Monday, November 14, 2011

The UV Polish Revolution

There are so many gel products in the nail industry now that it can be downright confusing for us professionals to keep them sorted out, let alone you consumers!

Unfortunately, there is no way I can realistically expect to create a single post to end the confusion. But I'm going to try to address some of the biggest problems I'm seeing that people are having:

I think I've mentioned in the past that there are several different types of gels now. We have traditional builder gels that are designed to create artificial extensions and overlays. These gels have been around for about ever, but have seen some major improvements over the last 10 years or so and people are really loving them. But these gels cure to a non-porous finish and are solvent-resistant, so they have to be filed off when you're ready to take the product off your nails. They can't be soaked off.

More recently, some new gels have hit the market that are porous (some people call them "soft gels") and can be soaked off in acetone like acrylics. Some of these gels are created in thick formulas that still offer the resilience to create a strong extension. Many people-- professional nail techs as well as clients-- prefer these "soft" gel formulas for doing extensions and overlays because they prefer a product that can be soaked off rather than filed off. But others find that these products aren't as strong and don't adhere as reliably to the natural nail to provide the same wearability of traditional gels.

If you're looking for a gel product that will lengthen and strengthen your nails, you'll be looking for one of these gel types. Most likely, you'll just have to try out whatever your nail technician uses. If it works for you, then stick with it! There's really no reason to try to memorize all the different brands and lines and which is which.

But now we also have UV Polish... and this is causing me-- your friendly neighborhood nail professional-- a lot of headaches.

For DECADES I beat my head against the wall wondering why the bow-tied/lab-coated clan in Research and Development for all the nail product companies in the world couldn't seem to manage to come up with an answer to old-fashioned nail polish.

Year after year I saw acrylic and gel products improve in their flexibility and adhesion. We have enhancement products that are safer, better, and more beautiful than ever before. But old-fashioned nail polish still lasted on natural nails for about 6 minutes, right?

I've seen acrylics introduced with pigments in them. Gels with pigments. All good ideas, as long as you're the type of person who never wants to change your nail color. Because these were still enhancement products that are designed to be filled every two weeks, not replaced.

Soak off gels came to the market, but they still took half an hour or more to soak off. Not a feasible solution, and still didn't qualify in most peoples' minds as a "manicure."

Then... about two years ago, a breakthrough! Gelish (by Hand & Nail Harmony) was released to the professional nail industry and began an avalanche of product and service revolution!

But revolutions are long and messy and come with a lot of chaos. Nobody really mentions that, do they?

One of the biggest problems that I, personally, am faced with is that the average consumer still isn't aware that there are dozens of different brands of these polishes now available. In fact, thanks to some great marketing, the brand that most consumers have heard about is "Shellac."

But "Shellac" is only one brand of UV polish that is manufactured by a company called "CND." There's also "Gelish," "Gelacquer," "Geleration," "Gelavish," "Gelaxy," "Polish Pro," "Mani-q color," "Luxio," "Eco," and OPI's new offering which I'm not even sure of the name of.  And that's just off the top of my head, there are plenty of others. And, as you can see, many many companies have opted to use some form of the word "gel" in their brand name, making it even harder to keep the different brands sorted out!

No wonder people have embraced the "Shellac" name. Not only has CND done some great marketing to get their product name in front of the masses, but it's easy to remember.

Here's where it gets hard on me: CND has some very specific directions for their product. The company is very persnickety about touching the natural nail with any sort of file. They are very finicky about the way they want their product applied and removed.

And, for the most part, that's just fine. I mean, it's their product. They developed it, they get to write the directions for use.

But, since so many people now associate "Shellac" with all uv polish brands (it's called "branding"-- kinda like when you want a "Kleenex" you probably want a tissue and don't care if it's actual Kleenex, or "Q-tip," or "Band-Aid"... right?) they come to the salon with certain expectations of what the service will entail and what the product actually is.... and let me tell you, there are a lot of people out there who are confused.

First off: Shellac IS a "gel polish." CND has marketed Shellac as a "hybrid" product. They use the term "hybrid" specifically. It is a complex formula that combines gel technology with solvent-based technology-- in exceedingly simple terms: it's like mixing regular nail polish with gel. (Notice I said "exceedingly simple terms?" That's because, undoubtedly, a CND rep will comment on this to say that that's not at all what it is, and that I shouldn't be misleading people by telling them that. You watch.)

