How to fill or "refresh" your at home gel mani

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hello, gel nail lovers!

I hope you've been loving all of these gel nail tutorials I've put together for you so far. I've gotten a ton of positive feedback so far and I've replied to a number of emails regarding questions some readers have had about doing their own gels. My DIY gel nails post is my #1 most popular blog post to date, so thanks for all of the feedback and comments!

To recap, here's a list of the gel nail tutorials I've posted so far:

And now I'm going to tell you about filling, or "refreshing" your gel nails.
So, what exactly is filling?

Filling a term for what they do for acrylic nails when they grow out, where they go and "fill in" the new growth area. You know that area around your cuticles? That's the new growth of your nail, and it's obviously lacking polish, gel, acrylic, or whatever it is you use on your nails.

OK. Say you did your own gel manicure at home following my awesome tutorial.
Now say that it's 1-2 weeks later and your mani is still looking shiny and chip free. 
Except now you have the nail equivalent of "roots."
You have grow out.
Not cute.

Especially if you have a hot date, a meeting, or just hate staring at grow out.
Normally it would be time to change your gel polish, right?
But why soak off a completely good set of gel nails & start over?

If your nails are still in relatively good condition with minimal chips there's an easy way to refresh them without removing them and starting over from scratch.

We're going to basically follow the same instructions I laid out in my DIY Gel Nails post, but we're going to change our prep work just a bit. If you haven't read my DIY Gel Nails post yet & are interesting in filling your gels, I highly recommend reading that one first to get all of the detailed step by step directions. This version I'm going over is going to be a quicker step by step and won't be as in depth, so make sure you're really familiar with gel nail application before trying a fill.

Need a good gel polish starter kit? Try this one here- it's the same exact set up I have & love!

  • Apply sunscreen to your hands if using a UV lamp. If you're using LED, skip it.
  • Trim or file nails to desired length and shape with your 180 grit file. They will probably be long if it's been a week or two since your original application.
  • Using your cuticle pusher, gently push the cuticles back.
  • Use your file to gently buff off the topcoat of your gel nails, removing all of the shine and blending the line where the gel meets the nail until it's flush. Then use your buffer to go around the cuticle area & remove all the shine from the natural nail. There should be absolutely zero shine anywhere on the nail. Remember- gel won't stick to a shiny surface!
  • Remove the dust and oil with an alcohol soaked lint free wipe (I do this twice to be ensure all oils are gone).

You're now ready to apply the gel product like you normally would.
    • Apply Gelish Foundation to entire nail (sealing the free edge first). Get as close to the cuticle as possible without touching it.
    • Cure for 1 min (UV lamp).
    • Use a clean, dry lint-free wipe to remove the tacky layer (only do this for the Foundation layer)
    • Your nails should now have a glossy look to them.
    • Apply desired number of coats of colored gel nail polish to entire nail. Cure each coat according to instructions. (Example: When I used black I only needed 2 coats for good coverage, and I cured each coat for 3 min under a UV lamp. You may need 2-3 coats depending on the color, and curing times may vary on the brand/color you choose). Note: Gels will be sticky & have a tacky layer even after the colored gel has cured. This is normal. Do not touch or remove this tacky layer yet!
    • Apply Top It Off sealer and cure for 2-3 minutes (UV lamp)
    • Use an alcohol soaked lint-free wipe to remove the tacky layer after Top It Off has cured. Your nails are now completely set!
    Repeat on 2nd hand and you're done!

    I only recommend filling your nails once or twice and then soaking the entire set off. After you fill them a time or two they tend to get a little thick after the 2nd fill.

    I really love how my nails look and feel after I've filled them once. They seem to be the perfect thickness for me and they don't break or get chipped so I can wear them with a little more length on them.

    If you're wondering what black I'm wearing in the picture it's by Sally Hansen. This is the only Sally Hansen gel polish I've tried so far and I'm super happy with it. I only tried it because I couldn't find a black in the Gelish brand I love, and I'd been wanting to try the Sally brand anyway. This stuff stays on! Seriously...I'm pleasantly shocked and surprised at how good it is. I might need to try some more Sally Hansen colors!

