Korean Gel Nail Products: A Beginner's Guide to Essentials and Starting Out

Korean Gel Nail Products: A Beginner's Guide to Essentials and Starting Out

I understand that navigating through the world of nail products can be overwhelming with so many brands, products, and new releases. Moreover, high-quality nail products can be quite expensive. So, let's start from scratch. You've decided to try out gel nails, great! But what do you need? What are the essentials? Well, today, I will provide you with answers to these questions, as well as some tips on how to maintain healthy nails while enjoying your gel manis.

BTW, I get all my Korean and Japanese gel nail products from Zillabeau, the US's largest premium gel nail distributor. They work with the best, hottest, trustworthy, high-quality brands and always expand and add new, exciting, trendy products. If you want to try any of their products, you can use my code NAILFABS for 10% off your purchase. Your support means the world to me and allows me to keep researching and testing these brands to give you the tea on what to get. 

What are essentials?

All the products we mentioned today are professional grade, meaning you can use them on clients at a professional salon and if you want to DIY. 

So, I learned this really helpful tip about gel nails from my mentor, Paola Ponce - the Queen of Japanese gel. She says you should only use one gel brand for a couple of months before trying other brands. But if you do want to switch it up, don't go crazy and try more than three brands at once. The point is to be smart and save your cash on unnecessary purchases. The more brands you use, the more confusing it gets, and if you have any issues with lifting, it's going to be much harder to figure out what went wrong with all those different products. 

Stick with one brand of Korean gel nail products. They offer all the necessary high-quality products and make the application process easy.

The brands I recommend for newbies, like first day of gel nails, are:

Clear foundation gels

You need base gel to adhere product to the nail, builder to give structure to the nails and/or encapsulate, and top coat to seal and make the nails shine.

Before painting your nails, there are a few important steps you can take to ensure a great manicure. First, give your nails some TLC by cleaning and shaping them. A good base coat is key to a long-lasting manicure, as it helps the color and top coat adhere to your nails. The base coat includes adhesion components that stick to your natural nail, so investing in a high-quality base coat is worth it in the long run.


Base Gel

So, when it comes to gel nails, different brands have different types of gels for different steps. For instance, there are lower viscosity base gels that are more liquidy and runny. They're great for regular color manicures or short nails, but not so great for building structure since they're too thin. Then there are sanding-free bases perfect for beginners or people who often like to change their nail color. My personal favorite is a Korean gel peel-off base called 1 Day Peel Off Base Gel From HoHoLee- it's seriously the bomb! It doesn't leave any sticky residue, and it's super easy to remove. Just apply and go!

If you need to remove your nails quickly, don't buff the nails before applying. Apply the base gel, do your manicure, and remove using a wooden cuticle pusher and cuticle oil. The nails will come off easily without causing any damage.

If you want to make your manicure last longer, here are a few tricks you can try. First, buff your nails gently with a 240-grit sponge to take away the shine and add some texture. Then, clean your nails with 90% alcohol. After that, put on your favorite color and top coat for a longer-lasting look. By creating some texture on the nail surface, the base gel will stick better to your natural nail, which means your manicure will stay put for longer.

When you're ready to remove your manicure, just soak your nails for a bit, and it should come off without any problem.

There's also the F Gel base gel, which is super versatile. You can use it as a base gel, and it works great for sealing chrome powders, stickers, and file glitters. Make sure to use a separate one if you're using it with powders or glitters to prevent any contamination or lifting issues.

If you want to shape your flat or curved nails and make them stronger, you should consider getting a structured gel manicure. This advanced technique uses gel to give your nails a more aesthetically pleasing shape and added strength, especially if you have long nails or want to add length to them. Structured gel manicure makes your nails look more plumped, natural, and healthy. For this technique, it's best to use a thicker viscosity gel, such as the Tiny Chewing Base Gel. This gel is less runny and self-levels easily, making it easier to work with. 

Have you heard of these cool base gels that double as colors? F gel has a 2 in 1 base gel that comes in pink and yellow. You can use them as a base for a nude manicure or as a base color for French or nail art. They actually look really nice with your skin tone and give off a natural glow. Plus, they have biotin in them which is great for strengthening damaged nails. You should totally give them a shot - both colors are quite flattering!

Builder Gels. 

When it comes to creating strong and structured nails, the builder gel is an essential step. This clear gel is used to encapsulate stickers, glitters, or studs, or to extend the nails themselves. It's important to choose the same brand for your base and builder gel to avoid any service breakdowns. While all three brands offer great builder gels, my personal favorite is the F Gel Non-Wipe clear gel. It's perfect for chrome application, providing a mirror-like and shiny finish, and it comes in a convenient bottle form, making it a must-have on my nail desk.

Top coat 

Okay, so you've done the hard part of your gel nail application, but don't forget the last step - the top coat! Korean gel brands have two types of top coats to choose from: thick and thin. If you've got some glitter or nail art going on, you'll want to use a thicker top coat to smooth out any imperfections. The HoHoLee Chakan Glossy Top Coat is a great option for that, plus it's perfect for mirror-chrome nails and super scratch-resistant. I tested it myself and it passed with flying colors - no scratches at all!


