Gel nails—they’re the newest hero in the nail industry; giving us long-lasting manicures we thought were only possible in our dreams. Gel nails have turned nail professionals into veritable rock stars and their clients into loyal fans.
High shine gel manicures and pedicures are so popular that your ability to churn them out may mean the difference between a mediocre nail career and achieving rock star status.
What are Gel Nails?
Gels are thick nail coatings that can be applied over natural nails or nail tips. Unlike traditional nail polishes, which are thin film coatings, gels are thicker nail coatings that build up the nail. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light allows the gel to cure, or activate.
The thicker consistency of gels and their polymerization through exposure to UV light means they last longer without chipping or peeling—on average about three weeks.
Many of today’s gels are sold in opaque containers (to prevent premature curing) and are applied similar to nail polishes, while others are sold in tubes or jars and applied using a long-handled, specialized brush. The viscosity of today’s modern gels tends to be lower than traditional gels and therefore easier to apply.
Most nail gel systems consist of three, distinct products: a base coat, a color coat, and a top coat. The base coat ensures adhesion of the gel to the nail. One to two color coats are applied, followed by a clear top coat to add shine. Each coat is cured under a UV light (30 seconds to one minute) before applying the next coat.
The Science Behind Gel Nails
Gels contain three, primary ingredients: colorants, pre-polymers, and light initiators. The pre-polymers, urethane (meth) acrylates are derived from monomers, which polymerize (cure) when exposed to light. Light initiators, which kick-start and speed up the curing process, are activated with exposure to UV light via a tabletop light source.
Although gel manicures and pedicures have been available for a couple decades, they haven’t really gained popularity until the last few years, when advances in technology have made them easier, faster, and safer to use.
Benefits of Gels
Gels wear considerably longer than traditional nail polish, allowing women to go longer between manicures. Most gel manicures do not need to be redone because of peeling and chipping but because of the natural growth of the nail. Gels are more durable than traditional nail polish, which makes them particularly useful for women who work with their hands. The quick drying action of gels also reduces the chances of ruined manicures.
Other features of gels include their high gloss finish and lack of chemical smell. Today’s gels can also be removed easier than ever.
Are Gels Safe?
The popularity of gels has been mired with questions about their safety. Namely the safety of exposure to UV light. Although research has not definitively proven any increased risk in skin cancers through exposure to UV lamps, today’s gel lights are faster than ever, thereby eliminating exposure to UV-A and UV-B rays.
The infrequency of exposure (Most gel manicures are performed every two to three weeks.) and the short exposure intervals (just a few minutes), also means that exposure to UV rays is limited. Further, many gel lamps utilize UV bulbs that contain special internal filters that remove much of the UV-B rays.
According to a Professional Beauty Association and the Nail Manufacturers Council publication, UV-B exposure from gel lamps is equivalent to 17-26 additional seconds in sunlight each day during the two weeks between appointments, while the UV-A exposure is equivalent to one and a half to three minutes of sunlight each day between appointments.
Clients with concerns about exposure to UV light during gel manicures and pedicures can wear sunscreen to reduce their risk.
Advanced Nail Technician Training in Gels
An initial nail technician program leading to state licensure includes study in light-cured gels.
However, due to advances in gel technology and the introduction of new gel products and techniques, advanced training in gels may be the ideal pursuit to keep your nail tech skills sharp and your clients happy.
A number of beauty schools offer advanced courses in gel nails, many of which lead to certificates of completion.
You can also brush up on your gel manicure skills by taking courses through gel manufacturers and distributors. For example, Bio Sculpture, an international gel company, offers training for nail techs who want to become Bio Sculpture manicurists. Bio Sculpture provides on-site beginner training courses, advanced training courses, and boot camps in gel nails.