How to Apply Gel Nail Polish on Natural Nails. 6 Easy Steps.

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Want to learn how to apply gel nail polish on natural nails?

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about applying gel nail polish.

Let’s jump straight into how to apply gel nail polish on natural nails. Here is a step-by-step guide.

  1. Prepare your nails. You will need to file, buff, and push back the cuticles.
  2. Wipe your nails with a nail prep wipe or rubbing alcohol to remove any bits.
  3. Apply a gel base coat and cure using a UV or LED lamp. Check the instructions for your lamp so that you know how long to cure.
  4. Apply 3 to 4 thin coats of colour, curing in between each coat.
  5. Apply a gel top coat and cure again.
  6. Wipe off the sticky residue with rubbing alcohol.

Now that you’re familiar with the method, let’s look at how to apply gel nail polish in a little more detail. So you can perfect your technique.

How do I prepare my nails for gel nail polish?

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Preparing your nails for gel nail polish is very similar to what you would do before you put on regular nail polish.

First, you need to choose the length and shape you want to file your nails into.

The filing technique is different depending on the shape you want.

There are lots of different shapes to choose from and tons of tutorial videos online to show you how to file your nails into a number of different shapes like square, round, coffin, and almond.

There are a few things to consider when choosing a shape.

Some shapes will work better for your nails than others.

You want to choose a shape that suits your nails, one that makes the most of their natural shape.

If your nails are naturally quite square, for example, then a square shape or a squoval shape (square with rounded edges) will be easier to achieve and will suit you better.

You also want to take the condition of your nails into consideration.

If your nails are in really good condition, then you can pretty much get away with any shape you like.

However, if your nails are thin or damaged then you’ll probably want to keep them short and round.

Rounded nails are less likely to catch on things and get broken and they therefore usually last longer.

What equipment do I need to apply gel nail polish?


Here’s what you’ll need for applying gel nail polish:

  • A nail file.
  • A nail buffing tool (optional but gives better results).
  • A nail prep wipe or rubbing alcohol.
  • Some lint-free wipes.
  • A gel base coat.
  • A gel polish in your chosen colour.
  • A gel top coat.
  • A UV or LED lamp.

I like to use a crystal nail file.

A crystal file is a little bit more expensive than a regular nail file but I find that It’s worth it because you get a really good finish.

Crystal nail files last a very long time (I’ve had mine for over 3 years and haven’t needed to change it) so they are probably more economical in the long run.

You can pick nail buffers up really cheaply on eBay or Amazon.

The buffers I use are great because they have four sides and each one has a different grain.

It has the instructions of what to do with each side written on it such as remove ridges, file nail edge, smooth nails, and shine nails.

You don’t need to use a buffer, but if you have ridges on your nails it can help a lot with getting a perfect finish.

You can buy specialized nail prep wipe solutions but these are usually more expensive than rubbing alcohol, which is what the majority of them are made of.

It’s important to use rubbing alcohol or a nail prep wipe before you paint your nails because you need to remove all of the natural oil and nail file residues so that your gel polish will not lift or show bumps.

Lint-free wipes are important because if you use regular cotton wool you will find that you get tiny little fibres that will stick to your nail. You won’t be able to see them until you’ve finished your manicure and then they will be obvious!

This has happened to me so many times and it’s really annoying, so just buy lint-free wipes and save yourself the stress. Most gel nail starter kits you can buy will come with lint-free wipes as standard.

I always use a gel base coat and a gel top coat.

Don’t be tempted to skip the base coat, your polish may not stick as well.

A gel top coat will be sticky after curing.

You need to wipe your nails using rubbing alcohol. This gives you a really shiny finish which makes your nails look professional.

Should I use a UV lamp or a LED lamp?

A UV or LED lamp is essential. There are lots of different ones on the market.

UV lamps are generally cheaper but they also take longer to cure.

UV lamps use ultraviolet light similar to a sunbed. The typical curing time for a UV lamp is around 2 minutes.

A UV lamp should, in theory, be able to cure any type of gel nail polish.

LED lamps are more energy efficient and eco-friendly.

An LED lamp can cure in as little as 15 seconds, and most will have options to cure for 30 or 60 seconds as well.

There are some polishes on the market that cannot be cured by an LED lamp so you need to make sure that the brand you are using is LED compatible.

I can tell you that bluesky nail polish works really well with LED lamps, but I’m not sure about other brands.

I would advise that you buy the same brand lamp as the polish that you are using if possible. A lot of scientific research goes into matching the polish formula with the wavelength of light used to cure.

How easy is it to apply gel nail polish?

Applying gel nail polish is pretty easy but it does take some getting used to. If you are used to using regular nail polish you are halfway there.

A steady hand always helps. You will find that gel polish is much thicker than regular polish so you might have to adjust your technique a little.

The number one rule.


You need to apply several thin coats with gel polish, and I mean thin! I often do 4 coats (or more if the polish is really light coloured). This is because of the way the curing process works. Basically, the top layer of the polish will absorb all of the light and harden, but if it is on too thick, the underneath layers will not cure.

Try not to get any nail polish on the cuticles.

If you happen to get polish on your cuticles then make sure that you remove it before curing. When you’ve cured the polish will be hard and you will not be able to get the polish off your cuticles!

Don’t worry about streaks. Gel nail polish is self-levelling so you will not see any brush strokes or streaks when you have finished.

Do worry about bumps. Any little bump, ridge, bits of fabric or pet hair will stick to and show up underneath gel nails, so make sure you wipe them thoroughly before you begin.

How long does it take to apply gel nail polish?

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The process for gel nail polish is way faster than applying regular polish. Once you get used to doing it, you should be able to get your nails done in around an hour or an hour and a half. That includes the time it takes to prepare your nails as well as paint them. Obviously the faster your lamp cures the quicker the process will be.

How do I remove gel nail polish?

Removing gel nail polish is a lot more difficult than putting it on. Here’s what you’ll need.

Gel nail polish remover or acetone.
Some cotton wool or lint-free pads.
Tin foil or plastic nail clips.
A nail scraper or wooden orange stick.
Lots of patience!

You can use pure acetone to remove your gel nail polish. It works out a lot cheaper than buying special products advertised as gel nail remover.

Start by soaking the cotton wool pad in acetone. Apply it to your nail. You can hold it on by wrapping your nail in tin foil, or you can buy special plastic clips that are designed for this purpose very cheaply.

Let your nails soak for at least 15 minutes. have a look at them. You should see that the polish is starting to lift off on its own. You can help it along by scraping it off gently with an orange stick or a metal nail scraper. I like to use an orange stick because the metal scrapers cause more damage to your nail surface.

If the polish doesn’t come off all at once then soak them again using a fresh cotton pad. Give it another 15 minutes and then try again.

Here’s a handy guide on making gel polish last for longer

Let’s wrap this up:

That’s the end!

I hope you enjoyed this post on how to apply gel nail polish on natural nails.

Good luck with your application and happy painting!


  • Phoebe Meadows

    Phoebe Meadows is a self-proclaimed nail addict, always on the lookout for the latest trends and techniques. When she's not creating stunning nail designs, you can find her researching the latest nail care products or experimenting with new techniques.