But, whether they use the word "hybrid" or not, most of the uv/gel polishes out there use this type of formula. I mean-- every company has its own recipe, no two products are exactly alike. But many products offer the advantages of gel technology; the layers are cured under ultra violet light. You get the flexibility and superior adhesion of gel, with the added advantage of color that is instantly "dry" at the end of the service. Plus, with the solvents, you get a nice thin polish-like consistency and a product that is easily removed with acetone in less than 10 minutes. Which means you can reasonably do a full manicure in about an hour.

The thing is, every brand of uv polish out there offers different advantages and disadvantages-- products are still being tweaked in the lab and improvements are showing up with every new batch of every product.

It seems-- after trying out several different brands now-- that companies have had to choose between products that wear for a long time without peeling, chipping, etc, and products that come off super easy. In the beginning, we were hearing a lot of companies bragging about how their product soaked off in "10 minutes," or "5 minutes." But the ones that soak off fastest also seem to not wear as well.

I settled on Gelish as my initial primary line. It was available in the most colors (24 initially and 84 currently,) wears for at least 2 weeks on almost everyone, and soaks off in 10 minutes. I'm not saying that it's the perfect product, but it's offered the best compromise of qualities so far.

I love soaking off Shellac. Seriously, this stuff comes off like butter. You don't have to file or buff on the topcoat at all and, in less than 10 minutes, every layer just fluffs up and slides right off.

But, Shellac encountered some availability issues shortly after it was released that really cinched my decision to go with another line. It was also introduced with only 12 colors-- and nearly 2 years later, I think they're up to 18 (yeah yeah... they might have 24 now, I'm not looking it up.) And, most importantly, when I did invest in a small sampling of the product, the majority of my clients have reported that of the 6 lines I've tried out, Shellac is their least favorite. So I haven't exactly run out to invest in the rest of the colors (I have 4.)

(BTW: NSI's "Polish Pro" is my clients' favorite line and the one I will continue to build my collection of.)

The confusion I'm seeing in clients coming into the salon is that they seem to be getting the idea that Shellac isn't a gel polish. That "gel polish" has to be filed off.

This isn't the case. That's the whole point-- yeah, you've been reading all this time so that I can tell you that Shellac IS a gel polish and that gel polish doesn't have to be filed off.

And, btw, filing a product off doesn't have to jack up your nails. But it has to be done very carefully to avoid damaging the natural nail.

With this new technology hitting the industry so fast, the professionals out here in the Real World have had to scramble to fill in the blanks that R&D often leaves out when new products are introduced. R&D can work and rework the chemistry until their bow ties unravel, but they can't predict every variable that their products will have to adjust to under real world conditions.

So if you don't have a regular nail technician but visit a variety of different salons and/or techs, it's very likely that you are going to encounter a variety of different techniques for applying and removing gel polish.

  • Most of the products require a light buffing of the topcoat to "break the seal" and allow the acetone to penetrate the product so that it will soak off in a reasonable amount of time. So don't freak out if there's a little bit of filing done at the beginning before soaking.

  • Some techs have found that they prefer to use an initial base layer of traditional gel before applying the color coat. Traditional gels are usually thicker than gel polishes and have better adhesion properties. This is a great technique for damaged natural nails or just because that particular technician prefers this technique.

  • All gel polishes cure under UV light.

  • All gel polishes are removed by soaking in acetone: CND (Shellac) specifically requests its technicians to use their pads for soaking off Shellac, or to use the "foil wrap" method where each nail is covered in an acetone-soaked cotton pad and then individually wrapped in foil.  This method reduces the exposure of the skin to the acetone-- it works faster and is less drying to the skin.
The foil wrap method is the preferred method in professional salons, but there are still some places that will soak your fingers in a bowl of acetone. This isn't necessarily the worst way to do it, and it's the easiest way to do it yourself, which reminds me of one more point:

