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The biggest trend in nail color over the past year has been polish systems that promise to deliver the shine and wear of a gel manicure without the price, or the use of a UV light. I've tried every (and I mean ev-er-y) wannabe gel system, from drugstore companies to high-end brands and from polishes to base/top coat duos, so I know firsthand how they perform, and which ones are actually worth investing in.
OPI Infinite Shine: 1/5
OPI's Infinite Shine collection (12.50 per bottle, all sold separately) is the newest line promising to give you a high-gloss, long-wearing manicure for up to ten days. Infinite Shine consists of a base coat, nail color, and a top coat. The colors included in the launch, 30 in total, are killer, ranging from bright, juicy pinks and oranges to dusty grays and mauves, and even the elusive, perfect cobalt blue. Interestingly, they all happen to be crème colors. The collection is devoid of all the metallics, iridescents, and glitters that OPI is known for.
It all seems to apply as usual, but the problems begin when the base, color, and topcoat have dried. Though even your most standard polish is usually self-leveling, a good top coat can typically mask any unevenness. But when I applied the Infinite Shine top coat, it clung to my polish and accentuated any imperfections, making the end result look almost wrinkled.
Even though it dried in the standard two minutes, the polish never really seemed to harden. Gel-like top coats often tend to be dentable for a bit longer than a standard quick-dry, but OPI Infinite Shine never cured to perfection. I was able to dent, smudge, and pull it off of my nails hours after application. It's odd that Infinite Shine seems to be the antithesis of the product they set out to make.
Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab: 2/5
Let's get one thing straight: I love Deborah Lippmann. Each of her collections presents a completely unique spin on the season's hottest colors. But if you're going to have the audacity to charge 45 damn dollars for a base and top coat combo with the promise that they'll have look and wear like a gel manicure, they better hold up their end of the bargain. At the very least, they should work better than a standard long wear top coat.
The problem with Deborah Lippmann's Gel Lab is that it just doesn't come through. It applies beautifully, giving your nails an even, high gloss finish, but after just two or three days, I already had major chips in my nails. I'll use one of her polishes any day of the week, but I'll skip on the Gel Lab, thanks.
Sally Hansen Miracle Gel: 3/5
Now we're getting somewhere. I love Sally Hansen, Queen of the Drugstore, because her products are consistently high quality, enough to go toe-to-toe with salon brands.
Sally Hansen's Miracle Gel ($7.99 for color and topcoat, sold separately) is a color and top coat combo that promises to give you up to 14 days of gel-like color and shine. The collection consists of 47 killer shades, which, unlike OPI's, have a variety of different finishes from crème to sheer to metallic. The lacquer leans toward the thicker side while still being workable, making application a breeze. You don't even need a basecoat! Well, I'd still use a basecoat, but in the form of a nail strengthener because the stronger your nails, the better your polish will wear. Though the finishes change from color to color, the formula is consistent, so you're going to have even application each time.
While you don't get a full 14 days of wear from Miracle Gel, it is much more durable than a standard polish. I wore it a full week and by the time I took it off, only had minimal tip wear. From the colors, to the application, to long-lasting wear, Sally Hansen's Miracle Gel is the best nail polish in the drugstore.
Caption Polish: 3.5/5
This relatively new manicure system includes a base coat, color, a special effects top coat (if that's your thing; I skip it), and a high shine top coat. A kit is $40 and contains two colors, or you can buy each element for $12. When applied, it delivers up to nine days of chip free shine with no fading or dulling.
The priming base coat and the polish have just a bit more body than most, so Caption applies effortlessly, with even, ridge-free coverage that reaches opacity in two coats. Throw on the top coat and you've got yourself a beautiful, high shine manicure for the next week and beyond.
The only drawback to Caption, in my experience, is the inconsistency in wear between colors. While the collection lasts well overall, I found that I'd get more tip wear from one color than another. This could also be attributed to what I was up to that week and what I was putting my nails through—but when I've used other gel-like systems (like the ones I'm about to tell you about) that hasn't been a problem.
I was actually stopped and asked if my polish was gel or shellac numerous times while wearing Caption, because the formula looks glossy and a little thicker on your nails, like gel polish. Fooled ‘em!
CND Vinylux: 4/5
CND's Vinylux collection ($9.90 for color and topcoat, sold separately) is the perfect hybrid of regular polish and shellac, giving you the durability and high shine of a shellac manicure without needing to be cured with a UV light. CND has some really great colors, but up until recently they were only available as Shellac polish in a salon. Vinlyux gives us access to their full color collection without having to commit for two weeks.
Vinylux is honestly pretty straightforward. Just apply two coats of the polish, no basecoat necessary (CND nixed the base coat before Sally, FYI) wait two minutes for it to dry, then top it off with the Week Long Wear topcoat, and you're good to go!
I've grabbed all of my favorite classic and go-to colors in Vinylux, like black, white, nude(s), and my CND Holy Grail that no one has perfectly duped, Cakepop, a lavender-leaning pink. When I've got a busy week, it's nice to just throw on a color that I love, and that goes with everything, and forget about it, without worrying about wear. This stuff is so good that I would buy if it was twice the price. The only way Vinylux could get better is if the top coat gave the same long lasting finish to any polish in your arsenal, without having to be paired with a Vinylux color.
Butter London Patent-Gel Top & Tails Set: 5/5
Butter London is the absolute best when it comes to a long-wearing at-home manicure. The base and topcoat duo ($40) allow you to take any polish that you already own and extend its wear by turning it into a bulletproof, gel-like manicure.
While Butter doesn't specify just how long your polish will last, I always get at the very least seven to ten days of wear with no chips. It's an absolutely no-fuss system. Just swap the base and topcoat out with what you're already using and you'll be set to go. What more can I say? The only thing to watch out for is, like most other gel-like topcoats, the Patent-Gel Flawless Topcoat remains dentable for a few minutes longer than normal. Just be patient, it's worth the wait.
Wanna know a secret? After the Butter topcoat has dried, throw a layer of Seche Vite over it to harden it all down, preventing any denting and adding an extra layer of protection to extend the life of your manicure even further. Doing this, I've gotten 16 days of wear. If I die, that tip will be my one lasting contribution to society.
In the end, there are gel manicures and then there are non-gel manicures. There's just no way around it. If you want a full two weeks of chip-free color and shine, you're gonna have to go under the light. But if you can't make it to the salon every two weeks, then grabbing one of these will put you in control of how your manicure lasts, with a polish change being just a soak away.