Gel nails are a popular choice when having a manicure or pedicure in a beauty salon or nail bar, as it is long-lasting, dries immediately, and provides a smooth finish to the nail.
But what is gel nail polish and how easy is it to get the same effect at home?
Gel nail polish is a liquid that is applied to your natural nails with a small brush, just like standard nail polish, but its stronger chemical formula ensures it lasts for up to 14 days and is far less prone to cracking or chipping.
The acrylic monomers and oligomers harden with each layer applied and fuse together under a UV heat and light source to leave shiny glossy nails, and without the need to wait for ages for them to dry. So, if you find your gel polish looks wrinkly and bubbling, this article will take you through the steps to achieve the perfect gel nail finish.
Make sure you have all the required equipment
If you paint your nails regularly, you are likely to have most of the equipment you need already. Things like a nail file, nail clippers, cuticle pusher, and nail buffer are all regular accouterments in a nail kit. However, the latter two are even more important with gel nails. And this is why.
Pushing your cuticles back not only lengthens the nail surface but also promotes healthy growth. Adding cuticle oil helps to hydrate the nail bed further. You want to make sure you don’t paint over the cuticles with gel nail polish as this will cause the polish to lift up off your finger and mean that your nail polish isn’t fully secured so it will start to peel.
A nail buffer will prepare the surface of your nail for painting, making it smoother and the gel able to bond more easily. Cleaning your nails with rubbing alcohol at this stage will also remove any excess cuticle oil and ensure the polish is given the best chance of sticking to your natural nail.
You will also need a UV light source – prices range from about £40-£60 – to dry and harden your nails in minutes. This also needs to be used after applying the base and topcoats.
Importance of base and top coats
A base coat is used in applying gel nail polish to ensure that the gel binds with your nail more effectively. A good base coat is worth its weight in gold for long-lasting manicures and this stage should not be missed out.
You only need a thin coating, covering each nail, and including the open edge to seal it and provide a protective layer that reduces the chance of chipping.
You should then put your nails under the UV lamp for between 30 seconds and a minute to make sure the base coat has fully bonded to your nail.
A top coat adds the final layer of protection after painting your nails with your chosen colored gel polish and gives them that added shiny luster. Again, make sure you cap the nail with the topcoat and then put them under the UV lamp to fully dry for at least a minute.
Applying the gel nail polish
The first thing to do is to make sure you roll the bottle around in your hands, especially if it hasn’t been used for a while. This mixes up the formula to make it as effective as possible. Don’t shake it or you are likely to get air bubbles.
Apply a thin layer of your chosen gel nail polish color to each nail, making sure you don’t paint over the cuticle or surrounding skin – although it can be easily wiped off with a damp cotton pad if you do this before putting them under the UV light to harden. It will be much more difficult to do it afterwards.
You should do this step two or three times to build up the color and the strength of the nail. Don’t worry if your first coat is a bit weak and messy, this is quite usual and the magic of the gel will appear after the second layer with your nails starting to look extra impressive. The more coats you do, the stronger the color and the more opaque it will be.
Curing the nails with UV light
This is the most important part of the process when applying gel nails; without UV light (or LED light if using LED gel) the special chemicals in the polish won’t bond to your nail properly and you will be left with a sticky mess.
It is also a useful part of the drying process. Unlike applying standard nail polish, when you might have to wait until they are touch dry before applying the next coat, the UV light will dry the gel nail polish instantly, so the next layer can be applied immediately after they are removed from the lamp.
Each curing stage should last about a minute, with one hand being given the treatment at a time. Leaving your nails under the lamp for a greater period may make the polish last even longer.
Aftercare for healthy nails
Don’t try cutting your nails after they have been painted with gel polish. This will break the seal and the color will start to chip off prematurely.
If you can, apply cuticle oil every day to keep your nails hydrated and the skin around them soft.
How to remove gel nail polish
Picking at your gel nail polish when it starts to peel is often tempting, but don’t do it! This will ruin your nail bed and make your nails weak and brittle.
The best thing to use to remove gel nails is a trusty nail file gently moved back and forth across the surface of the nail to help lift the polish. Then, soak them in an acetone-based remover for several minutes. A handy technique is to douse cotton pads with the remover and wrap one around each nail with silver foil for a quick and effective solution.
Gel nail polish is increasingly the way to go for nails that look great and last ages. With these useful tips, you are well on your way to giving yourself a stunning manicure (or pedicure) at home and being the envy of your friends. When you get even better at it, try adding nail art for an extra special touch.
Jacob Lane graduated with a first-class degree in Fashion Journalism and Content Creation from London College of Fashion. Jacob now enjoys sharing his ideas around sustainability within the fashion industry, collaborating with brands, and connecting with up-and-coming designers. Follow Jacob over on Twitter: @JacobTweetsFashion