Now, when it comes to top coats, there are two categories: ones you need to wipe and ones you don't. Wipe-required top coats are thicker and require a wipe with alcohol to get rid of any uncured gel. Non-wipe top coats are thinner and don't need any extra wiping. So, if you want to avoid bulk, go for the non-wipe option.

No matter which type of top coat you choose, all three brands offer a thicker, anti-scratch, anti-yellowing, high-shine option. So, you can't go wrong with any of them.

I almost forgot about matte topcat! One of my must-have favorites if the one from F gel. The F Gel Matte Top Coat It has a thicker consistency to smooth out imperfections and the end result is super powdery and matte and it stays like that for the life of the manicure. 

If you're looking to really up your gel nail game, I highly recommend taking the Master Gel Nails course by Paola Ponce Nails. This course will teach you everything you need to know about soft gel and soak-off gel applications, including nail art. Plus, you get lifetime access! Just remember, using gel nail products requires proper training, so it's always a good idea to take a course. But if you want a step-by-step guide from an expert, Paola is the one to go to. You can find her contact info here.

Brushes: Flat, round & liner

So when it comes to using Korean gels, because they are brush on bottle gels, you'll want to have some nail art brushes on hand. You can use a flat or round brush for more precise color application, especailly around the the cuticle area. It takes some getting used to, but once you do, it's a quick and easy process that doesn't require constantly switching brushes.

As for what kind of brush to use, it all boils down to personal preference and what feels comfortable for you. Personally, I'm a fan of Leafgel brushes, which you can snag at Zillabeau. They're a Japanese brand that I highly recommend - in fact, I've completed their brand certifications for levels 1, 2, and 3, and I've been using their brushes ever since I started working with soft gel. They're super user-friendly, with bristles that are just the right shape, length, and density. Plus, the caps stay put and they last forever if you take good care of them. I tend to use the flat, round, and short/long liners the most.

Now, having good liner brushes is a must. They're perfect for adding color, shaping, self-leveling, securing charms, and sealing crystal edges. Personally, I've tried a bunch of different liner brushes, but my absolute fave is the Long Liner from Leafgel. This brush is seriously amazing for creating long lines and micro fine details. Honestly, I can't imagine doing nail art without it. It's the perfect option for those of us who need to paint ultra-fine details. Plus, it's super light and flexible since it has fewer bristles. If you're someone who tends to have shaky hands, this brush is especially useful for creating long, straight lines.

Now, if you're looking for a stiffer brush with more shape, I'd recommend checking out the Tiny Short Liner or the F Gel Liner brush. Both of these brushes are top quality and even come with caps to protect the bristles.

Colors: Nude, Red, black, white, pink, gliter or effect gel

Choosing the right colors for your nail salon can be fun but you don't need to have all the colors available. In fact, you can get by with just a few nude shades that complement different skin tones, some red shades for summer and fall, white and black, pinks, and a few other fun seasonal colors. You only need about 10-15 colors, and you will be able to create a variety of styles. 

These three brands that offer highly pigmented, creamy, and smooth colors, making it easier for you to mix and match. Also, you don't have to buy full collections at the beginning, especially if you're just starting out. Zillabeau offers individual colors, so you can start with those and see which ones you like. Have fun exploring different colors and creating unique styles for your clients!

I highly recommend the Tiny Ylang Ylang Beige and Lavender Collection if you're looking for a great nude gel color collection. This collection includes seven semi-sheer nude shades and three glitters that work well on all skin tones. After buying these two collections, I now have all the sheer nude colors I need. From pale vanilla sheer nudes, to beige to pinkish-lavender tones, this collection has it all.

Another great collection to consider is the Twinkle Potion Collection from HoHoLee. This set includes 20 colors, consisting of 10 syrup 100% translucent colors and 10 fun glitter effect gels. The syrup gels can be used alone, mixed together, over the glitter gels, or over base colors, making the possibilities endless. Syrup gels are a Korean nail staple and a must-have, and this collection has all the colors and glitters you need to get started.


If you're looking for fully pigmented gel colors that are great for single color application or nail art, F gel colors are an excellent choice. They are also the least expensive option on our list. Additionally, if you love magnetic, cat-eye gels, F gel magnetic gels are some of the best on the market. 

Here are some of the colors from F gel that I would recommend:

- Solid colors: 51, 52, 37, 88, 99, 107, 121

- Sheer colors: FS63, FS52, FS34, FS38, FS67

- Glitter: FU01, FG74, FG46


You will need a cuticle pusher and hand files. If you are a beginner, it is recommended to start with hand files. You will require a 100/180 board file, a sponge buffer 180/280, and a 180 grit emery board file. The lower the number of the file, the coarser it is, so it is best to use the highest number, at least 220 grit, when filing the surface of the nail. It is essential to learn about control and practice a gentle touch. The high-quality gels used in a manicure have strong adhesion components, so there is no need to harshly file the nail surface. Filing too harshly removes the keratin layers off the nail, weakening it. It is crucial to keep as much keratin as possible to maintain healthy nails.

