When it’s good to go GEL

Born Pretty No Wipe Top Coat and Holo powder

I am back out of an unintentional blogging retirement. I have words about that coming up in another post, but for now we’ve got to talk about something else. Gel Polish. And when to use it, why to use it and how. Especially if you’re a polishaholic like me and the removal process is one of your worst nightmares. 

Disclaimer: press samples are included in this post; no affiliated links though, so click away, I won’t earn an extra cent.

Powders (and pigments?) have been all over the nail world the past year. I resisted because they all require gel polish and that’s just not for me. Turns out there are some other products you can use, but they won’t be quite as good as using gel polishes. I’ll get into that later.

So. Why do these powders require gel polish? I have no idea what chemistry is behind it all, but essentially standard polishes react with the pigments and cause chaos. It won’t be chromey if you’ve used a chrome powder and it won’t be quite so holographic if you use a holo powder. Also, you need the right base for the powders to stick to, which is an easier problem to solve than the top coat needs.

UR Surgar Opal Jelly Gel Soak Off smackerlacquer

But first, a look at my first go using a builder gel. To be honest I have no idea what the advantage of builder gels have over bottled gel polish. Builder gels come in little pots and tend be a little thicker and you’ll need your own brush too. I really liked this builder gel called Opal Jelly Gel (item AUB40431) that UR Sugar sent me for review, it gives my nails a nice healthy color boost. It was easy enough to work with. I have several “french nail” type regular polishes and they tend to be bit on the streaky side, so it was nice this gel was not. (I put a base of liquid latex on underneath this gel, and poof these fell off in 15 minutes.) The flowers and butterflies are from a Clear Jelly Stamper plate. Fun to look at, but fussy to use – ALL THOSE LAYERS.

UR Sugar Gel Opal smackerlacquer

I also used it for some french nail tips. I ALWAYS have high hopes for these damn plastic wraps, but they ALWAYS rip off because my nails are so strongly curved. Also, not my favorite look because you can see the bits of staining near the end of my nails. *shrug, sigh, shrug* I did a poor job of preparing my nails, so the gel pulled off like I had peel off base coat on underneath, thank goodness.

Now on to some of those fun new powders. Powders are messy. So messy. The holographic and mermaid versions are the worst. My entire nail, desk, keyboard, camera, everything is now touched with this magical dust. The chrome powders wash away pretty easily though. The first few powder pots I opened up I lost a a noticeable amount of the product because I wasn’t careful enough. You’ve been warned.


  • It’s INCREDIBLY important to keep a clean area, clean fingers, clean everything. The second this powder gets into your top coat bottle your sunk – the chrome effect will forever be ruined with that bottle. I don’t recommend washing hands before top coat because that may remove the powder off your skin and nails and you obviously don’t want that. Use a latex barrier around your nails to remove as much as possible, and then wipe away the excess with a clean lint free wipe or large fluffy face brush. If there are any bits of loose powder in your top coat or still on your nail it will really diminish the quality of the chrome look. It’s far less important for the holo looks, extra bits won’t matter much.
  • I’ve used all of the application tools: eyeshadow applicator, makeup sponge, finger, silicone tool and for me, my plain old finger pad does the best in every situation. Always.
  • Any cured “No Wipe Gel Top Coat” is the best base for all of these powders. It’s the perfect amount of sticky, plus it builds up a nice smooth surface that is harder to obtain with regular polish. Most gels cure hard and non-sticky and none of mine would take any powders (Sally Hansen, Red Carpet Manicure and Fingerpaints).  I’ve seen some YouTubers slap the powder on regular cured color gel polish, but that is not the case with my collection.
  • Non gel sticky base layer options include almost dry regular nail polish (may or may not work depending on the powder type: chrome not so much), Yellow Stopper or UNT Peel Off Gel polish.
  • As for top coats – any gel polish top coat is fine.
  • Regular nail polish top coats (like Seche Vite) will definitely destroy the holo and chrome finish of all fine powders (but not flakies). I’ve got examples below of different things that will happen with regular polish top coats. I’ve also had a lot of luck with water based top coats (like Picture Polish Revolution or UNT), but these clear polishes have significantly less wear time; they are softer so they nick up and cracks pretty quickly.
  • You don’t need any fancy or expensive set up for this. I’ve been using my super mini gel light (like this one) and Born Pretty Store No Wipe Top Coat (press sample) with great results. Otherwise there are $10 bottles of no wipe gel top coat on Amazon (like this one).
  • Scared of the commitment of gel polish and have nightmares about the removal process? Use a peel off base coat of your choice – Yellow Stopper, UNT, liquid latex, etc. I’ve recently purchased Orly’s latest Easy Off gel base and it’s a nice medium length wear base coat for gel.

Whats Up Nails Chrome Powder smackerlacquer

This Whats Up Paradise chrome powder.  Whats Up kindly sent it (and a million other little goodies) for review. See all that wrinkling? That’s what happens when you don’t use a gel top coat over chrome, sad face. Before I added the top coat (Seche Vite) it was super shiny and chromey. I used a base of Yellow Stopper so that the chrome would stick and it sticks nicely to that stuff. I think the only issue with bothering with this kind powder is that I get a pretty similar look with regular duochrome polish like ILNP Hush.

Born Pretty No Wipe Top Coat and Holo powder

The famous holographic powder. I actually bought this stuff myself off of prime, but is also BPS product. This holo powder is everything its cracked up to be and the most forgiving to use. (The BPS No Wipe Top Coat is a press sample).

Born Pretty Store mermaid powder smackerlacquer

This is a so-called “mermaid” powder from Born Pretty Store (here, #7 press sample). This is over pink, but my next try is over black which should be teal chrome and white looks pretty cool in photos too from what I’ve seen. The clear chrome teal almost invisible in most lights over all colors except black except in low light – then it’s super chromey to the max and really cool. But as of yet I’ve had zero luck actually photographing it accurately. So this powder is kind of “meh” for me so far, maybe I’ll change my mind with the black and white looks.  Note: this look is all non-gel: Yellow Stopper base and Picture Polish Revolution water based top coat – but looks the same as gel (I tried that too).

Born pretty Store mermaid powder

And here’s the same BPS mermaid powder with regular Seche Bite top coat. It looks pretty cool on its own, the chrome is lost and the powder separates. It’s a pretty cool look, but its easily obtainable with a standard liquid effects top coat. So….again, I’ll wait too see about black and white bases with this powder.

Serendipity What's Up Nails Holo Flakies smackerlacquer

Finally – my favorite pot of powdery goodness! Which isn’t really powder, it’s just a pot of dry holo flakies from Whats Up Nails. I’m smitten with this stuff. I do have a couple of holo flakie liquid toppers, but this is my favorite. These flakies are so easy to work with – no gel needed. This is all standard polishes and top coats, just one layer. Plus, it’s not nearly as messy as the powders. Love it.

Whats Up Nails Holographic Flakies

Here’s a thicker layer over my bare nail.

That’s it for my recent efforts with powers and gel polish. And now its fall and time for all the vampy colors which I’ve lately been digging. See you next time!


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