The Only Polish I Bother With

I have lousy fingernails so was thrilled to discover and wear acrylic over my nails for 20+ years. Back in the day, every young mother at soccer practice sported 10 perfect talons painted in glossy, bright colors, which were never chipped. That was the magic of acrylic nails. They were strong enough to grow to impossible lengths and the polish never, ever chipped. I loved them.

Every two weeks I went in for my “fill” which meant clipping off the loose acrylic, sanding, filing then filling the grown out sections with more acrylic. The salon reeked of noxious fumes and heaven knows what it was doing to everyone’s lungs. When the acrylic finally came off, my nails were destroyed beyond all recognition.

I didn’t give up on polish because I wanted pretty nails, but it was a waste of time and money. The polish never lasted longer than a day, if I was lucky. Then ran across the Essie Gel Couture system at Target several years ago and haven’t bought a different brand since.Essie Gel Couture display at Target on A Well Styled Life

Is It Gel?

Gel polish is typically cured under a special light. This Essie Gell Couture is a two-step system that air dries on its own.

How to Apply

On clean dry nails apply two coats of color. No base coat needed. I allow them to dry between coats which only takes a few minutes. Top with one swipe of the tops of bottles of Essie Gel Couture on A Well Styled Life


It’s available in 100 colors! I have several favorites and lean towards pale colors because my nails are short. Essie’s iconic Ballet Slippers has been a cult favorite for 36 years. It’s a go with everything, soft ballet pink that blends with my skin tone. They don’t make that exact shade in the Gel Couture line but many are very close. These are my favorite colors-

Essie Gel Couture polish collection on table


Unlike salon gel, this gel-like polish comes off easily with regular nail polish remover. No soaking or filing and no damage to your nails. My nails feel stronger since I’ve been using this consistently because they’re protected and get a boost of strength.

How Long Do They Last

Essie says your manicure will last 14 days without chips. That may be true for some, but my nails break or tear long before then. I can only report up to a 5-day window which is epic for my soft, peeling, weak nails. This polish is my best and only shot for having a polished, natural nail that’s affordable and easy to do at home.

The other thing I’ve done in an effort to have halfway decent or at least not embarrassing looking nails is to take this Biotin morning and night. I made the mistake of thinking that the liquid would be easier, but it’s not for me. It’s hard to describe it’s taste accurately, but it’s a cross between rotten fish and formaldehyde.

Colors I Like

Are you blessed with strong, pretty nails?

Please share what you use.

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  1. This summer I was taking my own Essie gel polish for the salon to apply. They do such a better job than I do, but they nearly ruined my nails by using the rough strong files they use on acrylic nails on my real nails. The last six weeks I’ve been using Burt’s Bees cuticle cream to strengthen and get them back in shape. Grrr….

  2. Hi Jennifer, I too used to have poor nails, but now I get compliments all the time on my “lovely nails”. My secret is 2 products, RescueRx, which is a keratin treatment and Julep Oxygen Nail treatment that comes in a variety of colors, goes on like a polish and dries quickly. I reapply the Julep every few days and take it off at night and apply the RescueRX.overnight a couple of times a week.
    I buy both on line. Neither is outrageously expensive and maybe worth a try.

  3. My sister wore acrylic nails for many years while she was working but when she retired she thought she would give them up and just polish her own nails. Her nails were in terrible condition; they were thin and peeled and would not grow even though she was using nail strengthening polish, etc. I told her I was allergic to some of the ingredients in nail polish and that she might want to try just going natural and let her nails grow out. It wasn’t a pretty picture for a bit but now she has the most gorgeous strong nails that grow quickly and look very healthy. I even gave up polishing my toenails except for an occasional special event because my toenails were weak and discolored from polish. Now they are doing fine.

  4. Deborah Lilly says:

    I am lucky to have strong nails, and enjoy doing my own manicures and pedicures most of the time. I change colors on my toes frequently, and I use Essie Gel Couture Top Coat for a good shine and less chipping. Since I retired in May, I’ve been using Essie Treat Love & Color in Tinted Love on my fingernails which is a pale iridescent pink that looks natural and pretty and really does seem to strengthen my nails. I also use Essie Apricot Cuticle Oil daily.