    Update: I finally found a black in the Gelish MINI brand. It's called Black Shadow and I like it much more than the Sally Hansen brand. SH ended up getting a little runny and it takes a lot of coats to get good coverage. I highly recommend Gelish MINI's Black Shadow, which you can see that I used here.

    Have you ever had a chipped gel nail? Need to repair it?
    Find out how to fix a chipped gel nail!

     Hope you found this tutorial helpful!
    What gel brands have you tried and loved?
    Will you try filling yours?
    As always, please email me with questions and I'd be happy to try to answer them!


    1. I need some of this. I am going to have to go through your tutorials when I get mine!

    2. THANK YOU! just recently started using gel polish and wasn't sure about the best way to refill... Your tutorials have been super helpful.

    3. Your tutorials are awesome! I have been using Gelish for a while, and have always wondered if I could use other brands of gel polish with the Gelish foundation and topcoat. Did you use the Sally Hanson in combination with the Gelish?

    4. Why do you remove the tacky layer after the foundation gel cures? I've never done that, is it only necessary when doing a fill?

    5. Love your instructions. You used Sally Hansen gel polish, but did you use the same Gelish foundation and top coat? I wasn't sure you could mix brands of gel polish supplies. hanks

    6. Excellent tutorials. You know how to write instructions.

    7. I found a awesome brand of gel polish I suggest you try out if you have not yet. Its called GELAXY and they have amazing colors! You can find them online at i love the color #200 its bright pink with small sparkles. I get great wear out of the gelaxy brand of gel.

    8. definitely the best tutorial ive seen =) awesomely done .... DIYer as well as professional nail tech you were better than my nail teacher. Thank you =) so glad i ran across this perfect page =) \m/

    9. Hi,
      I recently started using Gelish. I use a very light color and my nails stay looking pretty fresh. The only problem I'm having is with the length as they grow out. I was wondering if I could file just the free edge as usual , then just re-seal with top coat and cure in lamp. Would you recommend sealing just the free edge or the entire nail again?
      Also, is the such thing as over-curing? I use an LED lamp and tend to cure long than instructed to be sure it is done "cooking" and wonder if I am doing any damage.

    10. Hi Laura! Usually, when I'm at the point where my nails are getting long and need to be filed down, I just file them shorter and leave them as is. I have thought about trying to re-seal the free edge, but they are usually grown out anyway and almost in need of a fill (or to be removed) so I'm too lazy to bother trying to perfect them. I did that this week, actually, and they are still on! Yes, a few of them are starting to separate a little bit at the tips and the gel can peel back a little bit (because the free edge is visible and isn't sealed anymore) but it doesn't bother me. IF you were to try to re-seal it, I'm pretty sure you'd need to do all 3 steps again- base coat, color, and top coat.
      You can definitely over-cure your nails, and most gel brands discourage this. Your gels won't set up right and you can do damage (especially if you're using a UV lamp). Check your lamp wattage and check the curing times on your product packaging and make sure you follow the instructions. Over-curing won't make your nails harder, stronger, or more durable.

      Hope that helps!

    11. AMAZING!!! What watt is your led lamp?

    12. My LED lamp is 6 watts & it cures the gel in 45 seconds! :)

    13. Thank you for the "fill" tutorial. I've been totally wondering about this because acetone and my nails don't get along. I love Gelish, but dreaded the soak off. In all my googling, you are the first I've found to post this information.

    14. You are so welcome, and thank you for the sweet comment! I don't know for sure, but I don't think my way of "filling" them is an "official" gel procedure- I just kinda took what I knew about acrylics and applied it to this and figured it out on my own. I'm glad you found it helpful! As soon as I heard that you were supposed to soak off gels every time I thought "Well that sounds silly- I'm definitely not doing that!" Why soak off nails that are still in great condition?

