Thursday, October 27, 2011

Them Ain't Gel Nails

There are few things that come across my desk (metaphorically AND literally) that make me wish I could afford a multimillion dollar national advertising campaign to tell everyone the TRUTH. If only there was some way to get the word out....

Oh yeah... I have the INTERNET!

My little blog may not always be that interesting, and it may not get all the attention it deserves, but I get enough public and private comments on some of the entries to know that at least a few folks read it. Hopefully those few folks will advise a few more folks to read it, and so on and so on until enough people get the information that I can rest assured that all is right with the world once more.

People, I hate to break it to you, but GEL nails are done with GEL. Gel, as in gelatinous, as in jelly. It's called "gel" because it's a GEL.

Gel nails are absolutely, positively NOT made with liquid and powder.

There are some products out there that call themselves "gel" that do not use a UV lamp. These are made with cyanoacrylate resin-- same stuff as Crazy Glue-- and I guess the resin IS sort of a gel, so calling them "gel" isn't really wrong.

And you can add powder to gels. Like, sprinkling on a little acrylic powder for added strength. It's arguable as to how effective this is, but some folks feel like it makes a difference.

But gel nails are NOT made by dipping a brush into a liquid and then into a powder like acrylic. This is acrylic. The liquid is called "monomer" and the powder is called "polymer," when you mix the two together you create a polymer resin that is applied directly to the nail where it hardens ("cures" is the proper term) into a hard plastic polymer. Voila! Acrylic.

Gel nails are created by brushing an oligimer directly over the nail and then exposing the gel to Ultra Violet light, which reacts with a photoinitiator in the oligimer (gel) which starts the chemical reaction to cure the gel.

Gels come in a bunch of different viscosities (thicknesses) and there are few different chemical compositions of gels on the market as well as different systems by different manufacturers who have different directions for applying their products. So although one salon may use a gel that is squeezed out of a tube, while another salon uses a gel that is in a little pot, and one salon may use the same gel for every layer while another salon has three different gels for three different layers... the main thing to know is that GEL IS NOT A POWDER!

It is true, I know of at least one company that produces a product that they call "powder gel." Sorry, no such thing. Powder is not a gel. Gel is called gel because it's a gel.

There is such a thing as a light cured acrylic. Liquid and powder that are combined like acrylic, but use a photoinitiator as a catalyst, instead of BPO (Benzoil Peroxide) in the powder, like a traditional acrylic.

I know I know I know! It gets SO confusing! That's why it's been SO EASY for salons all over the world to rip their clients off by claiming to be offering a premium service such as gels when they are really just plopping down the same old acrylic and charging you double!

And if you think YOU have been getting ripped off just because you never took Organic Chemistry don't feel too bad just yet! Most nail technicians never took Organic Chemistry either! Most of us have NO CLUE about the chemistry behind our products! And even the top notch gals I hob-nob with in the industry can get overwhelmed when we start talking science. Especially when there's SO MUCH of it to try to understand!

And here we are, trying to cram a doctorate degree's worth of chemistry into our heads while also making room for physics and microbiology! And we're trying to do it all within the 2 weeks we have before our client shows up for her next appointment so we can answer all the question she has about her nails!

Meanwhile, not only are we trying to understand the basic science of what most people consider an artistic field, but we also have to sift out the difference between what is fact, vs what is marketing from product manufacturers who want us to use their products.


It's enough to make ya want to just work at Starbucks... except Starbucks won't let you have your nails done.

I just wanted you to know what gel really is. How to determine if you are getting what you are paying for, because it seems that a lot of salons out there are charging extra for something they aren't doing!

Oh yeah, and gel nails are done with gel. All gel. You can brush the gel on over a plastic tip, or you can scultp gel onto the nail with a form, but the entire nail is made of gel. Some gels are thick and can be sculpted on all at once, many gels are thinner and work better if they are built up layer after layer... but all the layers are done with gel. Not an acrylic nail with a gel topcoat.

Gels come in a bunch of colors, like polish. They can be done in pink and white, all clear, colors, or even mixed up with glitters for Rockstar.

Gels are still a premium service in the United States. Many schools don't teach gel techniques and most state boards don't require it on their practical exams.

Gels require a very different technique than acrylic for application. It seems like it would be as easy as polishing the nail, but it's really not. I found that out the hard way myself!

Also, gel products are, on average, 3 times more expensive than acrylic products. So yeah, they cost more, if you find a salon that doesn't charge more for gel, tip your nail tech a little extra-- cuz she's short changing herself.


  1. Thank you for putting this out there! There are too many Salons/Techs unaware of the products they are using! I am going to share this with my Friends, Clients & Co-Workers! Thank you again!!!!

  2. Wow this is a wonderful post I'm not a nail artist but I love nails,

  3. Awesome post - I'd gotten "gel" nails so many times and wondered why they clouded after a week. Turns out it was just acrylic nails with a uv-cured gel topcoat - and I paid almost double for the "gel" service. Jerks!

