I adore the shine and chip resistance of a gel mani, but not the drawbacks: the expense, the weakened nails, the growth lines in two weeks, having to return to the salon to get it removed properly. The next best thing? A long-lasting formula that delivers gel-like shine and durability, but comes off with normal nail polish remover and is affordable to boot. I tested three such nail polish systems in the past few weeks—details after the jump!
The promise: CND Vinylux ($11.95 at Nail Polish Canada) is by the same company that makes salon gel brand Shellac, so of course Vinylux's 7-free formula boasts seriously long wear. Vinylux is marketed as a way to touch up Shellac mani growth at home (many of the shades are perfect colour matches) or an at-home alternative for a manicure that lasts up to a week.
The system: Apply two coats of colour followed by the CND Vinylux Weekly Top Coat ($11.95 at Nail Polish Canada). While you can use the products separately, they are formulated to work with each other and using them together will guarantee the best results. No base coat is required; in fact, CND discourages you from using one as it interferes with the nail polish's ability to adhere to your nails.
The brush: The long, skinny brush requires multiple strokes for a coat to level, but it gives you a lot of control along the cuticle lines and nail edges.
My impressions: CND Vinylux was my first encounter with a long-wear nail polish system and I was blown away. Normally I'm lucky to get 5 days from a DIY mani, but this one held up for up to 9 days with no risk of chipping. Impressed, I did one Vinylux mani after another and another. I've heard from another beauty blogger that the blue shade from the summer 2016 collection, 'Date Night #221', stains nails, but I haven't tried it myself. Of the pale shades I have been wearing, I like 'Honey Darlin' #218' (a buttercup yellow that reminds me of summer sunshine) the best. Each coat dries quickly and the top coat provides a shiny, crease-proof finish.
Essie Gel Couture
The promise: Essie Gel Couture ($13.99 at London Drugs) couldn't be more different than the classic Essie line of nail polishes. First, there's the twist-y bottle inspired by the swish of a couture gown. Then there's the brush (more below) and the long-lasting formula, which claims to deliver up to 14 days of chip-free wear.
The system: Like CND Vinylux, you apply two coats of colour followed by a coat of Essie Gel Couture Top Coat ($13.99 at London Drugs), which is (yep, you guessed it) specially designed to work with the Gel Couture line.
The brush: The redesigned brush has a twisted stem to prevent huge globs of polish from sliding down and flooding nails. The brush itself is broad, flat, and paddle-shaped with slightly asymmetrical edges to achieve a perfect cuticle line. Its dense bristles fan out so only a few strokes are required for each nail—one wide stroke down the centre, two narrow ones on the sides to even out the ridges of nail polish.
My impressions: Essie Gel Couture showed some minor tip wear and peeling around the 10-day mark; that being said, it still delivered the best wear of the three nail polish systems featured here. The brush was an absolute dream to work with, and while I was initially skeptical that the twist-y bottles would store as neatly as the standard square Essie bottles, I found they kind of "snap" together when you stagger them. I only received 'Sew Me 30' (a neutral pink) to sample, but I'm already coveting other light shades (a mint green? a baby blue? a pure white?) to use with my Essie Gel Couture Top Coat.
Sally Hansen Color Therapy
The system: Two coats of colour followed by the specially designed Color Therapy Top Coat. To extend the life of your mani and moisturize nails, brush on a coat of Color Therapy Nail & Cuticle Oil nightly.
The brush: Like Essie Gel Couture's, the Sally Hansen Color Therapy brush is broad, flat, and paddle-shaped with a slightly rounded edge. The long, straight stem does have a tendency to let globs of nail polish slide down, so scrape excess off on the bottle rim before you begin.
My impressions: Perhaps it's the mix of natural oils in the formula, but the Color Therapy nail lacquers seemed to effortlessly glide off the brush and onto my nails. Colour coverage varies: 'Pampered in Pink 290' (a bright berry fuchsia) delivers a lot of pigment in one coat, while 'Re-nude 210' (a pink-y beige) goes on patchy at first and requires another 1-2 coats to camouflage streaks. The coats take a bit longer to dry than CND Vinylux or Essie Gel Couture.
I was skeptical Color Therapy would live up to its nail care claims, but I was pleasantly surprised. Every night, I applied a coat of the nail & cuticle oil, which was thin, quick-absorbing, and sweetly scented; it seemed to enhance the shiny finish of the top coat instead of dulling it. When my mani began to chip around 8 days and I removed it with acetone, my nails were in much better shape than I expected with no signs of dryness or peeling.