By Victoria Moorhouse
Updated Aug 16, 2018 @ 2:38 pm
essie/Instagram

After hours upon hours of testing at-home gel mani kits (read: impatiently waiting for our nails to dry), we’ve finally found the best gel nail polish without a UV light. The best part about it? The entire system yields a result that's comparable to in-salon treatments, and it costs less than $20. 

It comes by the way of Essie, the brand behind Queen Elizabeth's favorite nail polish and the most shared nail polish shade on Pinterest. It's called the Gel Couture Nail Polish and Top Coat Kit, and while it was originally launched back in 2016, it's still our favorite at-home gel mani system to date.

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The two-part method doesn't require a lamp or any other special tools. All you need is the special Essie gel polish, which is available in over 100 shades, and the gel top coat. You can buy them together as a set or each on their own. 

And if you know how to paint your nails, you can give yourself a gel mani. It's that simple. On clean, filed nails, paint two coats of whatever Gel Couture Color you bought. Two coats should completely cover your nails in even layers of pigment — no splotchy or see-through spots. Then, apply one coat of the top coat, which is responsible for locking the lacquer in place on your nail bed and giving it shine. 

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$19 Essie SHOP IT

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The one major downside is that it takes longer to dry than your traditional gel manicure that utilizes a UV light, but it does dry faster than standard polish. We recommend giving yourself a solid 20 minutes of drying time to ensure you don't smudge the polish. Once it's on your nails, the brand claims it can give you up to 14 days of wear, and this is really all dependent on how hard you are on your nails — i.e. if you wash the dishes without gloves, going to the beach, playing sports. 

Without nixing those activities, we experienced impressive wear, free of chips and smudges, for around a week. Compared to other at-home treatments, this is a pretty solid result. 

Expanding your gel polish collection is relatively budget friendly, too. Each individual gel polish costs $12, so buying the kit upfront is definitely the way to go. 

As for what color to start with? We're digging Fairy Tailor, a sheer pink that's almost identical to the brand's cult-classic Ballet Slippers shade.