  5. Discovering Essie gel couture was a nail life changer for me. I have thrown out all other polish. I can get 14 days out of a polish and longer if I “touch up”. Before the gel couture 48 hours was absolute max for nail polish. Even setting aside the cost of salon manicures and the frustration of the salon gel polish my cuticles always “peel” back after a manicure and on occasion have had to use an antibiotic cream on my cuticles. So no dramatics when I say Essie Gel Couture has been a nail life changer. My only recommendation to Essie is to mirror the colors in both polish lines.

    1. I totally agree. I would love to get their iconic Ballet Slippers in the Couture collection

  6. Good morning! I have had trouble with my nails for years, they split and chip and even with a top coat in two days and sometimes the same day! A year ago today I was introduced to Colorstreet nail strips and I love them my nails quit splitting and no more chipping they last 7-10 days, but I wear mine two to three weeks! I’m a firm believer in them! They are real nail polish, base coat, and top coat! Jennifer if you would like to try them I’ll send you a set!

  7. Hi Jennifer!! Absolutely love your site!! Any chance you could tell us about your sunglasses in the Bridging the Seasons post? Thanks!!

    1. Susan Gowan says:

      My nails have always been a problem. I tend to take out my anxiety on them and used to bite my nails when younger. As my father was wont to do. When I remember, I use a strong as nails protectant and sometimes goes to a private nail salon that does not reek of acrylics. I do think it can make you sick and affect breathing.

  8. I wore acrylic nails for about 6 years. Not sure why I started wearing them as I have really strong nails. Having them removed and nursing those sad nails underneath was horrible, but once they grew out the nails were fine. I take Nature’s Bounty Hair Skin & Nails daily and highly recommend it. I buy it at Costco.

  9. The best nail strengthener I’ve found is Nail Fitness. Took my weak nails to healthy, strong nails in about a month. Will try the Essie gel.

  10. Natural, healthy, trimmed and shaped…no polish or gel or acrylic, or even 8-free or 10-free polishes. Haven’t used them in years. Found that depriving my nails of oxygen made them brittle, fragile, discolored and tending to peel. I’m fortunate that the tips of my nails are very white and the base of the nails are pink so they give the illusion of a French manicure. But polish etc.? Just say no…

  11. I’m going to try that polish for sure. When I was younger I could grow beautiful long nails but not anymore. I keep them short and take vitamin B supplements.

  12. I could talk and talk about polish, but would rather share with you my secret to strong nails: collagen powder! I add a scoop to my morning smoothie, and let me tell you, my nails are powerful! I have to cut them back every other week because they grow too long. I started the collagen powder after a round of gel/dipping powder about destroyed my nails. They are as healthy as can be now.

  13. I love a “finished” nail too, but I’ve had mixed results with the Essie gel system. It peels, and for me, removing it is difficult.
    I had to go in their website to figure out how to take it off. The removal process was tedious and left my nails dry and brittle. My nails are rigged, but are strong and seldom break. So, they remain polish free.

  14. I am very fortunate to have decent nails. I attribute that to taking Biotin (30years ÷) and always filing in one direction with a glass nail file. Neutral colors are my favorite. If chipping does happen it is not so obvious until I can do my nails.

