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What are Gel Nails?

By Nychole Price
Updated May 21, 2024
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Gel nails are a type of artificial nails that most closely resembles the natural nail. Gel nails are similar to acrylic nails, as they are both made from a combination of a monomer liquid and polymer powder. The monomer liquid reacts with the polymer powder to form long polymer strands. The strands, when dry, form a hard resin that resembles a fingernail. Gel nails, unlike standard acrylic nails, contain additional short chain monomers, known as oligomers, that makes the nails more flexible.

The gel version of artificial nails are available in two types; light cured and no-light gels. Light cured gel nails are hardened by placing your fingers under an ultra-violet light for approximately two minutes. No-light gel acrylic nails are cured by applying a special gel activator that can either be brushed or sprayed onto the nails. An additional variety of the no-light version can be cured by dipping the nails in plain water.

Gel nails are very similar to standard acrylic nails. You can paint, wear french tips and airbrush designs on both types of artificial nails. They can both be worn long or short without any considerable difference between the two. Both types of artificial nails can also be filed into square, round or pearl shapes.

There are advantages to choosing gel fingernails over acrylic. The biggest advantage gel nails have is that they look identical to natural nails. They are thin and flexible, with a glossy appearance. The mixture used to make the resin is also completely odorless, making it safe for pregnant women to wear artificial nails. Because of the thin layer of acrylic when applying the nails, they don't have to be filled as often.

There are disadvantages to gel style artificial nails. They are more expensive but break a lot easier than other varieties of artificial nails. Gel nails don't hold the polish as well either, meaning you have to paint them more frequently. When the nails break, they tend to shatter, meaning you can't perform a self-fix job. You will have to visit the nail salon for it to be filed off and replaced.

Just like any other variety of artificial nails, there is a risk of developing a fungal infection during the application process. Make sure to clean the nail bed with isopropyl alcohol before applying artificial nails. Take care of your fake nails by moisturizing your cuticles and getting your nails filled regularly. If you decide to remove your artificial nails, go to a nail salon, as they have to be filed away.

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Discussion Comments
By anon997566 — On Jan 26, 2017

Every single thing I'm finding about gel nails reads like an advertisement. All I want to know is what the gel is made of, as in what polymer/resin/whatever? I assume it is just another acrylic formula but I'd really like to know for real.

@post 14: Yes they are ripping you off. Gels are liquid right out of the jar, no mixing required.

By anon992164 — On Aug 19, 2015

Can you get gel nails on your toes?

By anon966843 — On Aug 22, 2014

Is it true that gel nails are constructed using a gel base? I am asking because recently I was told that the money we are spending at these nail shops for GEL Nail is really not what we are paying the extra money for and all we are really paying for is the top coat of GEL polish.

Example: Any of the nail shops located in my area have a jar of acrylic powder with a pink tint with the words GEL handwritten on it, and it is mixed with a chemical just like the acrylic nails are. I met a lady who stated that these shops are ripping people off. She had a jar of GEL that she stated with the right tool is used to build the Gel nail and GEL Nails are not mixed with a solution like the acrylic. Is this true?

By anon347416 — On Sep 06, 2013

Has anyone tried NaiLuv? I found a kit on sale at their website, but I was hoping to find someone who has tried it.

By anon308969 — On Dec 13, 2012

I loved having my gel nails. I had the gel painted onto my natural nails, so nothing ever shattered or cracked or chipped. The salon I went to put on at least three coats with the light between each. I will never get acrylic nails again. I have nothing on my nails right now, and my natural nails are now stronger than they used to be because of the gel. They used to be thin and crack at the base. I wore them about four months (I chose a color close to my skin tone) so I got full use of them.

By anon305801 — On Nov 27, 2012

I had acrylic nails on for three weeks then had them taken off and my natural nails are ruined! Wonder if gel nails leave the same result when removed?

By anon290976 — On Sep 12, 2012

Anything that you have to cure under UV light will contain some form of acrylic! Without this chemical, it would be impossible, even for gel nails.

By anon177030 — On May 17, 2011

I've been wearing gel nails for three months now and my nails are fine. The polish is lasting me four weeks and I love them. I've broken one nail and it didn't shatter. I just clipped it back, filed it like i would have with my natural nail.

By anon145493 — On Jan 23, 2011

I have acrylic white tips and i have no idea how to get them off! help please!

By anon144323 — On Jan 19, 2011

The information given regarding Gel Nails is incorrect. 100 percent Liquid Gel nails are stronger than acrylic nails; they do not dry out such as acrylic does. As for the polish lasting, if you are using the correct base coat and top coat like I do, they will last up to four weeks. My nails have no acrylic in them whatsoever. Gel is gel! Study your products and really get to know them before you begin preaching about them!

By anon94000 — On Jul 06, 2010

artificial nails are what stopped me from picking my nails. i also think they're so pretty!

By anon78041 — On Apr 16, 2010

Artificial nails do not harm the natural nail; poorly trained technicians do.

By anon51080 — On Nov 03, 2009

If you take them off right it isn't that bad. I'm in cosmetology. i would know.

By anon31199 — On May 01, 2009

What affect does this process have on natural nails? I recently wore acrylic tips (french manicure) for a period of three weeks and the affect it had on my natural nails was horrendous. I don't want to invest the money or time if the gel process is going to have the same impact on my own nails.

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