    15. I've been getting gel manis for years professionally. I've decided it's time I do them myseld. I typ don't wear a colored gel. I like the natural shiny look. I'm guessing the salon used just base and top coat. I noticed she had these products on a small warmer before application. What's that about? Please explain steps to do if I want shiny natural looking finish and skip the polish. Thank you!!

    16. Have you tried "filling" with a different (probably darker) color?

    17. Have you tried "filling" with a different (probably darker) color?

    18. Yes, I have! It works fine as long as you are, like you said, going darker :) You can definitely do that!

    19. Thank you so much for your speedy response!!!!

    20. Thank you for the great and easy tutorial! I couldn't find it in a page in my own language. I live in Holland and I guess that gel nails are more populair in the US than here. I bought a kit for gelnails from KISS but it never last as long. They chip very easy and quick. But I know why, I don't seal the free edge! So now I know how to do my nails the correct way. It really frustrated me, I did my nails this afternoon and in the evening I took a bath and after that they alreay started to chip... Tomorrow I will do the steps for filling and refressing. I hope that they will last longer now I learned this from you!

      ( sorry for the grammar, I can speak and understand English but my grammar is very poor )

    21. That is so great to hear, Mariska. I hope sealing the free edge fixes your chipping problems :) And no worries about the grammar thing- I think you did wonderfully! Let me know if you have anymore questions, and thanks for reading!

    22. Thanks for the wonderful tutorials! I have a cosmo license as well and figured since I've "mastered" polishing my nails will traditional polish, I'd give gel nails at home at try and your tutorials were super helpful! I just did my first get refill and you're right...the thickness is so nice!

    23. I tried the sally hansen gel strips... which include strips and a top coat which you cure under an expensive little light... absolutely useless. They lasted a shorter time than my at home OPI regular nail polish manicures. So frustrating.

    24. I quickly scanned through previous posts & didn't see if someone else had asked the gels are just about 2 weeks old & are holding up well EXCEPT for some lifting up of the polish near the cuticle. Would I be able to file all that away & fill in?
      Sorry if you've answered this previously! Thank you!

    25. Yes! As long as the lifting is minimal you should be able to gently file or buff it off, as long as you are careful not to file on your natural nail. I like to use a pair of cuticle nippers to clip off the lifted part, then I gently file the little "ridge" of gel until it's more flush with the nail, then proceed to fill like I normally would. Hope that helps!

    26. Such a bummer to hear! I haven't tried the strips, but I imagined they wouldn't hold up too well. I have, however, tried the Sally Hansen gel polish & had good results with that. You should be able to use that with the rest of the stuff you already have. Give it a try & let me know what you think!

    27. I filled my nails in a few days ago and I don't think I filed my nail down to the length I like. Since my nails still look nice with no grow out, is there a way I can filed my nails down and maybe reseal them somehow? Thanks :)

    28. I don't know for sure if this will work, but what I would do is to just file them down to the length you want, then re-seal the free edge with your base, color, and topcoat. Hopefully you can keep it neat & it doesn't glop over onto the top of the nail and mess it up. Let me know how it goes! Good luck

    29. because i did my own acrylic nails for nearly 15 years, and did a fill every 10 days and never took the nails off, i have been doing the same with the Gel Fill. ALL BECAUSE i found THIS PAGE, i am loving doing my own gel mani!! i just take extra time to file the existing gel polish a little thinner, and never have to put my fingers and nails in nasty removal stuff... i am LOVING doing my own nails and filling every 10 days, hurrah!!! THANK YOU MELISSA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    30. I just want to say thank you for all your tutorials step by step advice my nails have never looked better couldn't have done it with out your help : )

    31. Thanks for posting this-I bought the strips kit but haven't used it yet. I think I'll return it & go with regular gel polish supplies.

    32. Wow, you are a savior in so many ways! Thank you so much, you've really helped me a lot :)!!!!!

    33. Interesting method for filling. Why do you remove the tacky layer for the foundation?
      Also, led lamps emit UV as well so if you're worried about exposure wear suncream for led too.


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