Recently I was showing off my new gel manicure to someone, and they asked me ‘what is gel polish?’. I explained it to her, but I thought it’d be a good post to explain what it is to my readers, because it is a bit of a confusing topic. If you don’t know what I’m referring to when I say gel polish, you may be familiar with the term shellac. Shellac is actually the name of a range of gel polish by CND. Other brands include Gelish, Artistic Color Gloss and OPI Gel Colour. It seems to me that Shellac has got to the point where people use the name of the brand to describe all products of the same type – like gladwrap for plastic wrap, or vivid for all kinds of permanent marker. I’m not sure on the statistics of it, but from what I’ve seen, Shellac is the most common gel polish that’s offered in salons around Auckland.
I tried to research about what makes gel polish different to normal polish at a chemical level, and found it to be quite confusing reading. If you’re interested in the chemistry of it, you can read more about it here. The short of it is it that they both use fairly similar chemicals, but the main difference is one particular chemical which prevent the polish from chipping by adhering more firmly to the nail.
The application process for gel polish is the same regardless of brand, and is fairly similar to how you would paint nails, with the exception being that it’s cured under a UV or LED lamp. The nail is wiped with acetone, to make sure there are no oils on the nail that would cause the polish to lift, and then a base coat is applied. Between application of the base coat, and each coat of gel polish, and the top coat, you put your hand under a UV lamp, like in the photo below. After you’re finished with the UV lamp, your nails are totally hard – you can rummage in your handbag or do anything! This is a big selling point for me, because I often ruin my nails when I get impatient waiting for them to dry.
Since gel polishes have become so popular in the last few years, there have been a lot of articles about the cancer risk of using UV lamps for this. As with any UV exposure, there is an increased risk of getting skin cancer – that’s not deniable. However, the exposure is usually for a few minutes which isn’t that significant considering how much time most of us spend in the sun outside of nail salons. There does need to be more research done on this, but research indicates that it could take “as few as 24 visits to some salons and as many as 625 to others, to reach the point where the UV light triggers cancer-causing DNA damage” according to this article from Time magazine. If you are particularly concerned, then apply sunscreen to your hands before going to get your gel manicure, and perhaps don’t go too frequently. Personally, I’m not terribly concerned about it, considering that my hands are exposed to UV rays on a daily basis anyway.
The reason why gels are so popular is that they last for much longer than conventional nail polish. Usually, if I paint my nails they will begin to chip after 5-7 days. With gel manicures, I’ve worn them for as long as three weeks before removing them. Even at 3 weeks, they have still been chip free – I removed them because they had grown out so much. Here’s a picture of a recent Gelish manicure after 2.5 weeks.
Some people say that gel polishes damage your nails, and I disagree. In my experience, the biggest risk of nail damage comes in the removal process. To remove gel polish, you need to buff the top coat away, and then soak a cotton ball in pure acetone and place it on top, and wrap it in tinfoil for about 10 minutes. Then you take an orange stick or cuticle pusher and gently scrape away the polish. (For a full tutorial on how to remove gel polish, see this one from My Little Secrets)
If you don’t soak it for long enough, or are too rough with the orange stick then your nails can get damaged in the process of removal. I have done it myself, and also had it removed in a salon, and as long as you’re careful there’s no reason why you can’t do it without causing damage. I’ve heard stories of it, but they have come from people who went to cheap salons where the staff are undoubtedly poorly trained, and I think you get what you pay for when it comes to beauty services – to a point, of course. I’ll post a picture on my instagram when I remove my current gels to show that your nails can look fine afterwards.
There are few negatives to gel polish, in comparison to conventional polish – one is that you need additional equipment, and have to be even more precise in your application. There are at-home kits for gel polish, but a lot of the big brands are only sold to professionals.The polishes are also more expensive, and less widely available.>The range of polishes isn’t as extensive, and you can’t necessarily combine products from different brands – a base coat from one brand may not work with a colour from another brand – unlike normal polish where you can easily combine Orly, Sally Hansen and OPI products. For these reasons, I’ll be sticking to mainly wearing normal polish, but gel is nice for a treat or for when I really want my manicure to last.
If you have any questions about gel polish, leave them in the comments section and I’ll try to answer them the best that I can!