By InStyle Staff
Updated Dec 27, 2014 @ 12:22 pm
Credit: Courtesy

It isn't hard to find an at-home gel manicure system to try out---with all of the options on the market, it's easy enough to come back with at least 3 kits that speak to your personal preferences. However, finding a removal solution that is both gentle and effective is another story. While some acetone-based cleansers work wonders on dissolving the manicure's hard shell, they tend to beat up our nail beds and cuticles to the point we have to layer on a darker color to hide the damage. Alternately, the friendlier formulas don't quite get rid of all the leftover gunk. Enter SensatioNail's Nail Shields ($8; drugstores nationwide, for locations) which claim to create a protective barrier between your natural nail and the gel formula, and can be peeled away sans-damage after two weeks of wear. We asked Assistant Editor Marianne Mychaskiw to try out the nail shields and report back on the results. Keep reading to see what she thought!

"I'm a recent convert to the art of the at-home gel manicure, but was never the biggest fan of the removal process, not to mention, the damage it did to my nails. Sitting around the house with my digits wrapped in acetone and tinfoil was never one of my favorite activities, and even after the shellac had been whisked away, I spent weeks dousing my digits with cuticle oil and hand cream to try and nurse my nails back to health. SensatioNail's Nail Shields ($8; drugstores nationwide) seemed like the perfect answer to my problem---the tiny decals promised the same two weeks of wear you'd get with a traditional gel mani, minus the soaking and recovery time involved. The shields can also be layered under other gel manicure brands, and you can even bring them into the salon to have them applied prior to your pro-quality treatment.

If you're familiar with nail wraps, you'll have no trouble working with these. After buffing and filing your nails, give them a quick pass with a cotton ball soaked in the gel cleanser to remove any lingering oils from lotion or any other beauty products. Swipe on the nail shield as you would a patterned decal, and file off the longer edge. Make sure you use the included wood stick to push out any folds or air bubbles, and from there, you can layer the nail primer and gel color on as usual. I have to admit---I didn't make it the full two weeks, but this was entirely due to my own error. In an attempt to create a solid gold manicure from a sheer finish, I applied the gel nail color a little too thick for my liking, and I made it about 7 days in before admitting defeat and attempting to pull everything off. Still, when I went to remove the manicure, the decals had the color anchored on pretty tight, and I had to use the wood stick to pry each nail off. What looked like a clear piece of plastic actually turned out to be a sheet of armor for my digits---my nail bed was left smooth and damage-free, and no traces of gel were left behind. I'm planning to use the nail shields again before going home for the holidays, because really, who has time for a manicure touch-up between parties and family plans? Just reminder to self: use a much lighter hand on the gel polish the next time around!"