  1. You can remove gel polish at home, yourself: Check out my post on removing fake nails. I had one client who seemed to be under the impression that she would be able to take off Shellac at home like taking off traditional polish. She kept telling me that she didn't want "gel polish" because you have to come back to the salon to have it taken off. This was when I started realizing how much misunderstanding there is out there about these products. But you can remove any of these gel polishes yourself.
  2. With Shellac, you won't have to worry about anything but the soaking process, with the other brands, you'll have to use a buffer or file to remove the shine from the topcoat so the acetone can penetrate the product. If you have someone who can help you out, soak a cotton ball in acetone, place it directly on the nail and then wrap your fingertip with foil to keep the acetone from evaporating (and from getting on stuff)-- or dunk your fingertips in a bowl of acetone-- after about 10 to 15 minutes you should be able to slide the product right off your finger tips with an orange wood stick. Some people's nail really cling to the color and you might have to gently buff off a few patches of color, especially in the corners.
  3. Just make sure you rehydrate your nails and skin after your remove the polish. Olive oil is my favorite recommendation because it's usually already in your kitchen. It'll penetrate your skin and nails quickly, so it really puts the moisture back into the tissue fast. Lotions and cream usually feel better, but they stay on top of the skin instead of penetrating to rehydrate. Baby oil is not recommended-- it's even less likely to penetrate the tissue to rehydrate than lotion is and there is some debate that suggests that it actually pulls moisture out of your skin!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why Your Nail-lady Won't Do Flare Nails

Nails by Allison Nicole
  First off, let me start by pointing out that I DID NOT DO the nails in these photos. Both photos are captioned with the names of the artists-- I believe Allison works in Atwater CA, but I'm not 100% certain about that.

Also, both of these artists are awesome. And they both do some wicked-ass nails and have built a reputation for rockin a look that many self-respecting nail techs simply refuse to offer...


Why would a nail tech absolutely put their foot down and flat out refuse to do something? I mean, other than something that's unsafe or illegal?

Nails by Jamie Rena Melchor; Oakhurst, CA

Well, my friends, welcome to the "duck foot" flare nail trend.

We hate these things.

Obviously, not all of us hate them, for instance, the two fine artists featured in the photos have obviously chosen to downright embrace this style, and have developed quite a following for it too.

But the thing is, you ought to understand, is that most of us worked our butts off to learn how to NOT do nails like this!

Ok... the "duck foot" nail is an extreme style. It's kinda obvious that someone went out of their way to make these nails flare... but we've all seen nails that flare that you're just not sure if it's on purpose or not, right?

That is what we learned not to do. Most of us who learned to sculpt nails on forms spent hours, days, weeks, years, learning to sculpt a nail with perfectly parallel sidewalls to gently tapered.

Believe it or not, there actually is a standard for what is considered "technically perfect" structure. It's a large part of the judging criteria in sculptured nail competitions. And letting those free edges flare out is the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do!

So, when you spend so much time learning not to do something, it can be downright maddening when your client walks in and asks you do that thing on purpose!

OMG! It makes your head spin! Here we've spent decades associating flared-out tips with crappy workmanship and you WANT your nails to look  like that?

And so there are a LOT of nail techs who just flat out refuse. They have drawn a line and said, "hell no."

And that's fine.

On the other hand, there are plenty of techs out there who have decided to rock the flare.

And why not? Fashion trends come and go, and nails are just a part of that process. Believe me, in 10 years you'll be looking at those duck feet nails in your photos and laughing at yourself for ever thinking they were "cool." And five years after that, they'll be back in again.

I have to admit. I have a hard time loving the flare. For lots of reasons, most notably that they are inherently structurally unstable. They are out of balance, with more weight off the nailbed than on it, and with that weight spread out over so much space, flared nails are a disaster waiting to happen. Too much free edge to get caught on things, leading to more lifting and breaking.

But women have always loved bad science when it comes to their nails. I'm not likely to change your mind with all my technical info.

So don't be surprised when you walk into the nail salon and your nail tech tells you that you've lost your mind when you request this look.

On the other hand, if you're a nail tech who refuses to take the opportunity to prove that the flare can be pulled off with exceptional technique and style-- don't be surprised when your clients tell you that you've lost you're mind for refusing to keep up with the times.

Either way... I've decided to go with it. Life is short and fashion should be fun... and there is nothing like the feeling I get when a client truly loves the nails I've done for her. So if she loves flares, then all I can do is rock those flares!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Removing Fake Nails

Ok folks-- most of us in the nail biz cringe at the words "fake nails." I'm not entirely sure why, other than it's a term that doesn't exactly denote a very sincere appreciation for the effort that goes into creating a good set of them.

