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March 05, 2015

Days after opening up about my two-year addiction to gel manicures, I received a special delivery. It was Deborah Lippmann’s Gel Lab Set ($24; sephora.com), which is said to be a healthy alternative to the damaging soak-off formulas that left my nail beds dry, brittle, and super thin.

Even though I’ve spotted products with similar claims in the past, the thought of trying anything with the word “gel” in it again has made me pretty nervous. Since using nail strengtheners regularly for the last couple months, I'm happy to say my nails are on their way to a full recovery and I'd never go back to the habit. But as with any addiction, there are urges. Suddenly, I was curious to see if I could achieve the long-lasting effects of a gel manicure without wreaking the progress I’ve made. So, is it possible?RELATED: 3 Ways to Remove Your Gel Manicure Without Going to the Salon

The set comes with two polishes: a base coat and a top coat—no tools or UV lamp needed. Starting with clean nails, I applied the base coat and gave it a few minutes to dry. I found that applying thin, even coats and allowing extra drying time between each one was key in achieving a smooth finish. If not, the polish would bubble up and I had to start over.

Next, I grabbed a nail color (any brand is fine) and applied the first coat. Again, waiting for it to completely dry before moving on to the next one was crucial. Lastly, I swiped on the shiny top coat and was immediately pleased with the plump, gel-like look I was left with. While achieving salon-worthy results in less than 15 minutes was great, the true test was seeing how long it would actually last.

My manicures, whether professionally done or DIY, typically don't last more than a day before they start chipping and peeling, but amazingly I was able to go five. This isn't quite as long as a traditional gel mani, but it works out because by then I'm eager to switch it up anyway. In the end, the alternative was a success, and the removal process was easy, too.

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