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!


  1. LOVE it, as always. For the record (you may not care, but others might), there are now 30 Shellac shades.

  2. Hi Maggie! Love your blog, as a new nail tech, I find it very imformative. I have one question: Why do your clients prefer NSI?

  3. 1. 30?! WOW! When did that happen? And why hasn't anyone told my local Cosmoprof?!

    2. Clients report that NSI's prolish pro wears the best, but it does have some trouble with color stability.

  4. Maggie - We were working feverishly to fix the color stability issues we had with some colors (not all were problems, as you may have noticed). We've had a EUREKA moment in the lab and I'm excited to say that we've made our sheer pinks much more color stable. If you contact me, I can get you some samples of these new formulas.

    Jessie Burkhardt
    Director of Marketing & Communications for NSI

  5. Thank you for the article Maggie. LOL I have to say I got a chuckle out of your comment regarding "exceedingly simple terms". I don't know that CND would fault you for explaining it to a non-nail professional in that way but I am pretty sure they wouldn't want me using that explanation to nail pros in a class :0)

    I don't think a week goes by without my explaining the differences in soak of gels vs gel polish. However I'll gladly explain it to clients because for me Shellac has brought many people back into the salon. For that I am very grateful! Anything that brings revenue back to our industry and in the pockets of the nail professional is a WIN.

    And yes, MK's Mom is right...there are 30 colors and with layering, glitter and mica powders there is no limit to what you can create.