  15. Wear my nails somewhat long and often have strangers compliment me on them asking at the same time what brand they are or where I get them done. On the most part keep them natural looking in colour (a very light pink but more on the beige side), do them myself and they can last up to two weeks. I do apply a ‘clear’ combination top/base coat first to smooth out the nail surface since vertical line ridging have developed as I’ve aged. Then I apply said colour to the ‘entire’ nail (one coat only), add an off-white to their tips (one coat only) and finish off with the clear polish (as mentioned) . Products I use are all quick drying so between start to finish (polish removal, soaking, trimming, filing, painting) it takes approximately 45 minutes (if that), in total to do. Should mention; use nail polish remover pads, pre-soak in Dawn liquid dish detergent ‘n water, prefer nail scissors to clippers, use a wood cuticle stick and standard emery boards when shaping. Also on occasion will take a Gelatin capsule supplement if nutrient is lacking in my diet to boost their strength, though seldom do I experience any breakage (though I’m hard on them). As for toe nails; either a clear polish or combination decal during sandal season otherwise none …☺.
    Apologize for being so long winded but shall definitely give the Essie Couture Gel a try when in the market for a color, so thanks for the tip Jennifer. -Brenda-
    P.S.: For those who might be interested: when applying the coats on the nail I do not overload it on the brush then in the center sweep from the cuticle up to the end of tip then repeat the same movement on each side of it while still wet. Have found this method provides a nice even application of all three coats and base for the tip color. For the tip itself ; one sweep across then reverse the direction.

  16. Love Essie polish and especially that gel topcoat. I go in phases of polishing/not polishing my fingernails and find this topcoa really makes a difference in how long polish lasts

  17. Thank you so much Jennifer for sharing this! My nails are exactly like yours and have been through the same torture yours have. NOTHING else has worked on mine either so going this morning to get this!! Many thanks!

  18. I’ve used Essie Gel once, and my nails peeled like paper, so never again. I’ve found that Zoya polishes work for me (do not completely destroy my nails), and they are 5-free. I take my own to the salon if I go. Just the smell of the acrylics, etc. bothers me, so would never do that.

    1. I’ve liked Zoya too, especially successful on my hands with the lighter colors so when it chips you don’t notice it as much. I”m so hard on my hands and my nails are ridiculously weak etc.

  19. ann spice says:

    A friend brought me a bottle of nail hardener back from CO. It’s made in Columbia and is super amazing. Never could keep my nails strong, always peeled. This is sold on Amazon. No name but the bottle has a dark green cap. Not very expensive either. It’s amazing!!!

  20. I bit my nails when I was young, but left that habit behind in a hurry when I became a nurse… no way I was putting my hands in my mouth! My mom had been a hand model back in the day and once my nails showed some white, I began to appreciate my hands more and liked them to look their best. I use Sophi brand polish that I order online because it honestly has no smell… no need to throw the windows open. Although there’s a learning curve in using it (a couple extra steps), I found it’s worth it.

    1. There is an Essie polish called TLC (Treat Love and Color). There are light as well as dark colors available. It is a nail strengthener. I use it all the time and it really does help my nails that like to split and peel.

  21. I paint finger tips only for special occasions but twice daily us some kind of cuticle oil or cream. Lately I’m using Love Heals from Thistle Farms in Nashville. They are an amazing charity that makes oils and creams with lavender and pure products. The women are former Tennessee prisoners and this program provides work and home for the women. Their products are soo great as is their charity work. Check it out at
    I, too, give the toenails a break over winter. I go to a salon for a pedicure but take my own chemical free polishes.
    I KNOW those chemicals can leach into our Systems!
    Jennifer, I’m the same person who’s never colored her hair so take this suggestion with a grain of salt! LOL

    1. I’m with you Shari and have been using Zoya polish for the same reasons. What brand are you using for polish?

    2. Thank you, Shari. I love that you shared this. Chemicals are the enemy of good health for sure

  22. I’ve had horrible luck with gel and “dip powder” polish too leaving my nails thin and actually painful. I also have osteoarthritis in my hands with gnarly knuckles, so having meticulously groomed nails is important to me! When I saw the Essie Gel, I steered away because I thought it would be harmful too. So thank you for this report. I have also had great luck with Sally Hansen Mega Shine topcoat over any brand of polish. I get a good 7-8 days with it.

  23. I have found (for me) using mila and ella top cpat after a manicure helpsharden my nails. also take Biotin pills to help the nails and hair. Have had several surgeries in the last few years. Anesthesia is nit great on har. Probably not too good on nails either! Get a manicure every two weeks and put the mila and ella topcoat on when I get home. Think it all has helped. Also give my hudband Biotin so hopefully His scalp won’t show up as much! Usually use OPI pale pink, like the Essie Ballet Pink.My polish always chipd and with a pale color, it doesn’t show as much.(But I do go wild with my toes!)

