Nail Polish Alternatives to Gel Nails

With their ultra glossy finish it’s easy to see why gel nails are in high demand

While gel nails may have been around for some time, they have become increasingly popular in the last few years.  So much so that nail varnish brands have either developed their own gel systems or have formulated varnishes that mimic the gel look.

What are Gel Nails?

Traditional gel nails are created by applying layers of gel polish, and placing them under a UV light to cure (set, harden) the gel.  Using standard nail varnish clearly doesn’t involve UV light, and whilst that may make the process safer* it’s more difficult to achieve the high shine look.

Why consider alternatives to Gel Nails?

Gel Nails raised some health concerns because of the use of UV light.  During the manicure, your hands are placed under the UV light several times to cure your nails.  Consistent exposure to UV light has been linked to skin cancer.  I’M NOT SAYING THAT GEL NAILS WILL GIVE YOU CANCER.  However, placing your hands under a UV light does expose your skin to UV radiation, and whilst the risk of getting cancer may be low, “it’s not insignificant” according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

A number of at-home gel systems are available to buy so that you can do them yourself.  However, many advise having them done at a salon (especially for the removal process) to ensure that there is little damage caused to your natural nails underneath.

Gel manicures can last up to 3 weeks.  For a lot of people that’s a blessing, but for some *cough cough* like me who like to change their manicure often, it restricts your ability to change the colour whenever you want.

The Alternatives



Models Own have just launched their Hyper Gels which claim to copy the gel look in an instant.  The new shades are bang on trend for Spring and Summer in cutesy pastel colours.  See reviews from Get Fit Get Fabulous and My Life My Blog Zane



Seventeen can be overlooked at times, but I’ve always been a huge fan of their shades.  Available in 15 colours and modestly priced, Seventeen now has its own gel range. To see if Seventeen Gel Colour is for you, check out this review by Cherry Lemon’s Beauty Blog.



This is my personal favourite, with a wide range of colours to choose from including fashion and staple colours.  Barry M was one of the first on the high street to give an alternative to gel nails that is convincing and wearable. You can see my experience with Gelly Hi Shines in the colours  Lychee and Prickly Pear



The Gel Effect range from Nails Inc contains a slighter smaller number of shades, but they include a good mix of seasonal and functional colours.  It claims to give a “flawless application with no streaks or dragging”, which is essential to getting that glossed over look.  See how it performed in this review from Curve Happens

Can Nail Polish alternatives Match up to Gel Nails?

In terms of longevity, the answer is no.  Gel nails can last up to 3 weeks.  I think you’d be hard pressed to find a nail polish that could match that (on your fingernails). But, depending on the brand, they can replicate the same finish as gel nails.  Although I’ve not personally tried gel nails, I have seen them in up close in the the flesh and carefully inspected them (the girls are always troopers!) and there was no visual difference between gel nail polish and gel nails set under a UV lamp.

Stay posted for my tips on how to cheat a gel manicure.

Do you like the look of gel nails? Have you tried any of these alternative gel nail polishes?

Additional Sources

Skin Cancer Foundation’s Position on UV Lamps

* see Is Nail Polish Bad for Our Health?

19 responses to “Nail Polish Alternatives to Gel Nails

  1. Great post I think it’s important to spread awareness about how certain beauty rituals and crazes can be dangerous, I’m wearing Revlons colourstay polish atm but I recently bought some of that Barry M jelly nails varnish in blueberry but haven’t tried it yet so it’s great to see a good review on it!

    • Couldn’t agree with you more, especially when it comes to beauty regimes that are carried out daily over years, it’s crucial that we know what the possible risks are (if any).
      I was wondering whether to include the Revlon Colour Stays are you liking it?
      I’m sure you won’t be disappointed once you paint Blueberry on, the Hi Shines give a fab gel look!

    • Sure it was! 🙂 I also really liked the mani that you created with it so I thought everyone could see how to work the Hyper Gels into a look. The drying time is definitely a lot longer with these formulas, but I’m loving Hyper Gel’s choice of shades

  2. I’ve had gel nails and that’s something not for me. My nails grow too fast, it starts looking ugly in a week.. I do like Barry M though and I have Lychee 😀

    • It’s so hard not to like Barry Ms, they’re just soooo tempting. and a big Yes for Lychee, I’m a huge fan (wearing it now) 😛
      You’re lucky that your nails grow fast, but agreed that’s not the best combo for gels. Just keep your natural nails nice, cheat with the gel polish and you’ve got the best of both worlds 🙂

  3. I haven’t used any of the listed polishes, but I do like Sally Hansen’s Triple Shine line – it’s shiny like gel and lasts longer than their other formulas.

    • This is what I like to hear, thanks for the recommendation Shannon. I’m not sure if we have the Triple Shine range here, but I’m definitely going to investigate!

    • Very true. I’m looking into doing another post that goes into more detail on gels so I’ll be sure to mention that. It’s all about getting awareness out there so we can make informed choices

  4. I have never had a real gel manicure just because I do not see the point since so many brands out there have good quality products to mimic the gel manicure effect. Thanks for your recommendations. I recently ordered a color from Models Own Hyper Gel collection and am waiting for the nail mail 🙂

    • Nothing better than getting nail mail! Which colour did you order?
      It all depends on the state of your nails and what you want – some people like that long lasting, high shine, “manicured look” with little maintenance, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re a polish girl, much like me, then you’re totally right, there are tons of good alternatives out there!

  5. Thank you for linking up! and Thanks for a great post, I didn’t know there would be potential risks associated with gel nails.
    I haven’t tried real gel nails before, and with the same reasons as you that I like changing my manis and colours regularly. Happy to stick with gel-like polishes and Barry M Gelly is the best I’ve tried so far too.

    (I was trying to type my comment on a mobile over the weekend, and it didn’t work! PC works much better with wordpress!)

    • No worries, much prefer PC over mobile with WP.too!

      Yeah we’ve been pretty lucky with the gel-like polishes, especially Barry Ms, that they’re inexpensive and do a really decent job of matching up visually to real gel nails. Would love to see a few more colours from them

  6. Pingback: How to Cheat a Gel Manicure (sans UV) | Nail Luxxe·

  7. Pingback: At home gel nails adventure: Nutra Nail Gel Perfect 5 minute Gel-Colour Manicure and Fuse Gelnamel Kits ~ Quick Reviews | Cherrylemon's Beauty Blooog!·

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