I can only assume the reason more people aren’t talking about Manucurist is the same reason I waited so long to try it — the Instagram ads seemed way too good to be true. If you haven’t already been haunted by said ads, here’s the promise: It’s an at-home manicure that’s as hard-wearing and long-lasting as gel, with polish that cures under a UV-minimizing LED light and a superfast removal process that doesn’t require any soaking or drilling. Big if true, so I’d been curious but skeptical for months and jumped at the chance when the brand agreed to send me their starter kit to try.
Manucurist’s centerpiece product is Green Flash, a gel-alternative polish that was developed in Paris by CEO and co-founder Gaëlle Lebrat-Personnaz (who named the brand after the nail salon founded by her mother in 1996). Its chemistry is what makes it unique: Though it still needs to cure under a lamp, the polish works by using polymers instead of the monomers found in traditional gel. According to the brand, where monomers form a single (very strong and chip-resistant) bond, polymers form multiple bonds, so each one requires less adhesion to your nails. This makes the bonds more flexible; the result is a manicure that’s still strong and chip-resistant — if not quite as much as traditional gel — but ultimately much easier and less damaging to remove. The polymer bonds are also able to cure quicker and more efficiently with LED lamps that use a narrower, less-skin-damaging wavelength and emit less UV light than the fluorescent bulbs of traditional curing lamps.
Admittedly, I am extremely the target audience for this litany of claims. Outside of just being a person who likes manicures, I am an esthetician who is constantly touching people’s faces during treatments, washing my hands, and applying different skin-care products. I need extra-durable polish, but I also need to keep my nails short, so I can only wear traditional gel for about a week before I have to go through the burdensome and often damaging removal process to clip and file my nails back down.
Plus as a skin-care professional who is extra diligent about sun protection, getting gel manicures has long been a personal quandary, made more complex by recent headlines about possible links between UV curing lamps and skin cancer. (My friends like to joke that the most exposure my body has to UV light is when I get my nails done, and at times I have absolutely been that person wearing fingerless gloves to the salon.) While the reasonable part of my brain is able to concede that it really is such a minimal amount of exposure, and even with the most recent research, the FDA still considers UV curing lamps to be low-risk, the esthetician part of my brain is always a little nervous. So once I had marveled at brand videos of Manucurist’s Green Flash polish sliding right off a model’s nails, my interest was only compounded by the apparent “less UV exposure” factor.
The Green Flash starter kits comes with an LED curing lamp; either one, two, or five bottles of nail color; base and top coats; and polish remover and clips. The more expensive kits also include a bag to hold it all. Skill-wise, applying the Green Flash polish is no different from any other nail polish that you swipe on with a brush. Like all gel manicures, the process requires a base coat, color coat, and top coat. Also like all gel manicures, each coat needs to cure for a set amount of time under a lamp — from 30 seconds to just under two minutes, compared to about two minutes per coat for traditional gel. Paint a thin layer, cure it, paint another thin layer, cure it, and so on. (The brand gives specific instructions for how long to cure each layer, but I’ve found adding an extra 30 seconds each time leads to better adherence and thus better longevity.)
My first manicure using the system took 46 minutes, including setup, as I figured out the process — but the result was pretty remarkable in that it more or less looked, felt, and performed like any other gel manicure, and easily lasted a week without chipping. Manucurist’s official claim is that it can last up to ten days, slightly below the 14-day average for traditional gel, but as I’ve gotten the hang of application, I can now get about 11 days if I want to. (Notably, Manucurist is also about to launch in several New York City salons, and with professional application it can last even longer.)
It was the removal process, though, that really sold me. I was in true disbelief when the polish came off as advertised without any filing, soaking, or scraping — it really is as simple as dipping cotton rounds into Manucurist’s acetone-free remover, holding or clipping them to each nail for one to two minutes, and watching in amazement as the polish simply peels right off. It couldn’t be more different from removing traditional gel.
At this point, I’ve given myself nearly a dozen manicures and pedicures with Manucurist and have pretty much nailed the technique, pun intended. Now I can do my nails in 20 minutes, max, unless there is serious filing or cutting involved. As with anything else, practice makes a huge difference: The main thing to be mindful of is the amount of product on your brush. Thinner layers are generally better, as they’ll cure faster and come off easier, but too thin and the polish may become streaky, especially with darker colors. For this reason, I suggest starting out with a light color — I like the nude-y pink (and best-selling) Hortencia — which is a lot more forgiving and will guide you on how much to use moving forward. You can fix any edges or smudges using Manucurist’s brilliant corrector pen, which is sold separately but worth it: It comes pre-soaked in their polish remover and and has a precisely angled tip that’s similar to a fingernail (like how professionals use their own nails to clean up the edges when giving you a manicure).
Other than the learning curve and slightly shorter wear times, the only true con for me is the upfront cost, which will run $75-plus depending on which Starter Kit or à la carte products you buy. (Since the Green Flash polish only works with Manucurist’s special lamps, I appreciate that the brand offers dozens of colors, different top-coat finishes, and even nail art.) But overall, I’ve found the trade-offs to be minor for the money saved in the long term and the ease of changing my manicure, while still getting a pretty-close-to-gel effect. I will still inevitably crave the relaxation and professional precision I get at a nail salon, so it would take a lot — like growing an extra dominant hand or being able to give myself a chair massage — to completely give up professional manicures. But Manucurist comes pretty close.
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