    1. I go wilder with my toes often, crooked and broken toes and all:)

  24. I gave up on acrylic nails twenty years ago for all the reasons you stated but about almost two years ago now I tried them again. My daughter’s looked lovely and I thought, why not? I went to her technician who is fantastic. It seems very different now and they look very natural, not to say it doesn’t still have lots of fumes involved. It doesn’t seem quite as bad though. I could never have nails like this otherwise. I also had my eyebrows microbladed at the same salon so in my seventies I have become more of a diva than ever! I love it.

    1. I think you’re awesome, Leslie! Way to go for taking care of yourself in ways that make you feel like a queen.

  25. I never paint my nails. I am a pianist and typically we don’t paint our finger nails. Consequently, my nails are super strong and never chip. I keep them trimmed short and nicely shaped and I think they look great. During the summer, I do paint my toe nails with non-toxic paint. I just think it looks better with sandals. My toes are unpainted during the colder months. It always takes my toe nails awhile to recover from the summer painting even with non-toxic paint. I also have a scoop of collagen in my coffee each morning and I think that helps my hair and nails.

  26. I have terrible nail too. Although my hair has cone back wonderfully after being very ill, my nails? No so much. They are weak. I leave them natural with a clear strengthener on them which gives a but of shine or luster.
    Once in awhile I polish them with one coat only…ballet slippers.

    I do take biotin.

  27. I take the over the counter vitamin, Biotin, which strengthens both hair and nails. And I have been wearing acrylic nails for years. If, or when, the acrylic is taken off, my nails are healthy underneath. I love my acrylic nails and my OPI polish. I have my nails done at a shop behind my friend and neighbor’s house. Since this is a private salon, she is the only technician and there are no noxious fumes.

  28. Dee A Crabtree says:

    I love Essie’s “Treat, Color, Love” line. No base or top coat needed. It’s very quick and easy.

  29. Bette Farr Rosenfield says:

    I had exactly the same experience with acrylic nails. My nails are also ruined. I keep mine very short and painted a natural color. I can’t wait to try the Essie Gel Couture polish.

  30. Thank you for this! I have had it with salon gel manicures – they ruin my nails and I am currently growing out damage from a gel mani that literally peeled & chipped off. I’ve decided to do my own from now on – why spend $$ on a mediocre job, especially since I don’t wear my nails long. I’ve seen the Sally Hansen gel polish and wondered if it truly lasted. I do love Essie’s regular polish so I will definitely give this a try!

    1. I wore acrylic nails for a while sporadically, and when I stopped my nails were a mess. Weak, peeling, splitting down the middle. A friend recommended Nail Tek products and they have been really helpful. Since I’m trying to switch to all cruelty free products I’ve started using Zoya, Orly, and China Glaze nail colors. The Zoya polish remover is fabulous and doesn’t dry your nails out at all! Orly has a Cuticle Therapy Creme which is amazing. Healthy, moisturized cuticles will help you have better nails. I’ve also stopped clipping my nails with a clipper and instead use a glass nail file, which is better for your nails. Nail Tek has a great one (they are also cruelty free). I love doing my nails! My favorite ‘me time’ thing! ?

      1. Linda Simpson says:

        I swear by Nail Tek! I have been using it for several years, and I now sport long, strong fingernails. Since I am retired, I cannot afford spending tons of money for Shellac, which I used the last 7 years of my working life. I was always front and center at work and didn’t want to worry about chipped nails. Nail Tek has been a godsend.

      2. I need to try Nail Tek! Thank you ladies!!

    2. That’s what I used last week, but honestly, it only lasts a few days for me. Revlon has a no-light gel nail system that lasts a bit longer for me. I am hard on nail polish, though. Even a salon gel polish lasts less than a week for me.

      1. A key to this polish is cleaning the nail bed with nail polish remover before polishing.

      2. Karen Gaston says:

        Love the Elsie Gel Coutre! I Like shorter nails and gave up all those expensive nail salons. Thanks for all the recommended colors!

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