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What Is Gel Nail Polish?

By T. Alaine
Updated May 21, 2024
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Gel nail polish is a special varnish formula that is cured under ultraviolet lamps. Advocates assert that the gel formulas last at least two weeks without chipping, making them much more practical than regular manicures. Similarly, the gels are thought to be gentler than other overlays, such as false tips and acrylics, which helps maintain strong and healthy natural nails. Most salons charge significantly more for gel polish applications, however, and many clients also pay to have the treatment removed.

A professional manicurist is usually required to apply gel nail polish, for a few reasons. The special gels are typically only available for purchase by salons or licensed nail technicians, and each layer of polish must be cured underneath an ultraviolet lamp to ensure that the manicure develops its defining hardness and durability. The actual application is far less complex than the application of acrylic nails, however, and the polish is painted on the nail with a small brush much like traditional varnish. Both the polish and small versions of the UV lamps have become available in some consumer stores in recent years, although they can be expensive.

Removing gel polish can be a do-it-yourself project or left to salon professionals. In salons, special wraps are soaked in removing liquid and placed over each nail. People removing their gel polish at home can place a nail polish remover-soaked cotton ball on each nail and secure it to the finger tip with foil. Sometimes, lingering traces of polish need to be removed with a nail file.

Many people consider gel nail polish to be much more convenient than traditional manicures or false nails. Delayed chipping is the most popular virtue of these polishes, since consumers can enjoy several weeks of well-kept nails without any upkeep or fillings. Gel polish can be applied over natural nails as well as artificial ones, so just about anyone can receive this treatment. Furthermore, people who grow tired of their manicure before it chips and is removed can simply paint over the polish with normal nail varnish. Another big bonus of gel nails is that the natural nails do not have to be filed down, and removal is often gentle due to soak-off polishes.

Despite all of the positives, there are also some negative aspects of gel nail polish. The procedure is less common than more traditional manicure methods, so not all salons are equipped to offer it. Initial costs of gel manicures are also higher than regular manicures or acrylic applications, and people who choose to have the gel removed professionally will probably have to pay another fee. People who are wary of ultraviolet exposure from the curing lamps should avoid these manicures.

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Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On May 30, 2012

@burcidi-- Yes! My mom had a nail biting problem for years and ever since she started getting gel nail polish manicures, she has been able to grow her nails. It's fantastic!

You can paint over gel nails and also remove the polish but you have to use an acetone-free polish remover so that you don't damage the gel underneath.

With time, a gap will form just like with other fake manicures, but believe me it's better than acrylics. Gel nails take about three weeks for a visible gap, but with acrylics that's two weeks!

There are a lot of colors. I think the best gel nail polish brands are OPI, Gelish and Gelac. I've used all three, they work well.

By burcidi — On May 29, 2012

I have a nail biting problem and my nails don't grow because of it. I've been thinking about getting fake nails for a while but have not decided on which type. Do you think gel nail polish can help me grow my nails?

I have a few other questions, the article mentioned that you can paint on top of clear gel nail polish. But can you also remove them with nail polish remover? Or will I have to wait until I go back to the salon?

Isn't new growth a problem with gel nail polish like it is with acrylics? Doesn't a gap form between the gel nail and the cuticle?

What are the gel nail polish colors? Is there a lot of variety or just the basic colors? Which brands are the best?

By candyquilt — On May 29, 2012

I agree that gel nail polish is a lot better than acrylic nails. Acrylic nails cause too much damage to the nail and they're a lot thicker than gel nails, so they don't look as natural. With gel nail polish, no one can even tell that you have it on and it's so easy to maintain.

But before any of you decide to get gel nails, please do your research and find a salon that's experienced with it. The curing process for gel nails is really important and if it's done incorrectly, it can be damaging to the nail. If the nails are not cured long enough, it won't work, if it's cured for too long, it will damage the nail.

There are even kits that let people use gel nail polish at home. It comes with gel polishes and a small curing lamp. That's such a bad idea! You can't do gel nails on your own unless you're a licensed manicurist!

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