The Blonde Tiger Guide to Gel-Polish (or “It’s Not All Shellac”)

I have been meaning to write this post for quite some time now, and I have to admit, I’ve been a little bit daunted! Gel-polish has been the biggest innovation in the nail industry in quite some time. As many of you know, I’ve been a manicurist (nail artist, nail tech, nail lady – call me whatever, I’m not picky) for nearly 20 years. I went to beauty school in 1993. Back then, we learned how to do manicures and pedicures with regular nail polish, and we did fake nails with old-school hard gel or acrylic. We also did various fabric wraps of silk, linen, and fibreglass, but I’ll save that for post where I reminisce about all the weird nail stuff of the early 1990s. Anyway, up until a few years ago, if you wanted colour on your nails, you used nail polish. It took a while to dry, and if you got a solid week with no chipping, you were doing pretty damn good. Then we all started hearing about this mysterious “Shellac” product. And when I say “we”, I mean you, the salon client. When clients are asking for a professional product by the brand name, we in the industry know something’s up. So this Shellac stuff (which is by a company called Creative Nail Design, known as CND) is a type of gel-polish – a product that applies like a nail polish and cures to dry under a lamp like a gel and soaks off in acetone. Suddenly Shellac became synonymous with gel-polish, even thought there was already an existing brand of gel-polish on the market, a product called Gelish, by a company called Hand & Nail Harmony (I use, and love Gelish). Now, don’t worry, I’m getting to the point. I’m just giving you some background. Now people ask for “shellac” the same way people ask for “Kleenex” instead of “tissues” or “Q-Tips” instead of “cotton buds”. There are now dozens upon dozens of brands of gel-polish on the market. So, when clients ask me, “Do you do Shellac?”, I have to qualify my answer by saying, “I offer gel-polish, but I don’t use the Shellac product.” And now I’ll switch to some Q & A to tell you why, and to tell you what I do use, and what to expect when you have a gel-polish manicure.

Why would I want to wear gel-polish instead of traditional polish?

The main advantages of gel-polish are that it is instantly dry and it lasts much longer than traditional polish -up to 3 weeks.

So, what are the disadvantages?

The only real disadvantage is that the removal process is a bit more involved that just taking off your regular polish. It take me about 15 minutes to remove a client’s gel-polish. The fingertips are wrapped in foil wraps with an acetone-soaked cotton pad on each nail. After 10-15 minutes, the gel-polish flakes off. At this point, a manicure is performed and gel-polish can be re-applied (or regular polish or no polish!). I also offer my clients remover kits and teach them how to take their own gel-polish off. That way, I never feel like I’m holding my clients’ nails hostage!

When I had Shellac, the manicurist soaked my hand in a bowl of acetone and scraped my nails with a cuticle stick and wrecked my nails.

I hear this ALL THE TIME. The prep and removal processes, if done incorrectly, can damage your nails. I’m not going to rant about poorly-trained nail techs here, but as the consumer, you shouldn’t trust someone just because they work in a salon. Most of the people in my industry terrify me, especially in Australia, where there is no licensing board for the beauty industry, as there is in the US.

So, if you don’t do Shellac, what do you do?

I use Gelish, primarily, and after extensive research, I’m expanding into using OPI GelColor and a brand called Ink. Certain brands work better for certain clients. If you had a bad experience with one, another may work perfectly for you. Everyone’s nails are not the same. For this reason, I like to use multiple product ranges in order to find the best fit for each client.

I love gel-polish, but I hate sticking my hand in a UV lamp every time I get a manicure.

I agree, and that’s why I use a lamp with LED bulbs and products that are LED compatible. Also, with LED, curing times are shorter – 30 seconds per layer as opposed to 2 minutes for UV.

I like to change my nail polish colour every few days, so gel-polish probably isn’t for me.

It’s true, the typical gel-polish client is the sort of person who is happy wearing the same colour for a couple of weeks. However, one fun thing about gel-polish is that you can polish OVER it with regular nail polish. And take the regular nail polish off again ALL WITHOUT DAMAGING THE GEL POLISH. I know, right? What is this sorcery? So, let’s say you’re a nude polish by day kind of lady, but you want to rock some multi-coloured glitter on the weekend. You have your gel-polish applied at the salon on a Wednesday, you slap on some glitter at your desk before you leave work on Friday, enjoy your fun weekend nails, Sunday night you get out the polish remover and take off the glitter, transformed back into your workday nude-nails self for Monday. Pretty cool, eh? Gel-polish also acts like a dry-erase board for doing your own nail-art. Mess up? Wipe it off and start over! The fun never stops!

I had shellac (or another kind, I don’t remember) and it only lasted 5 days! They told me it would last 2 weeks!
So, this is where I have to manage my clients’ expectations. Most of these products promise “up to 3 weeks”. That means 3 weeks is the longest you can expect. This is rare. I tell clients to expect 10 days to 2 weeks, depending on how hard they are on their hands. Say you’re a bartender, and you’re constantly in water, cutting limes, scrubbing with harsh detergents, etc, you need to scale your expectations back to the 10 day mark. Also, everyone’s nails are different. The number of variables that can affect your nails and how products adhere to them is infinite. However, I will add that MOST of the time, gel-polish not lasting at least 10 days is due to improper technique by the manicurist. There’s a lot of dodgy salons out there giving good products a bad name.

Do you have a question about gel-polish, or about nails in general? Feel free to contact me! I’m also on Twitter! I love talking about nails, ask me anything! 🙂

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