I get asked this question. A lot. And it seems that there is tons of confusion amongst all of you. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of product out there and it can be overwhelming for a someone that has never had their nails done. Most of you know that you would like acrylic or gel nails, or at least you have heard of them and have an idea as to which you would like base on what your friends have. But, there are those discount nail shops out there that offer you gel or acrylic, but the reality is they only do acrylic and tell you it’s gel. What they might have is a mystery tub that is labeled “Gel” but really it’s not. Or, they will put some sort of UV top coat on at the end and tell you that what you have is gel and charge you more. Sigh… In case you were wondering, I only offer Gel Nails at the salon. And it is true gel, no substitutions here folks. So, to help put an end to all the nonsense, Nail blogger Maggie Franklin has explained the differences between the two in simple, black and white terms. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Now, with much thanks to Maggie, here’s her words…
Them Ain’t Gel Nails
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.