Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab

For years, Seche Vite has been my go-to topcoat. Yes, she has issues (thickness, shrinkage, etc.) and she can be temperamental at times, but despite several attempts to find a better topcoat, I always came back to good ole SV...

And then Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab came along and changed everything!

Gel Lab is a basecoat and topcoat duo that promises the long wear and high shine of a gel manicure, without the UV lamp. Now, when you change your polish as often as I do, you don't necessarily need a topcoat and basecoat that 1-2 weeks of wear, but I have a job where I use my hands a lot, so durability certainly doesn't hurt! I was so impressed with the mini sizes I'd tried of Deborah Lippmann's Addicted To Speed Topcoat and Fast Girls Basecoat that it peaked my curiosity in the Gel Lab set.

The biggest things I look for in a base and topcoat are:
1) good, workable consistency--not so thin that it's runny or too thick to the point that it's goopy
2) fast-drying
3) minimal (preferably no) drying issues like shrinkage, bubbling and rippling
4) durable.

So let's delve into each of those points in respect to Gel Lab!

Consistency: This to me is where Gel Lab really outshines SV. I get so frustrated with how thick SV gets about halfway through the bottle and it has all these annoying little "quirks" that come with that! Gel Lab has the perfect viscosity for me. The Lippmann brush is a favorite of mine, which adds to the ease of application. The bristles fan out across the nail, allowing for smooth, even application.

I didn't feel the need to add any thinner until about the last third or so of the Gel Lab topcoat bottle and even then, that was mostly to make it easier for me to reach down into the bottle and get product onto the brush than it was due to a change in consistency. As for the basecoat, I'm still only about 40% of the way through my first bottle after several months of use, but so far it's maintained the same perfect consistency throughout!

Fast-drying: Both the basecoat and the topcoat dry very quickly. Deborah recommends allowing about a minute of dry time between each step of a Gel Lab mani--basecoat, color and then topcoat--and I've found that works perfectly. After only a few minutes, the topcoat hardens to the point that I feel confident in using my hands again without fear of denting my polish.

Drying Issues: Other than a very occasional bubble here and there, I haven't noticed any "quirks" with Gel Lab topcoat. In my experience, it never shrinks, which is a huge plus over SV! Gel Lab dries to a high-shine finish that doesn't quite manage that squishy look of a real gel mani, but still gives you that extra gleam that any good topcoat should.

Durable: Given that Gel Lab promises gel manicure results at home, this will be the lengthiest part of the review. Now, I have never had an actual gel manicure, so I can't vouch to how this compares, but in doing some research from other reviewers, results seem varied in terms of whether or not they think Gel Lab lasts as long as a gel manicure does. So if you go in expecting Gel Lab to be as bulletproof as salon gel manicure, you may not see those exact results. Nail polish reacts differently to different body chemistry, so with any base and topcoat system, your mileage may vary.

Another point to keep in mind is that with the exposure to UV light and the special removal process, salon gel manicures can also be very harsh on your hands and nails. So these gel alternative systems are much kinder to your skin and nails in the long run, while still providing a respectable wear time.

But as someone who just wants a topcoat that is easy to work with, dries fast and holds up through several days of wear and tear, I could not be happier with the performance and wear time on Gel Lab! One tip that I've found is that capping the tips (running the brush along the free edge of your nail) after each step of the Gel Lab process is the key to really getting the most longevity out of your manicure. When I do this, I always get days of flawless, chip-free wear!

I have done many manicures with Gel Lab over the past few months, to the point that I feel comfortable vouching for its durability with a wide variety of polish brands. I haven't found any brand that it doesn't seem to play well with. But I decided to do an "official" wear test for this review using one of Deborah Lippmann's own polishes, Hannah, to give you an example of how Gel Lab holds up. Pretty much the longest I am capable of wearing a polish without really feeling the itch to change it is about five days, so here is four and a half days into my Hannah manicure:

As you can see, I easily could have worn Hannah for quite a while longer. All ten fingers were chip-free and the tipwear was virtually imperceptible. The topcoat also maintained its high-shine finish and still looked freshly applied, with no visible dents or scratches.

So yes, it's finally happened: I have a base and topcoat system that has dethroned Seche! Gel Lab is my new HG! There's really not anything I don't like about it. Yes, at $45 for the set (containing two 0.5 oz bottles), it's on the pricier side. But considering that you use base and topcoat with virtually every mani, to me, a good system is well worth investing in. It makes painting your nails a simpler, more enjoyable experience and it lets you get the most out of all the polishes you love!


  1. That's good to hear :-) I've never tried SV. My top coat of choice is either the Nubar one or the OPI which do the trick for me!

    1. I've never tried the Nubar one (hear lots of praise for it though) but I have tried OPI, which is nice!

  2. Jeez that is expensive! I'd keep it for manicures only. I wouldn't want to use it all up swatching :/

    1. I rarely just swatch (I like to try polishes as a full mani, when possible) but when I do, I definitely use something other than this! I have a couple other top and base coats around that I reach for instead. I've had some luck finding Gel Lab for less on Ebay, but of course you do have to be careful when you buy off there!

  3. I hadn't seen these yet, but that's very respectable wear for over 4 days. Maybe pricier than I'd want to pay for daily swatching or whatever, but I agree it's worth a little more to have something you're comfortable and confident using. Thanks for writing such a thorough review, Chelsea!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the review, Elizabeth! I agree that given the price, you would definitely want to use something else for swatching and such. I love, love, LOVE the consistency and ease application of Gel Lab, so as much as I dread the price point, I've more or less justified it for myself. In the past, I have purchased the Gel Lab set cheaper on Ebay, so that's a nice alternative to look into if you're interested in trying Gel Lab, but obviously you do have to be careful/informed when you buy off Ebay!

  4. Such a great, thorough review! I think you've sold me on this! I will definitely be checking this out! Thank you!


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