By Velia Tarnoff Special to Published Feb 06, 2018 at 5:01 PM

Let me start by acknowledging that pretty much all my problems are First World Problems. And one that’s been nagging me for years is chipping nail polish.

I adore a good manicure, but I’ve been afraid to try gel ones based on horror stories I’ve heard. Weakened nails? Peeling nails?? Cancer risk from UV lamps?! The mind races!

I’ve been doing my own nails for more years than I care to admit. (OK, about 30. See? You wouldn’t want to admit that either.) Throughout that time, especially in recent years, I’ve endeavored to find a nail polish – mostly drugstore brands – that lasts. Really lasts. A manicure that stays intact beyond a couple of days.

Here’s a list of products I’ve tried so you can perhaps save some time, money and energy:

Gel (They all chipped within a few days.)

  • Best: essie
  • Sally Hansen Miracle Gel
  • Vinylux

Regular (They all chipped within two-to-three days.)

  • Best: Finger Paints Hard as Steel
  • Sally Hansen color therapy
  • Zoya (with Zoya top coat)
  • Finger Paints Endless Wear
  • Sally Hansen salon manicure
  • Sally Hansen Insta-Dri

Throughout this period of trial and error, I would gaze with envy at the nails of women who harbored no fear of "real" gel manicures, the tips of their fingers shiny, flawless and strong-looking.

"No," I would tell myself. "Resist. It’s not worth it. Don’t be lured by what is surely Satan’s handiwork."

And so I remained steadfast in my quest. Prudent. Righteous. Unflappable. And with chipped, scratched and peeling fingernails.

Alas, I am weak. I must have infallible nails. Intense research ensued.

The first question I sought to answer: Is the "magic" in the polish or in the curing? Or both? From what I can tell, it’s all about the UV lamp. I found this one, an Amazon’s Choice.

My second question: If it’s the lamp, can I use any nail polish? I plan to experiment with this a bit. (Stay tuned for a follow-up article!) I found this product that claims to turn any nail color into a gel for long-lasting results.

Third: What are the risks? I found articles on reputable and trusted sources, such as WebMD, The Atlantic and NPR. I concluded that while the dermatological jury is still out on the effects of the UV lamp, even the experts generally agree that the risks are really minimal, given the total time and amount of skin exposure. Some of the pros additionally recommend using two protective tools: sunglasses with UV block and gloves with the tips cut off.

As for peeling layers of your nails? I’ve been told by countless gel manicure aficionados and nail technicians that the danger can be prevented with proper removal techniques. (More on this part later.)

After reading dozens and dozens of user reviews and "techs & specs" from manufacturers, as well as talking with real people, I decided to plunge into DIY gel with this starter kit, which includes everything you need. (I decided not to mess around with a piecemeal approach of this lamp here, that nail color there, etc. I like one-stop shopping.)

Why DIY?

For one, savings. I found the Sally Hansen kit for $59 at CVS and for $61 at Walgreens. The kit offers materials for about 10 manicures at that price. Compare that to at least $30 – plus tip – at the salon for a single gel application, and you can see what a steal it is.

And second, convenience. I’m still looking for that salon that offers appointments when I’m free: 9 p.m. on any given Tuesday ... when I’m wearing sweatpants or jammies ... in front of the TV. Plus, I don’t want to have to manage one more calendar item. What is this? A job?

I bought the Sally Hansen kit and tried it out right away. Not too cumbersome. (Again, I’ve been doing my own nails for about 30 years.) Basically, the same as any manicure: base coat, two coats of color, top coat. The only differences were "roughening" and eliminating any shine from the nail surface with a provided buffer and, of course, the curing in 30 seconds intervals after each coat. (The lamp is a plug-in, so you need to be near an outlet. You hit the timer button at the top, and it turns off after 30 seconds.)

As I type, I’m three full days in – and downright giddy. Not a single chip, peel, flake or scratch. 

If this stuff doesn’t ruin my nails during the removal process, I’m a huge fan. But that could be a big "if."

I’ll be writing about removing the color – as well as the condition of my nails – when this stuff starts to wear off, chip or peel. So when might that be? We’ll see. Another week? Two weeks? Watch this space. I’ll be watching my fingertips.

Velia Tarnoff Special to

Velia Tarnoff counts among the loves of her life her daughter, her husband, her friends, writing, developing theories, dancing, live music, Southern California, black coffee and red wine. She's happiest when she can put as many of those together as possible. WWith more than 20 years of experience as a radio reporter and public relations professional, Velia is a natural communicator who loves to hear stories, to share stories and to tell it like it is.

Velia earned her B.A. from the UW School of Journalism and is thankful for every moment she spent on that wonderfully wacky campus.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, Velia is the wife of Publisher Andy Tarnoff.