Nevertheless, this post's title is exactly the term I often see in my tracking services of what people are searching the Internet for, which tells me that a lot of people want to know how to get the product off their nails. So that's what I'm going to discuss:

First off, you need to understand that there are a LOT of different products out there, and on top of that, there are a lot of different formulas of each product, getting stuff off your nails is not a one-size-fits-all process.

  • Obviously, removing traditional polish is easy enough. You use polish remover. But it may be of interest to you to know that you do NOT have to use "non-acetone" remover, even if you have acrylics on. In fact, straight acetone is my #1 choice for polish remover. It works. It doesn't smear. And it evaporates fast enough that unless you soak your nails in it, it won't harm your extension/overlay products.

There's also much information that attests that acetone is actually the safest of the solvents used in polish removers.

How-To Soak Off (most) Nail Products: 

  • If you are going to soak off your acrylic at home, the easiest way is to start your favorite movie, sit down, pour some 100% pure acetone (found at the hardware store-- or the beauty supply) into a ceramic, metal, or glass bowl (not plastic, acetone will melt plastic-- just like it's gonna melt your acrylic nails,) slather some Vaseline on your fingers-- this will protect your skin, acetone is extremely drying to skin-- and then put your fingers in the acetone in the bowl, and then put a towel over your hands in the bowl. The towel will slow down the evaporation process of the acetone, and also keep the smell down-- it's not the most pleasant smell.

  • DO NOT take your fingers out of the acetone! As soon as you do, the acetone will evaporate off your nails and the acrylic will start to re-harden. Just leave them in there until it's all melted off. If you can't completely wipe your nail clean after an hour in the acetone-- start thinking MMA, or ask yourself if you remembered to file off the gel sealer.

  • When the acrylic slides off (it should get "fluffy" and flake or slide off easily) then you'll need to wash your hands, slather them in olive oil, gently buff the nail plate to make sure all the product is off and the nails are smooth, file, slather on more olive oil, then lotion. Acetone dries out your skin and it's going to feel icky-- olive oil is great for rehydrating your skin, be prepared to go through a lot of lotion too.

  • Your newly naked nails are going to feel weird too. They're going to be brittle from dehydration so hydrating with good oil (olive, not baby!) is important. With luck, the person/people who've been doing your nails haven't over-filed them and the only thing wrong with them will be the dehydration and the fact that you aren't used to how easily natural nails break. Most people report about 2 days for nails to feel "normal" again.

  • With traditional acrylics you want to soak them in straight acetone. Depending on the product used and the thickness of it, it can take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour to completely remove a set.

There are a lot of techs in the industry who swear that it only take 20 minutes to remove acrylics. I have personally soaked off a LOT of acrylics, sets done by myself as well as sets done by other techs at other salons-- I have never managed to get a set off in 20 minutes without still having to do some filing. I'm not saying that some techs don't do nails that soak off in less than half an hour, I'm saying I've never come across one.

Silk or Fiberglass Wraps and "Dip" type products can also be soaked off in acetone--
the resin used in these nails breaks down much faster than acrylic, so it won't take as long!

Things That Can Slow You Down:
  • The MMA dilemma:

Some techs use acrylic monomer (the liquid) that is made with Methyl Methacrylate, MMA is not safe for use in nail products! Nail techs use it for a variety of reasons: it's hella cheap-- like, $20-$30 for a gallon sometimes (compared to $180-$250/gallon for high quality, professional, cosmetic grade monomer.)

It sticks to your nail better than you nail sticks to your finger; clients don't care about things like physics, they just don't want their acrylics to lift. So using MMA keeps you from hearing complaints... you know, until the natural nail gets ripped off the nail bed.

Not every nail tech knows jack-*#&@! about their product chemistry-- this is largely a problem with our technical training in beauty schools-- please write your state congress or assembly person and tell them that this is unacceptable. But it means that sometimes nail techs use crappy products because they are cheap and they have no idea that the stuff should only be used to glue tile to cement floors.

