Essie Gel Setter Review

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Let’s talk nails.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with essie polishes. I know they have quite a hardcore following, but I personally have never been thrilled with their polish formulation or their brush design. However they do have the most amazing range of colors, and I always manage to fall in love with their seasonal collections. Trying to maintain some self control, I usually just admire the bottles from afar, but every once in a while I’ll decide to give essie another go and see maybe if I can understand what the fuss is all about.

This time around it was the launch of the new Gel Setter topcoat that reeled me in. Duo packs have been popping up at drugstores everywhere, and with my trusty set of CVS coupons in hand I caved and picked one up in the shade Bikini So Teeny. I wasted no time trying this out and slapped it on my nails pretty much as soon as I got home from the store. How did it fair? Let’s take a look.

The Gel Polish Trend

First off, I should say that while I’m a bit over this whole “gel craze” with nails, I do appreciate that it has certainly upped the polish ante on both the drugstore and high end sides of the playing field. Gel manicures really do look amazing and last for weeks at a time, however I find they not only wreak havoc on my nails but they also involve exposing my hands to unnecessary UV exposure. Not to mention how much of a process they are to remove (who wants to soak their fingers in acetone for 15 minutes?? Not I!). I’ve always been an advocate for DIY manicures, so I appreciate having a greater and higher quality range of polishes I can use at home.

What Gel Setter is All About

This Gel Setter topcoat is meant to mimic the look of a gel manicure with a super glossy, cushioned finish, and also promises increased wear time and chip resistance. Unlike a lot of other gel inspired formulations in the drugstore (Sally Hansen and Revlon in particular come to mind), you don’t need to buy into a whole new system of polishes, as its formulated to work with any of your normal essie shades. I think that was probably the biggest selling point on this for me. If I’m going to invest in a topcoat, I’d like to be able to use it with any of the polishes in my collection. If I already have a polish I like of a certain color, it pains me to have to go out and repurchase an identical one by another brand because I need the “gel version”. Even a polish junkie like myself knows there’s a line to be crossed.

Unsurprisingly, I ended up having mixed feelings about this set. Bikini So Teeny is an absolutely gorgeous cornflower blue creme with just the tiniest hint of sparkle to it. I loved the way it looked on my nails, but the polish itself was SUCH A PAIN. I think the biggest trick to essie polishes is patience. It gets gloopy real quick, so you need to apply it in thin layers and wait for each one to dry fully before moving on to the next. If you’re looking for a one-and-done formula, essie is not it. I tried this both with and without base coat and either way it was just very finicky to get a fully opaque, even finish.

That top coat, though.

It’s kind of amazing.

It reminded me a lot of my Julep Freedom Polymer Top Coat ($18) or the Nails Inc Kensington Caviar Top Coat ($15). Both of these polishes are insanely fast drying (a busy girls dream) and give you the most gorgeous, glossy, cushiony finish. Neither are labelled as “gel effect” but I’ve always thought them as good as non-gel nails would ever get. The essie Gel Setter is quite thick and creates a durable, shiny layer over your polish. I found it to be relatively fast drying, and I do believe that it helped to prolong the length of my manicure. Unlike a traditional gel manicure, this will dry without any special UV lamps or sun exposure, and comes off as easily as any normal polish would.

Final Thoughts

Long story short I still don’t feel entirely impressed by essie’s normal polish range even though I want to love it so very much. This new Gel Setter topcoat, though, is pretty on point. I think if you’re looking for a more affordable alternative to your salon quality, prestige brands, this is a wonderful option to go with. Purchased individually the essie Gel Setter Top Coat retails for $10, or you could purchase a duo like I did for about $15 (which saves you about $3.50 on the nail color) while they’re still available.

What are your feelings on essie polishes? Have you tried the new Gel Setter Top Coat?