What Do You Put on Nails Before Gel Polish? Essential Prep Steps Explained

Introduction to Gel Polish

Gel polish is a long-lasting beauty treatment for your nails that has gained immense popularity due to its durability and glossy finish. When you choose to apply gel polish, the preparation of your nails is the cornerstone to achieving a salon-quality manicure. Proper preparation helps to ensure that the gel adheres smoothly, minimizes the risk of lifting, and extends the wear of your gel manicure.

Starting with clean, dry nails is a must. Remove any old polish thoroughly and cleanse your nails to eliminate any oils or residues. Moisturize cuticles, and then gently push them back but do not cut them, as this can expose your nails to potential infections.

Nail preparation includes:

  • Shaping: Using a nail file, shape your nails according to your preference, be it round, square, or almond.

  • Buffing: Smooth out the surface of your nails with a buffer, paying attention not to be overly abrasive and damage the nail bed.

  • Cleaning: Wipe down each nail with alcohol to remove any dust and oils, which contribute to a stronger bond between your nail and the gel.

Once your nails are prepped, it’s crucial to apply a base coat first. This primes your nails for the gel polish, allowing even color application and protection from staining. After curing the base coat under a UV or LED lamp, you are ready for the gel polish. Apply it in thin, even layers, curing each layer as recommended.

Remember, patience is key when you apply gel polish—rushing through the steps can lead to a less than perfect result. Take your time and enjoy the process for a beautiful, long-lasting gel manicure.

Preparation of the Natural Nail


Proper preparation of your natural nails is essential to ensure the durability and quality of your gel polish application. This process includes thorough cleaning, shaping, and cuticle care to create the ideal base for gel polish to adhere to.

Cleaning and Dehydrating

Before you apply gel polish, it’s imperative to start with a clean and dehydrated nail surface. First, cleanse your nails to remove any traces of previous nail polish using a nail cleanser or an acetone-free remover. Subsequently, dehydrate the nail plate to remove oils and moisture that could interfere with the polish adhesion. Lightly swab the nails with rubbing alcohol using a lint-free pad to prime and prepare the nail for the gel application.

Shaping and Buffing

To achieve your desired nail shape, use a nail file with the correct grit to gently shape the edges of your nails. Once you’ve created the shape, it’s important to buff the surface of your natural nails lightly. This creates a slightly rough texture that helps the gel polish to bond better. However, be gentle to avoid over-buffing, which might weaken your nails.

Cuticle Care

Healthy nail care doesn’t overlook the cuticles. Start by applying cuticle oil to moisturize the area. Then, use a cuticle pusher to gently push back the cuticles, taking care not to be too forceful as this could damage the nail or cause injuries. If there’s any dead skin or excess cuticle, carefully remove it using a cuticle remover or trimmer. Clear cuticles will prevent gel polish from lifting and ensure a clean application edge.

Base Coat Application


Before you dive into applying your favorite gel polish, it’s crucial to start with the right foundation to ensure optimal adhesion and lasting results. The base coat acts as a protective layer for your natural nails and provides a smooth canvas for the gel polish.

  • Preparation: Begin by cleaning your nails thoroughly to remove any oils and debris.
  • Application: Apply a thin, even layer of urban graffiti basecoat or a similar product designed for gel polish.
  • Purpose: This layer is essential because it:
    • Prevents staining of your natural nails.
    • Improves the adhesion of the colored gel polish.
    • Helps to maintain the shine and integrity of the gel polish for weeks.
Step Action Required Expected Outcome
1. Nail Prep Buff and shape nails Remove shine and smooth ridges
2. Cleanse Use nail cleanser Eliminate dirt and oil
3. Apply Base Coat Brush on a thin layer Create adhesive foundation

Allow the base coat to cure under a UV or LED lamp as per manufacturer’s instructions. This step is pivotal, as the base coat wouldn’t be effective without proper curing, leading to chipping or peeling of the gel polish. It’s your secret weapon for lasting results. Remember, a quality application starts by never skipping the base coat.

Applying Gel Polish

Before applying gel polish, it’s important to ensure your nails are properly prepped. This provides a smooth canvas for the gel color layers and is essential for achieving a salon-quality gel manicure at home.