     What does MMA mean to you if you're trying to get it off your nails? Mostly it means that it can take 2 or 3 hours to soak it off with straight acetone. And it's a gummy mess that has to be soaked, filed, soaked, filed, soaked, filed... etc. And don't expect your nails to be in good shape when you finally do get the stuff off-- because MMA sticks best to a jacked up nail, so most people who use it rely on aggressive "prep" by over-filing that natural nail.

  •  Gel Topcoat obstacles: 

If you have regular acrylic nails but they're sealed with a gel topcoat, it's VERY IMPORTANT to file off the gel topcoat before you soak your nails! Many gel topcoats are solvent-resistant and if you don't file it off first, your nails will look exactly like they did before you put them in the acetone, even an hour later!

  • Removing Gel Nails:

There are a lot of different gel formulas out there these days, so removing gel gets complicated.

Traditional gels are solvent-resistant. They can't be soaked off-- at least, not in anything that is safe to soak your nails in! So you have to file them off.

There's nothing wrong with filing product off your nails, but it's important that it be done carefully. You (or the person doing it) have to be careful to STOP at the product and not file into the natural nail. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do with gels.

Gels are much softer than acrylic and filing through them takes relatively little time and effort.

Soak-off Gels, kinda obviously, can be soaked off in acetone like acrylics. Soakable gels usually don't take as long as acrylic to soak off either...but some "soakable" gels are quite stubborn and it can be easier to just file them off.

Gel Polish. This stuff is awesome! And it's super easy to soak off. Not quite as easy as removing traditional polish; you'll still have to soak it, but only for a few minutes. Most formulas slide off easily after 5-10 minutes.

The preferred method of soaking off product in the salon? The "foil wrap" method: Each nail is covered with a cotton pad that has been thoroughly dowsed in acetone, then the fingers are individually wrapped with foil. Most of us then like to place the hands in plastic liner bags and wrap with warm mitts or towels.

This method works faster, saves acetone, and is far less drying to your skin!
 But it's difficult to manage on yourself, which is why I gave instructions for the bowl method.

  • Removing Rockstar Toenails:
Most rockstar toes are done with traditional gel products-- you'll have to file them off.

Naturally, I recommend you have any product removed professionally, in a salon, by a nail technician who knows what they're doing and cares about preserving the health and integrity of your nails.

If you have your product removed in a salon and the so-called "professional" rips, clips, or pries the product off your nails, or files past the product into your natural nail-- get up and RUN out the door! If you want your nails jacked up, you could bite them off at home yourself! 


 As you can imagine, I have more than a few clients who are ga-ga for the Twilight series... and with the new movie premiering next week, it was inevitable that I'd have to turn out some killer nails for the event!

These are custom-made decals that I embedded into the nail itself. The decals are placed over the white rockstar acrylic with a layer of clear acrylic over them and sealed with gel so the images will last through several fills without damage.

The decals ROCK! I'm absolutely THRILLED with the way they turned out! And I feel pretty confident in my abilities to fill any custom-decal order for nail art at this point! (And I know Dale Jr is going to be first on the request list!)

These photos came out a little disappointing though: in real life, the decal images are much clearer and you don't see the file marks in the acrylic like you see in the photos.

The other tiny thing you might notice in some of the photos is that the gel sealer was put on a little too thickly and it had a chance to pool at the corners of the nails a tad.

Other than that, this is an existing set, we did a complete re-tip (cut off the old free edges and re-sculpted new ones on forms) with white rockstar acrylic and added a couple confetti circles on the nails that don't have decals. The nail bed acrylic is also rockstar with some chunky opalescent glitter in it.

This shape isn't quite wide enough to qualify as "duck feet" but it's a pretty wide flare nail with a high, straight "smile line" (the point where the pink and white meet... but if this flat line is going to keep being popular we're going to have to find a new name for it, since it definitely doesn't "smile.")

Yeah... I can do "Team Jacob" too.

Oh yeah, and for the Team Edwarders; CND's Scentsations lotion in Vanilla Shimmer has just enough shimmer in it to give you a great "sparkle in the sun" effect.

If you just gotta have any of this, text or call Maggie at (559) 300-8063 and I'll do my best to fit you in before the premier! (or after, if you're not that picky.)

Include them with a full set like this for $85 (hey! those long flares take a lot of time and product!)
On a rockstar set of standard length (about half of those pictured) for $65...
or with a regular fill on your existing nails for $40.