The Best Nail Salon Alternatives (+ My Fave DIY Nail Secret)

The Best Nail Salon Alternatives (+ My Fave DIY Nail Secret)

So, we’ve made it this far into The Year of Corona. At this point, maybe your nail salon is open, but maybe it isn’t. Or it might be open, but you’re still pretty iffy about whether or not you want to spend the time and money on nails that nobody except the grocery store cashier is going to see. (That’s me.)

No matter the reason, most of us still aren’t making our regular appointments at the nail salon. For a loooong time, I thought my only options were to pay for expensive gel nails from the salon or deal with crappy regular polish at home that chips off in three days no matter how careful I am.

I’m an artsy person, and I have a fair amount of patience, but for some reason, painting my nails is one of those things that I just can’t do well. I make a mess. I smudge them accidentally. I spend two hours getting them perfect only to have them get messed up in a day or two. I stopped bothering to do anything outside of getting them done professionally because it just wasn’t worth the time and inevitable (yet maybe unreasonable?) rage that went along with DIY.

Enter COVID. Now, even if I could go get them done by pros, I absolutely couldn’t justify the cost when I’m literally only leaving the house for groceries. So, since I had plenty of time on my hands, I started looking into ways to get pretty, long-lasting nails at home.

Even if I could get my nails done by pros, I absolutely couldn’t justify the cost when I’m literally only leaving the house for groceries.

Turns out there are lots of alternatives to acrylics or salon gels! Here are the ones I’ve tried and love.


At-home Gel Manicure

This one does require a little bit of an upfront investment in the form of a UV light and special polish, but you can find home manicure starter kits in the $30 to $60 range that bundle everything you need to get started.

There are three types of gel: hard gel, soft gel, and gel polish. All three need to be cured under a UV lamp, and all of them last about three weeks (or longer if you’re careful). The main differences are in what they can do for your nails.



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Hard gel is usually best left to the pros. It can be used in place of acrylic to give your nails length and taper, and it’s super durable. You can buy at-home kits for this, but it’s tricky to work with and difficult to remove on your own, which is why I don’t recommend it unless you’re feeling ultra confident.

Soft gel is not as strong as hard gel, but it’s easier to apply and perfect for making your natural nails more durable. It can be soaked off with acetone, so it’s also way more doable at home.

Gel polish is essentially just longer-wearing regular polish. I’ve personally never gotten three weeks of smudge-free wear from a gel polish, but these are the cheapest to start with and the easiest to work with since they apply just like regular polish.


Press-on Nails

I know we all remember the trashy-yet-hilarious horror that press-on nails used to be (anyone else remember seeing random French tip toenails laying on the bathroom floor of their high school?), but they’ve come a long way since then.



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One of my all-time favorite press-on nail brands is Dashing Diva. Seriously, they don’t sponsor me, but I wish they would for as much as I sing their praises. Their press-on nails are crazy easy and really do last. If you’re rough on your hands, you’ll likely only get seven days out of them, but if you’re not, you can get a solid two weeks! No glue necessary, but I do like to just go ahead and dab a little extra adhesive onto mine to extend their life.


Nail Wraps

Not all nail wraps are created equal, and I am NOT about to tell you to go buy some overpriced MLM nail stickers. We don’t support MLMs in this house.

In my experience, anything branded as a “nail polish strip” tends to be flimsy and chips off quickly (like the Incoco and Color Street brands, ugh), and anything less than $5 tends to be wrinkly, rubbery or prone to fading (like Lily and Fox or Coconut, ugh again).



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Surprise! My tried-and-true forever love for nail wraps is Dashing Diva. The wraps are sturdy gel, stupidly easy to apply (literally just stick them on and file off the excess), and they stay on flawlessly for weeks. I usually have to change them because my nails have grown too much and not because they’ve chipped, faded, or lifted off. Plus, they’re usually about $8 for a pack, and you get multiple manis out of a single pack!

Pro tip: Prep your nails with a quick swab of rubbing alcohol before applying the wraps. This helps dissolve any stray oils or product traces that might still be on your nails so that the wraps adhere better. Just make sure to wait until the alcohol dries before applying the wraps.

Nail wraps are 100% my fave and my top pick for at-home manicures. The press-on nails are fun, but I do feel like I have to be too careful with them. Nail wraps are super versatile, really easy and totally affordable, so even if you mess up, it’s not a big deal to peel it off and try again.


Time to Open the Stay-at-Home Salon!

I only mentioned a few of the most basic and simple home manicure methods in this post because I just don’t have the patience for doing really complex nails on my own.

You can definitely buy nail art stamps, dip powders, hard gels, and fancy manicure design tools to really go wild with your nails. If you have the time and patience to experiment, I say go for it! Grab a pro kit, load up some YouTube tutorials, and become your own nail lady!

Do you DIY your manicures? What are your fave nail salon alternatives? Tell me your secrets!


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