Jennifer Lopez

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Looking for a manicure to last the duration of a two-week vacay? Want your digits to shine like a new car? Gel manicures can do all that and more, which is why celebs like Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez rely on the polish innovation to make their red-carpet and American Idol appearances. Thanks to the development of at-home manicure systems, we don't have to have a personal manicurist on hand—or at the salon—in order to reap gel benefits.

But there's more to creating a clean gel manicure than queuing up an episode of Mad Men and throwing on paint while holding fingers under an LED lamp. To get the most from your DIY gel manicure, try these tips.

Prep is key: Those who are serious about doing their own nails at home know that nail prep is important. And prepping the nails for gel manicures requires a little extra TLC. After shaping and filing the nails, it's important to clean the surface. Most at-home kits, like Red Carpet Manicure Starter Kit, will provide a cleaning solution to use. Don't skip this step—it helps ensure the gel coat that follows adheres to the nail and paints on bubble free.

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Use ultra thin coats: While the best manis employ two thin coats of polish, painting with slightly thicker coats of regular polish doesn't always wreck the finished look. But when working with gel, product control is essential. When too much gel is added to nails, the excess tends to pool at the cuticle, which results in a chunky look along the nails' edge. Avoid this blunder by ridding the brush of extra gel before painting.

ESC, Gel Mani at Home

Paint carefully: One of the biggest no-nos when DIYing gel nails? Allowing the gel to seep onto the cuticle or skin—something that makes the manicure peel long before its two-week expiration date. Instead, cover the nail only with gel or try this cheat: Apply an ointment, like Vaseline to the cuticle and skin only (being careful not to get it on the nail itself). This allows gel to be easily wiped clean after it lands outside the nail.

Pay attention to cure times: Each at-home gel kit will come with instructions. Read them. They contain the order that products should be used and the amount of time you'll need to hold your hand under the included LED lamp to set the polish. Undershoot cure time, and gel will smear. Overshooting cure time can result in chips and cracks.

Remove properly: Clearing a weeks-old manicure from your nails isn't as easy as applying a slapdash stroke of remover. Gel nails must be removed with care. First, break the seal by lightly filing with a large-grain emery board. Be careful not to brush your skin—the coarse surface can injure fingers. Next, apply acetone (or remover included with a kit) to cotton, wrap around the nail and cover with aluminum foil. After allowing to soak, remove the foil finger puppets and wipe debris away.

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Finally, if you like the shiny finish of gel nails but don't have the time to undergo the gel nail process, cheat the look adding a high-shine top coat to your regular mani. Sally Hansen Gel Shine 3D Top Coat gives the illusion of a glossy gel manicure and doesn't require precision painting.

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