The emery board is used to shape the free edge of the nail. Slow, one-motion passes in one direction are recommended. Moving slowly ensures you don't remove more nails than desired, and moving in one direction seals the keratin layers.

Finally, the 100/180 board file is used to shape and smooth the nail after the product application.

SHiNY is the leading brand of professional-grade nail tools in Korea, made with unique and high-quality standards to ensure durability. I highly recommend their cuticle pusher, which is specially designed to push cuticles with precise and gentle movements. 

SHiNY's cuticle pushers are sharpened to perfection and optimized to push the cuticle with only the weight of the pusher itself, without the need for excessive force. The front head of the pusher also helps to achieve stable pushing, preventing any damage to your nails. 

These cuticle pushers are made of stainless steel and can be easily sanitized and disinfected for reuse. With proper care and handling, they can last for a very long time. So, if you want to keep your nails healthy and looking great, you can't go wrong with SHiNY's professional-grade cuticle pushers.


Let's chat about extensions! Korean nail brands are all about full coverage tips, and they've got their own extension systems that give you super natural-looking nails. The length and shape of Korean nails tend to be on the natural side, so you're not going to find super long nails. Usually, they offer almond, tapered square, round, and coffin shapes in short to long lengths.

F gel has this extension system called Give Me Tip that has oval and coffin nail tips. These tips are pre-etched, so you don't have to roughen the inside of the nail tip before you put them on. They're super thin and have this flexible C curve, so they don't add any uncomfortable pressure to your natural nail. F gel has also made this high viscosity gel, called the Give Me Base gel, that works perfectly with this extension system.

Personally, I've tried this system and found it really easy and quick to apply. It takes a little practice to get the amount of gel just right, so you don't get overflow or under-filing, but it's not too hard. My favorite are the coffin tips because they give you a slim coffin shape that looks great. If you're looking for extensions that are fuss-free, this system is definitely worth checking out.

That concludes our list of the essential Korean gel nail products. As you may have noticed, F gel is the brand that offers most of the products. If you prefer, you can start DIYing with F Gel alone, as it is a reputable brand and offers products at lower prices. However, I mentioned HoHoLee and Tiny brands in case you're interested in other brands. These two brands are also great for beginners as the products are easy to control and maneuver, with HoHoLee being the easiest and Tiny being more advanced but still beginner-friendly.

Very important essentials

I understand that this might be a lengthy piece of information, but I don't want to leave without mentioning some super important essentials that you need to have, such as gloves, a dust collector, a curing unit, 90% alcohol, lint-free wipes, and a silicone mat. 

Even if you are doing it yourself and using high-quality products, you need to be safe and responsible when handling and using these products. Skin allergies are real, and the last thing you want is to damage your nails and fingers because of at-home manicures and extensions. Always wear gloves, with a thickness of 9 or 10 mil, as anything lower is not thick enough.

A dust collector is a priority; get one before buying your gel nail colors. You don't want to breathe in nail dust, glitter, skin, etc. I started uelodySusie until I saved up to buy The Anemone Dust Collector, the best one I've used so far. If you see it available at Zillabeau, grab one because they are almost always sold out.

When it comes to a curing unit, the million-dollar question is, which one? You want to pick the one from the brand you are using the gels from. SHiNY offers a curing unit, and Zillabeau just came out with their own- a super cute and retro cordless nail lamp V3. This lamp has 10, 30, and 60-second cure buttons, plus false nail and low heat mode, perfect for DIYers and pros.

Lastly, use 90% alcohol because this is the only cleaning solution you will need for gel nail manicures. The only time you use acetone is to soak off gel; that's it. Can you use 70%? Nope, stay with 90% or 100% and dilute it to 90% with water. This will save you from g issues. Water and gel don't mix, and the lower the alcohol percentage, the higher the water concentration it has. You will use it with lint-free wipes. Find the ones that you like the best. I am currently using dental gauzes, but I am trying different types to find the best option.

Lastly, a silicone mat! Protect your working area with a silicone mat. You can order one from Amazon as they are not super expensive and will protect your furniture the best. It can also be used as a palette and work with your gels from there. They are super easy to clean and acetone-resistant.

I hope this guide has provided you with a strong foundation to set you up for success. When starting out, you want to be safe - gloves, dust collector, some type of training, and then head to Zillabeau, use my code NAILFABS for 10% off and grab your high-quality Korean gels and tools. Use this guide to build that strong foundation, and later on, you might fall in love with gel nails and try other Korean gel nail brands or step into the pro side and start your own business.

If you have any questions, drop them down below, or send me a DM on Instagram! I am always super excited to help fellow nail enthusiasts and artists with recommendations or tips. Thank you for staying this long with me, and I will compress all this information into a beginner's table cheat sheet. If you want me to send it to you, sign up for my free newsletter, and I'll send it right away - kind of like a shopping list. Have a great night, and I'll see you next week! Byeeee.

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