  4. A lot of the nail bars also mis market solar nails. Many people are confused there as well. It is a high adhesion acrylic systen made by CND and does cost more. Anyone claiming to use solar should be able to show the product container. Unfortuneately solar is not really solar in many places and again clients are paying more for the wrong product. Ask and be informed. Any good nail tech will show you what they use, it should not be a secret. Great post btw!

  5. Oh, my gosh! This is such a good article! Very well written and so true! I will be sharing this with all of my fans and followers. Thanks so much Maggie! ~Ana

  6. I was starting to wonder if I was the only one with the balls to tell people this. NO SUCH THING AS A POWDER GEL PEOPLE, don't let them fool you.

  7. There in fact IS a powder gel now. You can call the state board of cosmology and they will tell you. It probably didn't exist when this article was written but it exists now.

    1. No. There isn't. Gel is called "gel" because it's a GEL. Period.

      There is at least one company that manufacturers a product that they market as "gel powder." However, it is not a gel. It is a powder that is used to reinforce gel.

      State boards exist for the purpose of keeping consumers safe from negligence and incompetence at the hands of licensed professionals who do not do their jobs properly. State boards do not determine how product manufacturers market their products. Most state board employees also are not members of the professional beauty industry, so they may not have the understanding of products and product technology that a professional should.

      If it's a powder, it isn't gel. No matter what the label says.

  8. I would have never came across this blog if I hadn't left the U.S. for a period of time to a less developed country where the nail technicians did there manicures all by hand, meaning no tools due to unstable electricity. So now that I'm home I thought I could start doing my own because it's so costly. I've been getting acrylic names for 5 years and recently gel for the last 2 or 3 years. My technician in the state has always used a somewhat similar process to acrylic meaning the powder and some liquid solution. Now I'm concerned if it is really gel that I'm paying double for. The main thing I've noticed about the gel nails and I like so much is when I do change my set she can easily remove them, no soaking in nail polish remover and my nails aren't really damaged. Little buffing and there perfectly smooth oppose to the acrylic where it would take so much effort to get them off, I have long nails and they would be very damaged. If I did choose to just get them buffed after an acrylic treatment people would know I just had an acrylic removal. So what is she putting on my nails now, higher quality acrylic or what?

    1. I'm guessing it's either a higher quality of acrylic and/or workmanship. Proper and conscientious application technique shouldn't result in damage to the natural nail.

      Also, your current technician might be using what is commonly referred to as a "tip and dip" system. These usually use a thick nail glue (usually labeled "resin") and then the nail is either dipped into powder or the powder is sprinkled onto the glue while it is still wet. These systems don't have the longevity of either acrylic or UV Gels because the glue (cyanoacrylate resin) breaks down over time, so usually we end up removing and replacing this type of product on a more regular basis. BUT-- because the term "gel" refers to the physical characteristics of the product and not the chemical formulas, it is still accurate to refer to nail glues/resins as "gel."

      Most companies refer to enhancement systems using glue/resins as "no light gel." While many of us in the industry would prefer to differentiate between traditional gels cured with UV light and cyanoacrylate resins-- it is acceptable to call these products "gel."

  9. Thank you Maggie ! I'm a newly qualified Gel Nail Technician over here in Ireland and I was wondering \ investigating about this so called ' Gel Powder ' ... well that is it all clarified now . I have myself previously paid for 'Gel nails ' where the Nail Tech clearly used Liquid and Powder pot (unbranded pots ) well about to call them to get clear answer here . ' Powder Gel ' my Eye ! Tut Tut Tut ! Oh and same in Holland few months back : paid for 'Solar Nails' which were supposed to be the new best thing of all .....

  10. I went to a nail technician and
    asked for gel nails, but they gave it to me in powder form. I didnt think much of it until the end, when i realised it was done the same way as acrylic nails, they didnt even ask me to put my nails under the uv light, Arent gel nails supposed to be put under a uv light???

  11. I can just put just gel cure it and then add acrylic and then another coat of gel and then top coat and i have that same

  12. What if a salon is marketing hard gel nails but still uses the powder and's really just acrylic nails right?

  13. Magee, thank you so much for putting up this post. I realize it's been up for a few years, but it saved me from becoming a victim of paying for gel and getting acrylic. I'm not cheap but I hate paying top dollar for inferior products. Well done, Magee! Well done!

  14. I am super confused here. The process my tech has been using sounds like something in between acrylic and gel. She does mix powder and liquid, which makes it acrylic, right? BUT there is no smell. It is added one layer at a time. It's more liquid than "dough" as it is applied. Each layer is cured with UV. The final product seems more flexible, thinner, and more natural than acrylic. So it's just acrylic? That doesn't seem quite right to me.

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  18. Hi Maggie, let me say my cordial thanks for this great piece of job. You did really so well that made me amazed. There are surely a lot of salons with a variety of products. But it's true getting perfect matching polish is very hard. I thoroughly, dug into your fabulous experience and happy to learn about gel polish details rich with precious pre-history. This was so so decent job surely. BY the way, what about SNS Dip Powder? Do you think any kind of nail power can be healthier and longer lasting?