Gel Color Layers

First, apply a very thin layer of your chosen gel polish color. Ensure each stroke is even and covers the entire nail, avoiding the skin around your nails. The consistency of gel nail polish is thicker than regular polish, so take your time to smooth it out. Typically, two coats are necessary to achieve the desired opacity and richness of color. Allow a brief pause between coats to avoid a gooey or uneven application.

Curing the Gel

After applying each gel color layer, you must cure the polish using a UV or LED lamp. Curing is a crucial step that solidifies the gel polish onto your nails. Place your fingers under the lamp, ensuring each nail is properly exposed to the light. UV lamps generally require 1-2 minutes for curing, while LED lamps can cure polish in about 30 seconds. Remember, failure to cure properly can lead to smudging or premature peeling of your gel manicure.

Finishing Touches

After applying your gel polish, implementing the right finishing techniques ensures a professional look and maximizes the longevity of your manicure. These steps help your nails to last longer, maintain a high-gloss shine, and stay chip-resistant.

Top Coat for Shine and Protection

Applying a gel top coat seals in color and provides a protective overlay that adds durability to your gel polish. Choose a high-quality top coat like the Urban Graffiti Topcoat for an optimal shine and an enduring finish. Ensure that you cure the top coat under a UV or LED lamp as specified to achieve that salon-quality appearance.

Removing the Sticky Layer

Once cured, you’ll notice a tacky, sticky layer on the top of the nails. This is normal and part of the curing process. To remove this residue and reveal the true shine of your gel nails, soak a lint-free nail wipe in a cleanser, then gently wipe each nail. This step is crucial for achieving the sleek, smooth finish you desire from your gel manicure.

Aftercare and Maintenance

After getting gel polish applied to your nails, appropriate aftercare ensures your manicure’s longevity and maintains your nail health. Here are essential steps you should follow:

  • Moisturizing is Key: Regular use of cuticle oil helps maintain moisture around your nails, preventing dryness and peeling. It’s not just about the nail beds; your cuticles also need attention.

  • Stay Hydrated: Keep your hands and nails hydrated. While cuticle oil adds direct nourishment, overall moisture from lotions can improve the condition of your skin and nails.

  • Avoid Harsh Chemicals: Exposure to strong chemicals like acetone should be limited. When removing gel polish, opt for acetone-free removers when possible or protect your skin by applying oil beforehand.

  • Protect Your Nails: Wear gloves when dealing with water for prolonged periods, as overexposure may lead to lifting of your gel polish.

  • Nail Care Tools: Incorporate a nail care routine using tools such as Naio Nails cuticle oil for optimal care and to promote nail strength.

Table 1: Weekly Aftercare Routine

Day Task
Daily Apply cuticle oil and hand lotion.
Bi-weekly Check for lifting; moisturize nails.
Weekly Gently buff nails if necessary.

Remember that proper aftercare not only keeps your gel polish looking fresh but also ensures the health of your natural nails underneath.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

When it comes to gel polish manicures, proper nail preparation and maintenance can prevent many common issues. Being well-versed in troubleshooting techniques ensures that your gel polish looks its best and lasts longer.

Preventing Lifting and Peeling

Nail Prep Dehydrator:
Prior to applying gel polish, ensure that your nails are completely oil-free. Use a nail prep dehydrator to remove any moisture or oils from the nail surface. An evenly applied dehydrator can significantly reduce chances of lifting.

  • Avoid Over-Filing: Be cautious not to over-file the nail plate which can lead to damage and peeling. Gentle preparation is key.

  • Base Coat Application: Apply a thin base coat without flooding the cuticles or skin. Remove the tacky layer of the base coat if necessary to prevent bleeding of colors and to enhance adhesion.

Repairing Chips and Breaks

Quick Fixes:
A small chip can often be repaired by gently filing the area and re-applying a thin layer of gel polish. Ensure to seal the free edge of the nail to prevent further chipping.

  • For Breaks: If there is a break, stabilize the nail using a silk wrap or a small piece of tea bag material with gel base coat before repainting. Nail clippers may be necessary to trim any jagged edges before applying any product.

