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Finally! Brilliant Non-Toxic DIY Gel Mani, Minus Salon Fumes



I’ve only had my nails professional done maybe three times in my life. Over the years I’ve learned how to do my own nails pretty well, and I don’t feel the need to go to the salon every week. Plus that New York Times exposé on the nail salon industry scared me straight—see here and here. (They also gave tips on how to be a socially conscious nail salon customer.)

A version of this article previously appeared on Terumah.

With some practice, it’s easy to do your own nails at home. I know gel manicures are popular these days because they last for two weeks, but do you really want to risk the health effects of regular exposure to UV lights and soaking your nails in acetone for 10 minutes each time to remove the polish? At the very least, getting regular gel manicures will weaken your nails and dry them out.

That’s why it’s recommended to use “gel-like” nail polishes. Do make sure to avoid the “Toxic Trio” in formulas: Formaldehyde, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), and Toluene. Look for brands that are at lease “3-Free.”

I adore Deborah Lippmann’s nail polishes. Her Gel Lab Pro formula is 7-Free.  That means no formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, DBP (dibutylphthalate), camphor, xylene, and diethylhexyl adipate. Plus it’s vegan and not tested on animals.

How to DIY a Gel Mani


Basecoat: Butter London Horse Power Nail Rescue Base Coat (8 free!)

“Gel” nail polish: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Nail Polish in “Wild Thing”

Top Coat: Deborah Lippmann Addicted to Speed Nail Top Coat (5 free)

Step 1: Remove nail polish with acetone-free nail polish remover on organic cotton rounds. I use the one from Mineral Fusion that Whole Foods stocks. It’s the best remover I’ve used so far, and it doesn’t dry out the nails.

Step 2: Shape nails by filing and trimming if necessary. I use a simple nail clipper and usually file my nails with the metal file on the clipper. Yes, I know using a metal file is not recommended, but I’m blessed with thick nails that can withstand it. If you have weak nails and need a gentler file, I’ve heard good things about crystal nail files. They’re eco-friendly because they last for years, and they can give cleaner results. I just might buy one soon.

Step 3: Personally, I don’t like to mess with my cuticles. Maybe they’re never dry or damaged for this reason. Cutting them should be avoided, as they protect your fingers from germs and bacteria. If you have raggedy cuticles, try Deborah Lippmann’s Cuticle Lab Nail Treatment Kit. It includes a cuticle pusher tool. Again, I don’t like to push my cuticles, but I understand people do because they want to make their nails look longer or neater in shape. If you just want a moisturizer, try this Vapour’s Nail and Cuticle Oil. There’s also a natural lemon cuticle cream you can easily make at home. The recipe is in my free DIY ebook.

Step 4: Prep nails with a base coat. I use Butter London’s Horse Power Nail Rescue Base Coat. Using a base coat prevents my nails from being stained from the coloured polishes. It also helps strengthen nails and prevent breakage.

Step 5: Paint nails with the “gel” polish. Deborah Lippmann’s shaped brush makes the application easier. I paint a layer on all the nails, then go back and paint a second layer. I find that friends who are terrible at doing their own nails either use too much or too little nail polish. Use too much and it’s goopy and gets on the skin. Use too little and it’s streaky. Strike that happy medium with enough polish to paint a good layer.

Step 6: A top coat will help your nail polish dry faster and last longer. It’ll add a bit more shine and prevent chipping. Deborah Lippmann’s Addicted to Speed Top Coat works well for me. She also has a Gel Lab Pro Nail Base Coat and Top Coat Set to go with her gel polishes. I haven’t tried it yet because I’m satisfied with what I currently use.


My “gel” manicures tend to last over a week. I own Deborah Lippmann’s regular nail polishes, and the Gel Lab Pro formulas are definitely longer lasting.

Pictured is “Beauty School Dropout,” a bubblegum pink with a creme finish. The dark green, “Wild Thing,” is a gel finish. I’ll be trying more colors.

Oh, if you’re wondering what happened as a result of The Times’ controversial nail salon exposé, here you go.

Have you tried to give yourself a gel mani at home?

Read more from Annie at Terumah.

Also by Annie: 3 DIY Beauty Products with Common Ingredients

Related: 10 Best 5-Free Nail Polish Brands

I Tried It: Breathable Nail Polish

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Photos: Annie Zhu

Annie Zhu

Annie Zhu

Founder at Terumah
Annie is a film buff, lit nerd, and the founder of Terumah, a site created for smart young women looking for fun insights on style, beauty, travel, art and pop culture. A member of the Ethical Writers' Coalition, Annie is based in Toronto. Follow Annie on Instagram
Annie Zhu


Annie Zhu / Author + Blogger / Ethical Fashion, Green Beauty, Eco Travel, Spirituality, Healing, Art + Conscious Living
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