The Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish Gives Me a Gel Manicure Without a UV Lamp

You don’t need extra equipment with this long-lasting, gel-like polish.

All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

mauve shade of essie gel couture on purple cloudy background
Courtesy of brand 
Best of Beauty Breakthrough
  • Best of Beauty Breakthrough
  • 2016
Readers' Choice Breakthrough
  • Readers' Choice Breakthrough
  • 2017


  • What It Is: A two-step, long-wearing, gel-like nail-polish system. 
  • What It Does: Gives you a manicure that will last for two weeks. 
  • Who It's For: Great for any skin tone.

As far back as I can remember I’ve been diligent about painting my nails. Aside from the fact that the act of doing my nails has the same effect on me as an ASMR video, it also keeps my hands looking neat and prevents bad habits from forming, like picking at my nail beds or biting my cuticles. To keep things interesting, I’ve tried to change it up over the years. I've tested nearly every new formula that hits the market, whether that's stickers, at-home gels, mattifying top coats, or spray-on lacquers. When something new drops in the nail polish world, you can bet I'm always the first person in line to give it a go.

There are a few things that make Essie Gel Couture different from other polishes. First on the list is the wonky bottle shape. It looks as if you took the top and the bottom of the typical, rectangular-shaped nail polish bottle and twisted it (think: a dress twirling or a licorice stick). Second, the stem of the applicator is also twisted, which helps ensure that no excess polish is picked up and dropped onto your nails, thus causing a tsunami of lacquer to engulf your nail bed. And lastly, the tapered bristles allow the brush to fan out and retract letting you cover your whole nail in just two swipes. Yes, you read that correctly, two quick and easy swipes and you're on to the next nail.

Two coats of the polish leaves a shine that does not need a top coat, but finishing it with the brand's Gel Couture Top Coat makes it look, last, and feel more like a gel manicure, minus the whole LED or UV-light-curing step. According to the brand, the formula should stay intact for 14 days. My first test drive of the formula was with the shade, At the Barre, which lasted a full eight days with no dings or chips (and probably would have lasted longer if I didn't decide to go rock climbing that weekend); not to mention that the top coat helped maintain the lacquer's intensely glossy shine until I finally took the polish off a couple of days later.

With a highly pigmented formula, the coats do not have to be thick for full opacity, which also helps them last longer. Essie Gel Couture comes in 54 shades including the top coat and my personal favorites At The Barre (a nude perfect for medium skin tones), Wrap Party (a deep forest green), and Take Me to Thread (a subtle taupe).

Each bottle costs $11.50, which is a steal when compared to a professionally done manicure — and means more time for binge-watching ASMR videos on YouTube.