Long-Term Strength:
To fortify your nails and help resist breaks:

  • Reinforce Tips: Apply an extra layer of top coat around the nail tips. This helps in providing additional strength to the area prone to chipping.
  • Regular Maintenance: For gel polish manicures, regular maintenance is crucial. Apply cuticle oil daily to improve the flexibility of the gel, which can reduce the risk of chipping and breaking.

Nail Art and Design Options

When you’re looking to add a dash of creativity to your gel polish, nail art offers a plethora of options. Thanks to online tutorials and the readily available inspiration on social media platforms, you can design your nails to reflect your personal style. Before you dive into the world of nail art, remember that the base prep is crucial for a long-lasting finish.

Start by exploring nail art options:

  • Classic Designs: Simple lines, dots, and floral patterns.
  • Modern Trends: Geometric shapes and negative space art.
  • Themed Art: Seasonal designs like autumn leaves or holiday motifs.
  • Character Art: Create miniature versions of your favorite characters.

For a touch of elegance, Sparkle San Francisco shows off intricate designs which can incorporate jewels or glitter. Adding sparkle to your nails can range from a subtle shimmer to a bold, glittery statement.

Step-by-Step Guides:
Access video tutorials readily available on platforms like YouTube. These visual guides are perfect for learning at your pace and often include tips for beginner to advanced designs.

Tools You Might Need:

  • Fine brushes
  • Dotting tools
  • Stencils
  • Striping tape
  • Glitter or decorative stones

Remember to always seal your nail art with a top coat to ensure longevity and shine. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, patience and practice are your best allies in creating beautiful, salon-worthy gel nail art.

DIY Gel Polish at Home


Before diving into your DIY gel polish application, ensure that you have all the necessary tools at your disposal. You’ll need a UV or LED lamp, base coat, gel polish, and top coat to achieve that perfect mani. Here’s a beginner-friendly process to apply gel nails effectively:


  • Clean Your Nails: Begin by cleaning your nails with polish remover, even if they are polish-free, to eliminate any oils or dirt.
  • Shape Your Nails: Decide on your preferred shape and carefully file your nails to achieve it.


  1. Apply Base Coat: Start with a thin base coat and cure it under your UV or LED lamp following the instructions.
  2. Gel Polish Layers: Apply your gel polish in thin layers, curing each layer before applying the next. Typically, two layers achieve a rich color.
  3. Seal with Top Coat: Finish with a thin top coat and cure it for the time recommended by the product’s manufacturer.

Pro Tips:

  • Keep layers thin to avoid bubbling or uneven curing.
  • Avoid getting polish on your cuticles or skin. If you do, clean it up before curing.
  • Use a gentle touch to achieve as professional a look as possible.

For further tips and detailed step-by-step guides, these resources may be helpful: Cosmopolitan’s comprehensive guide on at-home gel nails and a simple DIY guide for beginners.

Taking the time to apply gel polish at home not only saves you a trip to the salon but also empowers you to master your manicure. With patience and practice, you’ll be crafting salon-quality nails from the comfort of your home.

Professional Manicure Process

Before you apply gel polish, it is essential to undergo a professional manicure process to ensure a professional look and longevity of your gel manicure. Here’s a step-by-step guide to prep your nails:

  1. Nail Cleaning:

    • Begin by thoroughly washing your hands.
    • Remove any existing nail polish with a non-acetone remover.
  2. Shaping Your Nails:

    • Trim your nails to the desired length.
    • File your nails into your preferred shape. Round, square, or almond shapes are popular choices. How to prep your nails.
  3. Cuticle Care:

    • Soften your cuticles using a cuticle remover or cream.
    • Gently push back the cuticles with a cuticle pusher.
  4. Nail Surface Preparation:

    • Buff the nail surface lightly to create an even texture.
    • Clean the dust with a brush or wipe.
  5. Dehydration:

    • Apply a nail dehydrator to remove any moisture and oils for better polish adhesion.
  6. Base Coat Application:

    • Apply a thin base coat to protect your natural nails and enhance gel polish adherence.

Throughout each step, a nail artist uses specialized tools and techniques to ensure your nails are primed for a manicure or pedicure. Patience and precision during preparation can drastically improve the final result, giving your nails a professional look worthy of any salon. Remember that while at-home kits are available, visiting a professional ensures the most comprehensive care for your nails.

