase a SensatioNail Starter Kit – this included the light (which isn’t very big, but it does work). I also purchased a bottle of acetone to remove what was already on there. On Saturday I decided to give myself a pedicure. I slightly roughed up each nail, put the acetone on cotton balls, wrapped each toe with tin foil, let it sit 15 minutes, and was able to easily remove the polish. I finished the whole process and was thrilled with the results. Last night I decided to go ahead and do my manicure. WHAT A DISASTER!!!!! Tried wrapping them in foil. Didn’t work! Tried just soaking in acetone. Didn’t work! Some of the polish would scrape off, but I couldn’t get under it to lift it up at all. I even re-roughed them up seeing if that would help… NOPE! I felt like I was ruining my nails as I tried to scrape it off. After almost 2 hours (YES!!! TWO HOURS) I finally had enough off that I could buff them a bit and redo the polish. It looks great (now), but I was at the end of my rope last night. If you could offer my any tips for removal the next time I would be forever grateful (my nails will be grateful too!!!!)!!!!!

    1. Debbie, that is CRAZY! I have never heard of such a thing. Have you tried it on your fingernails? I’d be interested to see how it lasted since nail polish gets so worn out on the fingers.

      I’m not familiar with Sensationail so I can’t offer you any insights. Only that I’ve never heard of this happening. I’d definitely be afraid of using this stuff again on my toes. Are you sure you got pure acetone? That would be the only issue I could see. That and some crazy made-in-china polish! Good luck.

  15. my color is peeling off very soon, so i saw you use the pro bond to make it long lasting, but i was told that pro bond is to be used with gelish hard gel only, but if works on your natural nails i think i wil get it , and another question using the pro bond is easy to remove as usual with gelish soak off? thank you

    1. You can totally use the pro bond with Gelish. I do think it makes the polish last longer but I recommend using it only on the tips of the nails. It doesn’t change how its removed. It comes off just the same as if you hadn’t used it.

  16. Wow, $10-$15 per bottle? Here in Tasmania, Australia, a bottle of Gelish Mini (only 9ml compared to standard Gelish 15ml bottles) retails for $21.95! Sometimes I really wish I could live in America, just for how cheap beauty products are! I’m especially envious that 100% acetone is sold in department stores in America, whereas here I need to try and convince a pharmacist to decant and sell me a small bottle of pure acetone, usually for a whopping price of about $10 for 100 mls! :/

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