Gel manicures and pedicures have many advantages, the most obvious being that they last and last. Unfortunately, they initially required professional application and removal. Over the past 6 months a number of "at-home" versions hit the market. I finally found one that I can recommend.
The Sephora by OPI gel shine™ At-Home Colour System beats the others I tried last fall. The starter kit runs $159 and includes nail prep block; cleanser and lint-free pads; cuticle oil and pusher; base-, top-, and color gels; curing light; and remover supplies. Individual bottles of polish gel cost $17.50, and removal kits for 5 full sets of manicures cost $18.
Two things make this kit superior. First up is its 30-second cure time. The brand I tried last fall required cure times of 2 minutes or more for each step, increasing the odds that I would screw it up before it cured.
The removal process also makes the Sephora system worth the extra money. To remove salon or other home gels, you first break the seal with a coarse file and then soak in acetone-based remover for 20 minutes or so. Attempts to hurry the process can damage the nail bed. The Sephora kit includes remover wraps; you saturate the pad with acetone-based remover and then wrap the Ace-bandage like material over the nail. Plastic gloves keep the pads moist while you lounge about for 20 minutes. The polish then softens; anything that does not come off with friction from the pad can be pushed off with the plastic cuticle pusher. The kit is sold for manicures, but 1-gallon Zip-Lock bags over your feet makes the system pedicure-friendly as well. Walking in baggies can be slippery , so take care!
I have now done my toes twice, each pedicure lasting 3 weeks (including one lake vacation). The gel-polish seems a bit more fluid than other brands, perhaps helping with the cure time, but also making it much easier to apply. The photo of my latest manicure, an on-trend coral called I'm Wired, is shown after 10 days of real-life wear, including cooking, dishes, patients, and lots of keyboarding. I really want to try a mocha beige called Leotard Optional, but it has been out-of-stock in my store and online for the past 6 weeks.
So how does the system match up with the costs of doing it in the salon? My local salon charges $35 or so for a manicure using a gel system. The starter kit costs about 4 manicures (yes, I tip $5 to 7, especially when someone just spent 30 minutes removing my old polish); removal supplies run about $5 for ten nails. Over the long run, the kit should pay for itself.