Choosing the Right Products

When preparing your nails for gel polish application, selecting the right products is crucial for a durable and glossy finish. The foundation of any great gel manicure lies in its preparation.

Before anything, ensure your nails are clean. Use cotton balls soaked in an acetone-free nail polish remover to remove any oil or previous nail polish.

Nail Prep

  • Buffer Block: Gently buff the surface of your nails. This creates a rough surface for better adhesion of the gel polish.
  • Cuticle Pusher: Push back your cuticles to avoid gel polish lifting and ensure a clean polish line.

Base Layers

  • Builder Gel: If you’re looking to add strength to your nails or fix any imperfections, consider applying a layer of builder gel.
  • Acrylics: For length or more dramatic nail shapes, acrylics might be your go-to product before applying gel polish.

Applying Gel Color
Select a high-quality gel color. The pigmentation and how it cures under the light affects the overall look and longevity of your manicure.

The final step is applying a topcoat, which seals in the color and provides the desired shine and protection.

Step Product Needed Purpose
Pre-Cleanse Acetone-Free Remover, Cotton Balls Clean the nail surface
Nail Prep Buffer Block, Cuticle Pusher Prep nails for adhesion
Base Layer Builder Gel, Acrylics Strengthen and/or extend nails
Color Gel Color Add color and style
Topcoat Topcoat Seal color, enhance shine, protect manicure

Remember that quality products and proper preparation are the key to a successful, long-lasting gel manicure.

Nail Shapes and Styles

Before applying gel polish, choosing the right nail shape is crucial, as it lays the foundation for your manicure’s overall appearance. There are several shapes to consider, each with its own aesthetic and practical benefits.

  • Round: This classic shape is timeless and simple to maintain. It mimics the natural curvature of your nail, making it an ideal choice if you prefer a shorter length.

  • Square: Characterized by straight edges and a flat top, the square shape suits those with longer nails and provides a bold, avant-garde look.

  • Oval: The oval shape is elegant and elongates your fingers by rounding out the tips of your nails. It’s versatile and works well for most nail lengths.

  • Almond: Resembling the nut of its namesake, almond-shaped nails are slim at the sides and taper to a rounded peak, giving your hands a sophisticated and feminine touch.

To enhance your chosen shape, nail art can be a creative addition. Whether you prefer minimalistic designs or bold patterns, the style should complement the nail shape without overpowering it. Remember, with gel polish, the opportunities for intricate details and lasting art are vast due to the polish’s durable finish.

When prepping for gel polish, ensure that your nails are clean, evenly shaped, and buffed. This preparation allows the gel to adhere properly and results in a professional-looking manicure, emphasizing your preferred nail shape and style.

Frequently Asked Questions


Before diving into the specifics, it’s key to know that proper nail preparation and applying the correct base are critical for long-lasting gel polish. These steps ensure that your gel polish adheres properly and looks its best.

How should you prepare your nails for the application of gel polish?

To prepare your nails, start by cleaning them to remove any oils or debris. Shape your nails to your desired length and gently buff the surface. Proper nail preparation is paramount to promote adhesion of the gel polish.

Is it necessary to use a base coat when applying gel polish?

Yes, a base coat is essential. It protects your natural nails from staining and helps the gel polish adhere better, reducing the likelihood of chipping.

What are the steps involved in applying gel nail polish?

Applying gel nail polish typically involves these steps: preparing your nails, applying a base coat, curing under a UV/LED lamp, applying the gel color, curing again, and then finishing with a top coat and final cure. Each layer must be cured under the lamp for the polish to set properly.

Can gel polish be applied directly to natural nails, or is a specific treatment required?

Gel polish can be applied directly to natural nails, but it’s crucial to prepare them correctly to prevent lifting and to ensure longevity.

What methods are used to dehydrate nails before applying gel polish?

Use a nail dehydrator to remove moisture and oils from the nail bed. This step is essential for dehydrating your nails before gel application to prevent peeling and lifting of the gel polish.

How can one achieve a salon-quality gel polish application at home?

To achieve a salon-quality application at home, ensure you have the right tools, including quality gel polish, a UV/LED lamp, a base coat, and a top coat. Follow each step carefully, paying close attention to nail prep and curing times.

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